Blessed, Not Happy
Please join us this week for our gospel meeting with Edwin Crozier!
Aristotle taught the driving force of human action is happiness. Thomas Jefferson claimed God endowed every human with the right to pursue happiness. We have such a love affair with happiness some Christians think Jesus’s opening to the Sermon on the Mount explains how to be happy. I’m no Greek scholar. For all I know, in some contexts the word translated nine times in Matthew 5:3-11 can mean “happy.” But that is not what it means in that passage.
“Happy,” derived from the root “hap,” which means good luck, connotes an internal feeling of pleasure arising from chance happenings. “Blessed,” however, is the joyous contentment resulting from receiving a purposeful blessing. “Happy” is the serendipitous by-product or good fortune that comes and goes based on circumstance. “Blessed” is the constancy of God’s favor which provides a bedrock of constant joy. “Happy” stresses the good feelings of euphoria someone may have based on what is happening to them. “Blessed” stresses the gift certainly received no matter how the person feels about it. “Happy” highlights the receiver and his/her response. “Blessed” highlights the Giver and His purpose.
Don’t misunderstand. I have no doubt the blessed will experience happiness as they fully recognize the true gift within their blessings. Jesus, however, is not highlighting the happiness, He is highlighting the blessing. He is not highlighting our feelings, He is highlighting God’s favor.
What is the take away? We must not, like so many who claim Christianity, use this passage to baptize the pursuit of happiness. It is tempting to be relevant to our culture by capitalizing on the pursuit of happiness, saying, “Yes, pursue happiness, but pursue it this way.” I know it is tempting because I can pull out old sermons in which I said that exact thing. The problem is we will not accomplish God’s goals by pursuing them the world’s way. Jesus’s goal in these statements is not our happiness, and if we twist them to be about our happiness, we won’t be pursuing God’s gifts, but chasing our own tail. In the end, we will receive neither the happiness we seek nor the blessings God offers. We will wear ourselves out in circular pursuit and accomplish nothing of lasting value.
Jesus is not offering us happiness, He is offering us something better—God-given blessings. They may produce happiness in us, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is the blessings. The poor in spirit and persecuted are not blessed because they are happy, but because they receive the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn are not blessed because in the end their mourning is changed to happiness, but because it is God who comforts them. The meek aren’t blessed because they receive happiness, but because they inherit the earth/land. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness aren’t blessed because they get to be happy, but because God satisfies their hunger.
God is not hoping we will pursue happiness; He is directing us to pursue His kingdom and righteousness (see also Matthew 6:33), the comfort that comes from Him, His presence, His fatherhood, His mercy, His inheritance. He is not using happiness as the manipulative carrot to get us to pursue those other things, and neither should we. He wants us to understand what a blessing His gifts are. Jesus didn’t die to give us happiness; He died to give us His kingdom, His comfort, His inheritance, His satisfaction to our hunger, His mercy, His presence, His adoption. Why would we settle for mere circumstantial happiness when we can have these blessings?
Jesus Has Time for You by Edwin L. Crozier
If you are like me, you sometimes wonder if God, with the cares and concerns of the whole world being brought before Him, really has time for you. Why would He take the time to focus on my small (in the grand scheme of things) problems? I am an unclean sinner, not worth the effort when there are so many more important people around to care about. In this way, I’m probably very much like the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5:21-43. According to Leviticus 15:25-30, she is unclean. Not only is she unclean, everything she touches becomes unclean. Not only that, but everyone she touches and everyone who touches anything she touches becomes unclean. Imagine the isolation this poor woman has felt for the twelve years of her infirmity. If married, she and her husband are unable to even sleep in the same bed. Her family cannot touch her, hold her, hug her. Like a leper, she is likely shunned because of her uncleanness. She has sought remedy after remedy, going after each new cure and physician that promised help. Each time she came up short. She has gone through whatever finances she had and has only gotten worse. Then she heard about Jesus, the rabbi who teaches with authority and to whom spirits and sickness submit. Can you see her on the edge of the crowd? I can only imagine she has a shawl covering her head and face. If anyone sees her, they might recognize her as the unclean woman. All those people between her and Jesus. If they figure out who she is, they will be livid. Yet, she needs that healing. She doesn’t call out to Him or try to attract His attention. Why? Likely for the very reason mentioned above. Surely, this important and powerful rabbi has no time or inclination to deal with the struggles of an unclean woman. Look at the crowds following Him. His time is taken with them. Besides, isn’t that one of the rulers of the synagogue seeking Jesus’s attention? Why would Jesus ever put a ruler of the synagogue on hold to listen to the request of one unclean woman? So she sneaks up behind. I can imagine she is careful to sneak through the crowd, trying not to attract attention or to touch people as she approaches. There He is. She reaches out, touches His garment, and she can immediately tell the difference. She is healed. Praise the Lord! She tries to sneak away, but Jesus Himself stops and calls attention to what has just happened. Jesus, with all the crowds pressing in, with the synagogue ruler wringing his hands, stops and calls out to discover who has touched Him (not that He needed to learn, but His disciples, the crowds, and Jairus needed to learn). In fear, she admits what she has done, surely expecting a rebuke. Yet, she receives only encouragement. I can see Jairus to the side fretting. His mind is racing. “We don’t have time for this woman. Let’s hurry and get to my daughter.” Then the worst is reported. It is too late. The daughter has died. Jesus couldn’t be in two places at once. He couldn’t heal the woman and the daughter both. Or could He? He calmed the father, went to the house, and brought the little girl back to life. Jesus indeed has time for the 12 –year-old girl and the woman with the 12-year-old disease. Praise the Lord, Jesus has time for you too.