Mt 5:1-9 - The Good Life: In Pursuit of Happiness Doug Partin – The Christian Church – April 15, 2012 We all want something worth living for; and most of us are willing to do whatever is necessary to get it. That may mean longer hours, more education, a change of location, but we’re willing to pursue what we are convinced will make us happy. The pursuit of happiness is one of the inalienable rights acknowledged in the declaration of independence. And while there is debate about what exactly our founding fathers had in mind by “happiness” there is no doubt that it was something measurable, something intrinsic, and something that could be possessed, rather than just a jovial mood. Like the ancient Greeks, from whom our founding fathers drew much inspiration, they felt that happiness primarily resulted from participating in an endeavor that would be rewarded with earthly goods or values. It was the willingness to participate, the pursuit, which is considered our inalienable right, not the guarantee of the reward. You think being a farmer is going to make you happy, then buy some land and start farming. You think being a publisher is going to make you happy, then buy a press and get it rolling. You think being a merchant is going to make you happy, then open a store and begin buying and selling. You think being a teacher is going to make you happy, then open a school and start teaching. Of course you might be thinking that to be really happy you need to start a family too, and that usually gets you to thinking that in order to be happy then your occupation had better provide enough rewards so you can buy a house, and get a couple of cars, and pick up 2 or 3 hobbies and take 3 or 4 vacations each year. Not to mention that you’ll need to eat well, drink to your fill, have nice cloths and get to a doctor when you’re sick. And the list goes on what we think will make us happy. It doesn’t take long for some people to start thinking that it’s only the rewards that can make them happy, so they do everything they can to get out of being a farmer or a publisher or a merchant or a teacher, 2 or whatever it is they were doing, so they can enjoy the rewards. In fact there are some people who think that the rewards are due them even though they’ve never pursued them at all. They’ve been convinced of the modern beatitude: “Happy is the man who is rewarded and who never had to pursue it,” only to discover that happiness doesn’t come that way; not even if you win the lottery. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could tell us the secret to being happy? Beatitudes are wisdom sayings about finding happiness, and long before Jesus spoke the ones that we are familiar with, the Greeks had a long list of them extolling various levels of prosperity, among them are “Happy is the groom who wins an excellent bride” and “Happy is the man who gains a productive grove.” And the Israelites had their beatitudes as well, “Happy is the man whom God corrects” and “Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” By the time Jesus came around, beatitudes were common place, but no one used them as He did: to intentionally confront those who opposed the source of real happiness and commend those who would embrace His way of finding happiness. Those that Jesus claimed to be happy are not the usual suspects. Suspiciously absent are the rich and powerful, and in their place are the poor in spirit, mourners, gentle souls, those desiring righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, and peace makers. These are the people whose lives are generally comprised of miserable conditions; yet Jesus offers a reason why each of them will experience genuine happiness. Some of His reasons make perfect sense, like being comforted, being satisfied, and receiving mercy. We can relate to these, we can see how they would cheer someone up, make them feel better, make them happy. But some of Jesus’ reasons seem to be a bit farfetched, like receiving the kingdom of heaven, inheriting the earth, and seeing God. When are those kinds of things likely to happen? To answer that question you have to understand that Jesus spoke these beatitudes long before Easter. He was just beginning His ministry, just beginning to reveal that He was the Messiah, just beginning to evidence that He was the Son of God. What we find in Jesus’ beatitudes 3 is the promise of the kind of relief that the expected Messiah was supposed to bring. Take a look with me at a prophecy found in Isaiah 61:1-2 about what the Messiah was supposed to do: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; Here is a list of folks who could certainly use a little happiness, the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, the mourner; and they also seem to be the sort of people who were most interested in the arrival of a Messiah, which shouldn’t be surprising since those in dire straits tend to be the ones who really need a little help. You might not see yourself on this list of those needing a Messiah, but I hope that you do. I hope that you do, but the beatitudes in Matt. 5 are not really a list of proverbs, but rather a step-by-step description of how God takes us from where we are without Him, to where we can enjoy the life He has to offer. I want you to notice, and then focus on the sequence Jesus describes. First, we’re told that we have to recognize that we are in need (we’re poor in spirit), next we repent of our self-sufficiency (we mourn). Then we quit calling the shots and surrender control to God (we’re meek). So grateful are we for His presence, His help; that we yearn for more of Him (we hunger and thirst). We come to recognize that God alone can fill our cavernous needs, and we trust Him to do it. As we grow closer to Him, we become more like Him. We learn to forgive others (we’re merciful). We change our outlook (we’re pure in heart). We actually start loving others (we’re peacemakers), The first step in making this transformation is to ask for help – to become “poor in spirit” to admit we are powerless and in need of a Savior. It takes some people a whole life time to figure this one out. Our desire to show ourselves capable of taking care of ourselves keeps 4 getting in the way. Every time we start doing a little better, we take back the reigns; but after enough failures, we usually come to agree with God that we can’t do it on our own and that we need His help. The next step is sorrow: “Blessed are those who mourn…” is not about mourning for others, although we do a lot of that along the way, this is about acknowledging our wrongs and saying that we are sorry. No excuses. No justifications. Just tears. In our efforts to do things our own way we end up hurting a lot of people, we may feel that some deserved it, but most were probably innocent; and the one we hurt the most is ourselves. The first two steps set us up for experiencing inner renewal: “Blessed are the meek…” Realization of our own weakness leads us to yearn for a new source of strength – and that source is God. While the first beatitudes pass us through the fire of purification; the next ones place us in the hands of the Master. And when we become confident of His care, we become courageous – “the meek will inherit the earth,” or as some translate it - “the meek will rule over the earth.” No longer shall the earth and its fears dominate us; for we walk in the authority of the one who created it, for He has raised us up to rule over it. But there is one, the prince of this world, who does not want to turn over control just yet; and he will fight us to the bitter end. There was once a professional thief. His name stirred fear as the desert wind stirs tumbleweeds. He terrorized the Wells Fargo stage line for thirteen years, roaring like a tornado in and out of the Sierra Nevadas, spooking the most rugged frontiersmen. In journals from San Francisco to New York, his name became synonymous with the danger of the frontier. During his reign of terror between 1875 and 1883, he is credited with stealing the bags and the breathe away from twenty-nine different stagecoach crews. And he did it all without firing a single shot. His weapon was his reputation. His ammunition was intimidation. A hood hid his face. No victim ever saw him. No artist ever sketched his features. No sheriff could ever track his trail. He never fired a shot because he didn’t have to. His presence was enough to 5 paralyze. He was referred to as Black Bart. A hooded bandit armed with a deadly weapon. He reminds me of another thief – one who’s still around. You know him. Oh, you’ve never seen his face either. You couldn’t describe his voice or sketch his profile. But when he’s near you know it in a heartbeat. If you’ve ever been in the hospital, you’ve felt the leathery brush of his hand against yours. If you’ve ever sensed someone was following you, you’ve felt his cold breath down your neck. If you’ve awakened late at night in a strange room, it was his husky whisper that stole your slumber. You know him. It was this thief who left your palms sweaty as you went for the job interview. It was this con man who convinced you to swap your integrity for a moment of pleasure. And it was this scoundrel who whispered in your ear as you left the cemetery, “Be careful, you may be next.” He’s the Black Bart of the soul. He doesn’t want your money. He doesn’t want your diamonds. He won’t go after your car. He wants something far more precious. He wants your God given happiness. His name? fear. His task is to take your courage and leave you timid and trembling. His modus operandi is to manipulate you with the mysterious, to taunt you with the unknown. Fear of death, fear of failure, fear of God, fear of tomorrow – his arsenal is vast and he uses it well. If happiness is the result of an extensive reconstruction of our hearts, then fear is a demolition team seeking to destroy what God has created. But, as that great hymn “A Mighty Fortress” proclaims, one little word will fail him – and that one little word is Jesus. You might well ask, “Can accepting Jesus really bring the happiness promised?” The answer is: Absolutely.
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