The verse in Matthew, the first of the beatitudes, has always confused me. Here it is,
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5.3
This has confused me because I have never truly received a solid answer on what this means. What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? My beloved study Bible has a good footnote on this verse and it reads,
“The ‘poor in spirit’ are those who recognize they are in need of God’s help” ESV Study Bible.
This is undoubtedly true, but I am looking for something more, a little deeper, more concrete, and possibly an example. Then the Lord delivered in the form of a psalm. It reads like this.
“1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.” Psalm 51, emphasis mine.
David wrote this. Among all the great things he did, he also did some very atrocious things. His sins were a little over the top sometime. Once David saw this beautiful women, Bathsheba, and he wanted her as his wife, but she was married to another man. David knew this, had sex with her anyway, got her pregnant and then he decided he had to deal with her husband. Actually, her husband was a soldier in David’s army, so David devised a plan to send Bathsheba’s husband to the front lines to die in battle so that he could have her as his wife. Kind of shady, right? You can read about it in 2 Samuel 11. So, you can see, David knew his sin, and in this psalm he is laying it at the feet of the Lord.
It is striking to me that David sinned against all sorts of people, yet in this psalm he says that all of his sin was sin against God. There is something to remember! You are not just sinning against so and so because they frustrate you, make you mad, and so on, but you are actually sinning against God.
If you put Psalm 51 and Matthew 5.3 together, I hope you can see, because I am beginning to see it too, that full confession of sin , true repentance is exactly what someone “poor in spirit” does. So, how do we inherit the kingdom of heaven? Confess your moral bankruptcy, rely on the work of Christ and his death on the cross, trust in the grace and mercy of God, live with a contrite heart because you, like me, deserve none of the mercy we have been shown.