Summary: Happy Is the Person 1) Who is sad and hungry 2) Who is meek and merciful 3) Who suffers for Jesus' sake
Last fall the British government announced its intent to create a “happiness index” to gauge just how cheerful its citizens are. The plan has since been scrapped, as one British politician explained, “You cannot capture happiness on a spreadsheet any more than you can bottle it.” Is he right? Is there no way to measure happiness? Kids, aren’t you happier when eating cake than when eating a carrot? Daves Slaback and Stuht, aren’t you happier when the Packers win than when they lose? See, it’s not difficult to figure out what makes us happy. Then again the happiness that comes from eating cake or watching your favourite team win is a happiness that doesn’t last. That’s why you’ll want to pay close attention to what Jesus has to say this morning. He’s going to teach us what leads to lasting happiness. According to Jesus, happy is the person who is sad and hungry, who is meek and merciful, and who suffers for his sake. A sadness that leads to gladness? What’s this all about? Let’s find out as we study the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes are a series of statements that Jesus made about how to find blessedness or true happiness. It’s important to note that Jesus spoke the Beatitudes to disciples – people who already knew that the way to heaven is through faith in him. In other words the Beatitudes don’t teach us how to be saved but how the saved are to be. That’s why I like to think of the Beatitudes as “how-to-be attitudes.”
So what attitudes lead to happiness? Well, Jesus said that blessed, or happy are they who mourn (Matthew 5:4). But how can you be happy if you’re crying? And what does Jesus want us to cry about? He wants us to cry over our sins. Jesus doesn’t want us to excuse ourselves from having rolled our eyes in disgust when our parents asked again, for the third time what we’re doing Friday night. Nor does Jesus want us to laugh at the good putdown of a classmate we came up with. No, happy are those who mourn over sins like these, not just because we deserve to be punished for them but because we have treated God’s gifts – our parents and our classmates with contempt.
Jesus also said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3a). The root meaning of the word “poor” in Greek is “crouch” the way a beggar does. A Christian does not stand tall before God and proudly points to all the money he gives to God’s work, or to all the time he volunteers at church and in the community. Instead a Christian crouches in the shadows with his head bowed ashamed of missed opportunities to serve. And he’s embarrassed that when he does serve he often does so grudgingly not joyfully.
“O.K. Pastor, I know that I don’t measure up to God’s standard, and reminding me of this doesn’t make me happy.” Just as a quarterback doesn’t like to be reminded of the interceptions he’s thrown, we don’t enjoy being made aware of our sins. This does, however, lead to a desire for something better. That helps us make sense of what Jesus meant when he said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). If you want lasting happiness, you’ll find it only after emptying yourself of all pride and conceit and turning to Jesus to be filled with his forgiveness and his righteousness.
The Greek word Jesus used for “fill” is one you’d expect to hear at the feedlot. Cattle in a feedlot are filled with so much feed that they are fattened, not just fed. In the same way when it comes to doling out forgiveness, Jesus doesn’t do so sparingly but abundantly so that all of our sins, no matter how large or how many they may seem to us, are all forgiven. So that broken relationship, that lie you told, those years away from the faith are just as much forgiven as the snide remarks you made yesterday. But this forgiveness is of no use to us if we don’t think we really need it in the first place. So if you want a lasting gladness, start with a genuine sadness over your sins – not just today but tomorrow as well, for Jesus spoke in the present tense. Only those who continue to remain sad over their sins and continue to hunger for righteousness will be filled and find a lasting happiness.
Now I know that being filled with good food at a turkey dinner, for example, usually makes you want to take a nap. That’s the temptation too with being filled with Jesus’ righteousness. We breathe a big sigh of relief and think we now can curl up in a corner somewhere to take a spiritual nap until the next Sunday. But that’s not what leads to lasting happiness. Those who have been filled with Jesus’ love will actively share that love with others. One way to do this, Jesus explains, is to be meek and merciful (Matthew 5:5, 7). Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9a). Now, I don’t think it’s that difficult to step in and broker a peace between two people who are arguing. If the peace fails, what of it? It’s not your problem. But God calls you to be a peacemaker even when the slight has been hurled your way like phlegm hitting you between the eyes. Yuck! The meek and merciful, however, will wipe off the insult with forgiveness and not spit back a tirade of their own.