Take It All!
Take joy, my King, in what You hear; Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.
* * * * *
Jesus had just completed a preaching tour of Galilee, and word of His ministry was spreading like a California brushfire. When He returned to Capernaum on the north shore of the lake, He found the crowds larger than ever. Calling out His disciples, He took them with Him up the steep hillside to a favorite spot, seated Himself, and began to teach them. What came forth was a superb message of joy known as the Sermon on the Mount.1 Today it comes to us out of the past, a remarkable transmission of eternal truth.
When we open our New Testament to the beatitudes in Matthew 5 we find that the first word Jesus spoke was "blessed" or, as it is in Greek, makarios. The ancient Hebrew meaning of the word was "favor from God." Whatever the language, whether Hebrew, Greek, or English, it is a great word, a magnificent word, yesterday, today, and forever. Here is what Dr. William Barclay has to say about makarios:
The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future
world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. It is not something into which the Christian will enter, it is something into which he (or she) has entered. It is a present reality to be enjoyed. The Beatitudes say in effect, "O the bliss of being a Christian! O the sheer happiness of knowing Jesus Christ as Master, Savior and Lord!" The very form of the Beatitudes is the statement of the joyous thrill and the radiant gladness of the Christian life. In the face of the Beatitudes a gloom-encompassed Christianity is unthinkable.
Makarios then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and changes of life. The Beatitudes speak of that joy which seeks us through our pain, that joy which sorrow and loss, pain and grief are powerless to touch, that joy which shines through tears, and which nothing in life or death can take away.
The world can win its joys and the world can equally well lose its joys. But the Christian has the joy which comes from walking forever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes are triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.2
Yet sadly today the word "blessing" no longer carries the same significance it had in the ancient world of commerce in Bible times, or even in the last century. It has been relegated to the religious vocabulary. Ask any bartender what a "blessing" is and he may reply, "A bit of luck." Many preachers have substituted the word "happy" for "blessed" in the hopes that their meaning will be understood. That hasn't worked very well either.
For example, the first beatitude Jesus taught was "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven." To change that to "Happy are the poor in spirit" is to create a contradiction. Whatever else the spiritually poor may be, they are
probably not happy. Even more inept is the second beatitude: "Happy are those who mourn." It makes very little sense to describe mourners as being happy people while they are mourning, particularly when that is not what Jesus meant.
What English word, then, can properly clarify and convey Jesus' meaning? In this connection Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament contains an interesting statement by Professor Friedrich Hauck of Erlangen, Germany. I quote from Dr. Geoffrey Bromiley's translation: The special feature of the term makarios [blessed] in the New Testament is that it refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the Kingdom of God."3
That's it! What Jesus was talking about was a deep "distinctive joy" which He promised would come to those who chose to partake, as Dr. Hauck said, in the "salvation of the Kingdom of God."
Let's see how the beatitudes would sound with such wording:
Let the poor in spirit take joy, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Let those who mourn take joy, for they shall be comforted.
Let the meek take joy, for they shall inherit the earth.
Let those who hunger and thirst after righteousness take joy, for they shall be filled.
Let the merciful take joy, for they shall obtain mercy.
Let the pure in heart take joy, for they shall see God.
Let the peacemakers take joy, for they shall be called children of God.
Let those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake take joy, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
You will note that the beatitudes suddenly become not descriptions of the present, but promises for the future. Not acquisition, but hope. Not endurance, but relief. Not a reward
for spiritual achievement, but a joyous outpouring of the love of God into the hearts of believers by the Holy Spirit.
How then does this fresh rendering of the beatitudes relate to people who are under enormous pressure, who are facing troubles that seem insurmountable? How do they relate to the crushed Christian wife whose husband has just informed her that he is leaving her? To the downcast teenage youth who has been dropped from the athletic squad for an infraction, just after he was elected team captain?
Let's examine the text.
"Let the poor in spirit take joy, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The late Dr. Harold Ockenga once explained, "In order to be filled with the Spirit we must meet God's conditions. To begin with, we confess to God that we are not filled with the Spirit."4 "Poor in spirit" could mean a sense of failure, self-pity, depression, hopelessness, lack of faith, or lack of self-confidence. Jesus knew what He was talking about. To be emptied of negative spirits is exactly what we need before we can receive a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit. We go to the cross, we are crucified with Christ, and then we take joy!
The reason so many earnest, sincere believers are failing to find joy in their Christian life is that they are not filled with the Spirit. And the reason they are not filled with the Holy Spirit is that they are occupied with all the unholy spirits that is to say, the critical attitudes and these spirits monopolize the believers' time and effort: hostility, resentment, fear, bitterness, envy, revenge, antagonism, arrogance, self-love . . . the list goes on and on. To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with love. How can one enjoy the fullness of the Holy Spirit, who is God, when one is filled with everything else?
"Let those who mourn take joy, for they shall be comforted." The response of mourning is God's natural provision for meeting the tragedies of life. Tears are God's healing balm in times of grief. God never designed the stiff upper lip. He made us flexible to meet the demands of life. Eventually the mourning season will end, and the pain will subside. There is a balm in Gilead.
God will send comfort and restoration and the joy will come back.
"Let the meek take joy, for they shall inherit the earth." Meekness is always being misconstrued as timidity, which is preposterous. When a soldier or sailor salutes his superior, is that being timid? Consider the illustration of a shut door. Three persons wish to go through it. One is aggressive, and he kicks the door down because he thinks it is locked. Another stands in front of it timidly, afraid to test whether it is locked or not. A third person is meek. He tests the door to see whether it is unlocked. If it is, he opens it and walks through. Christians are not aggressive or timid; they are meek.
"Let those who hunger and thirst for righteousness' sake take joy, for they shall be filled." To make the right choice and feel the joy of it is one of life's greatest thrills. I heard one young man say in church, "I have changed my address, folks. I used to live on Broadway, but I've moved over onto Straight street. If you want to talk, that's where you'll find me."5 To get on track we have to realize there is a right way and a wrong way. Choose the right, hunger and thirst for righteousness before God, and God will fill you will His Spirit and with joy.
"Let the merciful take joy, for they shall obtain mercy." Jesus is not talking about deals or bargains: "Do this and I'll give you that." To make a bargain with God one must have something to bargain with, and if we had anything to bargain with we wouldn't need mercy. Repentance is no help, for it is the liquidation of all helps. God exercises crown rights over what is His own, but He wants people to go to the cross so He can pour His mercy into them, make them merciful, and fill them with joy.
"Let the pure in heart take joy, for they shall see God." Purity of heart is not common. We Christians think we have our temptations under control, but they keep resurfacing. The world knows it, and God knows it. What must we look like to God? We are all unprofitable servants, but there is a daily recourse:
I must needs go home by the way of the Cross,
There's no other way but this.6
The Bible tells us, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). So take joy! From joy comes purity of heart. Jesus knew: He was also tempted.
"Let the peacemakers take joy, for they shall be called sons of God." Once in Scotland I stopped two young lads who were fighting furiously in an Edinburgh street. I asked them whether they would quit if I offered each a penny. (Pennies in those days were large coppers.) The boys agreed; they shook hands and fell into each other's arms, then went off laughing to spend their lucre. But bribes will not bring a cease-fire today; the rancor runs too deep. God is the only Peacemaker. Our message is that our Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to make peace through the blood of the cross. Martial arts will never achieve peace. Jesus Christ will, and He will add to it the Joy of the Lord.
"Let those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake take joy, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Madame Jeanne Marie Guyon wrote, "When once we have enjoyed God and the sweetness of His love, we shall find it impossible to relish anything but Himself."7 Madame Guyon spent 30 years in confinement for her faith, a victim of persecution by her own church. Eight of those years were spent in the notorious Bastille in Paris. For a persecuted Christian to take the joy of the Lord into the dungeons of this world is, from the human standpoint, impossible; but with God all things are possible.
Particularly interesting are the next two verses, which have more to say about persecution "for righteousness' sake." In this rendering they say, "Take joy when men revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Be joyful and exult with gladness, for great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Even before His ministry began, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was encountering stiff opposition. His adversary was Satan, who He met in the desert, and overcame with three passages from the Old Testament. Shortly afterward Jesus returned to Galilee and healed a paralyzed man, telling him his sins were forgiven.
Jesus thereby raised up some human persecution, which increased after He ate a meal with some questionable characters and performed a healing on the Sabbath. By the beginning of the third chapter of Mark, Jesus' enemies were plotting to get rid of Him.
From our frontier days comes a saying that when you are up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to keep your mind on the fact that you're there to drain the swamp. When people are following you, hounding you, and trying to entrap you, it's hard to maintain a serene countenance of joy. And when you are trying to clear commercial vendors out of a holy sanctuary, it's hard to exude a spirit of goodwill.
Over the next three years the "keepers of the law" sought to turn the Man of Joy into a Man of Sorrows. There is a sense no doubt in which the title "Man of Sorrows" properly and appropriately applies to Jesus. It is a messianic title, and Jesus in fulfilling His Father's will unquestionably assumed the prophetic role so movingly described in Isaiah 53.
Yet when Christians speak of Jesus as a "Man of Sorrows" who was "acquainted with grief," they are not describing His inner spiritual nature. Grief was sometimes flung at our Lord by His enemies with floggings and curses. He did not exchange His joy for sorrow; the sorrow came entirely from without, but the joy remained within. If Jesus became acquainted with grief, it was only to endure it.
Perhaps it has occurred to you to question why the artistic figure of our Savior is so seldom depicted with a benign or joyful expression on His face. Traditionally He appears in a state of extreme agony. It should be remembered that as horrible as the crucifixion was, and as momentous for our salvation as it proved to be, it was followed by the resurrection, in which the Heavenly Father turned death and despair into glorious victory. That victory is still being celebrated by followers of The Way, not only at the Easter season but every day of the calendar year.
Jack Jewell's painting of Jesus, "The Risen Christ by the Sea," is a serious attempt to put a genuine expression of joy on the face of Jesus. Naturally, Christians are divided in their reaction to the
smile. But if Jesus' hearty expression says anything to me, it says frankly, "Take joy." It says, "Exult. Shout. Leap. Dance. Laugh. Away with long-faced sobriety, with false reverence and manufactured intensity in dealing with sacred matters."
I know that in some churches today the message is "Give. Give, and the Lord will bless you. Give, and we will make our budget." In the beatitudes the word of Jesus is rather "Take." It is a prophetic word: "Take, take, take the joy now, for the future is my Father's and the future is yours."
1. Matthew 5-7
2. William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, vol 1 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press), pp. 83-85.
3. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol IV, tr. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), p. 367.
4. Harold J. Ockenga, in "The Third He," in Decision magazine, January 1969, p. 15.
5. A play on Acts 9:11.
6. Hymn, "The Way of the Cross Leads Home," by Charles H. Gabriel.
7. Mme. Guyon, "A Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer" (Philadelphia: George W. McCalla, 1925). Reprinted in Spiritual Disciplines, ed. S. Wirt (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1983), p. 171.
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