Man has always pursued happiness and often willing to go to great extremes to obtain it. The sad thing is that the vast majority of people are miserable in spite of their constant pursuit. Why is this? It s because most people are searching for happiness in the wrong way in the wrong place. They think material wealth, social status and worldly wisdom will bring the happiness they desire. But the wise man of Ecclesiastes says this is all vanity. In contrast, Jesus announces that true happiness is found in His kingdom. Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount with a series of eight sharp and largely paradoxical statements that are commonly referred to as the beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). These eight assertions begin with the word blessed, a word translated by many as happy. But the word happy has the component hap which suggests chance and has as its root the word happen. The fact is, we commonly consider our happiness dependent upon what happens to us, much of which is a matter of chance. But the blessedness or happiness of which Jesus speaks is not determined by circumstance nor affected by the vicissitudes of life. It is a self-contained joy that transcends circumstance existing in spite of the difficulties, oppressions and troubles we face. Join me in a study of this New Testament portrait of happiness.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes, the first of which is, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). The first essential characteristic of kingdom citizens set forth by Jesus is poverty of spirit, for without it one simply cannot enter the kingdom. The poverty of spirit about which Jesus speaks is the result of a contrite heart. It is an attitude that grows out of the profound realization of utter helplessness as far as any ability of self is concerned. It is the deep humility under which the will of an individual bows in subjection to the will of God. The astonishing thing is that Jesus pronounces such poor people as blessed, fortunate in the highest degree, for the world in its arrogance generally expects the very opposite. The term kingdom must not be taken to refer to an outward realm of land and people, for Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). In fact, Jesus said, The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). That is, those poor in spirit are those willing to subject themselves in humble obedience to the rule of the King. Therefore, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matt. 7:21).
The second of the Beatitudes is, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:4). It is sin that brought death into this world with all its grief and suffering. Jesus speaks of those that mourn because their sin has caused separation from God. Such mourning is God-centered, not man-centered. It is the realization that we have grieved God by sinning against Him that brings penitent tears. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) Jesus makes it clear, Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3). And so James says, Lament and mourn, and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom (James 4:9). It s not just a matter of getting caught, it is rather an attitude of heart that recognizes sin and its condition independent of being found out. It is a constant cry to God in the distress of sin that can only find comfort in the blessing of forgiveness. The comfort of salvation found in Jesus Christ is given only to those that mourn over their sins. Only in Christ can your mourning be turned into joy. For this cause, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Jesus said, Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). Our modern connotation of the word meek calls to mind a timid, milk toast, Barney Fife type of character. As a result, this type of person is often seen as weak and viewed with contempt. But we need to understand that meekness is not spinelessness or the opposite of courage. In fact it takes great courage to be meek. Neither is it a false modesty or a depreciation of self. While we are not to be arrogant and preoccupied with self, we are expected by God to have a healthy self-evaluation. True meekness does not demand that a person be servile. Neither is such a quality a cowardly retreat from that which is right just to avoid conflict. The word speaks of our submission to God as we accept His dealings with us as being for our ultimate good, whether we understand fully or not. It is the quality that enables us to accept injustices and wrongs without retaliation. If our attitude toward God is right, this attitude will be reflected in our dealings with our fellowman. In short, meekness is controlled strength and has at its root the idea of self-control. It is the complete control of the passionate part of our nature so that we might serve the Lord regardless of circumstance or mistreatment.
The fourth of the Beatitudes is, Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled (Matt. 5:6). Hunger and thirst are commonly used in scripture to express strong spiritual desires and needs. In this case, the intense desire is to be righteous in God s sight. Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), man can only stand righteous by means of God s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). Only in Jesus can we find justification and the righteousness we so desperately desire. Jesus said, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst (John 6:35). God has indeed blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). But how do we get in Christ? The apostle Paul told the Romans we are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3, 4), and to the Galatians he wrote, For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). Therefore, when one believes in Christ as the Son of God, repents of his sins and is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) he finds the righteousness that satisfies his hunger and thirst. Have you found it? Have you been baptized into Christ?
The fifth beatitude is, Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7). Those that have hungered and thirsted for righteousness and have been filled (5:6) understand the necessity of mercy, for our righteousness can only be found in the mercy of God. God s mercy is evident in the fact that the Lord is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Just as God longs to forgive us, so should we be merciful, even to those that harm us. So many times, however, mercy is dislodged by vindictiveness. And while we expect to receive mercy, we sometimes find it difficult to be merciful towards others. But we must remember that God s mercy does not negate His justness, for forgiveness is dependent upon repentance (Luke 13:3). And yet, it is mercy that gives the will to pardon. Nowhere do we imitate God more than when we grant mercy, even to our enemies. The mercy we extend grows out of our own personal experience with the mercy of God. It is mercy that enables us to enter into the miseries of another and feel compassion, for we know how much they need forgiveness. Only as we are merciful can we find mercy, for if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:15). Remember, we cannot expect to receive what we are unwilling to give.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). The pure heart in this passage refers to sincere and honest people, those of integrity whose desire is to do only that which pleases God. But we must understand that sincerity is not sufficient in and of itself. To be sure we must do what we believe is right in the sight of God. But just because we believe something to be in accordance with God s will, does not make it right. For instance, Saul of Tarsus (who later became the apostle Paul) was breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1). He later said, I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 26:9). And yet, Paul also said, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day (Acts 23:1). Clearly, Paul thought he was doing right by persecuting Christians, but that didn t make it so. Nevertheless, Paul s heart was pure, for when he heard the truth of God he realized his error, and when Ananias told him, Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord, he obeyed (Acts 22:16). Such spiritual integrity is crucial to our salvation, for only those with a pure heart will obey the gospel of Christ. Only those with a pure heart shall truly see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9). The blessed in this beatitude are those who having found reconciliation with God through their obedience to the truth (1 Peter 1:22), are now striving by both their message and their conduct to impart this truth to others. Such true peacemakers subject themselves to the God of peace (1 Cor. 14:33), aspire to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18), proclaim the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), and pattern their lives after the Prince of Peace (Luke 19:10). In spite of this, the proclamation of this gospel both by word and deed will sometimes produce conflict rather than peace, for some will be unwilling to receive the teachings of the Lord. For this reason, Jesus said, Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword ... and a man s foes shall be they of his own household (Matt. 10:34, 36). The fault, however, lies not with the Lord, but with all who reject Him and His teachings. He offers reconciliation and true lasting peace (Matt. 11:27-30). But this is not a peace at any price, for His peace can never be found by compromising truth, even under the guise of love. All the religious conflict in the world would be resolved if all men would simply subject themselves to the word of God.
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10). This last of the beatitudes of Christ is a paradox few understand, for persecution is seldom seen as a blessing. But the persecution of which Jesus speaks does not spring from purely social, racial, economic, or political causes, but is rooted in a living faith that manifests righteous behavior. The result is persecution for righteousness sake. Those insistent upon obeying the Lord regardless of consequence will find their persecution worth it, regardless of the cost. As the apostle Paul expressed it, For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward (Rom. 8:18). The faithful child of God will always face some persecution for his very character is a constant protest against the character of those who love the world (see 2 Tim. 3:14). The world hated Jesus, and therefore hates His disciples (John 15:17). It is this hatred that underlies the persecution about which Jesus speaks. But the Lord assures us that His faithful disciples are blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, Fear not the things which you are about to suffer ... Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).