The Beatitudes: Welcome to the Upside Down

What is true happiness? Philosophers, scholars, and psychologists have pondered this question throughout the years and have offered us definition after definition. However, because they base their ideas of happiness on human wisdom, they only provide a fleeting type of happiness: happiness that relies on self-gratification and external factors instead of internal peace.

Jesus, on the other hand, shows us a way to true lasting happiness in a series of short teachings called the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are part of the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon given by Jesus and documented by Matthew in Matthew 5 through 7. The Sermon on the Mount is the most extended discourse by Jesus recorded in the Bible and is probably the most famous Sermon ever. Understanding this Sermon is foundational to understanding Jesus’ other teachings.

As Jesus often did, He turned the world upside down with the Beatitudes. According to Jesus, to find true happiness, we must forget what the world tells us about the pursuit of happiness and instead look to Him. Jesus tells us that He came to give us a “rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). Not only does Jesus give us the keys to true happiness, but He also presents a spiritual blueprint of the Kingdom of Heaven itself.

 Jesus opened His Sermon with this truth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 NIV). Jesus always taught with order and purpose. He presents this Beatitude first because we can’t spiritually discern the remaining eight without making sense of it. To grasp the meaning of this Beatitude, let’s take a closer look at three keywords: “blessed,” “poor in spirit,” and “kingdom of heaven.”


We toss around the word “blessed” a lot these days, Christians and non-Christians alike. When someone asks how we are doing, we might respond, “I am blessed”; when someone speaks of something good that happened in their life, they might say, “I was blessed.” In fact, over the past couple of years, the hashtag #blessed has been trending to a point where media outlets have published articles on the overuse of #blessed. In all this blessedness, the real meaning of blessed gets lost.


Jesus also used the word “blessed” a lot. In fact, His first recorded Sermon began with the word “Blessed” and each of the Beatitudes that follow begins with the words “Blessed are”. Blessed is the Greek word makarios which means happy. As we will see, the world’s idea of what it means to be “blessed” or “happy” is very different from the true meaning of happiness presented by Jesus in His teachings.

Poor in Spirit

The word “poor” in the American culture is viewed negatively and is associated with those who want for money, food, clothing, or housing. Our culture either feels sorry for the poor or looks down upon them as useless and worthless. Certainly, no one in the American culture aspires to be “poor” and to my knowledge #poor has not trended on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

The meaning of poor in Greek is no different than how we define poor. In Greek, it means a beggar, a person of few resources, a person who is culturally considered oppressed, despised, and miserable.

Notice that Jesus did not say “Blessed are the poor”, but He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Being “poor in spirit” does not mean that a person lacks in spirit, but that they lack in self-reliance and self-assurance. Those who are poor in spirit look outside of themselves for their provision. Being “poor in spirit” has nothing to do with lacking financial resources but has everything to do with lacking in self.

Kingdom of Heaven

Another important concept we need to grasp to understand better the teachings of Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Gospels, Jesus spends a lot of time talking about it. He says that this Kingdom is not of this world, it can’t be observed by visible signs, and it is already among us (John 18:36, Luke 17:20-21).

What exactly does Jesus mean by the Kingdom of Heaven? A kingdom is defined as a rule or realm, a dominion of a king. Kings exert their rule over their subjects, and their subjects submit to their king’s rule. Kingdom rule is what Americans revolted against in 1776. Kingdom rule is in direct contradiction to most American’s innate sense of self-rule and independence. Yet, Jesus is telling us to seek the Kingdom of Heaven first above all else (Matthew 6:33).

With the birth of Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was brought to earth, and Jesus was crowned the King. Upon Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, the Kingdom’s realm resides in the hearts of those who submit to the rule of Jesus, His followers.

Spiritual Bankruptcy

To enter the Kingdom of Heaven and receive its blessings, we must be poor in spirit. God “opposes the proud” (James 4:6), but “lives in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble” (Isaiah 57:15 NLT). The story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God found in Genesis 32: 22-32 demonstrates the spiritual principle of the first Beatitude.

After fleeing his father-in-law Laban, Jacob wanted to return home but first would have to face his brother Esau who he had betrayed years before. Fearing Esau might retaliate for Jacob’s past betrayal, Jacob, on his own, devised a plan. Only when he realized that his plan might fail and there was nothing he could do in his own power to save himself did he turn to God in prayer.

One night, in response to Jacob’s prayer, God appeared to Jacob and wrestled him until daybreak. When God saw that Jacob would not give up, He touched Jacob’s hip and lamed him. It was then that Jacob realized that he was prevailing not through his own strength, but through the strength of God. Jacob realized this “man” was God and understood that God could have taken his life, but instead, He gave Jacob mercy. Only when he realized that he had nothing to offer through his own strength, could God bless Jacob. The Prophet Hosea says this of Jacob: “In the womb, that heel, Jacob, got the best of his brother. When he grew up, he tried to get the best of God. But God would not be bested. God bested him. Brought to his knees, Jacob wept and prayed. Hosea 12:1-5, the Message.

Paul understood the spiritual principle contained in the first Beatitude. He said of the Lord “But he said to me,” ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

Like Jacob, how many times do we continue to devise our own plans and try to overcome our struggles in our own power instead of first turning to God, our one true power source? How many times do we wrestle with God instead of submitting to Him so that Christ’s power can rest on us? God wants to bless each of us. He wants each of us to be happy. But He will not force us to submit to His rule. He might weaken us like He did Jacob so that we can more clearly see our inadequacies, but He will never exert His rule over us. He wants us to come to Him willingly.

Only when we empty ourselves of self and acknowledge our inadequacy as we stand before God, will the Kingdom of Heaven and all its blessings be ours. The benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven are here and are now and in the Kingdom is where we will find true happiness. We are all presented with a choice: we can crown ourselves king and continue to chase that ever-fleeting happiness of the world, or we can crown Jesus King and receive the Kingdom kind of happiness that only Jesus offers.


“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”



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