O The Bliss

James Sanders
Greencastle, Indiana

Christ began His sermon on the mount with a series of near paradoxes. We call them the "Beatitudes." Here the poor in spirit are not really poor at all ("theirs is the kingdom of heaven"); the meek are promised the earth and those who are persecuted for His sake are exceedingly blessed. Strange thoughts and yet not so strange. In the Beatitudes, we learn that things are not always what they seem; what man sees is not necessarily what God views. The eyes of the Almighty probe deeper than the shallow surface and for this reason His children are blessed. The power of the Beatitudes lies in their reversal of human values.

The Meaning of Blessed

Blessed is from the Greek word makarios. Originally makarios (or its subsidiary form, makar) was an attribute enjoyed by the gods. The gods were called makarios or blessed because their life was beyond care, labour, and death. Whenever makarios applied to man (which was indeed a rarity; only 8 times by Homer), it was used "to denote the state of godlike blessedness hereafter in the isles of the blessed." Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol. 4, p. 362). Man was called makarios when he became as the gods.

Though disputed by some authorities, makarios seems to be a combination of two different words: (1) me; not and (2) keros: "The goddess of death, hence doom, fate Hom." (Liddell-Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 431). When viewed literally, makarios would then mean: not fate or not death, intimating that such persons (the makarios or blessed) were endued with immortality and thus were not liable to the whims and fancies of fate.

O The Bliss

The disciple of the Lord would then be blessed (makarios) because his life is not under the influence of blind fate or chance but "is governed by an all-wise providence, having every step directed to the attainment of immortal glory" (Clarke, Vol. 5, p. 65). The learned William Barclay has well commented: "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 the changes of life. The English word happiness gives its own case away. It contains the root hap which means chance. Human happiness is something which is dependent on the chances and the changes of life, something which life may give and which life may destroy. The Christian blessedness is completely untouchable and unassailable. 'Your joy,' said Jesus, 'no man taketh from you" (DSB, Matthew, Vol. 1, p. 84).

The Beatitudes of Christ in effect are saying, "O the bliss of being a Christian! O the joy of following Christ! O the sheer happiness of knowing Jesus Christ as Master, Saviour and Lord!" (Ibid. pp. 83, 84). The Christian does not live a life of chance or one liable to the caprices of fate. He may suffer but that suffering is not without meaning and does not pass by unnoticed. In these estranged and perilous times, others may wring their hands and cry, "What is the world coming to?" The disciple of the Lord, because he is blessed and not subject to blind fate may reply with brilliant contrast, "Look what has come to the world!" God be thanked that we are makarios (or blessed) by Him who made us all.

June 17, 1971