Are You Happy in Your Life? (Luke 6:17-26)
6th Sunday after the Epiphany - February 13, 2022
The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that one of our inalienable rights guaranteed by our Creator is the “pursuit of happiness.” I believe, that we contemporary Americans not only take this right seriously, but we have made the pursuit of happiness the goal of all our work and play. In fact, we are so preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness that we tend to view any form of sadness as something to be avoided at all costs. “Don’t worry be happy!” we sing. “Don’t cry.” we say to the sad person. “It can’t be that bad!” If anyone exhibits any sort of sadness, we urge them to rush off to a “shrink” to cure them of their depression.
Are you happy in your life? Is something wrong with you if you are not smiling and laughing all the time? Does a frown on the face of a Christian mean he/she has no joy in the heart? What is happiness anyway? Does it consist in daily laughter?
Happiness might not be as easy to define as most people seem to think. In our text Jesus actually uses the term “happy” to describe the persons who are in His kingdom. The ESV translation, from which we read earlier, renders the Greek word “blessed.” But what Jesus has in mind is much closer to our English word “happy.” For He is speaking about the result or feeling left within a person, who has experienced some form of prosperity, or blessedness.
That being said, we ought not to confuse our contemporary understanding of happiness with what Jesus has in mind. After all, happiness is a state, or condition, of the heart, not simply a continuous jocularity or the “having a good ol’ time.” People can laugh on the outside, and still be crying on the inside.
True happiness is not skin deep. It permeates the mind and the very fabric of one’s soul. It is characterized by a sense of well being and contentment. The happiness Jesus speaks of remains undaunted even in times of pain and suffering.
How can that be? It all depends on where one looks for happiness or a sense of contentment, joy, and well-being in his life. Jesus tells us there are basically two places you and I can look for happiness. Either we look to the Kingdom of God in Christ for our happiness or we look to the kingdom of this world to make us happy with all of its physical pleasures. In other words, is God the source of our comfort or is the god of this world: Mammon?
Jesus contrasts four states of happiness with 4 woes, or we might say states of being “cursed.” The first in each list sets the whole tone. “Happy are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” He says. This is set over against: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have (already) received your consolation.”
Jesus cuts right to the heart of our human existence: our wallet! We tend to think that happiness stems from how much money we have. Look at the people waiting to buy the latest series of lotto tickets. People on food stamps stand right along side the person wearing the Armani suit, fashion pants, and Goochi shoes. Poor or rich they’re all thinking, “If only I could win the lotto, I would be on easy street. My troubles would be over. I could finally be happy!”
What does it really mean to be rich anyway? In essence, being rich has little to do with the amount of money one has. The young child sees his dad’s paycheck and says, “Wow, Dad, your rich!” Indeed, compared to the child’s small allowance, his dad’s check does appear to be a ton of money. Yet, when the paycheck doesn’t quite cover all the family bills, Dad certainly doesn’t feel rich.
We can think of being rich as having all you want. In the truest sense of the term, then, a poor person could consider himself rich if he is satisfied with what he has. A person with a Swiss Bank Account full of money could consider himself somewhat poor because he still isn’t able to afford everything he wants.
Happiness, therefore, is not dependent upon being rich or poor. Happiness is a by-product of being content. The issue for you and me as disciples of Jesus, therefore, is what is it that makes us content? Is it wealth in material things or wealth in the spiritual goods of God’s kingdom?
Jesus speaks of a different kind of poor. For one could be rich or poor in material goods, but still be “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). That is to say, one could see that within himself he lacks what is spiritually essential. All that the world could possibly give him, he knows is not enough. He sees and confesses himself as a poor, miserable, sinner. He longs for the riches of God’s grace given to the world in the person of Jesus Christ, which make him eternally rich.
Here Jesus is warning those who strive after worldly wealth as the secret to their happiness. The fleeting comfort their money can buy will be all they will ever receive. Their drive to accumulate wealth will leave them only that which thieves can steal, inflation can eat up, and their heirs can squander. Our worldly goods might make us feel happy for a while and even make us laugh, but what good will our bank accounts... our Visa Cards .... our technological toys do for us before the judgment seat of Christ? Will they be able to pay the debt we owe God because of our sin? Will all our worldly riches secure us a room in God’s heavenly Hilton? Of course they won’t! That comes only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The happy ones are those who are rich in God’s grace.
These happy ones are also, Jesus says, hungry. Their spirit is not satisfied with the stale, cardboard, bread of worldly wealth, security, or prestige. They have a deep down hunger in their soul for some “real food” that endures to eternal life. They acknowledge their lack of righteousness before God and hunger for that perfect righteousness that is Jesus Christ.
These happy ones, Jesus says, are also in mourning. They weep over the sad state of affairs in their own lives, as well as that in the world. They grieve over what sin has caused. They don’t look at the world through some kind of rose-colored glasses, nor through eyes blinded by ignorance and denial. When they see disease... death... murders... immorality... man’s inhumanity to man, they weep over it as God wept over corrupt Sodom and Gomorrah... or as Jesus wept over disobedient Jerusalem¼ or as we weep over all the evil and painful consequences that our own sins have brought upon us. We all weep because we know that it does not have to be this way, if only people would turn to the way out of such death; that is, to Jesus Christ.
How can such poverty... hunger... and sadness now be compatible with happiness? The answer Jesus says lies in the fact that the one, who by faith seeks his happiness in Christ Jesus, might be poor in the eyes of the world, yet he is rich with the whole Kingdom of God. He might be hungry for righteousness now, but he is comforted that Jesus has through His atoning death declared righteous in His wounds. He might be in sorrow now over the effects of sin in his life, but he laughs in spirit that all those effects of sin have been declared to be null and void in Jesus’ resurrection.
Jesus takes on one more false notion concerning happiness. That elusive ingredient to happiness for many people is “fame;” notoriety. The thought is that if I am popular then life will be wonderful. I’ll be truly happy!
Such thinking is just as prevalent among adults vying for the top positions in their companies as among the youth doing everything they can to be accepted by their peers, even if it means doing something illegal, like drugs.
The hard reality, however, is that such a pursuit to be popular, to be famous, to be someone everyone praises, is also vanity (meaningless). This being Super Bowl Sunday we are reminded once again of how much successful sport figures are held up as the pinnacle of persons who can in their success enjoy the riches of worldly life. They are not alone, of course. Look how we idolize Olympian athletes or even successful entertainers and Hollywood actors. Their lives seem almost charmed to many of the rest of us. And, yet, almost daily we hear or see in the news media reports of another famous football player or Gold Medal Olympian or Starlet whose life is suddenly ended by tragedy or is rocked by a debilitating injury. Their glory and happiness evaporate like yesterday’s headlines.
“Don’t kid yourselves!” Jesus says. “It’s no feather in your cap if everyone thinks you are such a wonderful person or wants to emulate you. Sometimes it can be deadly. As an example Jesus points to all the false prophets in Israel. The people loved them. These prophets made themselves popular by teaching people what they wanted to hear. It was not, however, the truth God wanted them to preach. As a consequence these prophets brought God’s curse upon themselves and their adherents (2 Pet. 2:1). Now, in hell their fame has turned into shame and pain.
If we seek happiness in the accolades of people, we also will neither know true happiness now nor later in eternity. To please men often means we must betray God. And anytime we do that life will not go well for us!
But the good news is that Jesus has enabled you to be happy no matter what your lot in this present life. He has made available to all who believe in Him the whole storehouse of God’s riches by purchasing them for sinners with His own precious blood. As the atoning sacrifice for your sins, Jesus fills the empty places of your soul with God’s gracious forgiveness and love. As the One who rose victoriously from the dead, Jesus is also the one who turns your tears over death into tears of delight and joy in the resurrection.
Likewise, such happiness sought in the wounds and victory of Christ even transcends present suffering... bigotry... slanderous insults... and outright persecution in this anti-Christian world. Our crosses are always born in the light of Jesus’ cross. Jesus was not ashamed nor saddened to bear His cross for us. In fact, He rejoiced in it to save us. Trouble, suffering, or shame we might be called upon to bear for Jesus’ sake, therefore, can also be born with joy.
On one occasion Peter and the other apostles were arrested, thrown into prison, and flogged by the Jews for preaching in the name of Jesus. We are told in the Book of Acts that when they were finally released, they “went their way... rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name...” Such a happiness in the face of persecution was also seen in Paul and Silas. When they sat in their prison cell in Ephesus, instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they were “singing hymns of praise to God” (Acts 16:25).
Were these men demented? No, they were eternally delirious! They were able by faith to view their crosses through Christ’s cross and open tomb? They saw victory not defeat! Jesus’ victory gave them contentment, peace; in short, happiness!
If you experience such hardships simply because you are seeking to follow Christ, you are in good company. All of God’s prophets, apostles, and disciples experienced it before you. But such suffering can in no way diminish the happiness you have in Christ. For as Jesus Himself promises to those who suffer for His sake: “Your reward is great in heaven.” The apostle Peter exhorts all Christian cross-bearers: “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”
So, we come back to this question: “Are you happy in your life?” If you are not ¼ if you find yourself in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and depression ¼ sour in your outlook ¼ devastated in your lot in life, then dear friend you are experiencing the curse that comes from seeking your happiness in worldly things that will always let you down now and leave you empty handed at the coming of Jesus Christ.
If on the other hand, you are seeking your happiness in Christ alone, you will be happy even in the midst of poverty, hunger, sadness, even rejection by others. You will be that proverbial tree spoken of by Jeremiah that is firmly planted by the water that sends its roots deep. It does not fear when heat comes. Its leaves are always green. Even in a year of drought it continues to bear fruit. Amen.