Happy in Christ

1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)

I am excited about this study we are beginning through Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5, or at least the first few verses that we’re going to look at together over the next several weeks. Two weeks ago we talked about the unexpected nature of the journey on which Jesus was about to take His disciples. This journey for them can also, should also be for us this morning and in the coming weeks. Jesus, as He begins to speak in this inaugural address, His very first public message concerning His kingdom, He would speak words that would be so incredibly contrary to the expectations of the day. This journey would be anything but predictable or routine. “Ordinary” would not be a word to describe what they were about to hear, what Jesus expected them to experience. Change was the message, a message that would be at odds with the norm of the day. Not just the norm of society around them, but also the norm even in their own hearts and minds. What He would describe would be His expectations and desires concerning all who would be a part of His Kingdom. That’s why these things are so important for us.

In our country, in our culture, we don’t really know a whole lot about kingdoms or kings. We as a country rebelled against kingdoms and kings. But it’s not hard for us to understand that in a kingdom it is the king who sets the standards, makes the rules, has the power, and sets up expectations for those whom he rules. Jesus would describe those expectations.

In this sermon in Matthew 5, we may find His words somewhat familiar. You may have read through this passage before. Though it was new in its day, innovative of sorts, though it represented change, for you and for me many of His words will be familiar. I hope familiarity in this case is not a hindrance for us. I hope we don’t just hear words and assume understanding and move on. That can be a problem with familiarity. I hope instead that we, by God’s grace, develop a deeper hunger for what Jesus has for us here, what He wants us to know, and how He wants us to respond to Him. I hope that we will embrace the journey of going through these verses with an expectation that the Holy Spirit will use these words to work in our hearts and minds. When we set out on a journey through a study in God’s Word, it is not just the end result that we should long for, the conclusions drawn at the end that we want to hang on to and embrace, or the final truth discovered that should excite us, but also the whole process of learning and going through a study together, and how He chooses to take us through that. It should be a journey over the next few weeks, a road traveled that leads to a destination of truth and change.

One of my earliest memories as a child of journey or adventure was taking a trip on a passenger train from Houston to Oklahoma City. I don’t even know if you can do that anymore. I guess you can, I don’t know, but we did that. I had never been on a passenger train before, I hadn’t even seen one in real life at that time. I must have been around five years old or so. My dad took my mom, my sister, and me, and put us on this big train to Oklahoma, where we were going to spend some time with my grandparents.

There were at least two reasons why I was really, really excited about this particular trip. One reason for my excitement was that I was going to see my grandparents, and I loved that. They lived in the country, on the farm. I grew up in the city, and so for me a visit to the country was like heaven. There were endless things to do in my mind, things to explore, and they would just turn me loose and I would go everywhere. I loved going to see my grandparents. But the second reason I was so excited about this trip in particular was that I was going to get on a train! And that was big, very big for a five year old boy. I had played with trains, seen trains on TV, heard my granddad talk about trains, but I had never actually gotten on one. This was huge for me. You see, I was not only excited about where our trip would take us, I was excited about the trip itself, getting on the train! For me, the journey was as exciting as what the destination would be.

My prayer is that we will not only feel excitement over where God will end up taking us, what He will work in our lives ultimately, but that as we go through these beatitudes together we will also garner some excitement about the journey itself. What will we learn along the way? What does He have for us today? My hope is that we will walk through this with great expectation of God’s work in us, because this journey is for our sanctification. That is exciting to see, and be a part of, and to anticipate!

And so we read, we study, we hear God’s word with an expectation that change will come, change will happen in you and me, change that will move us all into greater conformity with that of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not just getting to the end, but embracing every step along the way. God’s way, not our way. And so we have lots of room for change. Jesus is preaching a message of change.

Jesus begins each of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3 with the word “blessed.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are those who mourn,” “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and so on. Jesus begins by pronouncing blessing, or stating a certain blessedness for those who possess certain characteristics in His kingdom. But what does this mean? What does Jesus mean when He says, “Blessed are…”?

That is a really good question, a very important question we need to answer before we get to them. If we are going to understand Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes, we have to understand the meaning of the word “blessed.” It seems to me that if we don’t really understand this repeated word, then we can very likely fail to grasp what Jesus is really communicating to us. And so this morning, we are going to take some time to simply focus on this word “blessed,” and I think then we will be in a better place to understand the spirit of the remaining parts of these verses. What does Jesus mean when He says, “Blessed are…”? There has been much writing on this topic, but with so much material out there written over the years, I’ve found that there is a surprising amount of consistency as to what it means.

The late James Montgomery Boice helps us with this. He describes how the word “bless” or “blessed” has evolved over many years, and even our understanding of it has evolved. In the days of its origin, it was understood in Old English as coming from the word “blood.” It was used to describe things set apart for God through a blood ritual. So it meant something that was set apart for God or consecrated to God. Later it would be understood as anything set apart to God. For instance, even today we say a prayer before a meal and we may call it a blessing. We may ask, “Who would like to say the blessing?” What do we mean by this? Well, in this prayer at meal time we are consecrating the food and ourselves for God’s service. We are asking God to take this food that we are about to consume and make it useful to our bodies so that we may serve Him with these bodies. Asking God, “Set this food aside to bring health to our bodies, so you can take these bodies and use them to your service. Bless this food to our bodies.” We still use “blessing” in this way that it was used so many years ago.

Later in English history, it began being used as a translation from the Greek word “eulogein,” where we get the word “eulogy,” which means to speak well of someone. We see it used this way in the Bible in how we speak of God. Luke 1:68 for instance says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” Or in Ephesians 1, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is speaking highly of God. It is praising God or blessing God.

A third meaning arose that came from the word “bliss.” Many writers would exchange the ‘e’ in blessed with an ‘i’ or a ‘y’ and say “blissed,” which meant “happy” or “joyful.” So “blessed” took on the meaning of “blissed,” or of living in a blissful, happy, or joyful state. Boice says, “It is this third use of the world ‘blessed’ that occurs in the Sermon on the Mount.” He goes on to say, “Hence, when Jesus spoke these words he was telling his listeners how they could be deeply, spiritually, and profoundly happy and how they could maintain this happiness even in the midst of life’s disappointments and hard times.” Boice says this word blessed means, as we read in Matthew 5, “deeply, spiritually, and profoundly happy.”

Others speak similarly about this word “blessed” meaning happiness, but with some caution. For instance, Charles Quarles, in his commentary says, “Rather than happiness in its mundane sense, it (blessed) refers to the deep inner joy of those who have long awaited the salvation promised by God and who now begin to experience its fulfillment.”

The great preacher and theologian Martyn Lloyd-Jones simply says, speaking of those who are blessed according to Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5, “Our Lord says that this is the only kind of person who is truly ‘blessed’, that is ‘happy’…Someone has suggested that it might be put like this; this is the sort of man who is to be congratulated, this is the sort of man to be envied, for he alone is truly happy.” He goes on to say, “Happiness is the great question confronting mankind.”

John MacArthur of these verses says, “Joy, after all, is a central theme of the Beatitudes. The word blessed actually speaks of a deep, abiding happiness, which Christ says belongs to all who are characterized by the qualities He described in the Beatitudes.” He then says, “Jesus is in the happiness business.” Does that surprise you to hear that? Again, the quote is, “Jesus is in the happiness business.” And then MacArthur says, “Sadly, not everyone really understands or believes that.”

Now, I mentioned earlier, and we have seen that some use happiness to define blessed, but they do so in a cautious or qualifying way. None of these men mean a flippant, surface level happiness that is dependent on circumstances around us. None of them would say that. No, this is an abiding happiness, not a fleeting one that is based on what we define as the good or bad that enters our lives. This happiness is similar to all the mentions of joy in the book of Philippians. It is a steadfast happiness that is rooted in God Himself and in His promises. But some would use the word joy and strip it of its emotion and avoid the word happiness altogether. I think that’s a mistake; I am not one of those. I believe God wants us to be happy, in our hearts and minds and in our emotions. Again, happy with the right object in view, that is happy in Christ.

This is not a circumstantial happiness, but true, lasting, rock solid happiness because of who we are in Christ and because of a right understanding of our identity in Christ and a right view of ourselves as a part of Christ’s kingdom, and of the things that are to come.

This is hard, I know. Some will say, “So, I’m supposed to be happy that I lost my job and I can’t pay my bills?” Well, yes and no. We don’t have to be happy about all the perceived bad or evil around us, but we are to be happy in the middle of the circumstances because what makes us supremely happy has not changed, even if we’ve lost our job and our income. Happiness is not based on that, shouldn’t be based on that. He has still placed His love on us as sinful children, and our future is forever secure in Him in all His glorious kindness, and if this is true, then losing a job and having no money cannot steal away true happiness in God. This doesn’t mean we ask for pain, that we want pain or say “bring it on.” No, it simply means there is something that runs deeper than the pain, and it is a contented joy in Christ. That is happiness in Him.

Let me show you this from later in the Beatitudes. When Jesus talks about being persecuted – that’s no fun, being persecuted, that’s not something we sit back and say, “That would make me happy!” Not at all. But when Jesus talks about being persecuted, being reviled by other people, when He talks about people speaking evil against us wrongly, when people lie about us, how are we to deal with that? How does He instruct us to deal with that? People are just trying to bring you down in a variety of ways. How are we to deal with it mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even practically? He tells us in verse 12, “Rejoice and be glad.”

To rejoice and be glad can be states of being, what’s going on in us, but they are also most certainly words full of emotion. “Rejoice and be glad.” Does Jesus want us to be happy? I say, “Yes!” You may say, “Well that’s great, but I don’t have that kind of lasting happiness. This solid undercurrent of happiness that never goes away, I don’t have it.” Then I would say, “I get that, I’m with you there.” So we, it sounds like, are in a good place to learn how to be happy in this way, that is in God’s way! Do you want that? Are you tired of a fleeting happiness that comes and goes, here one moment and gone the next? Are you tired of living that way? Me too! If that’s the case, then let’s go to our Lord who designed us, created us, who knows exactly the answer for our fickleness mentally and emotionally when it comes to contented happiness!

Now, in thinking about this it is also important to, again, remember that this happiness is not rooted in circumstances. Verse 12 testifies to that for sure, as do all the Beatitudes. This blessedness or happiness is not ours as Christians in external things. We have got to get that. Those things that we may pursue seeking happiness are elusive, and cannot deliver what they promise. What we will find is that happiness comes to us sort of through a side door. It comes to us in the most unusual of ways. Happiness God’s way is contrary to how the world or even how our flesh thinks of happiness.

For instance, we are told that riches will bring us happiness. Anybody ever thought that? Thinking that now, maybe? Riches mean different things to different people. Riches can mean possessing silver, gold, or the US dollar. But for most, riches simply means being able to get what we want, and that usually takes money. Thomas Watson said, “Riches are but tinned over.” What he means by that is that all of those things out there that we think will bring us happiness are simply coated with something shiny. Coated with something shiny that makes it alluring to us, attractive, but it’s just a coat, a thin coat of attractiveness that wears off once obtained. You get it, and it just rubs off in your hands, it’s gone. Riches cannot deliver true happiness.

John tells us in 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” All that is in the world is passing away, all the shine will be gone, the tin, the allurement that we are so attracted to today, it will wear away. Proverbs 23 tells us that riches are winged. Verse 5 says, “When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.”

But we don’t give up simply trying to find happiness in riches. We look to health, we look to appearance, we look to physical pleasure, we look to power and position, we look to a good reputation, controllable relationships, equal rights, happiness in demands that people love us and treat us the way we want to be treated. Everyone is in some way looking for happiness. Do you agree with that? But few are looking for it from Matthew 5. Few are seeking God’s way in this matter of how Jesus says we have happiness.

Many conclude that since happiness does not come, and last, in all those things we have sought after, then God must not care if we are happy. I don’t think that is so, I believe He is concerned with our happiness. There is a common saying that I really dislike. I don’t think I’m a guy that has a lot of pet peeves, but if I do then this is one. The saying goes something like, “God is not concerned with your happiness, only your holiness.” I don’t like that for many reason, but one reason is that it pits happiness against holiness. In the Beatitudes we have a marriage of happiness and holiness. They’re married, not pitted against each other. In the Beatitudes we have a perfect portrait of Jesus Christ, Jesus who was both holy and happy. Billy Graham once said, “If by happiness we mean serenity, confidence, contentment, peace, joy and soul-satisfaction, then Jesus was supremely happy.” He was happy and He was holy. We don’t have to settle for one or the other, pitting them against each other.

I’m not sure one can be holy if he is not also happy in Christ. I don’t see how that’s possible. Just think about that for a moment. Can one be holy, I mean genuinely so, and not be happy in Christ? What kind of holiness would that be? Maybe some kind of a legalistic holiness, maybe a self-righteous holiness, maybe a self-earned facade of holiness. I don’t know. Because if someone is truly walking with Christ in obedience from the heart, then wouldn’t that include obedience to all the commands for joy from Philippians, and happiness from the Sermon on the Mount?

So when Jesus says “blessed” nine times in Matthew 5, He is simply saying and means “happy” in the most genuine way, or with a sense of deep, abiding, eternal joy. So, “happy are,” again, in this most genuine way, “happy are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled.” Happy are those people!

I know some of you are thinking, “Are you crazy? I’m not sure I want to be happy anymore! If I’ve got to embrace that whole list, I’m not sure I want that. Surely “blessed” does not mean “happy.” Those descriptors just don’t go together in my mind, I cannot reconcile these things. Those things don’t sound very happy to me!” I would say, “Yes, I understand what you are saying.” But again, happiness is not to be related to external things. It comes to us from God, by God, and He gives it to us by His Spirit in the way He chooses. And He says, God says, “Happy are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, are meek, etc.”

This is part of the point of the Sermon on the Mount. This is God’s Kingdom, His way, His plan, and it is different than what all who heard and even we in our inborn flesh see things to be. This is a different way, thus the great challenge to all of us who hear.

So we will, Lord willing, board this train together, and I hope embrace the journey that the Lord will take us on as we seek to discover these truths for our lives in His Word.

2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:2-12)