I was in the city of Chicago last week for a conference, and it reminded me of something that happened back in 2017. 2017 is when I first heard of a young boy in Chicago named Jakhil Jackson. One day when he was 9, his aunt took him to a shelter in Chicago to help feed the homeless. And he couldn’t believe what he saw – the poverty, sadness, and pain. He looked at his aunt and said, “They don’t even have basic items to start or end their day.” He said he wished he could buy every one of them a house. But since he couldn’t do that, he decided to do something else. He started putting together what he calls “Blessing Bags;” bags filled with toothbrushes, socks, soap, deodorant – everyday items a person needs, and handing them out to the homeless. His goal was to give out 5000 Blessing Bags. He didn’t meet that goal. He exceeded it. Since 2017, he has put together and given away more than 20,000 Blessing Bags, helping 20,000 people begin or end their day feeling blessed; like things they need are no longer missing. That’s basically what the word “blessed” means. It means you’re fortunate; that you have something good that maybe not everyone does.

Do you consider yourself blessed? If you were fortunate enough to brush your teeth this morning and put on deodorant, then you have something good that not everyone does. By Jakhil’s definition, you are blessed. But do you always feel blessed according to yours? The word “blessed” also simply means “happy.” So another way to ask if you are blessed is to ask if you are happy. And a way to determine whether or not you think you are is to ask yourself: if Jakhil Jackson would walk up to your door today, what would you hope would be in that blessing bag?

If you’re a Packer fan, maybe you’d want defense that can stop the run. Or maybe you’d want a better job, more friends, a more attentive spouse, better-behaved children, more time, more energy, just a little more money, a different medical diagnosis, more reasonable expectations at work, more people in your life who are less frustrating, or maybe just one more opportunity to hug someone you love again? I bet that most, if not all, of us thought of something you would like to see in that blessing bag. And if you did, and if you believe that having it is the secret to a happier existence, then I can promise you something. You will never be happy.

You might have moments here and there that make you feel happy, and those are wonderful blessings from God. But you won’t simply be a happy person. You won’t live each moment believing you’re blessed, because you will live each moment believing that you must have the right stuff, do the right things, play the right cards, make the right decisions; day after day after day in just the right ways, or, worse, that someone else has to do all those things correctly, perfectly in line with your expectations, in order for you to be happy. And that, my friends, the worry that comes from wondering if it’ll ever really happen, is a burden; and not only can that burden become very heavy on your heart the longer you don’t get the thing for which you’re hoping, it is a burden you were never meant to carry. Jesus came so you could be blessed. He came so you could be happy. And by “happy,” I don’t mean the thrill you might have when you’re eating your favorite food or enjoying your favorite amusement park ride. I mean the feeling of being confident that you’re going to be ok; that, no matter what happens today, you don’t need worry, get stressed out, or be afraid. Jesus tells us how that happens in Matthew chapter 5.

1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Some of these Beatitudes make sense to us. We hear, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and we say, “Yes. People who know how to diffuse a difficult situation or make people feel calm when something really bad is happening are a blessing.” We hear, “Blessed are the merciful,” and we say, “Yes, the world needs more compassion.” But when we hear, “Blessed are those who mourn” we say, “No, no, no, no. Blessed are those to whom nothing bad ever happens – blessed are those who never get hurt and never lose any loved ones.” We hear, “Blessed are you when people persecute you and insult you and say all kinds of evil against you,” and we say, “That’s not what we teach our children. Blessed are you when people congratulate you, celebrate you, compliment you, put you on their social media, and say all sorts of nice things about you.” But that’s not what Jesus said. And it’s significant that he didn’t, because it tells us that Jesus believes you have reasons to feel blessed in situations in which the average person doesn’t.

Just look at the first Beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said. In other words, ‘Blessed are those who know they are weak in their faith.’ And this wouldn’t be the only time Jesus would teach this lesson. Jesus once told a story about two men; one who did a good job following the rules, and one who knew he hadn’t. God was only pleased with one of those men. Do you know which one? It was the one who knew he hadn’t done the good things God was expecting. Being full of ourselves because we think we’ve done such a great job doing something is an attitude that, while it might be rewarded on earth, will never be blessed or rewarded in God’s kingdom. But if you have messed up in life, if you have disappointed someone, if you have let them down or caused them pain, and if you know it, Jesus says you’re blessed.

And you wouldn’t be alone if you think that sounds strange. After all, if you were to notice someone who’s feeling sad, and if you were to go up to them and ask them why, how often do you think the cause of their sorrow would be one of these things – either that they messed up, that life is so hard that it’s caused them to cry, or that someone didn’t love them. People don’t typically feel happy when those things happen, and it’s easy to explain why.

God originally created our hearts to be at rest only when we they don’t happen. A healthy conscience is only at rest when it has done nothing wrong, when it has disappointed no one, when we know exactly what we are supposed to do and we did it. Our hearts only feel whole when they have not been broken. God created our hearts to be at rest when both those things are true, and he has even created a place where they will be. It’s just not here on earth. Three times in this section Jesus points us to the kingdom of heaven. And that’s important to remember as we look at something all these beatitudes have in common. They all describe attitudes of the heart. They all highlight ways we show the world what matters to our hearts more than anything.

When I was in 8th Grade, my teacher had a memorable way of teaching us what that attitude is supposed to look like in the life of the Christian. He had the word “JOY” hanging vertically on one of our classroom walls. After the “J” he hung the phrase, “Jesus first.” After the “O” it said, “Others second.” Do you know what he put after the “Y”? “Yourself last.” Not third. Last. That’s the kind of attitude these beatitudes describe.

Jesus first – which means, very simply, that having him means more to me than anything; that his forgiveness has a bigger impact on my self-esteem than even my worst sin, that his promises have a bigger impact on my mood than my fears, worries, or frustrations. Putting others second means, as Jesus said, being a peacemaker, which means stepping into difficult and sometimes dangerous situations in which you might get hurt or lose something important. It means being patient and kind with someone who so far has only given you reason to feel frustration. Being merciful means investing your time and energy in someone who will likely never repay you for doing it. And finally, myself last. What happens to me on earth, what anyone else thinks of me, really is the least important thing my heart is ever considering. And I don’t know if there’s a better illustration in the bible of that attitude than the one we read earlier of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego. 

They were good workers who did good things. They did their job well and were rewarded for it. But then one day, they were told to love their boss, to love their job, more than they loved God, and to display that publicly, shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the nation so that everyone would know what was in their heart, with the assurance that their comfortable lives would come to a very quick and uncomfortable end if they didn’t do what was expected of them. I don’t know that any of us will ever be threatened with a furnace if we show our faith. But I know they’re not the only people who know how to show the world where they place love for themselves in their priority of things.

In 1983, an Air Canada flight on its way to Toronto needed to make an emergency landing. There was a fire in the restroom. The cockpit was filled with smoke, but somehow the pilot was still able to make a rough landing in Cincinnati. On the ground, the plane was in flames. The pilot who landed it started carrying out passengers who were hurt or unconscious. Each time he brought a person out, he went back in for another and was eventually the last one to leave the plane. His body was on fire as he did. I don’t know if he believed in Jesus first. But he certainly put others second and considered his own needs not quite as important. Now I want you to imagine that someone you love was on that plane, and they were knocked unconscious during the landing. And you hear about the crash. And you come running to the scene of the accident. I want you to imagine how you would feel if that pilot didn’t come out, and neither did any of the passengers with him. How would you feel if what all you saw was death in the middle of that wreckage?

That, my friends, is how someone’s soul will feel when they try to find happiness in the wreckage of this sinful world that is dying all around them without seeing the Savior who once made an amazing landing in the womb of a virgin and did not leave the scene until his skin had been seared by the flames of sin, and he made it clear exactly what place he considered himself to be in. Jesus last. Not third. Last. The humble Son of God, who hungered and thirsted for righteousness better than anyone before or after him, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, who was persecuted on a cross and insulted in ways that we cannot imagine, really did not consider what happened to him on earth to be quite as important as the one thing his heart wanted more than anything – You – completely forgiven for every a-bit-too-full-of-ourselves sin that would keep us from the one place where you will never again mourn, where you heart will always be whole, and where nothing important will ever be missing.

And notice what Jesus said. “Your reward is great in heaven.” Not ‘could be,’ not ‘might be.’ It is. You’re going to be ok. Jesus has already prepared a place for you right next to him. And the fact that you’re not there yet means something incredibly significant. If heaven is the greatest reward God could ever give, and if he’s so eager for you to have it, and if you’re still here, then it must mean that God thinks your life on earth is really important. Your existence here has a purpose. Do you know what it is?

It is to help this world see exactly what Jakhil Jackson did. He helped people see that they’re not alone. And how do you do that? You can choose to hand out Blessing Bags. Or, you can simply remember that earth is not heaven, and that when life is hard, when the tears are real, when your sin is big, when it’s obvious that you’re not strong enough to handle everything, and neither are the people you live or work with, there is a Jesus who stands with us in our fires and promise that their pains and flames; well, one day we’ll walk out of them. Standing with you today is a Jesus who died so you could live each moment that you are blessed in the very best ways. So be happy, my friends, because when you are and when you let people see you that way, you become a rare and blessed gift to a world that seems to have a bit of trouble doing the same thing. Our world is sad and hurting. Let it know that happiness is a gift that Jesus has already given.