[This is a book excerpt from Life in the Kingdom: The Gospel According to Jesus, by Steve Husting, due out late 2017.]
Normally, we think that we can be happy only when certain pleasant conditions are met, such as everything going our way, or doing a fun activity we like to do, or just having peace between times of stress.
With the kingdom of God, the times of happiness are dramatically broadened. The verses at the beginning of Matthew chapter five begin with the word blessed, which means happy, fortunate, or well off. Therefore, in the kingdom of God people can be happy though poor, mourning, meek, hungering for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, or persecuted. These are not normal areas for happiness. Who is happy when they have been mistreated or wronged? Rather than being merciful with a smile, the normal response is revenge, anger, or be scared. How can there be happiness in these situations?
Happiness is because our relationship with God is right. The kingdom of God, or government of God, is a trusting, submissive relationship to God, with God as King over all we are and have. Jesus is giving us a high view of the kingdom of God by giving us the outcome of a healthy relationship with God.
A husband and wife or very best friends can have happiness together. When they fight each other, there is no peace — the blessing depends on the status of their relationship. Jesus is the true vine. Fruit in us is possible as we orient our lives properly to Jesus. “With me you can do nothing,” Jesus said. But Jesus with us brings blessing, no matter the circumstances. His presence with us makes the difference — as it is with every NT blessing. The blessedness of Matthew 5 takes effect based on one’s relationship with Jesus — where Jesus is not King, there is little blessing. Where there is true submission, there is full blessing.
Happy, though poor
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
This word poor means very powerless and helpless, abject like a beggar. Paul accepted lack and fullness; he knew how to be both: “I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Christ strengthened him no matter what. Lack of food or wealth or status did not hinder him from enjoying Christ. If we have a healthy relationship with God, we can depend on His presence with us, whether we are materially poor, financially poor, or spiritually poor. It’s like you are in the hospital and a friend comes to visit. Your physical problem did not get better, but the presence of the friend brings its own happiness.
Paul was afflicted by a thorn in the flesh, by an agent of Satan to beat him down. In his helplessness and powerlessness, he prayed that it would depart. But he was cheered in the midst of his affliction by the Lord’s words: “Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
This is what salvation looks like: taking pleasure in affliction so that Christ’s power may be known in us. Some say that this poor in spirit is the person who has heard the gospel and is convicted. That perspective means the kingdom of God includes unbelievers! Therefore, I reject that idea; this verse really makes sense only if they were right with God in the first place. The Bible does not promote a divine-sourced happiness apart from God.
Happy in sadness
5:4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
The word “mourn” in the New Testament is used in the sense of feeling a loss. It is used for bewailing, so it is mourning that is demonstrative, a keen loss. When Jesus rose again and appeared to the women, they went to the disciples while the men “mourned” for Jesus. Same word. It is deeply felt and seen.
Those who mourn will be comforted during the pain, as opposed to those who have no relief. Where does the comfort come from? I was at a low point with my deafness as I realized that no one in my circle of acquaintances understood what I was going through. Then the Lord showed me how He was greatly misunderstood by the disciples. The Lord understood my pain. The comfort comes from the Comforter who is with us. Of course, it is somewhat easier to dispel a sadness by being busy or distracting ourselves. But behind such cheer lies a sorrowing heart.
The Bible has a lot to say about suffering. The cool thing about salvation is that God now takes our suffering and flips it around and uses it for our good. He now has a purpose for our suffering. For instance:
James 1:2-3 tells us to count it joy in trials because it produces patience.
Suffering reveals to us how strong or weak our faith is, giving us cause to rejoice or repent.
We may mourn from some testing going on in our lives that shows what’s missing, but comfort comes when we run to the throne of grace in time of need. We mourn and suffer, but behind it all is hope.
Happy when meek
5:5 Blessed are the gentle,
For they shall inherit the earth.
These gentle ones have the strength to overlook slights and not insist on their own way. Others who are not meek will demand their rights and not let people walk all over them. The meek have the strength to let it go. They are trusting God. God can reason with them and they will yield. This is a work of the Spirit, not natural, for in the natural, we insist on our way, not God’s. The meek have come to trust God and desire His will. They are happy because they have found God trustworthy.
It is said of Jesus that smoking flax he will not quench, a bruised reed He will not break. He is gentle; He will not put out that fire in us but make it burn brighter; He will not crush us, but strengthen. The gentle ones do not badger, demand, or boss around. They are sensitive to the moods of others and act appropriately. They don’t grate.
As a result, they will inherit the earth. Inherit in God’s kingdom means they will have an inheritance that accompanies honor, and a seat of power from which to rule. They don’t have a big ego to bruise, so they are frequently found faithful in the small things. They are not saying, “Why do I have to put up with this? I’m made for bigger things!” As a result, God sees they are responsible and can handle great things in the kingdom to come. David was an excellent example of this, being a faithful shepherd boy, then he was strengthened in faith during his sufferings with King Saul before he was fitted for a throne. He came to the throne through the back door of suffering, not by election of the people. Jesus was born in a stable and will rule over all. Moses was the meekest person in the earth, and God used that 80-year-old to lead the children of Israel to deliverance.
Happy in their pursuit
5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
These “happy,” “fortunate,” or “well off” ones have an aim in life. There’s a fuel that drives them. They have the vision that they can be like Christ in all things, and they want the promise. They want every area of their lives brought under the dominion of King Jesus. They want every aspect of their lives to model Him. God will eventually give them what they want. They shall be filled.
This is not talking about imputed righteousness, which we receive when we trust Christ for salvation. It is a practical righteousness, or rightness of living. The entire New Testament is all about this right living before God. Every page tells us how to live a righteous life. According to one book on preaching, half or more of each epistle contains practical steps of obedience to take. More than half of what Jesus said is practical steps to do. A righteous life is more than learning theory.
I remember when this was not the thrust of my life. I was more concerned with enjoying my life, relaxing with a book, doing my work to get paid — anything but living for Jesus. The born-again life should change the thrust of our lives. This hungering and thirsting in part is from the realization of how fallen we really are. Every year brings with it new revelations of areas of our lives to work on. I don’t need to make New Years’ resolutions: God will show me what to work on all throughout the year.
The Old Testament laws could not regulate the lives of the Israelites and bring them to rightness of living because of the sin nature within — they and we were inherently selfish and self-seeking. But with the coming of Christ, the sin nature has been rendered powerless. We can now receive God’s direction and follow it. The thrust of the New Testament teachings is relational, right living with one another. God makes right relations with our neighbor the expression of right relations with Him: do we want a fantastic relationship with God? Seek it with your neighbor. When we try to do so, we’ll see in what ways we are so broken, and hunger and thirst for more righteousness.
Happy to forgive
5:7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
This principle — if you show mercy to others, then God will show mercy to you — is repeated in the gospels. The Our Father prayer teaches this in 6:12, 14-15. In the chapter after that we find the teaching repeated again, 7:1-2. In Matthew 18:21-35 we have the story of the king who forgave the debt of a servant, but the servant would not forgive another servant. Therefore, the king withdrew his forgiveness. Jesus there said it could happen to us if we are not merciful and forgive. As we do to others, so God will treat us at the judgment.
The merciful are happy to just let it go. They refuse to be burdened with bitterness, hurts, or hate. God is love, and practicing mercy demonstrates God’s love to the errant one. We have not been better than they; we have sinned against God and found mercy with the gospel. We are happy to extend it to others that the situation may give rise to sharing the gospel to them. “I forgive you everything. You want to know why? Because Jesus forgave me everything. Let me tell you about it.”
Happy to choose
5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
The word pure means without mixture. For instance, the priests’ robes were to be pure, made of one fabric only, not both wool and linen. So in Matthew 6:24, we can’t serve God and money. Joshua 24:15 tells us to serve one or the other: “Choose this day whom you will serve; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Our loyalty must not be divided, but set on God.
This person has a confident joy; the inner turmoil is over; he can say with personal conviction, “Thy will be done, not my will.” Jesus is number one. God will manifest Himself to them; they will see God. With literal eyes? I don’t know. 1 John 3:2-3 tells us that if we have the hope of being like Him and seeing Him, then we will purify ourselves. This is a promise — if we purify ourselves, letting there be no rivals to the Lord, we shall see Him. We shall be like Him. It is conditional. If there are rivals on the throne of our heart, then we do not see Jesus as He is; He had no rival to the Father on His heart, did He? Blessed are the pure, for they shall see God.
Happily making peace
5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called children of God.
Some bibles translate “children of God” as “sons of God.” Peacemakers shall be called sons of God. When we believe on Jesus, we become children of God. When we show ourselves mature, faithful, worthy, then God does what the ancient Israelite father does — he pronounces the child is his son and heir. This is the concept of adoption as sons in their culture. So, a son of God will inherit in the coming kingdom. One aspect of these mature ones is being a peacemaker.
I’ve read where politicians trying to broker peace between Israel and its enemies are peacemakers. Jesus is not talking about a political process. Peacemakers have found peace with God, then with themselves, then with others. For instance, God forgave them, they forgave themselves and let go of guilt, then forgive others. That’s happy.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. There are peacemakers whom God uses to bring peace between their neighbor and God, within their neighbor, and between neighbor and neighbor. And there are those who bring peace to a tense situation, or cheer to an unhappy situation. What they say changes everything. You may get that from the Lord when you read your bible and the Lord speaks. It changes everything and you have peace. So it can be with our lives and words to others. Hebrews 12:14 tells us to pursue peace with all men and holiness, or we won’t see God, so don’t let things between you and another fester. Jesus speaks of that in Matthew 5:23-28, where He tells us to reconcile with the one we’ve wronged. Peacemakers are happy with a good conscience; they make things right.
Happy to suffer for another
5:10-12 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“Persecute” in the Greek means to put to flight, drive away, drive out, pursue. It is not the word “martyr,” which means “witness, or bear witness” (the old English word “martyr” means to bear witness by death). When Jesus walked the earth, He exposed by His holy living and words the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They sought to drive Him out, to get rid of Him. They misunderstood the message of God’s love to them.
There are different organizations dedicated to drive out Christians or Christian influence from the U.S. and other countries. For example, Norman Lear, an atheist who directed All in the Family, a television hit mocking a dysfunctional Catholic family, has used his windfall to form People for the American Way, which is dedicated to stopping Christianity. They really believe Christianity is destructive.
Blessed are the persecuted. Their reward is great in heaven. They did not conform to the world and its ways. Jesus will reward those who take a stand for Him though it hurts. Jesus said that if they hated Him they will hate us. Moses rejected Pharaoh to stand for God’s people. The apostles said they ought to obey God rather than men, and were beaten for it. Stephen died for his faith without wavering.
We have special honors for those who gave their lives serving their country or community. God has the same. Their reward will be great.
A word of warning
Note that Jesus did not apply these blessings to broad groups that people belong to, but pointed out specific character traits an individual may possess. (The exception is those who are persecuted.) In other words, He did not say, “Blessed are the born again people,” or “Blessed are the believers,” or baptized, or Catholic, or pastors, or volunteer workers. Rather than rest on calling ourselves born again, we ask ourselves if we are merciful born again believers. The denomination we belong to is not conducive to happiness, but being pure in heart is.
Let’s be careful that we not rest satisfied in a group we belong to, but check ourselves against this list of character traits to see if we have been bearing kingdom fruit. After all, did the Pharisees not pride themselves as belonging to their religious order as evidence that they were on the right path? Yet the Lord is looking for character, which comes from the individual’s personal pursuit of Christ. Let’s step back and check if our group is really inspiring us in our spiritual life, or holding us back.