Summary: All of the beatitudes - and the rewards that accompany them - presuppose humility, acknowledgement of of one's dependence on God's mercy.

Are you happy? If not, what would it take to make you happy?

“What is happiness?” and “How can I get happiness?” are two of the most pressing questions facing people in the United States today. Most of us don’t have to worry a great deal about food, clothing and shelter. . . Yes, I know that we are in uncertain and painful economic times. But don’t we feel rich when we look at the people in Zimbabwe? Don’t we feel safe compared to the people in Bosnia? When you don’t have physical security, “happiness” runs a poor last in the race. Happiness and survival are one and the same. But once your physical survival is assured, life gets a whole lot more complicated, doesn’t it. Some people think that having the right things guarantees happiness; others that happiness consists of the freedom to make your own choices. A British group in the 19th century called Benthamites defined happiness as minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But along comes the clinker. . . a phenomenon called “the hedonistic paradox.” The more time you spend looking for happiness, the less likely you are to find it.

The whole world is longing for happiness, and it is tragic to watch the self-destructive, futile ways in which many people are seeking it. Anything which encourages people to opt for short-term happiness and evade the difficulties of life ultimately adds to their problems. This is where the utter deceitfulness of sin comes in: it is always promising happiness, and it always leads - eventually - to unhappiness. If not for the person who actually made the initial choice, then for the people around them.

\It is not wrong to want happiness. This text, Jesus’ most famous teaching, starts out by promising happiness. But he goes on to say that there is only one way to be truly, lastingly happy, and that anyone who wants this kind of happiness had better sit up and listen.

Actually, the word “blessed” doesn’t exactly mean “happy,” although one famous modern preacher has suggested that we call this passage of Matthew the “be happy” attitudes. The Greek word “makarios” really means “fortunate” or “prosperous”. . . In other words, the person who is “makarios” has something bigger than a temporary feeling; there’s something going on here that makes a significant long-term favorable impact on the quality of his or her life. This type of person is truly happy, is truly “blessed.” This is the sort of person who is to be congratulated, and imitated.

The Sermon on the Mount is 3 chapters long. It’s full of short, pointed examples of behavior that Jesus is recommending for his followers. And people often take a single incident, pull it out of context, and try to develop a rule with the illustration as its center. That’s not how this sermon works, though. Sermon illustrations never make sense unattached to the fundamental lessons. There are eight of these lessons, and because each one begins with the word we translate as “blessed”, which in Latin is “Beata,” they are called “the Beatitudes.” Everything in this sermon must be understood in the light of the Beatitudes. They come at the beginning for a reason.

Jesus’ sermon is very carefully organized. Verses 3-16 speak in general terms; the remainder applies these generalities to specific situations. Verses 3-12 comprise the Beatitudes. The first 7 describe the Christian character, that is, poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and peaceful. The last Beatitude, “Blessed are those who are persecuted,” portrays the reaction of the world to people who conform to this description - and how we should handle it. And the next 4 verses describe the general response of the Christian to the world in turn. The remainder of chapter 5 deals with the relationship of the Christian to the Mosaic law, while chapters 6 and 7 expand to cover a variety of other real-life situations, from the religious to the mundane.

The most important thing to remember about the Sermon on the Mount is that it is primarily concerned with character. Jesus makes it very clear that God judges according to the condition of a person’s heart far more than what is visible to the human eye. This sermon teaches his followers how to develop the kind of character God approves of. Now, to be sure, character is played out in action as each person is faced with particular situations, but it is the character that matters. This is not a new code of ethics of morals, a new Ten commandments, but an illustration of a particular kind of person living in the world. The Beatitudes describe the kind of person the Christian is to be, and the rest of the sermon illustrates how that kind of person responds to real life situations. And so, as we get further into the series, I want you to remember that each example is an application of one or more of the Beatitudes.

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