Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Who Are Truly Happy?
EVERYONE wants to be happy. Realizing this, Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by describing those who are truly happy. As we can imagine, this immediately captures the attention of his vast audience. And yet his opening words must seem contradictory to many.
Directing his comments to his disciples, Jesus begins: “Happy are you poor, because yours is the kingdom of God. Happy are you who hunger now, because you will be filled. Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh. Happy are you whenever men hate you . . . Rejoice in that day and leap, for, look! your reward is great in heaven.”
This is Luke’s account of the introduction of Jesus’ sermon. But according to Matthew’s record, Jesus also says that the mild-tempered, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peaceable are happy. These are happy, Jesus notes, because they will inherit the earth, they will be shown mercy, they will see God, and they will be called sons of God.
What Jesus means by being happy, however, is not simply being jovial or mirthful, as when one is having fun. True happiness is deeper, carrying the thought of contentment, a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
So those who are truly happy, Jesus shows, are people who recognize their spiritual need, are saddened by their sinful condition, and come to know and serve God. Then, even if they are hated or persecuted for doing God’s will, they are happy because they know they are pleasing God and will receive his reward of everlasting life.
However, many of Jesus’ listeners, just like some people today, believe that being prosperous and enjoying pleasures is what makes a person happy. Jesus knows otherwise. Drawing a contrast that must surprise many of his listeners, he says:
“Woe to you rich persons, because you are having your consolation in full. Woe to you who are filled up now, because you will go hungry. Woe, you who are laughing now, because you will mourn and weep. Woe, whenever all men speak well of you, for things like these are what their forefathers did to the false prophets.”
What does Jesus mean? Why does having riches, laughingly pursuing pleasures, and enjoying the plaudits of men bring woe? It is because when a person has and cherishes these things, then service to God, which alone brings true happiness, is excluded from his life. At the same time, Jesus did not mean that simply being poor, hungry, and mournful makes a person happy. Often, however, such disadvantaged persons may respond to Jesus’ teachings, and they thereby are blessed with true happiness.
Next, addressing his disciples, Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth.” He does not mean, of course, that they literally are salt. Rather, salt is a preservative. A large heap of it lay near the altar at Jehovah’s temple, and officiating priests used it to salt the offerings.
Jesus’ disciples are “the salt of the earth” in that they have a preserving influence on people. Indeed, the message they bear will preserve the lives of all who respond to it! It will bring into the lives of such persons the qualities of permanence, loyalty, and faithfulness, preventing any spiritual and moral decay in them.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells his disciples. A lamp is not put under a basket but is set on a lampstand, so Jesus says: “Likewise let your light shine before men.” Jesus’ disciples do this by their public witnessing, as well as by serving as shining examples of conduct that accords with Bible principles. Luke 6:20-26; Matthew 5:3-16.
◆ Who are truly happy, and why?
◆ Who receive woe, and why?
◆ How are Jesus’ disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”?