God's Kind of Happiness

Matthew 5:1-12 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In His beatitudes, His statements of blessing, Jesus represents a radical reversal of almost everything we have ever been taught about the meaning of happiness!  We have always been taught to define happiness in terms of wealth. Jesus teaches, “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.” We have been taught that sinful behavior is fun. Jesus teaches, “Happy are those who mourn.” We have been taught that we get what we want if we are noisy and demanding. Jesus teaches, “Happy are the meek.” We have been taught that God, church, and the Bible are boring. Jesus teaches, “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

We have been taught that mercy is a sign of weakness. Jesus teaches, “Happy are those who are merciful to others.” We have been taught to lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead in life. Jesus teaches, “Happy are the pure in heart.” We have been taught that revenge leads to satisfaction. Jesus teaches, “Happy are those who work for peace.” 

Jesus teaches, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.” We have tended to call such people fanatics! Jesus teaches, “Happy are you when people insult you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers.” We tend to say, “Don’t get mad, get even!” 

Like so often during the Epiphany season, Jesus runs counter to our culture. He reveals that God’s kind of happiness is exactly the opposite of what we and the rest of the world consider happiness. 

Jesus was gaining in popularity because people were coming to be healed and to be amazed by His miracles. Large crowds were gathering around Him. When He saw these crowds, Jesus went up to a flat portion of a mountainside by the Sea of Galilee and delivered His Sermon on the Mount. 

Jesus understood that all these people were really looking for the same thing in life. They all wanted happiness. We are just like them aren’t we? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves? Isn’t that what we ultimately want for our children? Happiness?

The problem is that we really don’t understand what makes up God’s kind of happiness, and so true happiness often eludes us. And so Jesus begins teaching: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” These four beatitudes can be summed up in a single phrase, “blessed are the beggars.”

“We are all beggars, this is true.” Martin Luther had written those words in preparation for his death. In those days, it was common to spend a great deal of effort planning one’s burial and carefully choosing one’s last words. We don’t know if Luther actually said these words. They were written on a piece of paper on a nightstand next to his bed. Regardless, the truth remains – we are all beggars, this is true. 

We are poor in spirit when we see that we are nothing but beggars in total need of God’s help. We recognize our spiritual poverty, our sinfulness and our unworthiness in God’s sight. We are poor in spirit when we confess that not only are we born in a sinful condition, but we have our own “pet sins” that we commit – those sins that we are tempted to commit over and over again. As Christians, we are never truly happy when we commit these sins. Our sinful nature may enjoy these sins of the flesh and mind, but we always end up feeling guilty afterwards. This guilt drags us down and leads us to despair and depression.

Jesus tells us that you are blessed and happy when you get rid of these sins. Feel sorrow over your sins. Be humbled by your shortcomings and failures. Then you will receive the kingdom of heaven. You will receive the gift of faith, forgiveness, and eternal life in Christ. 

We are to mourn over our sins. It should not be, “I know it was wrong, God, but it felt so good.” Or, “God, please forgive me so that I can commit this same sin again tomorrow.” Feel sorrow over how you have treated your fellow man. Feel remorse that you have crucified Christ with your sins. Feel sadness that every time you sin, you slap God in the face. 

When you mourn over your sins, you will be comforted. Christ will forgive you. He washes away your sins with the power of His holy baptism. He comforts you through His sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus says to us who sorrow over our sins: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

Begging depicts meekness. But that’s OK. That’s a beatitude, too. A Christian man once asked God, “Why has my brother been blessed with wealth and I with nothing? All of my life I have never missed a single day without saying morning and evening prayers. My church attendance has been perfect. I have always loved my neighbor and given my money. Yet now, as I near the end of my life, I can hardly afford to pay my rent. My brother, on the other hand, drinks and gambles and plays all the time. Yet he has more money than he can count. I don’t ask you to punish him, but tell me, why has he been given so much and I have been given nothing?” “Because,” God replied, “you’re such a self-righteous pain in the neck.” 

When we are gentle and patient, when we are not noisy and demanding, when we do not put ourselves ahead of others, when we are not “self-righteous pains in the neck,” we will inherit the earth. God will bless us with the things we need in life, not because we deserve them, but because God wishes to give them to us. Being meek means that we realize that we don’t get what we deserve. Instead, we get so much more.   

We are like beggars, hungering and thirsting for the righteousness we receive in Christ’s Bread of Life and Living Water. Make the Word of God a part of your daily life. Assemble regularly with your fellow Christians hearing God’s Word in worship and Bible study. Receive the Lord’s Supper often. Live in daily appreciation of the blessings of your baptism. Then you are filled with all the blessings of salvation God has granted you through Jesus Christ.

God’s kind of happiness also comes from imitating Jesus. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” The next three beatitudes speak of living the Christian life so others notice. 

Christian talk without a Christian life to back it up just makes the talk sound like religious gas. The words may well be true. But without the matching actions, others will be turned off and find reasons to ignore your words. If people think you are a hypocrite, it doesn't matter how true your words might be. St. James tells us bluntly, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead” (James 2:17).

People are starved for real Christianity. They are not necessarily impressed by traditions, rituals, labels, majestic buildings, or family loyalties. They do notice and respect acts of compassion, generosity, acceptance, and unrepaid kindness. The hot-button words today are real, authentic, and genuine.

Real, authentic and genuine all describe the life of Christ. We are merciful to others because Jesus was merciful to humanity. Jesus has been merciful to us by dying and saving us, even though we didn’t deserve it. He forgives us, even though He knows we will keep on asking for more forgiveness. 

Imitating Jesus means having a pure heart. But having a pure heart does not come naturally to us. Just like cholesterol can clog the arteries around the heart, so our daily sins ruin us spiritually. Every day we need to ask, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) When we have this pure heart, we will be able to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and we will dwell in His presence for all eternity.

The peace of Jesus flows into us so that this peace flows out from us to others. Then we are called peacemakers. Jesus has granted us peace by removing the barrier of sin that separated us from God. Because Jesus paid for every last one of our sins, God has no reason to hate us. The devil no longer has any claim over us. Death no longer can alarm us. We are at peace no matter what calamity, catastrophe or cataclysm comes our way. We rest peacefully in the Good Shepherd’s arms. The peace of God that rests on us will lead us to peaceful relations with others. 

God’s kind of happiness also comes from suffering for Jesus’ sake. Jesus must have raised a few eyebrows when he said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

Face it, people are going to hate you because you are a Christian. They won’t understand you because you are a Lutheran. They will call you strict and close-minded because you are WELS. Even though you may spend your entire life trying to make peace with others, some people will hate you enough to make your life miserable. What should we do? Should we lose all hope? Should we give up and throw in the towel? No! Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad.” So let me understand this. Jesus wants us to rejoice when someone insults us for standing up for what is right? He wants us to be glad when they do things that try to ruin our life? He wants us to throw a party when people tell lies about us and drag our name through the mud? Maybe not a party, but we are to rejoice and be glad.

Jesus says we are in good company when we are persecuted for our faith. We are suffering like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Moses and Daniel. We are enduring pain like Paul and Peter and Stephen. We are abused and shamed just as Christ was abused and shamed. We are enduring it all for Him. We endure this suffering because He endured it first for us. When we suffer for Jesus’ sake, we really aren’t doing anything all that extraordinary. Jesus endured mockery and shame, betrayal and beatings, He endured the cross and separation from His heavenly Father. He endured all that for us. When we suffer for Jesus’ sake, we are really saying, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for what you went through for me. Please let me show you my gratitude by standing up for you.” We rejoice in our persecution because we are being counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) It may sound strange, but there really is a joyous and satisfying feeling that comes from suffering in the name of Jesus. That is God’s kind of happiness.   

People are searching for happiness. Where can it be found? On a hill along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Upon the bloody Roman cross standing outside the walls of Jerusalem. In the open and empty borrowed tomb. Happiness is found in water, Word, bread and wine. Happiness is found in God. Amen. 

May you be blessed in Christ. Amen.