Today’s Reading: Matthew 5
Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported a story on happiness in different nations around the world. The newspaper’s title gave away the happiness level of people living in the United States: “Richest Country, Saddest People—Any Coincidence?”
According to a study jointly conducted by the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School, and based on more than 60,000 face-to-face interviews worldwide, the richest country—the United States—has the saddest people and is regarded as one of the unhappiest places on earth. Out of the fourteen countries surveyed, we have the highest rate of depression. We have the highest standard of living and yet we take more tranquilizers than anyone. And it seems that the more people have, the angrier they are.
The happiest people on the planet? Nigerians.
And they have one of the lowest standards of living.
I don’t believe Nigerians have the corner on the market, though. Believers do. Not feeling it? Today’s reading will help fix that. In Matthew 5, Jesus gives us His prescription for how to have happiness.
In today’s through the next two days’ readings (Matthew 5–7), we find the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who ever walked the planet. It’s called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus tells us how to be happy. It’s connected to eight verses, called the Beatitudes, which are structured this way: “Blessed are the . . . for they shall . . .” Some translations have it as, “Happy are those who . . .”
It’s amazing that Jesus starts His first sermon with happiness. But what makes this crazy is that Jesus says what will make us happy or blessed are the very things we wouldn’t expect. I once heard theologian N. T. Wright say in a sermon, “The beatitudes of Jesus tell us that all the wrong people are going to be blessed; they are counterintuitive. God is turning everything upside down.”
Let me read it to you from the Good News Translation:
Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. (Matthew 5:3-11)
This is not what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount: Live like this and you will become a Christian. That’s impossible. What He is saying: Because you are a Christian, you can live like this and experience happiness.
What to remember regarding the Beatitudes:
1. Happiness is found in character not in possessions.
Every one of these Beatitudes is something internal, not external; something you are, not something you have.
2. God would never ask you to do or be something that is not possible.
God never makes His Word, His promises, or His challenges unattainable. God never directs us into dead-ends.
3. God always leaves a gap (of dependency).
You can’t practice the beatitudes without God. Which means you can’t be happy without God.
These beatitudes are not natural for us. We need God to instill them into us and direct us. We look to God to help us. And He will.
Eight times Jesus says we can be happy. That tells me this is really important. Why? Because of the way He begins His sermon: “When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions” (Matthew 5:1-2, MSG).
The Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to us. It’s a challenge to climb higher and go higher in our thinking, in our lives, and in our thoughts. There are huge crowds, but Jesus breaks away from them. And He is about to break these disciples out of their religious thinking into Kingdom thinking.
You want to be happy? Jesus shows us the way. It may take a little effort to get there, but it’s doable with Jesus beside us, helping us. The committed are willing to break out of their religious thinking and embrace Kingdom thinking. That brings us true and ultimate happiness.