Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Ask any parent, “What do you want most for your children?” The most common answer by far: “I just want them to be happy.”
It’s not just parents. Happiness is the universal goal of mankind. French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) declared:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
Obviously, people have different ideas about the best road to happiness. Personally, I have never been attracted by a noose!
The key to happiness does not lie in sex, entertainment, money, or notoriety. It is bound up with a word that Jesus used on a hillside in Galilee at the start of history’s most famous sermon.
Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
Blessed are those who mourn . . .
Blessed are the meek . . .
The word translated blessed here is the Greek word makarios, the closest word in Greek to our English happy. In fact, many Bible translations use the word happy in Matthew 5.*
Happy are the poor in spirit . . .
Happy are those who mourn . . .
Happy are those who hunger and thirst . . .
Happy are those who are persecuted . . .
This rendering brings out the shocking impact that Christ’s statements made on his hearers. Would you say that the best route to happiness is to be poor, grieving, hungry, and persecuted?
Of course not! We believe the very opposite. And these pronouncements were just an counter-intuitive to a first-century audience.
How could Jesus possibly claim that these were the people who held the key to happiness?
To understand his message, we need to look more closely at makarios.
Makarios was a common Greek word, appearing 50 times in the New Testament. We can translate it as “happy,” as long as we recognize that it means more than just a frothy feeling of well-being or a transient good mood. This word describes a person who enjoys a special privilege of some kind, a desirable position that we recognize as a good reason for happy feelings. Some translate it “privileged, fortunate.”
“Blessed” is also a good translation as long as you don’t visualize it as a priest sprinkling holy water and intoning a formal prayer: “Bless you, my son.” No, makarios is much more down to earth, much more powerful.
Watch the way someone uses makarios, and you see what they believe about the key to happiness.
The ancient Greeks described their gods as makarios because they lounged around Mount Olympus enjoying all the privileges of divine power. The word was also used to describe the rich, living free from the usual cares and worries of life.
In the Greek view, you would be happy if you had:
possessions, a marriage partner, bachelorhood, intellectual understanding, fame, children, death (with its release from life’s problems, or initiation into a secret society.
Modern Americans might agree with most of these!
The Bible, however, presents a drastically different prescription. Consider the things that make a person happy (makarios) in the New Testament:
Occasionally makarios refers to a good outcome in practical matters. On trial before king Agrippa, Paul declared that he was “fortunate” to plead his case before someone who understood Jewish customs (Acts 26:2)
Most of the time, a person is blessed (makarios) because of spiritual benefits originating with God. The New Testament bristles with verses that start, “Blessed is ______.” Here are some prominent reasons for true happiness:
Blessed is the one who obeys God (Luke 11:28; John 13:17; Romans 14:22; James 1:25; Revelation 1:3; 22:7).
Blessed is the one who believes God (Luke 1:45; 7:23; John 20:29).
Blessed is the one who receives truth revealed by God (Matthew 13:16; 16:17; Luke 10:23.
Blessed is the one who remains faithful waiting for the Lord to return (Matthew 24:46; Luke 12:37-38; Revelation 16:15)
Blessed is the one who serves others (Luke 14:14; Acts 20:35).
Blessed is the one who has received salvation (Romans 4:7-8; Revelation 19:9; 20:6; 22:14).
Blessed is the one who experiences persecution for Jesus (James 1:12; 1 Peter 3:14; 4:14).
And we may sum up the message of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Luke 6 by noting that you’re in an enviable position if your heart is set on pursuing the kingdom of God, even if your life is tough.
What is the secret of happiness? Focus on these final points:
First, God is supremely happy. He is described as “the makarios God” in 1 Timothy 1:11 and 6:15. He is the perfect Person in the perfect place, with all the universe at His command. He has it all!
Second, our happiness rests in the “makarios hope,” the hope that brings happiness when we consider Christ’s promises and His impending return. As God’s child, you have a place of unbelievable security and wealth right now. He promises to be present with you today. He promises that you will live with Him for all eternity. Count on these facts and you will have every reason to enjoy a deep-seated happiness, even when things are difficult. You’re in a spot that any sensible person would envy!
After all, Revelation 19:9 serves as your invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Blessed are all who are invited to the grand Party that kicks off our eternity of unending joy and love!
NOTE: For additional background on makarios, click here to view the Word Study Summary on makarios.