As we look to the Sermon on the Mount to learn about the sort of happiness Jesus offers us, we find a deeply paradoxical picture. Jesus says that happy people are those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure, peacemaking and persecuted.
Now we might say, “Wait a minute. I’m not sure I want that kind of happiness. It just sounds like misery with another name.”
To most people, this seems absolutely absurd. It is as if Jesus crept into the large display window of life and changed all the price tags. It’s all backward. What does He mean by saying that happiness comes out of being poor and sad?
In contrast, the world says, “Happy are the rich. Happy are the noble. Happy are the famous. Happy are the popular.”
Jesus’s message doesn’t fit this picture. It devastates the worldly attitudes of first-century Jewish hearers and 21st-century Western hearers.
Jesus comes into the world to announce that the tree of happiness doesn’t grow in the cursed earth, where so many people seek it. Think about Solomon, who had everything the world thinks can make us happy: fame, riches, wisdom and family. He should have been an infinitely happy man, but all he had to say about his life was, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
True happiness is spiritual in nature. It belongs in essence to the nature of God and is only enjoyed by those who share His nature.
Jesus came as the King to present this tremendous truth. He came to introduce the principles of His kingdom, which were inward and spiritual. The problem with that was the Jews were looking for a political kingdom. They were looking for a material kingdom. They were really attracted to Him when He created food for them. They were very much attracted to Him when He healed their diseases and cast demons out of them, when He increased the state of their physical well-being, their earthly condition.
But when He began to drill into their hearts and talk about the fact that they were sinful and alienated from the life of God and needed to receive the blessedness that God gives to those who share His nature by recognizing their sins and repenting before Him, they took issue with that.
The stress of the Sermon on the Mount is what a man is and not what a man does or what a man has or what a man achieves, and that was true all the way through the King’s ministry. People wanted to hear about what a man can have and what he can become and what he can possess, and Jesus only wanted to talk about what man is. That’s why He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
So the position of the blessed is the most exalted position in which you share the very nature of God and participate in His blessedness, but it is absolutely antithetical to anything in this world. Absolutely nothing in this world fits into that category. This is a material, earthly, passing world and His is a spiritual, eternal Kingdom.
What God is saying in this marvelous sermon is this: You will never find real happiness in the ways of the world, in what they possess, or in their philosophy. Never. Blessedness isn’t in the cursed earth; it’s on another level. And the Beatitudes are going to take you to that level. They’re going to counter everything you hear from the silver-tongued salesman. They’re going to counter everything you see on the billboards, everything you read in the magazines. They’re going to give you an entirely different standard of life, totally opposite to what the world tells you. Are you ready?
This blog post is based on Dr. MacArthur’s sermon “The Only Way to Happiness,” originally preached in 1998.