The Sermon on the Mount is Heaven’s benediction to the world—a voice from the throne of God. (E.G. White, Preface to Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. vii.1)
Jesus opened his mouth and taught them saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
These words fell as a shock on the ears of the multitude gathered on the mountain side. They had never in their life heard anything like what this teacher said. It was contrary to everything they had ever known or learned from the rabbis and priests.
The religious leaders of the day taught that the possession of riches, both spiritual and temporal, was a sign of favor with God. If a man had wealth, he was considered blessed of God and having a right to the kingdom of God. The poor were despised as great sinners, adjudged as under the frown of God and not worthy of the blessings of salvation simply because of their state of poverty. But here Christ turned this philosophy upside down. “The ones whom He pronounced blessed were the very ones they would have denounced as cursed of God” (E.G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pg. 1084).
This attitude flowed over into the spiritual realm. The Pharisees felt that they were rich spiritually and in need of nothing. This sentiment, as displayed in the prayer of the Pharisee, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are” (Luke 18:11), revealed the thoughts of not only the religious leaders in particular, but also the nation at large.
These same principles which lay at the foundation of the Pharisaic religion are also the natural disposition of humanity. “The spirit of Pharisaism is the spirit of human nature” (E.G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. 79). This spirit is at the core of who we are as human beings. In the sermon on the mount, Christ was contrasting His principles of operation and the spirit that actuated His actions to that of the people, not simply those in his own day, but throughout all time.
The evil that…shut out the Pharisee from communion with God is proving the ruin of thousands today. There is nothing so offensive to God or so dangerous to the human soul as pride and self-sufficiency. Of all sins it is the most hopeless, the most incurable. (E.G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pg. 154)
Why is it that pride and self-sufficiency is counted in the eyes of God as the greatest danger to the human soul? Why is it that it is, of all sins, the most hopeless and incurable? Jesus gave the answer to this when He declared, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). One doesn’t go the the doctor unless he is sick. How will one then go to the physician if he feels whole? Only those who are sick seek healing.
It is when the heart is “alright” that we see no need. It is because we think ourselves “rich, and increased with goods,” and in “need of nothing,” that we do not know our true condition, and therefore feel no need. Self-sufficiency feels no need and therefore needs no Savior. If the only avenue to heaven is that name without which no man can be saved, then for the rich and self-sufficient in spirit, theirs cannot be the kingdom of heaven because they have essentially rejected the only means under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Of all sin, self-sufficiency is the most incurable because it sees no need, no sickness, no want, no Savior.
Pride, if linked with self-sufficiency, not only feels no need but “makes a stand against anything that would show them to be sinful” (E.G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. 142). Pride can take no correction. “Clad in their worthless garments of self-righteousness, they feel insulted when told that they are naked” (E.G. White to S.N. Haskell, Letter 30a, September 6, 1892). It is impossible to receive correction while pride is in the soul. Of all sins, pride is the most hopeless, because it cannot stand being corrected.
We must know our real condition, or we shall not feel our need of Christ’s help. We must understand our danger, or we shall not flee to the refuge. We must feel the pain of our wounds, or we could not desire healing. (E.G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pg. 158)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” What does it mean to be poor? It means to be penniless, impoverished, destitute, faulty, inadequate, deficient in, barren, unfruitful, lacking, wretched. To be poor in spirit it to be absolutely destitute of anything of spiritual value, to be deficient in and lacking any righteousness with which to boast, to recognize that one’s life has been barren and unfruitful of any good thing, and that with all that has ever been done has been mingled sin and selfishness.
Christ states that these are the very individuals who are blessed, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “This kingdom is not, as Christ’s hearers had hoped, a temporal and earthly dominion. Christ was opening to men the spiritual kingdom of His love, His grace, His righteousness” (E.G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. 8).
The phrase “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” denotes that the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit; they are the ones who possess the love, grace, and righteousness of His spiritual kingdom. They have Christ’s love, grace, and righteousness as their own because they are poor in spirit; they do not have anything of their own and they recognize that fact.
Jesus did not say that to the poor in spirit might be granted grace, righteousness, and love, but that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is not a matter of “perhaps so” or “maybe.” It is a fact that theirs is that which heaven bestows. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you […] was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20).
In Christ Jesus, there is enough love, grace, and righteousness to supply the lack of the entire world. And in Christ, when the promise is given, it is a sure yes and Amen. We do not have to guess whether we will receive grace to help in time of need, or righteousness that will stand the judgement. When we recognize our need, when we are poor in spirit, the righteousness and grace of Christ is yes and Amen to us.
Since the prophet Jeremiah wrote that “[t]he heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), we see that in and of ourselves we cannot even understand our own state. How then are we to come to recognize our wretched condition? There is only one way that we can see our need. “In one way only can a true knowledge of self be obtained. We must behold Christ.” (E.G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pg. 159).
Where specifically must we behold Christ?
Pride and self-worship cannot flourish in the hearts that keep fresh in memory the scenes of Calvary. (E.G. White, Signs of the Times, August 28, 1879 par. 5)
Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). When we behold Christ lifted up on the cross, we are led to see the sinfulness of our own hearts, that our life has been one of continual ingratitude in the face of the love and mercy that Christ has poured out for us, and we mourn in true contrition and repentance. These are the next group that Christ pronounced a blessing upon. He said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). They that mourn in repentance for their sins will be comforted.
Again, we cannot of ourselves manufacture this kind of repentance, but Christ offers it to us freely. Of Christ it is said, “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).
How is it that Christ can give us repentance? It is because His righteousness that He offers is a complete gift. This is clearly shown in Matthew 3. John the Baptist comes preaching at the Jordan and telling the people, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). All the people went out to hear John preach and “were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). The people who were baptized came for the express purpose of confessing and repenting of their sins, and receiving pardon. “Then,” the Bible says, “cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him” (Matthew 3:13).
Ellen White gives an interesting insight on this passage:
Many had come to him to receive the baptism of repentance, confessing their sins and crimes; but John could not understand why the only sinless one upon the earth should ask for an ordinance implying guilt, virtually confessing, by the symbol of baptism, pollution to be washed away. He remonstrated with Christ, acknowledging his superiority, and refused to administer the ordinance, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?’ With firm and gentle authority Jesus waives the refusal of John and his plea of unworthiness, saying, “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” (E.G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, pg. 58)
Jesus’ answer to John’s objection was “thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). The word “fulfill” here in the original Greek is πληρόω plēroō, meaning to make complete in every particular, to render perfect. Christ was telling John that in order to make all righteousness complete in every particular, in order to render the righteousness perfect, He must be baptized. In other words, in order to make a perfect package of righteousness for us, He must submit to a rite that implied the confession of sin and guilt to be washed away.
Ellen White continues: “Christ came not confessing his own sins; but guilt was imputed to him as the sinner’s substitute. He came not to repent on his own account; but in behalf of the sinner […] In this act he identified himself with his people as their representative and head. As their substitute, he takes upon him their sins, numbering himself with the transgressors, taking the steps the sinner is required to take, and doing the work the sinner must do” (E.G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, pg. 59).
The Lord Jesus took all our sin. All throughout scripture, we see this fact spoken of again and again. It says that Christ “was numbered with the transgressors;” “the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” “Christ was made a curse for us:” for He “gave himself for our sins” (Isaiah 53:11, 6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Galatians 1:4).
This is why repentance is a gift. It is part of the complete package of righteousness that Christ has made perfect in every particular for us. We cannot produce our own repentance of ourselves, but we must take hold of the repentance which Christ has made in our behalf, which is freely offered to us when He presents to us His righteousness.
I ask, How can I present this matter as it is? The Lord Jesus imparts all the powers, all the grace, all the penitence, all the inclination, all the pardon of sins, in presenting His righteousness for man to grasp by living faith—which is also the gift of God. (E.G. White, Faith and Works, pg. 24)
To the poor in spirit belongs the kingdom of heaven—the love, grace, and righteousness of Christ. Then, in that righteousness is given true repentance and sorrow for sin; they rightfully mourn. But the promise to those who mourn is: “they shall be comforted.” Again it is not a matter of “perhaps so” or “maybe,” but yes and Amen; they shall be comforted—it is a fact that cannot be disputed.
In Romans, we are told that where sin abounds, grace does not simply abound, but “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). In the place where we see sin abounding the most, there we can be assured that the grace of Christ, at that very time and in that very place, abounds much more than the sin that therein abounded.
We ought never to be discourage by the sight of sin, even if it abounds in the soul, because we can know that where that sin abounded in the soul, there in that same place the grace of Christ much more abounds. And the grace abounds so much greater, “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).
Jesus, speaking of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, told His disciples, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8). The Holy Spirit is the Reprover or Convictor of sin, but what is his name? He is the Comforter. Is He the Comforter until the point when He must convict of sin, where He ceases to be the Comforter? No.
The Holy Spirit is the Comforter at all times, whether He is convicting of sin or not. This is why they that mourn “shall be comforted,” for the Holy Spirit is the Comforter to those whom He has convicted of sin, and caused to mourn in repentance. What then should we gain from the conviction of sin? We should receive comfort, because the Reprover of sin is the Comforter. And the greater the conviction of sin, the greater the comfort given.
This is why those who are poor in spirit and those who mourn are called blessed by Jesus, because they have the grace, love, righteousness, and comfort of the Lord Jesus.