Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

The First Christian Retreat

Author: Rachel Kidd

One of Jesus’ greatest and most popular discourses was His Sermon on the Mount, a concise summary of the ethical teaching of the entire Bible. He revealed the “beatitudes” to His people, the beautiful attitudes that denote a grace-filled life of faith in service to God, as well as a way to pray to the Father through the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus essentially tells us what it means to be healthy in the spirit, a check up of the soul of sorts, a reprieve for the missionaries under his leadership.  

While known as a sermon, it was not quite a sermon in the traditional sense, resembling more closely a modern Christian retreat. Jesus is set on the slopes of the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee, now known as Mount Arbel, surrounded by thousands of listeners. They were suffering people who required ministry that is often taxing emotionally. I know I often feel drained and overwhelmed after a long mission or service trip where I hear and see the pain of others. The plight of humanity is heavy and burdensome to carry, even for the most experienced shepherds.  

So, Jesus climbs to a higher point of the mountain, extending invitations to attend. He divided the great multitudes in two groups, one of people who were a part of His solution and the other who were still a part of the problem. The context here is important, understanding the intended audience of Jesus’ words. We wonder as readers, where are we in this scene? Are we still at the bottom of the mountain, confused and questioning? Or are we at the top with Jesus, a part of the collective church and the solution? 

To Be Happy  

Those a part of the solution, the disciples, are granted a reprieve from the suffering below them as Jesus checks-in with them. Like when you go around a circle with your church or missions group sharing your highs and lows, your praises and your valleys as a way to encourage each other, Jesus reminds them of the blessings of faith. He renews their spirits through the beatitudes, using the word blessed, or the Greek word makarios, which means happy and fortunate.

Makarios was a common word in the Greek language, used 50 times in the New Testament alone. Happy though is an insufficient translation, unable to capture the full depth and connotation associated with makarios. It describes a people with a privilege of being care-free, a true and everlasting happiness. The Greeks often used makarios to describe the lifestyle of the gods on Mt. Olympus, lounging in the ease and comfort of total power and divinity.  

Jesus is promising this kind of happiness to His disciples, not the fading sort of happiness that comes with earthly things like wealth or candy. Yet, the promise of makarios in the sermon on the mount is coupled not with visions of relaxation and gold finery, but with suffering and desperation. He blesses those that hunger for righteousness, who are persecuted for their allegiance to Him, the merciful and the peaceful. In a way that sounds contradictory, Jesus offers an eternal makarios to the people who suffer most on earth and extends the invitation to all that choose to follow Him.  

Verses on Makarios 

Unlike what might make us happy in the short term, like financial security, the New Testament offers us a different view of makarios and what can make us truly happy.  

Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.  

Luke 11:28 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  

Matthew 5:3-10 

The people described as blessed, or truly happy, are not those with the most money or power. Quite the opposite in fact, they are the poorest, the most downtrodden. They are better able to reflect the glory of God, who is the perfect picture of blessed happiness.  

According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God 

1 Timothy 1:11 

We are promised an eternity with Christ, one characterized by makarios and a perfect heaven, if we are a part of the solution. Though we may suffer on earth with the depths of humanity, Jesus offers us a reprieve, like a retreat on the mountainside. He shares with us the great hope of His ministry, only asking that we take up our things and follow Him.