The Joy of being a Christian.
Updated: Jun 24
Jesus seeing the crowds, Matthew tells us, ‘went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are …’
The Greek word Makarios, from which we get the English, ‘blessed’ can, and does mean, ‘happy’. However, on the lips of Jesus this simple word is infused with a deeper meaning. Happiness is subjective. It describes a transitory mood. Human happiness is contingent on the chances and changes of life.
Jesus in his sermon on the mount was not describing transient, fleeting, happiness but something true and lasting. Here is his invitation into something deeper, firm and foundational. Something which is better captured by the English word ‘joy.’
The Makarios, blessedness Jesus describes stands firm and holds true independent of the chances and the changes in life. We often miss this thrust in Jesus teaching when we read the Beatitudes as mere statements. The Beatitudes are not just statements; they are exclamations! They are better rendered: “Oh the blessedness ...!”
Think about this:
Oh the blessedness of the poor in spirit!
Oh the blessedness of those who mourn!
Oh the blessedness of the meek!
Oh the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!
Oh the blessedness of the merciful!
Oh the blessedness of the pure in heart!
Oh the blessedness of the peacemakers!
Oh the blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake!
The blessedness of the follower of Jesus is unassailable. Disciples of Jesus are blessed, period.
The Beatitudes speak of joy which seeks us through our pain. Joy which sorrow, and loss, and pain, and grief are powerless to touch. Joy which shines through tears and which nothing in life or death can take away. It is a joy that cannot be taken away, and Jesus invites anyone who desires joy to listen, learn and live (John 16:22, Matt 11:28-30)
This begs the question, how might one receive this gift. What precedes blessedness?
Matthew helps us understand both the answer, and the significance of this question. If we pick up the story from chapter 3 we will see that John the Baptist preached in the wilderness: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). People came, they heard John, and Matthew makes it a point to tell us that John, the herald, worked tirelessly to prepare the people to listen to Jesus (3:3). While in earnest he urged people to repent, John knew that forgiveness did not come from him. He pointed to Jesus - the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)
John was the voice in the wilderness, Jesus is the message!
After John was imprisoned Jesus went and settled in Capernaum (4:12-16), which we are told was exactly as prophesied by Isaiah (Isa. 9:1-2). Jesus began his public ministry with an invitation just like John. Jesus stepped out into the public space and called: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17).
Jesus, unlike John, followed his invitation to repent with a second call: ‘Follow me’, for, he said, the good news of the kingdom is at hand (4:19-23). The kingdom of God is available for anyone who responds to the invitation to follow Jesus .
Now, how shall we respond?
An appropriate response to Jesus begins with repentance. Repentance, however, is inadequate. Repentance must be followed by ‘following’. This, however, is not to suggest that the Beatitudes were given so that we can work our way into eternal bliss. Nothing is further from the truth. The Beatitudes reveal ‘what’ God approves, and ‘what’ he approves he also graciously gifts to all who will repent and follow.
Repenting and following are two sides of the same coin: responding.
Repentance starts us off on a journey; following ensures that we don’t step out before we reach the destination. This then means:
First, repentance precedes blessedness.
Second, we will never fully understand what it means to repent if we do not follow.
Third, receiving ‘what’ God approves in principle when we repent does not negate the responsibility to follow Him – thats being a disciple.
Fourth, only a disciple will recognize and relish the blessedness of belonging to Jesus.
This is the kind of response that Jesus endorses, and says, “Blessed are … ”
Read: Matt 4:17 – 5:2 and reflect on how you might appropriately respond to Jesus.