The Lord's Day Morning
September 20, 2009
“What True Happiness Looks Like, and What Looks Like True Happiness, But Isn't”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 6 as we continue to work our way through this gospel and as we double back to a very important passage in Luke. It's from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins with four words of blessing and four words of warning and woe. This is Luke's truncated version of the Beatitudes. It begins with four blessings and follows with four words of woe and warning. And if you look at the blessings and the warnings in parallel, you learn a little bit about what Jesus is exactly getting at, because the blessings are mirrored exactly in the woes and it helps you understand.
Now before we read the passage, there are two or three things I want you to be on the lookout for. What is Jesus doing here, starting this sermon off with a list of blessings and woes?
Well, first of all, He's telling us something that true disciples need to know. Jesus is forewarning us about what we are getting ourselves into when we are true disciples of His. He wants us to know that true disciples need to know the difference between true happiness, and what looks like true happiness, but isn't. His disciples need to clearly understand what true happiness looks like in life, and what looks like true happiness but isn't. His disciples need to understand the difference between the good life, and what looks like the good life, but isn't. His disciples need to know, in other words, the difference between true happiness and a sham substitute that is passed off on the world. We need to know what really matters and what will last. That's vital. If we, as His disciples, don't understand that, we're not prepared for the living of the Christian life. That's one thing He's doing in the Beatitudes.
Secondly, Jesus, in mocking the world's values — and that's what He does in this passage — as you read these things that He says, or states of blessedness and states of woe, these are not the answers that you would get anywhere else but church. You've been hearing it all your lives. You know what the right answers are here. This is never what you would say out there. Nobody in the world would say, “You know, to be truly blessed, what I want to be is, I want to be poor, hungry, mourning, friendless, and persecuted. Those have really been my five goals in life. If I could just get there I could look around at all my buddies from college and say, ‘I made it!’” Jesus knows that. That's why He's saying this.
He's saying, “Okay, let's see…what does a blessed person look like? Dirt poor, pangs of hunger, weeping so many tears that you don't feel like there are any tears left in you, friendless, and persecuted. That's what a blessed person looks like. And what does a cursed person look like? Wealthy, full, happy, tons of friends, popular, and respected.”
Jesus knows when He says this, this is going to be the opposite of how everybody in the crowd thinks.
Now we're in church, so we know the right answers here, but set aside the answers that you know you’re supposed to give, even though you really don't feel them in your gut, and listen to how ironic what Jesus is saying here.
Why is He saying this? To prepare you for a fight that you’re about to enter in to. You see, Jesus knows that, as a true disciple, you have got to know that those who are truly blessed and happy may well be poor. They may face poverty of various sorts that they had never anticipated, but even when they face it, they will be the possessors of the kingdom of God.
And Jesus knows that true disciples, to be truly blessed, to experience true happiness in this life, have to know that they may well be hungry. They may suffer hunger of all kinds and sorts, but even when they do, they are and will be satisfied with Christ and the Gospel. Jesus wants disciples to know that if they’re going to experience true happiness, they may well spend this life weeping, weeping over things that have and will continue to break their hearts — people, circumstances, situations. But even when they’re weeping, they are and will be comforted and joyful, joyful in a way that worldlings could not possibly understand, in Christ.
And true disciples need to know that the true happiness that He gives and offers and wants them to have may involve them being rejected and even persecuted, lonely, friendless, misunderstood, with their reputations ruined. But that even when they are in those circumstances, they know now more true reward and will know then more true reward than people who are filled with friendships in their lives, esteemed by their contemporaries, popular and accepted and successive. So it is vital for Jesus to shake you up here and say, “Blessedness may not look like what you've always thought blessedness looked like. So I really want you to understand what blessedness really is.”
And third, in saying this, Jesus is showing us how we are going to be distinctive from the world. Remember, those of us who were with us last week, I said that in the Old Testament, Israel was distinguished from the nations around it by the food they ate, by the clothes they wore, and by the rituals they practiced. In the Old Testament, Jewish people were required to eat different things than the pagans around them. And this made them distinct from the pagans, protected them from pagan influence, and showed the pagans they were different from them. The Jewish people also wore different clothes than the pagans around them and that set them apart from the unbelieving nations. And they even practiced different rituals — they worshipped on a different day, they followed a different sacrificial system than was practiced by the pagans. And all of these things set them apart and made them distinct.
But we are new covenant believers. We are no longer under the yolk of the ceremonial law. We don't eat, necessarily, different food from the world around us, and we don't necessarily wear different clothing from the world around us — although I hope we're a little more modest than the world around us. And we don't practice, necessarily, a different ritual than the world around us.
So what makes us different? In part, in the Beatitudes and in these woes, Jesus is telling you what makes us different. People aren't going to look at you and say, “You know, that person eats funny food, wears funny clothes, and does funny rituals, therefore they’re different.” No, He wants the world to look at us and say, “That person's idea of true happiness is totally different from mine. I wonder why? What that person values most, I don't even understand. That person has a treasure that I don't have, and that treasure that that person has makes that person act, about the situation in her or his life, very differently from the way I act.”
So the distinction between us and the world is going to be what our treasure is and where it's found. And the world's going to see that difference between us and them in the way we live out our lives out of what our treasure is. All of this is part and parcel of what Jesus is doing in the Beatitudes, so be on the lookout for that as we read it together this morning. But before we do, let's pray.
Father, this is Your Word. We need Your Spirit to open our eyes to understand it, in part, because our sin tends to blind us to it's truth. So, by Your Spirit, open our eyes, not just to our sin, though certainly to that, but especially to the remedy that You hold up in Your Word. And help us then to bless You because of the powerful, effective, inspired, authoritative Word of God, which gives life to those who receive and believe the One to whom it points, Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it:
“And he lifted His eyes on His disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write it's eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Some of you have heard the speech before, or read it. It was the first address that Winston Churchill made to the House of Commons after becoming the prime minister. Neville Chamberlain had failed in achieving what he had called “peace for our time” and a new government had been appointed by his majesty, and Winston Churchill had become the prime minister. As he addressed the House of Representatives — the House of Commons — he had to forego the normal pomp and circumstance, and nobody can do pomp and circumstance like the English. He had to forego that pomp and circumstance and form his cabinet in the middle of the night because war was all around them, and the existence of Britain was threatened. His speech was short but memorable. Some of you know, even by heart, some of its lines. Here is how it went: 1
“We are in the preliminary phase of one of the greatest battles in history. I say to the House, I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
Those words by the way come from Teddy Roosevelt.2 They were given in a speech that he gave in 1897, which apparently Churchill had read upon becoming the head of the admiralty in England just a few years before, and he felt them appropriate for this time of dire need, and so they were. He went on to say,
“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I say that it is to wage war by land, sea and air — war with all our might and with all the strength God has given us – and to wage war against the monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer it in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.”
I think I could have fought for that man.
And you understand that Jesus, in the Beatitudes, is saying something like this to you and me, His disciples, only it's truer and graver and better because you’re not up against Hitler and the forces of National Socialism in Germany run-amuck in Europe. You’re up against the one who was behind Hitler and the forces of National Socialism in Germany run-amuck. You’re up against the ancient enemy. You’re up against the one who had the audacity to defy God Himself. You’re up against the one who dared to say to Eve, “Your God is not worth living for.” You’re up against the one who wanted to sift Peter and Job like wheat. You’re up against Satan, and he wants to wreck your life now and he wants you captive forever. And so you are in the most dread and dire fight that you could possibly imagine.
And the sad thing is, there are so many Christian disciples that don't even know they’re in the fight, don't even know there's a war going on. And Jesus, in His infinitely wise and deeply loving pastoral kindness, is faithful enough to look you in the eyes and say, “Dear friend, if you’re going to follow Me, let Me tell you what you’re following Me into. You are following Me into the fight of your life.”
What's the fight? What is this fight? It's very simple my friends, and the Beatitudes make it so clear. Here's the fight: the fight is that some of us don't have what we want, and some of us do have what we want, and it's killing us. You know, some of us lack what we want, so we want what we lack and not what we really need, and we spend our lives chasing after what we lack, and we don't treasure what we need, though it's right before our eyes. It's right there. It's being held out to us, right before our eyes. We lack what we want, so we spend our lives wanting what we — we think that life will be happy and blessed and satisfied when I have what I lack, now. If I could just get it. So if I could not longer deal with poverty, if I don't have to deal with hunger, if I don't have to deal with weeping, if I don't have to deal with loneliness and friendlessness and popularity and persecution and fill in the blank. If I could just get out of that circumstance, I could find happiness in this life. We lack what we want so we spend our lives pursing what we lack because we think in the acquisition of it we’ll find blessedness.
And here's Jesus saying to you, “Blessed are the poor, and hungry, and weeping, and friendless, and persecuted.” Notice what He doesn't say. He doesn't say, “Blessed is poverty, and hunger, and weeping, and loneliness, and persecution.” He says, “Blessed are you when you are these things on account of Me” is His word.
What's the point friends? “I am the treasure! I am the joy! I am the satisfaction! I am what you need. If you have Me, nothing can be taken away from you that you need. Your joy can't be robbed of you. Your life can't be robbed of you as long as you have Me. So be poor, be hungry, be weeping, be friendless, be persecuted, but treasure Me and I’ll give you treasure like you can't even imagine — here and hereafter.”
But there are some of us who lack what we want, so we want what we lack, and we pursue it all our lives to the destruction of our souls. Ahhh. And there are others of us, that's what those woes are about — woe to you who are wealthy, woe to you who are full, woe to you who are laughing, woe to you who have friends coming out the ears, woe to you who are popular and successful and respected — because some of us have what we want and so we want what we have and not what we need.
You see, there are some of us who lack what we want, so we want what we lack, and we're spending our whole lives pursuing what we lack and not what we need.
Some of us, we have what we want, and it is good, and we think that in it consists blessedness and satisfaction. And Jesus is saying, “If that's you, you’re cursed, because I made you to need more than that, and it can't give you satisfaction. Unless your treasure is in Me, your wealth and your full stomach and your laughter and your friendships and your popularity and your esteem by the community and your contemporaries is like a millstone around your neck, dragging you to the depths of hell, because I'm what you need.”
And my friends, it means so much to me that Jesus is saying this to His disciples. He's saying this to you and me. This is not just something — you've seen it amongst worldlings, you've seen it amongst unbelieving friends, where the things that they pursue and the things they love are killing them. You've seen it. You've seen it kill them. He's saying this to His disciples because, my friends, we can get confused about this. We can be so grieved by what we lack because so many times what we lack is a good thing to want. “Lord, I want my children to love you. Lord, I want my wife to love me; I want my husband to love me. Lord, I just want to be able to work; I just want to provide for my family; I don't want to be on the dole; I don't want to be accepting handouts; I just want to work. Lord, I'd just like to not have two terminal diseases.” And on and on and on — and the things that we lack and the things that we want can be good things, in and of themselves, but if they’re the first thing, and they’re the great thing for us, we've taken our eyes off the treasure.
And there are others of us who are so filled with the good things of this life, that our place of belonging, our sense of satisfaction, that's where it's found. “I've got friends around me. I've got money in the bank account. I've got food in the refrigerator and in the freezer and in the second refrigerator and in the second freezer. I'm not facing hard things in life. Oh, there are a few things out there, but 90% of my life is good. This is where I belong. This is what I want. This is what satisfaction – this is what true happiness – is all about.” And the Lord is saying, “If you have what you want, and you don't want Me more, then what you want and what you have, is killing you, because it can't provide for you what I made you to need. I built you to be satisfied with nothing less than Me.”
You see what Jesus is doing in the Beatitudes? He is getting at every last one of us. Isn't it? Every one of us is here. We’re either in category one or category two or both. You know, you could be, in most of life, contented with your lot except in this 10% area. You've got your feet in both camps. You simultaneously have what you want and lack what you want, in some area. In the same situations, you’re pursuing away from God in two different directions. All of us are in one or both of these camps. And here's Jesus saying, “You know what true blessedness is? It is not found in either having or lacking these things. True blessedness is found in having Me – in having Me for your treasure, and treasuring Me more and above all these things, so that whether you have them or not, the essence of your satisfaction cannot be touched by this world.” And He says more, “If that's not where your treasure is, if I'm not where your treasure is, you’re not My disciple.”
So that presses one more question on us: “Lord, how do I know where my treasure is? How do I know what's my treasure? How do I know what I value most, what I want most? How do I know whether I have the true happiness or some sham substitute, some superficial substitute?” And the answer's simple — you have to look at what you love. You have to look at what you desire. You have to look real hard. What do I love? What do I desire? And then you follow a trail of your love and your desire, and you follow that trail by looking at your time and your money and your affections and your interests. That's how you know what you desire. And at the end of that trail you’ll see what you love, and it's either going to be Jesus or anything else. Those are your only two options.
And what you treasure most will show both in the blessings of this world and in the trials of this world. I'm thinking right now of a couple. It's been my privilege to know thousands of marriages over the last twenty years; just a privilege to be able to look into the lives of fellow colleagues, friends in Christ, church members, and let them just open up a little window into their marriages. This marriage has got to be one of the best marriages I have ever seen. He loved her. She loved him. He was handsome. She was gorgeous. They loved God. They committed themselves to Christ at an early age. They prepared themselves for ministry on the mission field. She bore him four beautiful children, and she died of cancer in her thirties. I think the most glorious thing to see in the last days of her life, was that though this man loved her like few other men I've ever known loved their wives, it was clear to me that he loved Jesus more. And because he loved Jesus more, he knew that she wasn't the source of his joy, Jesus was. So his job to her in those months was not to try and grasp the last fleeting glimpses of joy he was going to know in this life before all the lights went out. His job was to serve her, because Jesus was his joy. And you know the glorious thing about her? She loved him like few women I've ever seen love a man, but she knew that Jesus was her joy, and her joy didn't come from that man, it came from Jesus. So even in the last breaths of her life, she was trusting in her Savior. And he's been able to go on in life and ministry because he loved Jesus more. What a glorious example of people who had a marriage that they could have made an idol of, but who loved Jesus most of all.
There's a flip side, isn't there? There are so many sitting around thinking, “Lord, I don't have the marriage that I want to have. I want something more. I want something better.” And you know what normally happens in those circumstances? What normally happens is, we point the finger to the other party and we say, “You’re the reason I'm not happy.” You know, it's amazing — counselors, ministers rarely have the opportunity to sit in an office where two people come in and one of them says, “Well, we're here today because we've got marital problems, but here's what you really need to know — it's all my fault.” That's not how the conversation usually goes. They come in and it's “all her fault” or it's “all his fault,” but it's not “all my fault.” Why? Well, sometimes the main fault is in the other one, but very often, and perhaps in the vast number of cases in marriage, we've decided that our joy and our happiness comes from another person, not from God. And when that person hasn't given us what we want, we felt let down, and then we've gotten angry at them and at God and we start pursing what we lack, and all the while we do it, we're destroying our marriage and our life and our souls. Because our happiness doesn't come from our husband or our wife — it comes from Jesus, for His disciples. And we can't love another human being the way we're called to love another human being if that human being is called to bear the weight of supplying us the joy that only God can provide.
And so Jesus is saying this, “My disciples, I'm calling you to a dread fight. And here's the fight – the fight is, some of you are going to face experiences in life that cause you so much pain because of the lack that you are going through, that you start wanting what you lack more than you want Me. And others of you are going to have so much of what you want that you start enjoying what you have more than you enjoy Me. And in whatever situation you are, you’re in a fight. It's a fight to the death.”
And the glorious thing is, Jesus has more to offer than Winston Churchill. Victory was the aim. Why? Because survival was the goal. I understand that. Believe me, I do. I understand that historically, survival was the goal, but not for Jesus. His goal for you is joy inexpressible and full of glory forever. And you’ll only get it if you trust and treasure Him more than anything else. Dear brothers and sisters, welcome to the fight. And when the world tells you, and it does, “You get what you give.” You need to respond, “It doesn't work that way.” No, you can't give what you haven't received, and you can't receive what you need from this world. You can only get it from Him. That's what the Gospel's all about. It's not, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and be a giving person.” It's, “Look at what God has given you in Christ — it's not just salvation, it's not just forgiveness, it's not just being spared from punishment. It's — He has given you Himself as your treasure, and from that abundance, now you can give, because He's given you what you need, and He’ll never take it away. And no circumstance in life, however hard or however good, can ever alter that reality one iota.” “Blessed and cursed,” Jesus says. “Blessed are you when everything else is taken away, but you still have Me. Cursed are you when you have everything, but you don't have Me.” Where's your treasure, friends?
Heavenly Father, this is a word we need to hear, so give to us of Yourself so that our love will be for You above all else. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace to you, and mercy and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Churchill. http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/churchill.htm
2. Roosevelt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood,_toil,_tears,_and_sweat