Uncovering Happiness – Finding Happiness in a messed up world –Understanding happiness
Matthew 5:3-12New International Version (NIV)
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 children 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.
We are starting a new series tonight called “Uncovering Happiness: How to be happy in a messed up world.”
“The demand for happiness and the patient quest for it” isn’t a luxury or a mere need but our existential duty.
“To decide whether life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy,” – Albert Camus
Essentially Camus is asking the most fundamental questions of life; can we be happy? So I asked this question to a school the other day and the younger the audience the more of that group said happiness was possible.
The younger grades almost every hand was up, but soon as you hit the high school less and less hands were up. And I didn’t see a single teacher put up their hands. Now that might be because they are teachers…
It wasn’t; happiness seems to be the gift of the young, the older you get the more jaded you become. Life happens and you seem to become more and more cynical the older you become.
And yet, jaded as we are, we still feel deep down that happiness should be our reality. That this existence of little high points of happiness followed by long periods of valleys of struggle and despair seems wrong to us.
And many of us spend a large portion of our energy despairing that we are despairing.
So many of us falling into a kind of Stoicism which states;
"sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy," - Epictetus
In other words, happiness is found within; not in what I go through… now we fall into the kind of thinking; the question is does it work?
Well no. In fact, I want to show you tonight, and for the next few weeks, that happiness is possible and in fact it is what we were created to be, however, it is not found within ourselves or what we do or what we can get, but it is possible.
So, lets get into it. To get to the core of it we need to start in…
1. Understanding Happiness
So the beatitudes start with this phrase, “blessed is the one…”
The Greek word used here is μακάριος (makarios) literally means fully satisfied. A state of complete contented happiness.
Now, I have heard many preachers say, and many of the commentaries say we should translate it as joyful, because happiness comes from the English derivative ‘hap’ – as in happenstance. So happiness cannot stand.
But, and I say this only to communicate the heart of God; we have separated joy off into this ethereal and almost spiritualized reality; were we can be as sour as a beast and bitter; but tell ourselves “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” Or we can go through an incredibly tough time and be aching inside and we tell ourselves and others I have deep joy. And in a sense we feel either like a hypocrite; saying I have joy – because it’s the “Christian” thing to do. Or we feel like a failure because we don’t have access to this super-spiritual joy that these giants of the faith have. Essentially we are asking tonight; if real deep (happy) fulfilment is possible?
I need to say that if joy has not moved to a sense of fulfilment and delight (that we normally associate more with the word happiness) we have missed it; we have missed what God desires for us.
I’ll put it this way; God longs for you to be deeply, completely happy; God longs for you to be full of delight. Because that is who he is in His being.
The question we must ask ourselves; is a state of complete fulfilment and delight even possible this side of eternity?
Well, yes. But we have to understand the source and reality of that delight. And that is the whole point of tonight.
You see the beatitudes state blessed is the one, 7 times and then ends with “Rejoice and be glad…”
And, in the psalms we see this same reality being expressed. It seems throughout scripture we see a God who longs for his children to be blessed. To be happy.
But we must understand the source of that delight and we must stay in that source for it to be ours. If we stray and if we miss it the delight that we have been created for will disappear.
So what is the source of our delight? Well to understand this we have to understand the context of the passage.
This passage, is usually stripped out of its context and that is why we miss its emphasis; you see if you look at the start of this passage; we see that Jesus went up to the mountain and preached.
This long discourse goes from 5:1 all the way to 7:29 and has been called the Sermon on the Mount. It is a powerful and important teaching; but the central message of this whole sermon, what holds the whole thing together from 5:1-7:29 is the idea of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Heaven.
It is the central reality of what Jesus is trying to get across in this message. So to understand the happiness (or blessed delight) of the beatitudes we have to understand the kingdom.
2. Understanding the Kingdom
Jesus spends much of his time teaching on this reality of the Kingdom of God. In fact, in mark we see how after his temptation in the dessert; Jesus starts his public ministry,
“Preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God… saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”
And here is the key for tonight; you cannot understand the happiness (or blessedness) that Jesus is talking about in the beatitudes unless you understand it in the context of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus spoke about the Kingdom all the time. He speaks about no-one can enter the kingdom unless he is born again and constantly called us to enter into the Kingdom.
So what is the Kingdom of God?
The kingdom can be best understood by looking into someone new coming to power. When that person comes to power see that power being expressed through a new administration; and that new administration is a new set of priority and strategies etc.
Jesus is the ultimate king. When he comes into power there is a new set of priorities and realities.
The Kingdom is a change of loyalty and a change of being from one set of rules and ways of being to another. It is the state of someone who has changed his/her loyalties and his priorities to that of God’s. in a nutshell; the Kingdom is where Jesus reigns.
And this is the point of the beatitudes; they are not a set of principles to put on and emphasize; they are the new way of being for all those who enter or who have entered the Kingdom.
And in fact when we see this we will see a beautiful reality in the beatitudes as they are split into two parts.
The first four are how we enter into the Kingdom of God and the last four are how we live out that reign. We will be going into greater detail with this over the next few weeks as we go through this passage.
However, the emphasis and what I want to address tonight is this; blessedness (happiness) is for those who have entered the Kingdom.
Why is this important; because many of us have happiness as a pursuit and because of that we never discover it. Happiness is a byproduct of your being, not a pursuit you can discover. It is a result of who you are not what you do.
And that is why to discover happiness we have to start
3. Understanding Myself.
The first reality that you need to discover is that you are a created being made for others and another.
The first thing you discover in these beatitudes is that they are all outward focusing or others focusing.
This is such an important lesson to grasp; the source of most of the problems of your life is you; it is selfish inward me focusing life that cripples us as people and destroys all delight.
And essentially is at the cause of many of societies ills today; in fact, I would go as far to say all of societies ills.
So many of us fall into the “what about me”, “why me” “what do I get out of it” “But I deserve it” thinking that we know is toxic in others but seem to ignore in ourselves.
The source of much of our bitterness and discontentment and rage and despair is rooted in a selfishness that we wouldn’t tolerate in other.
The reality of it all, is that at your most basic you are a created being. If you are created, then who created you? And what for?
If you are simply the accident of universe, in other words chemicals that have bound together to create consciousness, then you have no point, there is no greater meaning, and true fulfilment is not just a bad illusion it is impossibly naïve. Essentially if there is not God then your existence is meaninglessness. Every attempt to create that meaning is at its root false. There cannot be meaning if you are an accident, every attempt is simply a lie you tell yourself. This is a reality that no-one can actually live in.
Now if you were created; then it makes perfect sense that you were created for something. And seeking that meaning then will only be found from the one who created you.
The Scriptures declare that you were fearfully and wonderfully made. And that you were made by Him and for His glory. And you find your meaning when you live for Him expressing in care and love for others.
And if we get this the beatitudes end with us rejoicing even when we are reviled and persecuted. Because our happiness is not found within ourselves, or our circumstances, but in the one who created us and is now calling us towards himself; to be a part of His kingdom and His reign.
Our creation brings us meaning only when it is expressed in living in the rule of God. And here is the crux of it all and what we will be diving into over the next few weeks.
We simply cannot live up to what God expects of us; I mean we can’t even live up to our own moral standards; never mind the moral standards of a perfectly moral God.
Francis Shaffer in his commentary on Romans 2:1ff where he illustrates it as follows; imagine from birth got put an invisible tape recorder around your neck and this recorder only came on and recorded every time you make a moral judgment of others, like “He’s so lazy.” “She’s such a gossip” etc.
Then on judgement day God didn’t hold you accountable to His moral standards; but your own. If you judged someone for lying, did you ever lie? Etc. the reality is that we could not. Not one of us could even live up to the moral demands we demand on others.
So, if we are created for God and we cannot express the meaning of that creation because we fall horribly short of his perfect standard; what hope is there for happiness and delight in this world.
Well with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. The gospel then comes the front and centre of our delight, our hope, our happiness and our meaning. Because it is only in the gospel that the perfect demand of God’s righteousness is met in the perfect life of Christ so that we the guilty can now live in the loving reality of God’s rule.
It is only in the Gospel that we can live in the kingdom; because it is only in the gospel that every one of our unrighteous acts are paid for.
It is only in the gospel that happiness is received and not earned and that is why it is only in the gospel that true blessedness is possible.
So is happiness possible in this world: is it possible to be fulfilled? Yes, the start and end of our blessed happiness is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And we will unpack the detail of this over the next few weeks.