We all seek happiness. We are all searching for love. We are all desperate for peace. But so often, we look in the wrong places. St Augustine prayed, ‘Lord… you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.’ God is the source of *all good things*.
The source of joy and peace
So often we seek joy and peace in the wrong places: ‘How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?’ (v.2). We think that money, possessions or success will be the answer. But these are delusions and false gods. True joy and peace, as David tells us, are to be found in a relationship with God (v.3).
We are not promised a problem-free life – the psalm starts with a cry: ‘Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer’ (v.1b). David is confident that God will hear: ‘He listens the split second I call to him’ (v.3b, MSG).
God alone is the true source of joy and peace: ‘Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety’ (vv.6b–8).
There is greater joy in the presence of God than there is in material prosperity and luxury. Prosperity, despite the apparent security it brings, does not necessarily lead to peaceful sleep. Only in God’s will can we truly ‘dwell in safety’ (v.8).
Lord, let the light of your face shine on me. Fill my heart with the joy of your presence and grant me peaceful sleep.
The source of God’s favour and true happiness
According to Jesus, true happiness does not come from all the things that society suggests. It does not come from celebrity, beauty, wealth and possessions. It is not about how you feel. It is not about what you have or even about what you do.
The Greek word, ‘makarios’ (used in 5:3–11) means ‘blessed’, ‘fortunate’, ‘happy’ – the privileged recipient of God’s favour. Or, as the Amplified version puts it, ‘happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous, that is, with life-joy and satisfaction… regardless of their outward conditions.’
In the Beatitudes (‘beautiful attitudes’!) Jesus highlights eight unexpected situations in which you receive God’s favour and blessings.
- Be spiritually desperate for God‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (v.3a). The word for ‘poor’ means ‘begging… dependent on others for support’. Here, it means being brought low or weakened to the point of realising the need to depend on Jesus: ‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope’ (v.3a, MSG). The poor in spirit are blessed because, through what Jesus has made possible, ‘yours is the kingdom of heaven’ (v.3b).
- Weep over your condition‘Blessed are those who mourn’ (v.4a). Mourn your own sin and the mess in the world around you. Weep with those who weep. It is not wrong to weep and to mourn the loss of those you love. Jesus’ promise is that those who mourn ‘will be comforted’ (v.4b). God’s comfort goes way beyond any kind of ordinary comfort. As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘It’s almost worth having a problem in order to be able to experience [God’s comfort].’
- Be content with who you are‘Blessed are the meek’ (v.5a). The Greek word for ‘meek’ means ‘gentle’, ‘considerate’, ‘unassuming’. It is showing kindness and love for others. It is the opposite of arrogance and self-seeking. It means ‘broken’, not in the sense of a broken glass that is shattered, but in the way that a horse is broken – tamed, strength under control. Through Jesus the meek are blessed – ‘they will inherit the earth’ (v.5b).‘You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less’ (v.5a, MSG).
- Be hungry for God‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (v.6a). ‘You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God’ (v.6a, MSG). Pursue a relationship with God as your number one priority in life. Pursuing anything else for its own sake ultimately leaves you empty. But the blessing of a hunger for God and his righteousness is that you ‘will be filled’ (v.6b).
- Receive forgiveness and be merciful‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’ (v.7a). Don’t give people what they ‘deserve’; give them what they don’t deserve. As C.S. Lewis put it, ‘To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.’ The merciful are blessed because ‘they will be shown mercy’ (v.7b).
- Be completely sincere‘You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right’ (v.8a, MSG). ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’ (v.8a). This is not just outward purity but integrity, openness, sincerity and authenticity. It is a purity that truly allows you to ‘see God’ (v.8b). A pure heart starts with your thoughts because your thoughts become your words, your actions and your character.A key step to being pure in heart is allowing others to see us as we are – in all our brokenness and vulnerability.
- Strive to bring peace‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (v.9a). Don’t stir up conflict, but make peace. Jesus, the Son of God, came to make peace for you on the cross (Colossians 1:20). Blessed are the peacemakers ‘for they will be called children of God’ (Matthew 5:9b).‘You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight’ (v.9a, MSG).
- Expect nothing in return except persecution‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness’ (v.10a). Don’t expect anything from the world in return except criticism. But God is with the persecuted church: ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (v.10b).‘You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution’ (v.10, MSG).
We see here the third way in which Jesus fulfils the Old Testament. We have already seen that Jesus fulfils the Old Testament history (1:1–17) and how he fulfils the promises of the Old Testament prophecies (1:18–4:16). Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus fulfils the Old Testament Law by revealing its full depth and meaning: ‘Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures – either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete’ (5:17, MSG).
The American rock singer turned pastor, John Wimber, said, ‘Jesus is insatiable. Everything we do pleases him but nothing satisfies him. I have been satisfied with Jesus. He has not been satisfied with me. He keeps raising the standards. He walks in high places.’
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ‘raised the bar’ to the sky, not to bring us down but to lift us up: ‘I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!’ (5:16, MSG).
Lord, help me this year to live by the values of the Sermon on the Mount and to be characterised by the Beatitudes, so I might be a light to the world around me.
The source of love and unity
Love covers and protects. It does not seek to expose other people’s weaknesses and faults. It does not delight in other’s misfortunes.
Today’s passage begins with the rather strange account of Noah getting drunk. The fact that he was a righteous man did not mean that he was perfect. Shem and Japheth are commended for ‘cover[ing] their father’s nakedness’ (9:23).
Love and unity go hand in hand. The Tower of Babel is the symbol of disunity (11:1–9). The people said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves’ (v.4). This act of pride and power-seeking led to disunity, symbolised in the confusion of different languages in the world. ‘The Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth’ (v.9).
The day of Pentecost was the reversal of Babel. The Holy Spirit enables people to say: ‘each of us hears them [speaking] in our native language’ (Acts 2:8). The gift of tongues symbolises the fact that the Holy Spirit reverses the disunity of Babel and unites all peoples and languages.
This is a common experience today as we see the Holy Spirit bringing love and unity across churches, languages and nations.
Lord, may we never seek to make a name for ourselves or our own church, denomination or movement. Rather, may we seek to glorify your name. Pour out your Spirit, O Lord, on the church as on the day of Pentecost. May there be a reversal of Babel. May there be an end to disunity. May your Spirit and the values of the kingdom of God bring love, joy, peace, true happiness and unity.