Blessed versus Happy

I am still studying Matthew, observing the movement of Jesus in relationship to community.IMG_3304 In Matthew 5, the familiar passage called the beatitudes begins. Much has been written on this section and I am certainly not qualified to discuss the theological nuances. What impresses me is the setting and the discourse that follows to his disciples, moving from a large crowd to a smaller group; moving from a needs based circumstance driven crowd to an intimate learner’s environment. Matthew 4:23-25 describes the crowd that is following Jesus and his work among them, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel, healing every disease and affliction, various diseases, pains, oppressed by demons. . . ‘and he healed them’. Now this great crowd is following him because he represents something different. He offers relief to their circumstances, pain and misery.

Chapter 5 begins with ‘Seeing the crowd, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.’  He removes himself from the emotion and tension a crowd that wants something represents. I imagine, though, it is purely speculation, that he sits where he can see them and consistent with his character, he looks on them with compassion, longing that they could see beyond their circumstance and trust him and know his father. This, much deeper than their presenting issue.  In verse 2, Jesus opens his mouth and teaches his discipline, this smaller group of intimate followers. The first word is ‘Blessed’.  That has always been a confusing word. What does it mean to be blessed? Certainly in American, we are most blessed with wealth and security compared to the rest of the world. But, that’s based on circumstances which could change and are changing every day. Determined to understand this term ‘blessed’, out comes the study tools to search for the original meaning of the word. Blessed in the Greek is makários which translates as blessed one, possessing the favor of God. It is that state of being marked by the fullness of God. It indicates the state of the believer in Christ; said of one who becomes a partaker of God’s nature through faith in Christ. So it is positional. As a believer in Jesus Christ, indwelt with the Holy Spirit because of faith in Jesus Christ this is the result. Contrasted to ‘happy’ which is based on circumstances, like the large crowd following Jesus in this account, who were looking for relief from their circumstance to be ‘happy’. Happy has to do with good fortune or based on a favorable circumstance. Blessed is equivalent to having God’s kingdom within one’s heart; in the world but not dependent on it. Satisfied because of God rather favorable circumstance[1].

Back to the scene, in Matthew 5, Jesus is observing a great crowd of followers who are seeking circumstance relief and teaching his disciples, those who follow him as believers in his work and person and stressing the difference in his first word choice. Emphasizing the difference between them and the overall makeup of the crowd. Blessed versus happy. Those of us who call the name of Christ; believers, followers, children of God, have the same dynamic or option available. We are blessed because we have Christ within. We have the fullness of God within us. Therefore, our circumstances do not determine our state of being. We are in Christ. The chaos of this world, even the chaos in each individual life of a believer does not change our blessedness. We do not have to be undermined by the world, but can stand above the circumstances and remain independent from them in our state of being, our attitudes and therefore our behaviors. We are not UNDER the circumstance unless we choose to place ourselves there. Certainly there is a place for grief and adjustment to circumstance that cause us stress but regardless of the outcome, we are blessed.

Cancer or illness . . . blessed. Loss . . .. blessed. Stressful job . . . blessed. Financial difficulties . . . blessed. Relationships gone sideways . . .blessed.

Blessed are the believers in Christ because they have the fullness of God within.

Paul says it best in 2 Corinthians 4:8

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Blessed . . .



[1]  Taken from The Complete Word Study Dictionary, Edited by S. Zodhiates, AMG Publishers, page 937.

Does Jesus really get me?

IMG_0225I’ve been reading through Matthew, observing the movement of Jesus through a social context; placing myself, as much as possible within the cultural mindset of his time. I may be  lacking in a comprehensive cultural perspective but trust in the instructional leading of the Holy Spirit, crossing the bridge of interpretation to life application.

Matthew 4 begins with what we know about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. My favorite words are in the beginning verses where Jesus comes out of a 40 day/40 night fast and scripture records these words ‘he was hungry’. Seriously, I have always thought these were a  wasted of words; a redundant statement. Who would not be hungry after fasting for that long, right? But believing that all scripture is inspired and profitable for reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, I began to look more closely at these words.

This event in the life of Jesus is often connected to the words in Hebrew 4:14 that say ‘he, speaking of Jesus,  was tempted in all manner as we are, yet without sin.’ Certainly Jesus faced other temptations in his ministry/life but these three were head-on full frontal conflict with the devil and have significance for not only our behaviors but perceptions and thoughts as well.

Jesus was hungry. This was a felt, real need. Few of us know real hunger especially if we live in the United States. But this was 40 days without food. I can barely go a meal before I whine about being hungry let alone 40 day and nights.  The devil’s solution for his hunger was turn objects into substance to meet a need. When I sat with that for a bit, I realized the devil tempts me with the same thing. Turn things into something that meets a felt need. For example, my felt need for security I feed with food or spending or controlling behaviors. A ‘no-thing’to satisfy a felt need. Note too, the devil suggested he make more than he needed. ‘Stones to loaves of bread’, where one loaf would have met his felt need of hunger. How many times do we over-indulge and stockpile rather than simply meet the need? In a world of over-stimulation, we hardly know where need ends and indulgence begins. Everything in this world primes us to over-indulge, to satisfy ourselves after all we are entitled.

Next, look what happens after Jesus counters the devil with the word of God in Matthew 4:11.  After the devil left him, God met his need through his angels, his messengers; a method out of Jesus’s control. Jesus has to wait. I think this speak to delayed gratification which is an element of spiritual discipline.

Finally, Jesus’ antidote for the devil in this temptation back in Matthew 4:4 is ‘man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. My take on this defense is first, when the choice is trust your feelings, real, as in Jesus hunger or imagined, as in my insecurity, trust what God says in his word. If you don’t know what that is, go search for it, find a mentor, coach or spiritual director but seek out God’s truth. Feelings are based in situations and environments and are not very trustworthy.  What we know about feelings is that often they drive behaviors and for many of us those may be self-destructive or at a minimum self-defeating. Your perception may not be reality but like Jesus, the devil wants you to believe it is reality and wants you to fix it for yourself.  Second, wait on God. Trust his word. While you wait and pray for wisdom and examine your feelings. Is the devil tempting you to substitute objects or activities or relationships to meet a need only God can fill completely? A need God longs to fill if you’ll just wait on him?

Does Jesus really get me? I think he understand what it means to be tempted to meet my own needs with anything other than God. He had the chance to do the same but  he chose to wait and trust; to press through the tension of his felt need and believe his Father had a plan and purpose. He was tempted with the same things we’re tempted with, yet without sin. Like the ultimate coach who has been there and succeeded, we can follow his example and trust him.

Be blessed.