What symbol comes to mind when you hear America mentioned? An eagle? The stars and stripes of Old Glory? The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor or the Declaration of Independence, which defines the rights of man as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?
We Americans believe that happiness is our national birthright. Will Rogers once asked a busy druggist if he ever took time off to have a good time. The pharmacist replied, “No, but I sell lots of medicine to people who do!”
I. National Happiness
On America’s birthday, July 4, we celebrate our liberty and our freedom in this land of opportunity. We are grateful for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of worship. We are a nation of immigrants, for whom Lady Liberty holds out the invitation:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
Yearning to breathe free.”
Liberty is abused when we turn it into license. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people,” the Scriptures say.
Freedom constitutes a call to responsible citizenship in a participatory democracy. Are your registered and will you vote in November? It has been suggested that since we have a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast, we should have a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
God is the Source of our freedom. “Our fathers God, to thee, Author of liberty, To thee we sing.” Do not abuse liberty. The Scriptures say, “Do not use your liberty as an opportunity for the flesh.” Don’t let the dark side of human nature get the upper hand.
Liberty can also be lost. It must be defined and defended by every generation. To be sure, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Beware the extremists who would establish a church-state and others who would restrict religious liberty. Keep watch and preserve the great American experiment called “the separation of church and state.” Ideally, a free church exists within a free state and neither controls the other.
II. Spiritual Liberty and Happiness
“For freedom, Christ sets us free,” (
The Sermon on the Mount is the Master’s Manifesto for the Kingdom of God. The Beatitudes are “pathways to happiness”; wholeness and joy in that Kingdom. Here God congratulates those Kingdom people who accept His rule.
The Beatitudes are a stark contrast to the world’s idea of happiness. Blessed are:
– those who realize their spiritual poverty;
– those who are sorry for their sins;
– the God-controlled, mighty meek;
– those who hunger and thirst for right;
– those who show mercy;
– those who are pure in heart and motive; and
– those who make peace.
“Christ has set us free … stand fast.”
III. Personal Happiness
Happiness is: (make your own list)
– the family singing in the car enroute to grandmother’s house;
– reading to a toddler;
– a job well done;
– anticipation of a great event;
– a lovely sunset;
– adequate resources;
– a friend’s smile, handshake, embrace;
– quality time together.
A. Happiness is a by-product. If you pursue it, happiness can be as elusive as a butterfly. Jesus said that if we try to save our life we will lose it, but if we lose it in His service, we shall find it. It does not matter so much where you live so long as you are with those you love, doing the work you enjoy.
B. Happiness comes from usefulness. Albert Schweitzer said that only those who have learned to serve are happy.
A survey was conducted, asking who are the happiest people in the world. The answers included: a surgeon performing a crucial operation successfully; a craftsman at his task; and a mother crooning over her baby. Happiness grows out of usefulness.
C. Happiness also comes from right relationships. Recall Jesus’ faith in His Father. In the Upper Room, within the shadow of the cross, He said, “These things have I spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” (
It is important that we have right relationships with other people as well as with God.
I served as pastor of a rural church in southern Indiana. It was a lovely congregation, but they had one problem I was unable to solve. There were two sisters in the church who had a falling out. They had not spoken to each other for years. The student pastor who followed me succeeded in reconciling them. A revival resulted, the finest in the church’s 130-year history.
Clarence Jordan said that becoming a Christian is similar to becoming a naturalized citizen. You forsake your old country just as you renounce and turn from sin. You declare your allegiance to the new country as you profess faith and are baptized.
One of the names for the Lord’s Supper is sacrament, which comes from the Latin word “sacramentum.” That was the Roman soldier’s oath of allegiance to the Emperor.
Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of me.” Here is the way to authentic happiness.
The Poor in Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” (
The Lord says, “This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word,” (
A salesman knows the importance of his opening words. They can help make the sale, or lose it for him. Therefore, he memorizes and carefully rehearses his sales pitch.
A speaker or writer wants to be sure of a no-doze introduction. Once I spoke to some railroad employees on the subject of safety. I began by saying, “The mortuary recently received a car load of caskets. If you don’t want to wind up in one, you’d better pay attention to the matter of safety.”
Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with a startling statement: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God,” (
We find that statement hard to believe. We think that the blessed are the rich, the powerful, the successful. J. B. Phillips gave us the world’s beatitude: “Blessed are the pushers, for they get on in the world.” Now, that we can believe.
Look more closely at the first beatitude.
“Blessed” has a saccharin sound to us. It reminds us of some super-pious preacher, who calls everyone “Beloved.” The Greek in this passage is mikarios and may be translated “Happy, O how happy; to be congratulated!”
If mikarios were translated “happy,” we would readily understand it. We Americans are obsessed with the idea of happiness. We consider it our birthright, thanks to Thomas Jefferson. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson paraphrased John Locke, who had written that the rights of man are “life, liberty and property.” Jefferson changed the third right to “the pursuit of happiness.” His fellow countrymen have been in hot pursuit of this right for more than 200 years.
However, happiness comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word, hap. It really means chance or whatever happens. We speak of a situation which is hapless, or of something which is mere happenstance. Mikarios is better translated “Congratulations!”
Read the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and you will see that it should really be marked “For Christians Only.” Jesus addressed His sermon summary not to the multitude, but to His disciples. The Christian ethic is impossible apart from a faith commitment to Jesus Christ. It is not a code to be lived by, but a relationship in which we live with Him.
Happy are the poor in spirit.
Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is not congratulating the poor. Poverty is no guarantee of spirituality. If poverty were the passport to the Kingdom, there would be standing room only. Most of the world’s population is poor.
Clovis Chappel told about a shiftless farmer who delighted in saying, “I’d rather be a poor man and go to heaven than to be a rich man and go to hell.” Those are not necessarily the options.
The poor may well be happy and be in the Kingdom, but that is despite their poverty. A North American discovered among the Peruvian poor a sense of joy and gratitude. However, that attitude was due to their faith, not their poverty.
Jesus did not congratulate the poor-spirited. Some folk appear to be charter members of the Pity-Me Club. They wear a hair shirt and glory in self-contempt. Some exhibit a false humility.
The meaning of “poor in spirit” is those who are aware of their spiritual poverty and need. Good-speed translates
On his death bed, Martin Luther exclaimed, “We are all beggars!” The poet sang:
“Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
J. B. Phillips translated the poor in spirit as “the humble-minded,” who depend on God and divine grace.
The poor in spirit are the opposite of proud. There is an awesome text, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” George Buttrick contended that we sing the Magnificat in Latin in order to avoid its uncomfortable message, “He has scattered the proud …”
C. S. Lewis called pride “spiritual cancer,” which eats up love and contentment. It is actually a sign of our own insecurity and feelings of inferiority. Spurgeon poetically warned us not to be proud of race, face, or place.
Still we unconsciously see the ideal church as Laodicea, who said, “I am rich … and need nothing.” Remember that the Risen Christ said, “You do not know that you are wretched, poor, and naked,” (
Pride is actually silly. We become proud of all sorts of things: our age, for instance. Teenagers can be proud of their youth and middle-agers can talk a lot about “maturity.”
We are proud of our family heritage. It was said of a FFV (first family of Virginia) lady, “She is twittering around a nest she did not build!” Alexander MacLaren said it is about the same distance to the stars from the top of one ant hill as another.”
We are proud of our race, as though we had something to do about being born into our race and not another. We become proud of our achievements, instead of grateful for the opportunity.
In his Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis contended that we can even be proud of our humility. Pride is a telescope turned the wrong way. It magnifies self and makes the heavens small. No wonder Jesus said, “To be congratulated are the poor in spirit.” He illustrated their text with His parable of a Pharisee and publican in prayer.
It is only when we realize our weakness “that we are given access to God’s power,” when we are aware of our spiritual poverty that heaven’s riches become ours. Apply this truth to your life and to our church.
Their reward is “the Kingdom of heaven.” That is short hand for God’s rule. Remember the parallelism in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done …” The Kingdom of God is both a possession and-a promise, a reality and a hope.
The first beatitude constitutes a call to repentance. The Scots have a proverb which teaches: pride and grace ne’er dwell in the same place. Let us confess our spiritual need: we are sinners, totally dependent on the Father’s grace.
Jesus said, “Blessed, to be congratulated, are the poor in spirit, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (
What’s happy about sorrow, pain, and mourning? Aren’t these things to be avoided?
In the course of a year, we see 100,000 TV ads telling us how to be happy: drive the correct automobile, use the right soap or deodorant, and all will be well. None of these ads mention sorrow, sacrifice, or pain as the way to happiness.
However, the truth is no one is disaster-proof. We all have some tough days. Here is an accident report which vividly illustrates this truth:
When I got to the building I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple barrels of bricks. When I had fixed the damaged area, there were a lot of bricks left over. Then I went to the bottom, and began releasing the line. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was — and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started coming down, jerking me up.
I decided to hang on, since I was too far off the ground by then to jump, and halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down fast. I received a hard blow on my right shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers pinched and jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out.
I was now heavier than the barrel. So I started down again at high speed. Halfway down I met the barrel coming up fast and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the pile of spilled bricks. At this point, I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go my grip on the line. The barrel came down fast-giving me another blow to my head and putting me in the hospital.
I respectfully request sick leave.1
Jesus’ second beatitude is a startling paradox: “to be congratulated are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What did Jesus mean?
I. We Mourn Our Losses
Many people suffer personal sorrow. This is a part of our humanity, “the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune.” Every extended family has suffered the loss of parents, a mate, or a child. Heaven knows what it’s like to suffer, for Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
The sorrow of which Jesus spoke is not self-pity, like Napoleon brooding in exile in St. Helena. This is a healthy grief, which contributes to healing. We can learn from what we suffer. Jesus did, according to the Bible.
Sorrow can defeat us or it can make us better. It has the potential to cause us to be bitter or better.
“I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said She,
But, Oh, the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me!”
II. We Mourn at the Hurt of Others
There is much evil, pain, and hurting in our world. Many suffer hunger, oppression, and the ravages of war. Death is the last enemy and most of the world’s population is spiritually lost, “without God, without hope in the world.” O, for the compassion of Christ toward those who suffer.
This is a sorrow born of concern. We are grieved to the point of action; we do something about the hurt of others. There are many examples of this in history:
Gregory saw flaxen-haired Saxon boys in the Forum in Rome. He was so impressed with them that later he sent missionaries, led by Augustine, to Britain. They won some of our ancestors to faith in Christ.
Wilberforce saw the inhumanity of the slave trade and worked until it was abolished.
Lincoln watched human beings being sold as slaves and eventually emancipated the slaves in America.
Madame Curie saw her mother die of cancer and devoted her life to finding a cure — radium.
Martin Luther King said: “No man is free until all men are free.”
L. D. Johnson lost his daughter in a car crash. He wrote The Morning After which can bless all who have lost a child.
Blessed are those who mourn, who share their neighbor’s grief, and do something to relieve it. To say, “I couldn’t care less,” is perhaps the most un-Christian attitude one can have.
III. We Mourn Our Own Sins
This is a godly sorrow which leads to repentance and divine forgiveness. This is sorrow which becomes a sacrament.
I read a startling experience by Lloyd Ogilvie. He told about studying the beatitude on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. There in the garden he became aware of a woman. She looked distressed, tired and drawn, as though she needed to have a good cry. They struck up a conversation.
It turned out that the woman was a nurse from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She worked in a children’s ward where she cared for victims of the terrorist bombings and sniper fire. The woman hated the IRA.
One day she was called to an adult male ward and asked to help turn a seriously wounded patient in bed. As others turned his legs and body, she was to turn his head. The physician warned that the maneuver must be done in concert or the patient would be killed or paralyzed. Suddenly she recognized the man as a leader of the IRA. He had been responsible for the suffering of the children for whom she cared.
The nurse felt hatred well up within her. She wanted to kill him. After all, it would appear an accident, but she did not. Afterward she had to get away. She said to Ogilvie, “The cancer of hatred is eating me alive!”
Lloyd talked with her about the second beatitude and about the meaning of the cross. After an hour and a half, he led her to repeat four, three words prayers: “Lord, forgive me. I forgive myself. I forgive them. Lord, forgive us.” It was not easy for her to do this, but, afterward, she smiled and then laughed. Peace had come from above.
“Blessed are those who sorrow for their sins, for they shall be comforted.”
The word comfort means more than simply being consoled. It means to be fortified. At the bottom, we find God.
William Barclay called this beatitude “the bliss of the broken-hearted.” It is a sorrow which leads not to despair, but to faith.
We must endure the agony if we would enjoy the ecstasy.
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Come Before Winter … And Share My Hope (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1985), p. 194-195.