The Savior opens his great sermon on the mount with a series of pronouncements that have come to be known as “The Beatitudes.” The beatitudes consist of a litany of traits that essentially describe Christ himself and thus represent the attributes of a true disciple (or follower) of Christ. The word “Beatitude” is derived from the Latin adjective beatus, “which means ‘to be blessed’ or ‘to be happy or fortunate’” (Ogden & Skinner, 2006).
The great religious writer Matthew Henry observed that happiness is highly sought after by “a blind and carnal world” and that some even pretend to pursue blessedness, but he laments that “most mistake the end, and form a wrong conception of happiness; and then no wonder that they miss the way. The general opinion is, Blessed are they who are rich, and great, and honourable [sic] in the world; who spend their days in mirth, and their years in pleasure; who eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and carry all before them with a high hand” (Henry, 1992).
This warped conception of happiness is in fact nothing more than an illusion and those who subscribe to the world’s definition of happiness are sure to be sorely disappointed when they realize that riches and pleasures can only be fleeting and that they can provide no meaningful or lasting happiness or joy, nor can they possibly confer a state of blessedness upon those that heedlessly seek after them.
With His Beatitudes, the Savior presents His disciples with His definition of what it means to be happy, and what it truly means to be blessed. In doing so he presents us with what some have called “the constitution for a perfect life” (Lee, 1975). In this he presents us with a series of attributes which characterize the life of a disciple, characteristics from which a happy life can be composed. Significantly each characteristic described in the beatitudes represents an attribute of Christ’s own life and personality, and thus the beatitudes form a sort of template or pattern upon which we are to model our own lives if we truly seek to follow Christ to the eternal happiness which He has promised each of us. In order to be truly happy we have to learn how to ‘be’ like the Savior in all that we are.
Christ was deliberate in placing the Beatitudes at the beginning of his sermon. Christ seeks to lift our gaze to a higher goal-a more excellent way, as it were. If the Sermon on the Mount is a road map to happiness and righteous living then the beatitudes represent the destination. As mentioned before, the word 'beatitude' comes from the Latin 'beatus', which means happy, or blessed. The beatitudes are therefore not criteria by which disciples are defined and others are excluded. Rather, they represent the qualities of true happiness and contentment, the dimensions of a life filled with joy. By these we are meant to learn how to recognize behaviors that lead to joy, in contrast to others that can only lead to unhappiness or misery.