For He is the fountain of our happiness, He the end of all our desires. Being attached to Him, or rather let me say, re-attached—for we had detached ourselves and lost hold of Him—being, I say, re-attached to Him, we tend towards Him by love, that we may rest in Him, and find our blessedness by attaining that end. For our good, about which philosophers have so keenly contended, is nothing else than to be united to God. —Augustine, The City of God
From “Looking at the Cross
With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is filled;
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.
—John Newton, Works
Concerning Matthew 11:30:
This verse alone, if seriously attended to, might convince multitudes, that though they bear the name of Christians, and are found among the Lord’s worshipping people, they are as yet entire strangers to the religion of the Gospel. Can it be supposed, that our Lord would give a false character of his yoke? If not, how can can any dream they are his followers, while they account a life of communion with God, and entire devotedness to his service, to be dull and burdensome? Those, however, who have made the happy trial, find it to be such a burden as wings to a bird. Far from complaining of it, they are convinced that there is no real pleasure attainable in any other way. —John Newton, Works
The Lord’s Supper is a feast. Too many come to the table as if to a wake instead of a wedding; a funeral instead of a festival. In this age we do fast, but the Lord’s Supper is a breaking in of the future, and thus, a feast (cf. Matthew 9:14–17).
This is why I don’t consider the issue of wine non-consequential to optimally partaking of the Supper. There’s no getting around it, the wine of the kingdom is wine (Isaiah 25:6). Drunkenness is certainly a sin, but wine is a blessing. Can we abuse wine? Of course. But as Luther quipped, we can abuse women; shall we abolish women? The best abuse prevention is a holy joy in the gift as a blessing from God. Isaac blessed Jacob saying, “May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.” Israel’s covenant obedience meant vat’s bursting with wine (Deuteronomy 7:13, Proverbs 3:9–10).
Wine was not only a symbol of blessedness, but of man’s joy in that blessedness. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Psalm 104:14–15).” God gave wine, and He gave it to gladden man’s heart. “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life (Ecclesiastes 10:19).” Oh that that verse would infect and ferment our coming to the Lord’s Table. If ever there were a bread made for holy laughter, tis the Bread of life. If ever there were a wine to gladden life, tis the blood of the new covenant.
The inverse of all this is seen in Isaiah 24:11, “There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished.” The curse means no wine, no joy, no gladness. At the Lord’s table, blessedness has swallowed up the curse. Wine and bread abound again. Wine isn’t inconsequential because it testifies that the Lord’s Supper is a feast and that our joy should be full. As we come to the table, let us sing like victors, eat like the married, and raise the glass in honor of the King.
Knowledge, therefore, is not an accidental and externally added component of salvation but integral to it. Salvation that is not known and enjoyed is no salvation. Of what benefit would the forgiveness of sins, regeneration, and complete renewal by the Holy Spirit, the glories of heaven, be to us if we did not know about them? They could not exist. They presuppose and require consciousness, knowledge, enjoyment, and in these confer salvation. God saves by causing himself to be known and enjoyed in Christ. But since on earth the benefits of the covenant of grace are only granted to us in part; since communion with God, regeneration, and sanctification are still incomplete; and since our knowledge is imperfect, has invisible things for its object, and is bound to Scripture, our knowledge of God on earth is ‘a knowledge of faith.’ Faith is the only way it can be appropriated, the only form in which it can take shape. Indeed, all benefits (forgiveness, regeneration, sanctification, perseverance, the blessedness ofheaven) exist for us only by faith. We enjoy them only by faith. We are saved only through hope (cf. Rom. 8:24). —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics
Our God is the blessed God. The only other instance in Scripture when God is described in precisely these terms is 1 Timothy 1:11. How many times does Scripture have to say something for it to be true? Once. But God’s blessedness isn’t the neglected attribute of God, sparingly mentioned, uncritical to the plot line. These may be the only instances in which God is described in precisely these terms, but His blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. Once we know what blessedness means then we can look for other words and phrases that express the same truth.
What does blessed mean? Happy. Happy in the deepest of senses. We see a person with an attractive spouse, nice house, new car, fulfilling job, good health, well-rounded children, talent, and good looks and we call them blessed. In a limited sense this is true. But is this how Jesus defines blessedness?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:2–10 (ESV)
Is there a uniting core to the blessedness Jesus speaks of? Yes. The kingdom is the saving reign of God in Christ. Those comforted are comforted by God. The earth inherited is a redeemed earth illumined by and declaring the glory of God. The righteousness hungered for is a hunger to be like God. The mercy received is mercy from God. The peacemakers are called the sons of God. The pure in heart see God. What is the common denominator? God. What is blessedness? God. We didn’t get very far did we?
God is blessed.
What is blessedness?
But actually we’ve learned much. You cannot define blessedness outside of God. Jonathan Edwards captured this well, “[God’s] happiness consists in enjoying and rejoicing in Himself; so also does the creature’s happiness.”
When you know this you can see how God’s blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. When you see men hungry to know God above all else, you’re seeing the blessedness of God. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11, ESV).” The clearest places in Scripture we see God’s blessedness is at the baptism and transfiguration of our Lord. The heavens are rent, the Spirit descends, the Father declares, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is how the Trinity has eternally related; infinitely delighting in that which is infinitely perfect. God’s joy is fathomless. If your joy is in ice cream, your joy will be as big as your bucket is deep. God’s bucket is never empty. But the most astounding thing is that in His baptism, Jesus was acting as our representative. When God declares He is well pleased with Jesus, He is well pleased with those Jesus represents. God’s joy in us is God’s joy in God.
I once was at an ordination council where a pastor probed the one seeking ordination, “What is the overarching mood of the Bible?” Cue puzzled silence, by all. He admitted it was an awkward question and then proceeded to answer. “The overarching mood of the Bible is grief. God’s grief over man’s sin.” I didn’t consider myself to be part of this ordination council. I came to endorse and support the one seeking ordination. I kept silent thinking that this wasn’t my shindig and that I was there to encourage my friend, not fight others, but I wish I had spoken up because I couldn’t disagree more strongly. The overarching mood of the Bible is joy! God is so happy in God, that He gave His Son so that we might know that happiness. This is precisely what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:11; our gospel, the good news we declare, is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. We trumpet the good news of just how happy our God is—boundlessly.
Salvation is a river of joy that we get swept up in. The fountain of this river is God’s joy in God. The ocean this river empties into is God’s joy in God. The fountain is the ocean. God is the Alpha and Omega, and the beginning and end is God’s joy in God. Is God angry at sin? Yes. Is He grieved at His children’s sin? Yes. But in Jesus, God has dealt with sin. God is eternally, indestructibly, infinitely happy in His Son.
Just like wet is all over the ocean, joy is all over the Bible. It’s the very gospel itself.
If these two parables were Americanized they would end with the “man”, perhaps a tenant farmer, being vindicated as he now lives in a plush mansion with tricked-out camels, and the merchant being famous, having sold the pearl for many times what he bought it. But neither the man, nor the merchant sell their treasure to buy other things, rather, they sell all other things to buy the treasure. The merchant doesn’t buy the pearl to sell it; he sells all to buy the pearl. The kingdom of heaven is not a means to an end, it is the end.
Some today buy stunning pieces of art and rare artifacts, not to profit from them, but to simply enjoy them. Still its unheard of for a lavishly wealthy person to go for broke to own a single piece of art.
Merchants were extremely wealthy and powerful, and this merchant was certainly so, searching only for fine pearls (likely the most valued jewel of the time by Romans). Imagine hearing that a Bill Gates joyfully liquidated every asset to own one piece of art. There is video of footage of the former business magnate now gone hobo standing on the street corner with a grin on his face staring at his piece of art.
I think you would conclude either one of two things must be true. Your first impulse is that he must be nuts. But then you grow curious. You haven’t seen the work of art. What if glory and beauty exist that are really worth that price tag? Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
There is a glory this stunning. It is a glorious mystery revealed to some (13:11). They see the hidden treasure others don’t. To others their actions look absurd, but if you have seen the value of the kingdom, you know it’s worth sacrificing everything for. That’s the way we ought to live, as hobos with a smile on our face enjoying a treasure others can’t see, making them think, “What if a glory like that really exists? I don’t know that it does, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it did?”