“I’m not happy…” the words that you dread at the start of a conversation because you know that it is highly likely that you are the cause of the unhappiness and that they are expecting you to do something that will turn things around and help them to be happy again. Sometimes it is straight forward, you can say sorry, fix the problem and send them away with a smile.
However, on many occasions it isn’t that simple. Someone may be unhappy but there isn’t a lot you can do about it. To give a big picture example, who was really happy about all the implications of lockdown? The answer is that none of us were but telling the government we were unhappy wasn’t going to change things.
I am also reminded of something my friend Bernard once said. Bernard was an elderly gentleman in our church who lived into his 90s. He once commented
“Some people seem at their happiest when they are unhappy.”
In some cases you know that as soon as you have resolved this issue then they will be back again, sooner or later still not happy because we have only really dealt with a surface problem and not the real issue.
Are you happy? What is it that makes you happy? Where is real happiness found. The bible uses a word to describe true, deep, lasting happiness. That word is “Blessed.” Our teaching over the next few weeks is going to be all about what it means to be blessed, to be happy. It’s based on a sermon that Jesus preached called “The Sermon on the Mount” and it starts with a description of 8 types of people who are “blessed” or “happy.”
The Sermon on the Mount (context)
Jesus has called his first disciples and he now moves with them into the hill country. He is followed by large crowds and there up in the mountains he begins to teach. Now, one of the things we have seen as we have worked through the early stages of Matthew’s Gospel is that we are intentionally meant to observe echoes of the Exodus. So, if we have seen Jesus coming out of Egypt, being immersed in water just as the people went through the Red Sea and the Jordan and then tested in the wilderness, now we see him, like Moses going up a Mountain to deliver God’s Law. The Ten Commandments and the Law we find in Deuteronomy acted as a constitution for the people for God in the Old Testament. It included specific commands and wisdom about how to interpret them and was wrapped around by blessings for those who kept it and curses for those who don’t
Here we have a constitution or Law for God’s people under the reign of King Jesus. He is the new and better Moses and his followers are God’s people.
So where is real happiness found?
Real happiness is found among certain people
Jesus lists 8 types of people who will be happy.
- The poor in Spirit (v3)
- Those who mourn (v4)
- Those who are meek (5)
- Those who hunger for righteousness (v6)
- The merciful (v7)
- The pure in heart (v8)
- The peacemakers (v9)
- The persecuted (v10)
You will notice that this list seems to focus on those who would not immediately be thought of as being happy people, those who are poor, mourn and hungry. There is something counter cultural going on here. The list goes on to mention people who whilst not necessarily down trodden or suffering themselves are in effect breaking all the rules about how you get happiness.
We have learnt to believe that the secret to happiness comes by getting our own way and by getting what we want, money, possessions, popularity, power. However, Jesus says that happy people are meek, merciful, peace makers.
And you will notice there that I am beginning to list out those descriptions as a kind of list of characteristics. You may also notice that they sound a bit like the fruit of the Spirit. You see, I don’t think that Jesus is describing different types of people. Rather, he is describing a type of person.
There are a few clues to this. First of all, whilst Luke simply describes the happy people as poor, Matthew adds that they are poor in Spirit. This means that whilst they may well be materially poor, we are really talking about a spiritual condition. It is about recognising your complete unworthiness and your dependence upon God and upon his grace. Similarly, the hungry are not hungry for physical food but for righteousness. The phrase expresses that longing and desire to be right with God and free from sin. This suggests that those who mourn may well not just be grieving the loss of a loved one but in fact are grieving their sin and its horrific consequences.
Thirdly, at the heart of this list is the description of those who are pure in heart. This reminds us of Psalm 24:3-4 which says
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
This should also remind us that no-one is righteous and so none of us can approach God with clean hands and a pure heart without fear. Yet, the Gospel message is that in Christ this is possible.
Finally, Jesus says
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.
This tells us that Jesus is specifically addressing the disciples, his immediate band of 12 and those throughout history who have put their trust in him.
The blessed or the happy person, is the one who is trusting in God and has received Christ as saviour. It means that although we were not righteous or meek, he is the one who was righteous, meek, a peace maker for us. Happiness is not just found among certain people. It is found in a certain person.
This means that happiness is possible in the most horrific circumstances, even as we face suffering and oppression it is possible to know peace with God and find joy in him.
What is it that makes these people happy?
Jesus does not just say that these people are happy. I know that some people seem to be able to trundle along in life always smiling, bringing a sunny disposition to every situation in their own bubble of happy.
That’s not what Jesus is saying here. We need to read each statement to the end. It isn’t just that we say “Those who mourn are happy.” We need to say “Those who mourn are happy because they are comforted. “Those who hunger for righteousness are happy.” Why? The answer is “It is because they will be fed.” In each and every circumstance, we look again and see that God’s people are happy because their needs are being met and their character and actions rewarded.
Happy people are comforted, satisfied, recipients of mercy. This is possible because they are part of God’s kingdom. In other words they are under his rule, reign and care. They get to see God and are heirs of the earth, they are called Sons of God. These happy people have been welcomed into God’s family so that they have a heavenly father who loves them and provides for all their needs. Happy people are loved, forgiven and reconciled – they have received mercy.
Did you spot again the theme we keep seeing of past, present and future grace? We receive mercy at the Cross, sonship and comfort now but also look forward to the new creation when we will “inherit the earth.” In those words, Jesus looks forward to the day when he returns to put everything right and make everything new. The promise is that we will reign with him, taking up again the commission for which we were made, to rule over creation.
So, what is the secret to true happiness? I want to suggest that it is not to work through this list and try to be one or some of these things. Remember that this isn’t a list of different types of people, different ways into happiness. Rather, this whole passage describes the happy person. So, the secret then is not about working through the list but by coming to the one who offers this happiness by welcoming us into his family.
I can’t close without ignoring one objection? Isn’t this pursuit of happiness … well … just a bit hedonistic. Aren’t we meant to pursue holiness? John Piper is brilliant on this. He points us to the Puritan statement
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Note, there is one end, goal or purpose so that glorifying God and enjoying him are one and the same thing, not two different ends. We glorify God by enjoying him, we enjoy him by glorifying. Piper, says that the best way we can worship and glorify God is by enjoying him. Psalm 37:4 puts it this way.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will grant you the desires of your heart.”
Piper argues that you can be a hedonist as long as you are a Christian one! You can pursue pleasure, delight, joy, peace and love as long as you realise that you find those things in God and your relationship with him.
Are you happy?