Blessed are the… (A Look at Happiness and the Beatitudes)
Psychologists have studied happiness, and here’s what they have found. As we start looking to see if we’re happy, we no longer experience happiness. The more you focus on happiness the less likely it will be that you’ll get there.
We also overestimate the happiness which circumstances or things will get us. We all have experienced a moment, a day, a week, maybe even a month of incredible happiness, and we love it so much that’s all we want. We are addicted to powerful experiences of happiness. Sometimes we overlook the smaller, equally joyful moments because we’re waiting for that big moment.
So, since happiness is hard to find, what does God’s Word say about being happy?
In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus calls us to live outside of what the world calls happiness and, instead, embrace his definition and source of happiness.
“His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:1-12
This word, “blessed” is repeated nine times in this portion of the sermon. The word in Greek is “makarios”. It’s a word that is mostly translated blessed, but it’s also translated happy, privileged, or receiving the pleasure of God.
Blessed can also mean happy.
But it seems clear that it’s not just happy; it’s kind of a supreme blessedness, bliss, because it includes the favor of God. That kind of blessed, that kind of happiness, is a condition of true joy. It’s why we call these the Beatitudes, because it’s a condition of total blessedness. Let’s look at each one for more on Jesus’ view of happiness:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is not just talking about those who are financially poor, economically poor, underprivileged. Rather, he’s saying blessed are those who have recognized that without God they cannot, will not ever, be good enough. Without God’s work in their lives they cannot make themselves right with God. Poor in spirit recognizes there is a wretchedness in them, a wickedness. They are happy because they acknowledge their sinfulness and they recognize God has done something with that problem.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” If you’re here today and you have a tremendous situation, a loss or an illness or a struggle and you’re in deep mourning, you’re grieving or you’re sad…yes, this does apply to you. God will comfort you.
When we recognize that we’re broken and when we start to see that part of us that is sinful, we also see it in the world, and we start to mourn it. I know how it feels to mourn for the damage my sin caused myself, my loved ones, and other people. Why would we mourn and why would that make us happy? Because Jesus says, “You will be comforted.” We are comforted that God will restore and transform and make things right one day.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Meek is not weakness. It means humility, a proper understanding of where we stand in relationship to God and to others. Jesus himself was meek, full of power, and yet, willing to yield that power for the benefit of others and for what God was doing in the world. Revelation tells us there will be a new earth, and these people, those who are humble before the Lord, will inherit that earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Once we recognize our spiritual poverty, once we mourn our sin and the sins of others, once we become humble and no longer are driven by pride, we hunger for God’s goodness, not just in us but in the world. Then the Holy Spirit begins to change us from the inside out. He sanctifies us. He purifies us so we can be hungrier for his goodness.
Now, at this point, the Beatitudes take a turn.
Up to this point, you’ll notice each one of these statements is about how we begin to understand where we fit in relationship to the Lord. You’ll notice the next Beatitudes start to show the work of the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Because we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness for our sins, we now extend that mercy to others. We are given mercy by our Lord.
We are happy when we receive mercy, but that mercy doesn’t stick around if we’re going to keep it to ourselves.
Jesus says we must pass on that mercy. In fact, in James we’re told, “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (James 2:13). They’re happy because they can share the mercy they received to others.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This pure heart is made by the Holy Spirit.
Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “…all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
We are being changed into his image. Our hearts are being purified by the Lord. This brings us happiness! This brings me great joy!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” In a world that is peace-breaking, God starts to transform us into peace-loving people. Paul says, “Seek peace with everyone.” That’s our task, and that brings us happiness.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Verses 11 and 12 are really an expansion of this: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The world hates. It hates the kind of people who are described in the Beatitudes. The more you become like Christ, persecution is coming your way. Those who do not believe in God are against this message, and they want to shut it off.
Jesus sends us to the front line where we might be persecuted, where we might have to suffer in his name.
We are now his ambassadors, walking around as happy people, because we have him in us and working through us.
Jesus teaches us a new way to be happy. For me, this gives me great freedom. I don’t have to do it all, be it all, chase happiness like the world does. I can rest in God’s grace and let him make me happy. In him, I am blessed.
How are you challenged by the Beatitudes?
Which one of those is calling you to renew your understanding of happiness?