Monthly Archives: March 2022

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit (Matthew 5:3)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image via Pixabay.

I saw the following quote in an article I read online a few days ago. It offers the following words of encouragement to Christians who may be struggling with discouragement, remorse, or other “negative” feelings:

“You’re perfect just the way you are! Be true to yourself! Or maybe you’re one of those church types and need to couch it in some spiritual language. How about: God isn’t judging you, so stop judging yourself! Jesus calls you to just accept and love yourself! You only need to repent of not being true to the person God made you!”

Some of those statements may sound familiar to you. You might have heard them in Sunday morning sermons, seen them on social media, or read them in a devotional guide. Maybe you have said them yourself.

So, what is the source of these profound words of encouragement? The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee. The wise theologian sharing these words of wisdom? Satan. You can read the entire article here.

The Beatitudes are countercultural. It rejects this message of self-esteem and self-actualization. The world tells us to believe in ourselves. It encourages pride. Society and media tell us to pursue personal independence, be self-confident, and rely on ourselves. They tell us that we can accomplish whatever we imagine if we only believe in ourselves.

Jesus presented a completely opposite message. He began the Sermon on the Mount with the radical statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He did not say, “Blessed are the ones who think they have it all together, the proud, self-reliant, and self-confident.”

Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous speak of the moment in their lives when they “hit bottom.” Circumstances became uncontrollable. They could not figure out how to solve their problems, and they could not imagine how life could become any worse. Even more tragically, they could not believe that it would ever get better either. When they acknowledge their spiritual poverty and powerlessness, they discover that they need to look to “a Power greater than ourselves” to restore them to sanity.

Those who are poor in spirit, as Jesus put it, have often hit some kind of bottom. They realize they are not the masters of their fate. They cannot take charge of their own situations and rely on their own strength, wisdom, or other resources to keep their lives under control.

Photo by Hoshvilim, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In some way, we have all hit bottom. Sometimes it is obvious: the alcoholic who cannot hold down a job; the homeless drug addict; the person in prison; the tormented soul on suicide watch in a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes it is more subtle, and life almost looks good. However, sin produces spiritual death in all of us:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

However, with God, death is not the final word. Centuries earlier, when prophesying Israel’s forthcoming restoration from exile, Isaiah wrote:

“For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
‘I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15, emphasis added).

He twice uses the word “revive.” It is a popular word in some Christian circles. It simply means “to receive or give new life” or “to restore life.” God promised to revive the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite. To those who are poor in spirit—empty, defeated, discouraged, feeling like they are light years away from God or hope—He offers new life. God invites us to live again. He offers the kingdom of heaven as our reward, inheritance, and eternal destiny.

Revival does not mean we will never face challenges again. It just means we have an abundant life with Christ and can rely on His resources to bring us through difficulties. While we may remain poor in spirit, we can draw on God’s strength:

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded…. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:7, 8, 10).

This passage gives us several keys to obtaining God’s strength in temptation. When spiritual poverty can destroy us, we can take the following actions:

  • Submit to God: Let Him take control of your life and place yourself under His guidance.
  • Resist the devil: You will be tempted to try to solve your problems in your own strength. Resist those urges.
  • Draw near to God: Keep following Him. Spend time praying, worshiping Him, and reading His Word. He will draw near to you. In fact, He is with you always (Matthew 28:20); it only feels like He is far away when we do not seek Him.
  • Humble yourself in His presence.

The truth is that we are all poor in spirit. We need God’s resources to survive. Admit your need, draw near to Him, and surrender to Him. As you humble yourself and place your faith in Jesus Christ, He will give you the kingdom of heaven.

Have you ever “hit bottom” or recognized yourself as “poor in spirit”? How did you draw near to God and receive His riches to get you through? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting on the Armor of God: St. Patrick’s Breastplate (Revisited)

This article was originally published on October 2, 2018. It is fitting for St. Patrick’s Day.

Shortly after posting the recent article about the breastplate of righteousness, I began thinking about one of my favorite prayers: St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

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Stained glass image of St. Patrick. By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

This is an ancient prayer for divine protection. Although some scholars think it is more recent, tradition claims that St. Patrick wrote this prayer in the fourth or fifth century. As he was preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, he knew he needed God’s protection. According to one legend, the soldiers of a hostile king sought to ambush St. Patrick and his companions while they traveled through a forest. The men of God were transformed into deer while they prayed the Breastplate, thereby passing the soldiers unnoticed. Yes, it is a far-fetched tale, and St. Patrick himself never mentions this event in his writings. Still, it is a great story.

Some people pray this prayer in the morning to claim Christ’s presence and God’s protection for the coming day. I know other people who may have no rote traditional prayer, but while they pray in the morning, they claim each part of the whole armor of God onto themselves during the day. However you go about it, do not start a day without seeking God’s presence and protection to follow you.

Here is a brief excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate. You can read it in its entirety at https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/st-patricks-breastplate-poem:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” traditionally attributed to St. Patrick, is in the public domain.

Categories: Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Makarios!” “Be Blessed!”: An Overview of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Via Vitae (“Path of Life”), by Joseph Chaumet (1852-1928) depicts Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Eucharistic Museum of the Hieron, Paray-le-Monial, Saône-et-Loire, France. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with one of the most familiar passages of the Bible. The Beatitudes are beloved because they are simple and memorable. Each Beatitude begins with the phrase “Blessed are….” Then, Jesus mentions a certain quality or class of people with whom God is well pleased. Then, He pronounces a reward or privilege that the blessed person will obtain from God.

We are so familiar with this passage that we can say the word “blessed” without thinking about what it really means. It is one of those “Christianese” words that we use only in church settings, without thinking about what we are saying.

The Greek New Testament uses the word “makarios” here. It appears 50 times in the New Testament and is usually translated as “blessed.” The King James Version occasionally translates it as “happy” (see John 13:17; Acts 26:2). According to Strong’s Concordance, the word can mean blessed, happy, fortunate, or well-off.

The blessing usually clashes with worldly values and offers a reward that will be fulfilled in the next life. Jesus taught that true joy, happiness, and contentment cannot be found by following the ways of the world. That provides a false, temporary, and shallow satisfaction. We find true blessedness in a relationship with Jesus Christ that inspires us to seek His will and desire to be like Him. Every quality that Jesus pronounced blessed is one that He personified. Every reward brings us closer to Him and His Father.

In its notes about the Beatitudes, The Life Application Bible says:

“In his longest recorded sermon, Jesus began by describing the traits he was looking for in his followers. He called those who lived out those traits blessed because God had something special in store for them. Each Beatitude is an almost direct contradiction of society’s way of life. In the last Beatitude, Jesus even points out that a serious effort to develop these traits is bound to create opposition. The best example of each trait is found in Jesus himself. If our goal is to be like him, the Beatitudes will challenge the way we live each day.”

Over the next few weeks, we will study each Beatitude individually and in-depth. Inspired by The Life Application Bible’s notes, most of the posts will focus on the blessing, contrast it with one or more of the secular world’s values, and show us Old and New Testament insight into how to achieve that attitude and obtain the reward God promises.

What does “blessed” mean to you? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Introduction

“When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 5:1-3; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Sermon on the Mountain” (1896) by Károly Ferenczy, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While sorting through some old documents this weekend, my wife stumbled upon some very old papers. They included two outlines for Bible study lessons about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). One of the sheets indicates that I printed it out in July 2004, when I was the assistant pastor of a small church. However, I might have written them much earlier, when I taught a midweek Bible study at a previous church. I honestly do not remember ever preaching or teaching from these outlines!

The Sermon on the Mount and I have a longstanding relationship. Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church and attending Catholic school as a child, I learned about it, especially the more well-known passages like the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. When I was in college, I received a pocket New Testament and found myself reading Matthew’s Gospel. By the time I finished the Sermon on the Mount, I realized that Jesus did not come to form a new organization; He came to create a new kind of person. This revelation prepared me to submit my life to Him a few months later when somebody introduced me to the concept of being “born again.”

Since it has played such a significant role in my Christian journey, I will devote the next few months to a series on its teachings. I pray that it can draw you closer to Christ; if you do not have a relationship with Him, I pray that you may come to know Him personally through this series.

A few general observations can guide us through our study:

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ longest public oration. The Upper Room discourse (John 13-17) is longer, but it was reserved exclusively for the 12 apostles. He addressed the Sermon on the Mount to His “disciples,” which included all who followed Him at that time; He had not chosen the apostles yet.

There is a very similar sermon in Luke 6, which is known as the Sermon on the Plain. In that speech, Jesus repeated some of the teachings from Matthew 5-7, sometimes in a slightly reworded form. The Sermon on the Mount occurred very early in Jesus’ ministry. He gave the Sermon on the Plain shortly after selecting the 12 apostles; it seems to summarize the teachings He wanted them to learn before preaching in His name. Some Bible scholars believe that Matthew and Luke made up the two sermons, based on some of Jesus’ sayings that they heard. However, Jesus most likely repeated His messages frequently. He did not have a printing press or website. He had to repeat His lessons to make sure the disciples memorized them. He might have preached the Sermon on the Mount in every town He visited, since they did not have television, radio, or newspapers to tell people in one town what He said elsewhere. This was probably a stock sermon that He preached, with some modification, on numerous occasions. For the disciples, it was repetition; on the other hand, it was new to the residents of every town He visited.

The Church of the Beatitudes, near Capernaum, Israel, is built on the site where many people believe Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Photo by Kfoulk, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, the Sermon on the Mount is a necessary part of the Christian’s guidebook for daily living. It contains some difficult (even impossible, without the Holy Spirit’s help) commands.

As a result, some Christians have created bizarre, even heretical, ideas to excuse us from following them. Some will say that “The Sermon on the Mount is about the kingdom of God, and we’re not there yet, so it does not apply to us.” Others will say that, since it was before the cross, Jesus was preaching to Israel, not to the Church, so it does not apply to us. However, Jesus was very clear in His Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20; emphasis added).

The proclamation of the Gospel in the Church Age includes all that Jesus taught—most of which He shared before the crucifixion—not just the easy stuff. When Jesus gives a command, and we have trouble obeying it, excuses are not the answer: The proper responses are confession and repentance. Jesus will always offer forgiveness; He does not accept excuses or distortions of His Word.

The Sermon on the Mount will challenge each of us. As we read and study it, the Holy Spirit will convict us. Jesus climbed a mountainside and sat down to announce His message. He invites each of us to come up higher, arising out of the valley of the shadow of death to join Him on the heights.

What do you think about the Sermon on the Mount? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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