We're turning in our Bibles to Matthew's gospel again, and chapter 5, Matthew's gospel and chapter 5. And you'll remember, if you were here two weeks ago, that we began a series on the sermon on the mount, and we remembered that the sermon on the mount consists of chapter 5, chapter 6 and chapter 7 of Matthew's gospel. We are thinking specifically of the first few verses of this great sermon of the Lord Jesus. We thought, the first week of our study, about the Preacher Himself, about the way the Lord Jesus Christ preached on this mount. Then we thought secondly, about His preaching, the contents of the message of the sermon on the mount. We're going to think today, not upon the first Beatitude - in fact not upon any of them - because there's one little word that is so important to our understanding of this whole subject of the Beatitudes. We're going to beginning reading, the whole passage again, from verse 1 of chapter 5:
"And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set" - sat down - "his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Let us pray: Our dear Father, we thank Thee for Thy word - and dear God it's such a privilege to open it here today, to speak from it, to seek to understand it, to seek to grapple with the issues that it raises to our hearts and lives, to contemporary society today. But Lord we pray today, that we would not apply this word to the person beside us, that we would not apply it to those in our family, or our friends, or our politicians, or our government - but Lord, we would apply it to ourselves. Lord we pray that Thou wilt help us, speak to us, come by Thy Holy Spirit and lift up the power of Thy word - the sword of the Spirit - and pierce our hearts, and Lord speak to us today from Thy word, but, yes, from Thy very mouth itself. That we may know today, that God has been here, that God has been speaking loud and clear - that we may know the responsibility that is ours to act upon that word and to live in its light. Help me now Lord, I pray, fill me with the Holy Spirit of God, for I pray in Christ - Christ Jesus' name, Amen.
The question is often asked: 'What is happiness?...What is happiness - and if we can define what happiness is, true happiness and joy - well then if we know what it is, well then how can we find it?'. How many times have you heard, in your hearing: 'Happiness is what life is all about...happiness is what really matters'. Whatever you strive after in this life, whatever is your motivation for living - if it is for the purpose, and the achievement and result of happiness - people today, and our world at large, believes - well, then it is a worthy cause. Is not this the obvious cause of every man and woman that lives today?
How do people strive for it in our society and even in the church at large? Some do it through marriage, some through divorce. Some do it through sex, some do it through other immoral relationships. Some do it through drug abuse, through music, through alcohol, through wealth, through eating, through dieting, through psychology, sociology - so many rooms that they go into and they hope that they will find within those rooms the great treasure of happiness, life's fulfilment, life's joy. Of course the god of this age, today, the god of the latter part of the twentieth century and indeed, I think, the twenty-first century, is the god of 'sex'. And society says at large today: 'Well, this is the road to happiness, this is the road to satisfaction. The road to fulfilment is to fulfil and execute your sexual drive and then you will find happiness'. It's all over our newspapers, in our magazines - we can't turn 'till we see a billboard, even advertising ice-cream, and what do they use? They use sexual relationships to do it, because people have imbibed within their mind that they will find fulfilment through that medium. Some feel that they will find happiness in sport, others find it in the television, in the media. Some find it socially at the pubs and the clubs where they meet new people, where they bond new friendships. And some people - and I say this very carefully and calculated this morning - some people even believe they will find it in suicide.
For most people it is life's ultimate gain. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century mathematical genius - if you study maths or physics at school you will see this man, and even if you've studied philosophy you might meet him, because he was also a religious thinker - some have described Pascal as one of the great minds of western intellectual history. And he said on this subject of happiness, listen to it, and I quote to you: "All men seek happiness, this is without exception. Whatever different means they use, all men tend towards this end. Some go to war, others avoid it - but all have the same desire in view. In fact, the human will never takes the least step but towards this one object - happiness. It is the motive of every action, of every man and even of those who hang themselves". People may find it in the bottle, people may find it in a bottle of pills - that takes away their anguish, that takes away their emptiness, that takes away their thoughts of despair - and [there are] even those, tragically, in our world today who find that the only way that they can achieve happiness is to take their life to get away from their problems, their perplexities, their tribulations and to escape somehow.
I wonder have you ever asked the question: "What is happiness?". I believe, today, that the problem about happiness is the fact that it's so elusive, it's so hard to put your hands on what happiness really is. It's so hard to define it, it's not something you can touch, it's something that is totally subjective - man can't seem to define it, only by talking about external things that affect their lives. In the Daily Mail recently the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jacobovitis (sp?) - he said this: "We live in a most selfish age, whatever we want we must have. Today, every desire exists for one purpose only and that is to be gratified. But the purpose and the person who pursues happiness" - listen to this - "will never, ever reach it". This is a religious leader, a past religious leader of Judaism, and he says within one of our national newspapers that the person who pursues happiness, through whatever means that they use - and if they fall into foul and they believe the philosophy of our day that 'Whatever thy hand finds to do in sin, do it with all thy might' - even when they gratify every desire and lust that they have, he says they will never find true happiness.
Why is this? Forgetting about Christianity this morning, just for a moment, and looking out into the wider world today, why is it that true, lasting, satisfying happiness is something that is so elusive?
I want us to think about a man called Solomon for a moment. And as we look into the Old Testament scriptures, we find there the book of Ecclesiastes - and although I've said let's suspend our Christian mind for a moment and think of it in terms of the world, that is why - exactly why - I want you to turn to Ecclesiastes. I want you to look at this man who, at this point when he wrote this book, was far away from God. In fact this whole book, if you like, was a quest, a crusade, a journey, an adventure for this man's happiness. Solomon went into every sin that you could possibly imagine. Solomon was a brilliant administrator, he was an able politician, he was a shrewd military commander and leader, he was a knowledgeable naturalist, he was a prolific lyricist - he wrote over 1,000 songs and 3,000 proverbs. He was the wealthiest king that almost ever lived, he had 1,400 chariots, he had 12,000 horses, his annual income was 23 metric tonnes of gold - per year! This man had a rampant libido, this man knew what a sex drive was - he had 700 wives, he had 300 concubines. But this man - if you turn to it in Ecclesiastes chapter 2 and verses 10 and 11, he says these awful words - Ecclesiastes [chapter] 2 verses 10 and 11: "And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun". Now what's he saying? He's saying simply this: 'I've tried everything! I've tried every avenue that the world, that the devil himself and my own body can open - I've tried it all. But under the sun' - this great man of wisdom, the wisest man that ever lived apart from the Lord Himself, said that - 'under the sun there is no lasting happiness in anything'.
Isn't that tragic? Isn't that a cry of despair - and is that not the cry of our age today? There was a book written in 1931 by Aldus Huxley, you might have heard about it? It was entitled 'The Brave New World'. And in that novel, Aldus Huxley, he predicted and looked into the future about an age that was filled with pop culture. There were 'drug induced good feelings' that everyone had, there was 'free love' galore, there was unending entertainment and technological fixes to starve off any negative thoughts that would come in day-by-day. But as you read this book - and you may be abhorred by it, and you may think 'What an awful book to read' - but as you read this book, you find that this man Huxley was extremely pessimistic. And as he wrote this book about a society, about a generation that had everything that they wanted, who could delve into every medium and area that they pleased - he was so pessimistic, because he found at the conclusion of his book that all it brought was misery. Isn't that remarkable?
That's what the Lord Jesus Christ said. That what He said in Luke chapter 12 and verse 15 - that the consistency of life, and the meaning of life, and the importance of life, and the satisfaction of life is not to be found in things. 'It consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesses' - it can't be brought to you through externals, it can't be brought through feelings, it can't be brought through medicine, it can't be brought through alcohol, through relationships, it can't be brought through intellect. Happiness - true joy, true meaning, satisfaction - cannot be brought from without to within, it just does not happen.
Am I saying, today, that happiness cannot be achieved? That's not quite what I'm saying, but what I am saying is that physical things cannot touch the soul. In fact external things, things on the outside are only discomfort to the soul. In Ecclesiasties [chapter] 5 and verse 13 Solomon went on to say: "There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt". The most terrible thing, almost, that I have seen - as I have looked for joy, as I have looked for happiness, as I have delved into everything - is that external things do not even bring joy, but they bring sorrow and misery!
Thomas Watson, the puritan, said this: "The things of this world will no more keep out trouble of spirit than a piece of paper will stop a bullet. Worldly delights are winged, they have wings and they are here for a time and for a moment, and they fly away", he goes on to say, "To look for blessing in things external is to seek the living among the dead. As the angel told Mary concerning Christ, 'He is not here, He is risen', so may I say blessedness is not here, it is risen - it is in a higher region". Now as we, in the weeks that lie ahead look into the beatitudes and look into all of them individually, and together corporately, the whole message and gamut of truth is the Lord Jesus Christ saying in one sentence, 'Happiness cannot be found in externals'.
What is 'blessedness'? This is this word that I want us to concentrate on today before we enter into the intricacies of the beatitudes. What is this word that the Lord Jesus Christ is saying? Some believe it is happiness. What does the word 'happiness' mean? Well, you might say, well it means joy, it means a spring in your step, a smile on your face - it means everything's going your way. But the middle-English word 'happiness', if you break it down, it is 'hap-ness, hap-ness'. You've heard of 'mishaps', and a 'hap' simply, in olden-day English, was something that happened by chance. Something that came along your way by chance, circumstance, external things that blow you one way or pull you the other way, pressures of life that come upon you. In other words happiness is affected and 'effected' by the way we feel.
'Beatitudes' is a Latin word, it simply means 'joy', 'blessedness', 'beatis' (sp?) - Latin for 'blessed', for 'joyous'. So is there a difference, this morning, between happiness - between something that happens because of externalities, circumstances that come across our path - and what is this 'blessedness'? The Greek word for 'blessedness' in this passage, and throughout the whole passage, is the word 'makarios, makarios' (sp?). The isle of Cyprus is a beautiful island, it is an island that Barbara and myself visited this year, it is an island that the ancients believed was so idyllic and like paradise, that they didn't need to go to Greece, they didn't need to cross the Mediterranean or the Aegean Sea to find anything else - it had absolutely everything within it. It was self-sufficient, there was fruit within it, you had the sea for the ports, you had everything within it - you had iron underneath it, there was even gold at some parts in it. And they felt that there they had absolutely everything, so much so that someone christened it 'Hay Makaria' (sp?), 'Blessed Island' - the blessed island. Homer, the great philosopher, he used this word 'makarios' of the gods - the Greek gods - and he used it to describe the fact that they were self-sufficient, that they had within themselves an inner state that was unaffected by the world of men, who were subject to poverty, to weakness and to death. This blessedness, this 'makarios' was above all this, it was unaffected by the wind of change of life, and feelings of circumstance, and 'hap-ness' that comes upon us day by day.
Some modern translations have translated this word 'happy'. 'Happy' are the poor in spirit. 'Happy' are those who mourn. 'Happy' are those who are empty, who are hungry, for they shall be filled. But let me say today that this word does not mean 'happy', this word means 'blessed'. What is blessed? What does it mean to be blessed? Well, you could be happy today, and sure if you're blessed today, and if you're in the Lord, and if you're living and walking in the light of the Lord, and have the joy of the Lord - of course you can be happy. But you could be happy here today, and not blessed of the Lord. There's a difference. This word 'blessed' - do you know what it really means? It simply means this: God's approval on your life. God's approval on your life - that if you follow these instructions given within the Beatitudes, God will smile on you, God will approve you. It's not something that is affected [by] how you feel, it's not something about if you feel poor, well then you'll feel that you're approved with God - it's not something like that, but it is stating what you are before God. Not how you feel, but what God thinks of you - there's a vast difference.
Maybe you're here today and you've fallen into sin in the past week, in the past months you've done things that you thought you would have never done, and you've gone down avenues that you thought were closed off because of the grace of God, and you've found your hands doing things that they shouldn't, or your thoughts thinking things that were abhorrent to you. You're sitting here [and] maybe you can't even go to the Breaking of Bread because that stain is on your mind and your conscience. Listen: the blessedness that is in Christ and God has got nothing to do with your feelings - it's what God thinks of you. You may be depressed today, you may be downhearted, circumstances, illness, perplexity in marriage or in family relationships or in business. All of those things can come in and we can be downhearted, and we believe the lie of the devil that the Christian should never be downhearted or depressed, that he should be walking with a smile always on his face - and you think: 'I am not worthy, am I really living this Christian life that is to be lived?' Listen! God is not interested in your feelings, but He is interested in the way He thinks and sees you.
This word 'blessed' [could be] put like this: it is the applause of heaven, it is the approval of God upon your life. Now of course believers are already blessed, if you look at Psalm 32 and verse 1 you see there that every believer is blessed because his transgression has been forgiven, his sin has been blotted out. Psalm 1, the believer, we also see, is blessed if he walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. If he lives a holy, sanctified life after God, he will be blessed. But as we look at this passage of Scripture, we need to ask ourselves today: Whose approval do we look for? Do we look for God's approval, or do we look for our business partner's approval, our friend's approval, our colleague's approval? Do we look for our church's, our elder's, our pastor's, our youth leader's, our teacher's approval? Are we only satisfied when we get the praise of men, the approval of men, or we get into a circle where we get a pat on the back and we feel that we have reached the goal, or would we rather have the approval of God?
The approval of God can sometimes mean that we lose the approval of men. It can sometimes mean, as the Lord Jesus Christ said, that even our very kith and kin, the nearest and dearest to us, our husbands and wives, our son and daughter, father and mother, our very homestead - that even that place can find our disapproval and we have to leave it! Whose approval do we seek? Now this is serious - this is a magnitude question that we must grapple with, that we must deal with: Are we men-pleasers or are we God-pleasers? Do we do what God tells us and God shows us, or do we do what we feel will be approved by those around us? Do we fit into their mould? Do we use the same language? Do we imbibe the same doctrine? Do we listen to everything that is shovelled from the pulpit, and we swallow it because it's truth, because the pastor said it, or the elder said it? Do we look for that approval from others, but we don't look to God for it? We don't strive for that approval that comes from heaven, the smile of God, the applause of God, the applause of heaven that may only be given when God sees what others do not see.
Have I hit the nail on the head? Is that what the Lord Jesus Christ was getting at with the Pharisees, and the Scribes, and the Sadducees? Who wanted to pray on the street corners and be seen of men, who wanted to blow the trumpet when they were giving money to the poor, who wanted everybody to see their long beard, their sackcloth and ashes showing that they were fasting - is that what the Lord was getting at? He is saying go into your closet, and the God who sees in secret will reward you openly. What is blessedness? Blessedness is not simply happiness - blessedness is the approval of God Almighty. Do you have it?
But secondly: How can you be blessed? How can you be blessed? How can you have that approval? The basic message of the sermon on the mount and the beatitudes is simply this, as I've said: that happiness, God's approval, God's blessedness can never be found in externals. I want you to think for a moment of the four groups that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to. First of all there were the Pharisees, then there were the Sadducees, then there was a group called the Essenes and then there were the Zealots. Now to put it down to simple terms the Pharisees were the legalists - they were the ones who lived by the letter of the law, who did everything right, who had all their i's dotted and t's crossed. And these, effectively, were men who looked to the past - 'Our forefathers, have we not father Abraham as our father, the prophets, the patriarchs? They are our fathers, they are our heritage, that's what we have to follow, we have to walk in their path and keep all the rules right.' - in other words they wanted to go back. The Pharisees. Then there were the Sadducees and, if you like, they were the liberals. They lived for the present - they said, whatever society needs today, whatever society is able to believe in and grasp in, well we reject the supernatural things and we'll grasp what intellectual reason tells us. So they threw out the resurrection. The Lord was speaking to the Pharisees, the legalists, the ones who wanted to go back. He was speaking to the Sadducees, the liberals, the ones who wanted to go ahead and push forward no matter what the cost, and what doctrines, and what gospel they diluted. Then there were the Essenes, these were the isolationists. What they did was they put on sackcloth and ashes, went out to a monastery in the desert, in the wilderness and worshipped God and cut themselves off from the world. They didn't want sin to encroach within their community, and they believed that through geography that they could sanctify themselves, and make them[selves] more pure before God. They wanted to go out. And then there are the Zealots, they wanted to take up arms. They were the social activists, the politicists, they looked to the future, they were the reactionaries, they were the ones who were antiestablishment - and they wanted to go against and take the kingdom of God by force.
What a band of people the Lord spoke to. Do you want to know something today...it's the same band of people that He speaks to. Those who want to dwell in the past, go back, those who want to dilute the gospel and gospel truth to make it appealing to those around. There are those who want to cut themselves off and build four walls and a roof and keep truth, and what happens is they die in the very centre of it! And then there are the zealots - the zealots who want to go at it through politics, through reactionary faith. What's common about all of them? All of them were external faiths. They were all the outward, they all had a bit of truth - but none of them had the whole truth! Because the Lord Jesus Christ in the sermon on the mount and the beatitudes is saying to them: 'My kingdom is inside you! My kingdom is in your heart'. Is that not what He said to Pilate? 'My kingdom is not of this world. My kingdom is a life that is lived'. An inner-righteousness is what God wants and what Christ taught - not an outward confirmation.
That is what the Beatitudes is about. Did we not see the first week that we studied it, in chapter 5 and verse 20, that the Lord said: 'Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, you will in no wise - no case - enter the kingdom of heaven.' What's He saying? 'Unless your righteous living and your holy life is more than simply on the outside...you'll die and you will go to hell'.
Friends, today, there are those in our gathering - young people especially - and they've grown up in Christian homes, and they're not saved. And they may be holding onto a profession that they made in their youth, when they prayed a sinner's prayer - and I'm not despising that today - or they asked the Lord Jesus into their heart, but today there is nothing of a poor spirit in them, they are not humble, they are not meek. They are not empty seeking to be filled with righteousness, but they're seeking to be filled with sin, they are not pure of heart, but they are dirty in heart because of the things that you are doing, maybe, today. Is that you? Is that the way that you are living? You're not being persecuted for your faith, but you're perhaps joining in with those who persecute those in the faith! And none of these fruits, none of these beatitudes are in your life at this moment in time - yet you hold onto a profession [made] years ago.
The Lord Jesus said in Luke 11 and verses 39 to 41, and I read the Williams translation: 'Now you Pharisees, you have the habit of cleansing the outside of your cups and dishes; but inside you yourselves are full of guilt and wickedness. You fools, did not the one who made the outside make the inside too? But dedicate once and for all your inner self, and at once you will have everything clean'. If you were getting water, out of your water tap, that was dirty - what would you go and do? Would you go and change the pipe? Of course you wouldn't! You would go and you would clean the cistern - and there's some people, no matter how hard they try like the Pharisees, keeping rules, no matter what they deny in their minds like the Sadducees, no matter how they cut themselves off from the world like the Essenes, no matter how much they shout, rant and rave and walk and do all that is right like the zealots - the water continues to be dirty! And they may be an evangelical that is not born again...are you? Do you have these attributes that we find within this passage of Scripture - do you? Listen to these words: the poor in spirit, they that mourn, they that are meek, they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, you're merciful to others, you are pure in heart, you're a peacemaker - not a fighter, you're persecuted for righteousness' sake, you're reviled, you're slandered, you're called all manner of things falsely. Do you know what that is - to have God in the inside?
Blessedness, is found in all eight of the beatitudes - there're not some Christians that are meek, and some who mourn, and some that are pure in heart - but the Lord Jesus Christ says -- and this amazes me! He says that the child of God is to have all of these! As we examine ourselves, all these nine things that we read before us is the opposite that the world tells us. The exact opposite of everything they teach, believe, they put in the media, they indoctrinate our children with - it's the exact opposite! But you must be the opposite of the world if you are to please God. Someone put it like this: 'Jesus crept into the display window of life and changed all the tags around'.
Next week, God willing, we've finished our introduction - and thank you for bearing with me - we'll look at the first beatitude: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit'. Approved, accepted with God are the poor in spirit. Come along next week and hear the word of God.
Let us bow our heads. It could be that the Lord has brought someone here today, and they have been looking for their happiness and their satisfaction in the world. Maybe they've been looking for it in religion, they could even be a member of this church today, and they have been looking at legalism, liberalism, essenism - where they try and cut off the world - and they find that it doesn't make a difference in their life. Maybe they talk the talk, they attempt to walk the walk - but the life of God is not in their heart. Why don't you come to Him today? Don't bring anything in your hands to offer Him, but just cling to His cross.
Our Father we thank Thee for Thy word. We thank Thee for the image of the Lord Jesus Christ that is presented to us as we read these beatitudes. And the attitude that was in Him, ought to be the attitude that is in us. Lord we thank Thee that He has put the very law of God within our hearts. He has enabled us to live it by faith and by grace. Lord help each of us that are Thine today, to walk in that spirit, and to show forth that blessed approval of God with these attributes in our lives. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his Beatitudes series, titled "What Is Happiness?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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