What does it mean to be blessed? How can we attain blessedness? Is blessedness within reach by ordinary people?
The word blessed Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount is from the Greek word makarios, which means to be happy or blissful, but it also means a self-contained happiness. The Greeks called the Island of Cyprus “the happy isle.” They believed that because of its geographical location, perfect climate, and fertile soil that anyone who lived on Cyprus had it made in the shade. And the term they associated with the island was makarios. They believed everything you needed to be happy was right there on Cyprus. We can’t all move to Cyprus, but the idea is that our happiness is independent of our circumstances. It is self-contained, meaning that regardless of what is happening to us externally, we can be truly happy internally. We can be genuinely blessed as followers of Jesus Christ.
Let us take a look at what the Bible says about true blessedness: “27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 27-28).
Our Lord, when He was thus interrupted by this woman’s hearty testimony, did not reprove her speech, but He improved it. Our Lord averted the wrong interpretation which might be put upon it, and then made an addition to it, but He did not at all deny that she had spoken the truth. He did as good as say, “What you have said is certain, but yet there is a higher truth; she was blessed who bore Me, but more surely blessed still are they that hear the word of God and keep it.”
When at last the gift was bestowed upon the humble virgin of Nazareth, who was of the house of David, it came as a great favour. Since angels rejoiced over that birth, since shepherds hastened to do homage at the manger, and since wise men from the further East came with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh to adore the new-born King, Mary cannot be thought of as being less than the most blessed among women. All the circumstances of the annunciation, and all the homage paid to the infant Saviour, show that her visitation from on high had made her greatly blessed. The angel when he addressed her said, “Hail, you that are highly favoured, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.”
She received this honor as a great blessing. She bowed herself humbly, and said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to Your word.” She believed the word of the Lord; her spirit rejoiced in God her Saviour; she treasured up all the holy words in her heart. It was no vain thing to her to have charge of the infancy of our Lord. She felt it to be great blessedness to be placed in such a relation to the holy child Jesus. We can scarcely imagine the holy ecstasy, or the profound joy which filled her spirit. She was an eminently gracious woman, and therefore she never boasted of her relationship, nor misused it for her own purpose. But what a pleasure it must have been to have nursed Jesus in His childhood, to have cared for Him in His youth! She treasured up His little speeches, and pondered in her heart what all could mean. Happy were her fingers that made His garments and that tended to His infant and boyish wants. In His adult life she must have been among those who heard Him with delight. Was she not one of the most charmed of His hearers? What joy that her Son should speak in that way and bring such a salvation to the sons of men! Awe mingled with the mother’s delight, deepening it, but not forbidding it. When He had risen from the dead, I think her heart must have been filled with a holy exultation, that He whom she had mourned now lived again. When she knew that He was ascended, though it left a blank in her heart, yet she rose above the sorrow natural to her motherhood, and learned, though she had known Him after the flesh, now after the flesh to know Him no more. She could not but rejoice in all the glory with which the man who was born of her was now surrounded.
If all generations call Mary blessed, it is because she brought into the world one that is a blessing to us all. Have we not tasted of the blessedness which is scattered by both the hands of Jesus? Do we not know that life and healing stream from the skirts of His garments? If we have not enjoyed the blessedness which He bestows, it is because we have denied it to ourselves. His blessedness is free to us if our hearts desire it. Oh, what a Christ is He! His Words unlock prison doors; the glance of His eyes is the light of men; the tread of His feet turns deserts into Edens. Our faith is in His first advent; our hope is in His second advent. In Him we live, and if in Him we sleep we shall in Him awake from the dead to live forever in His glory. He has made us kings and priests unto God, and we shall reign with Him forever and ever. And it was, it must have been, a great blessedness to Mary’s heart to think that “that holy thing” which was born of her was the channel of such blessedness to all mankind.
Elizabeth said to her, “Blessed is she that believes.” So, dear friend, Mary’s blessedness lay mainly in the fact that she believed, and therefore quietly acquiesced in the Divine will. She was blessed because her faith enabled her to rejoice in God her Saviour. It was not an easy thing to believe that He whom she nursed in her arms and nourished from her breast was also the Son of the Highest. He must have seemed to her more truly an infant than perhaps He may ever appear to us; nevertheless she worshipped Him as in union with the Infinite One, and magnified the name of the Lord. Oh yes, it was her faith that made her blessed, and the same faith may be in us.
When the Saviour uttered this text He meant to say to the woman who had pronounced His mother blessed—“You, too, are blessed if you hear the word of God and keep it.” This blessing is open to all of us who by divine grace hear the gospel with our hearts. Blessed are our ears, for they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Blessed are we if we lay up the witness of God in our hearts, remembering it, treasuring it, and living upon it. Notice that this preferable blessing is found in a very simple manner. The process is stripped of all ambiguity or mystery; there is nothing about it that is hard or difficult, “Hear the word and keep it”—that is all.
By the grace of God the most uneducated, the most sinful, the most despairing, may still hear the word of God, and keep it. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” and by faith comes salvation. To hear God’s word is the privilege of the poor; yes, of all to whom the word is spoken, as it is written, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.” Beloved, if you would attain to blessedness, hear God’s word as God’s word. Receive it, not as the word of man, for in that way it cannot bless you, but accept it as being the word of God to your own souls. Hear it, therefore, with a reverent credence, which does not quibble at it, nor question it, but which sweetly yields to it. You shall be blessed if you hear it as the word of God ought to be heard. Be silent while God speaks; let judgment, imagination, and desire, all bow before God’s voice. Let heart and mind and thought and memory and reason attend to that which the Lord says to us. So listening, we shall live. “Blessed are those that hear the word of God.”
But we must keep it, too. Hold the word of God as dearer than this mortal life, and sooner part with all things upon earth than yield a syllable of this priceless word. So hold it as to remember it, to meditate upon it, to feed upon it. So hold it as to assimilate it, as when a man gets bread into himself and it builds up his frame, becoming one with himself, so that there is no getting him away from it or it from him. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the word. Hold it also by obeying it. Yield yourself up to its sway, obey the precept, catch its spirit, follow out the will of God. If we thus hear and keep the word of God, our Master declares that we are blessed.
This blessedness belongs to the present. Blessed are they that are hearing the Word of God, and keeping it. It is not a remote, but an immediate blessedness. While you are hearing and keeping God’s Word you are then blessed. The blessedness is for this world, and for you. “But I am so cast down.” Yes, but you are blessedl! “Alas! I bear such a burden of afflictions.” Yes, but you are blessed. “Alas! I have not known a good time of late.” No, but you are blessed! Your blessedness does not depend upon your fancies and feelings. If you hear the Word of God and keep it, you are at this moment blessed. Faith finds a present blessedness in the Word of God, which she hears and keeps.
This blessing is not dependent upon outward circumstances. If we hear God’s Word, and keep it, we may be very ill, and yet in spirit we will be well; we may be very feeble, and yet in spirit we will be strong; we may be dying, and yet we shall not die, for he that hears the Word of God shall never see death. In listening to the Lord we have reached a region from which we look down upon the dust and smoke of time and sense. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” and though now we see not our God, yet in our hearts we hear him, and this hearing fills us with joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is a matter of experience, and therefore no amount of words can describe it. I urge you to try it for yourselves.
Let the song “Trust and Obey” teach us how to live a blessed and happy life:
“O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You!” (Psalm 84:12)