Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy People

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

Matthew 5.1-2

Lesson 1: Be Happy

We get our first good look at how and what Jesus taught in Matthew 5. He established His ministry through miracles (e.g., turning water to wine) and demonstrations (His baptism). Reports of these extraordinary events spread like wildfire. In no time, a crowd gathered wherever we went. Instead of pandering to the public’s desire to witness more wonders, however, the time came to pause and clue them in on what the hubbub really was about.

Jesus sat down and started to teach His followers. And where did He begin? He kicked things off with a lesson about happiness. In nine statements—commonly called The Beatitudes—Jesus gave us secrets for living happy, productive lives. According to Jesus, the happiest people were normally thought to be the most miserable—weak, sorrowful, timid, wronged, conciliatory, persecuted, insulted, and discriminated against. Furthermore, He boldly promised that those associated with Him would join misery’s company and then encouraged them to get excited about it!

Unnatural Logic and Instincts

Jesus called these unfortunate souls “blessed.” We hear this and immediately strike up the harps and angelic choirs. But to Jesus’s listeners, it meant something much less grand. First off, their God wasn’t generally associated with the blessing business. He blessed them, of course, but He also threatened harsh punishment if they didn’t obey. Naturally, their terror of divine retribution drained the “blessing” concept of nearly all its godly features. When they heard Jesus’s “blessed” list, it meant “happy.”

What He said defied all natural logic and instincts. No doubt, that much was enough for some to leave Jesus to His own crazy notions—and the crazies willing to stick around to hear more of His nonsense. (Unfortunately, there are many like them even today, despite the fact that His words survive centuries later.) Among the “crazies” who did stay, no doubt many held on to discover where Jesus was going with all this. His message puzzled them.

Breaking the Code

The Beatitudes mystery continues for anyone who tries to comprehend it with a natural mind. If we look at Jesus’s lesson through eyes of faith, though, it becomes crystal clear. The Beatitudes depict the believer’s code of behavior. When we break it down, we find Christ’s keys to happiness. Over the next week or so, we’ll explore them one by one. And we’ll soon see that being happy comes down to choice rather than circumstances. As followers of Christ, we can decide we’re happy people who lead unnaturally full and happy lives.

R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" captures much of The Beatitudes' spirit and message...

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