In our last blog post we noted that Mark summarized Jesus' message as "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mk. 1:15; NKJV). But what does it mean to "repent"?
Jesus expands on the theme in the famous "Sermon on the Mount," recorded in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. The sermon opens with the "beatitudes," so called because each verse in the Latin version begins with the word "beati," which means "blessed." Certain types of individuals are said to be well-off or fortunate if certain things are true of them. In this case the beatitudes expand on the theme that if we repent we will enter into a future state of bliss and happiness.
The first beatitude reads, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). At first sight this seems like a paradox. If someone is "poor in spirit" he is hardly in a state of happiness or bliss. But Jesus is stating an important truth here. We must repent in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, and repentance begins with a change of attitude.
In order to have any kind of meaningful relationship with God we must first humble ourselves. "Though the Lord is on high, Yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar" (Ps. 138:6). "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word" (Isa. 66:2). In order to have a relationship with God we must first recognize Who He is: God Almighty, the eternal, self-existent Creator of heaven and earth. And as for ourselves, we are mere creatures of the dust, here today and gone tomorrow. Thus what is in view here is a relationship between two parties that are vastly unequal to each other – a relationship between the infinite and the finite, between the Creator and the created thing. We must bow before Him in awestruck wonder.
What Jesus is pointing to in the first beatitude is a basic fact of human psychology. We keeps up modern westerners from a meaningful relationship with God is our own pride and self-sufficiency. We are unwilling to acknowledge our weakness and dependence on Him. And so we go our way and He goes His. This is why our churches are spiritually dead. This is why our "religion" is a sham. This is why we have not experienced a general revival is well over a century and a half. We play at Christianity the way a cat plays with a mouse. We don't take our faith very seriously.
Does this mean that religion, in the true sense of the word, is only for weak-minded people, the "opiate of the people" as Karl Marx so famously put it – people who are too stupid and naïve to realize that they don't need God? Hardly. Rather, it is the arrogant scoffers who are being stupid, for they forget one thing: eventually we must all die. And then what?
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."