SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
Jesus Can Take Us Beyond Happiness to Lasting Joy
Key Verse: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. – Matthew 5:6
We have before us a Herculean task: to teach the Beatitudes in one Sunday school lesson! An entire lesson could be devoted easily to each beatitude. However, this brief summary of them all will introduce us to extraordinary teaching ministry of our Lord.
Jesus begins what is commonly known
as the Sermon on the Mount by presenting the beatitudes. Matthew wants us to
understand that the “mountain” is the new Sinai where Jesus announces the new
rules for living in the
What Jesus taught was
revolutionary. Old rules were being replaced with new ones. Jesus called for a
righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees. The standards of
the world were not acceptable to God. A
new day was dawning. The
Understand that this is no ordinary scripture passage. Charles Spurgeon, for example, said of the beatitudes, “No words in the compass of Sacred Writ are more precious or more freighted with solemn meaning.” So important are these words that one scholar calls them “the charter of the Christian life.”
The beatitudes are not simple rules; indeed they are quite profound. To practice the beatitudes in daily life is not easy. In fact, these rules call for nothing less than living like Jesus lived. Embrace the beatitudes as a way of life and the result will be Christlikeness. Jesus fulfilled the beatitudes in his own life, thus becoming our example for living in the kingdom. The beatitudes show us how God wants us to live.
The last word of the Old Testament is the word “curse.” Consider how interesting it is that the first word of Christ’s great sermon is “Blessed.” Christ is the great channel of blessings that come to us from the Father. Jesus invites all people to come to him so he can bless them. In the beatitudes he tells us who are “the blessed” of God. The blessed are those who flesh out the beatitudes in daily life. In the final judgment Christ will be the Judge who will divide the blessed from the cursed. The blessed with inherit eternal life. The cursed will hear the awful words, “Depart from me,” and will exit into eternal darkness. It matters, then, that we understand how we are to live.
Some scholars tell us there are seven beatitudes, others eight. Those who favor seven teach us that these seven show us the character of the Christian. The eighth then is “a benediction upon the persons described in the seven beatitudes when their excellence has provoked the hostility of the wicked.” That to me is a very reasonable conclusion.
We may understand the beatitudes better if we compare them to their opposites. The opposite of poor in spirit are those who are proud and have not an ounce of humility before God. The opposite of those who mourn are those who view sin as trivial, seek their own pleasure, and never mourn for their own sinfulness. The opposite of the meek are those who demand their rights and aggressively seek power over other people. The opposite of the persecuted are those who compromise the truth at the expense of their integrity.
We shall be wise to seek the deepest meaning possible from each beatitude and discard simplistic ideas that are no longer helpful. The pure in heart, for example, means much more than childlike innocence. Those who will “see God” are followers of Christ who have a “single eye,” or a singleness of motive, for doing the will of God. That can only happen when “the heart” or the whole personality – mind, will, and emotion – is surrendered to God. Is such surrender easy? No. Is it possible? Yes – to the extent that his grace makes it possible!
Are the beatitudes the key to true happiness? Perhaps, but I fear the word has lost its deeper spiritual meaning. The word “happy” has been trivialized by our culture. The word had great meaning in some of our old songs like “O Happy Day” and “His Eye is On the Sparrow” (“I sing because I’m happy”). And a more recent song speaks to my soul – “Happiness is to Know the Savior.”
The problem is that “happy” now represents the shallow “good feeling” that we can obtain from material things. Certain cars, clothes, cosmetics, and gadgets can make us “happy.” But that kind of happiness does not last. What Jesus offers us in the kingdom is a joy that lasts, that cannot be taken from us, and remains with us as an inner spiritual strength.
The word “happy” has a hollow ring to it while the word “joy” has a solid, genuine sound. I like the theology of the popular chorus: “If you want joy, real joy, let Jesus come into your heart.” Things can make us happy for a season but only Jesus can give us lasting joy. He alone can take us beyond happiness to true joy.
One beautiful truth about the beatitudes is that they describe blessings we can enjoy now, in the present hour. They do not merely promise us “pie in the sky by and by.” The words “Blessed are” speak of a present reality which belongs to all who, with singleness of heart, are committed to Christlike living in the kingdom here and now. This gives us a bit of heaven now, even though we are thankful for the “great reward” that finally will be ours in heaven. + + + + (Contact Walter at email@example.com)