Happiness Where You Least Expect It

Happiness Where You Least Expect It

Matthew 3:1-17

Dr. Jim Denison

I’d like us to begin with a survey. Time magazine recently explored the subject of happiness, and included in its report a tool devised in 1980 by a psychologist named Edward Diener. It rates your happiness compared with the rest of us. Answer these questions on a scale of one (not at all true) to seven (absolutely true):

In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

The conditions of my life are excellent.

I am satisfied with my life.

So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

What did you score? 31 to 35: you are extremely satisfied with your life; 26 to 30: very satisfied; 21 to 25: slightly satisfied; 20: neutral; 15 to 19: slightly dissatisfied; 10 to 14: dissatisfied; 5 to 9: extremely dissatisfied.

Now, how can you raise your “happiness” score? Here’s an answer which will surprise our culture. According to Time, “Studies show that the more a believer incorporates religion into daily living–attending services, reading Scripture, praying–the better off he or she appears to be on two measures of happiness: frequency of positive emotions and over all sense of satisfaction with life. Attending services has a particularly strong correlation to feeling happy, and religious certainty–the sense of unshakable faith in God and the truth of one’s beliefs–is most closely linked with life satisfaction” (p. A46).

As we will learn this morning, Christianity was meant to be a public relationship, not a private religion. The more we divorce faith from life, the further we step from joy. The more we make Jesus Lord of Monday as well as Sunday, the more he is able to bless both. So let’s consider the third Covenant of Grace value–worship publicly–and what’s in it for God and for us today.

How did John go public with his faith?

We’ll walk through our story, then learn its lessons. As it begins, “In those days John the Baptist came” (v. 1a).

Luke tells us that this was the fifteenth year of Tiberius’s reign (Luke 3:1), AD 26. John is around 30 years of age, as is our Lord (Luke 3:23).

John’s parents were elderly when he was conceived. It is likely that he has lived most of his life in this “Desert of Judea,” a region east of Jerusalem. He spent these years in seclusion, far from the crowds and culture of his day. But then he “came,” a word which means that he chose to appear in public. He could have stayed in seclusion, but chose a public ministry instead.

His message was public, and counter-cultural: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

“Repent” in the Bible means a change of heart which results in a change of life. It is not the Greek word for “feel sorry,” but the word for “turn” or “change.” The rabbis said, “The true penitent is he who has the opportunity to do the same sin again, in the same circumstances, and who does not do it.”

The “kingdom of heaven” is the place where God is King. To be in his Kingdom, turn from serving yourself to serving him.

He dressed exactly like Elijah the Old Testament prophet (2 Kings 1:8): “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist” (v. 4). These were the poorest clothes he could wear, like tattered blue jeans and a t-shirt to us.

His food was “locusts and wild honey,” still common food for poor people in Palestine today. He did not seek to impress the people with his message and appearance, but only the Lord. His priorities were on display for all to see.

His sermon and lifestyle led to public response: “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan” (vs. 5-6). Jerusalem, the city sophisticates; Judea, the country folk; the whole region turned out. They were “baptized,” something no Jew had ever done in all of Hebrew history. This act was reserved for Gentiles who became Jews. Now these people started their lives over, washing away their past, in a public act of confession and repentance. Nothing private, all before the world to see.

And his ministry led to public confrontation: “he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing” (v. 7).

These were the wealthiest and most powerful people in their society, the CEOs, big-church pastors and political authorities. But they too must “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (v. 8).

Racial ties to Abraham are not enough (v. 9)–their trees must bear spiritual fruit for all to see. Otherwise they will be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 10).

This judgment will be public, when Jesus will “clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (v. 12).

Now comes the climax of the story: Jesus “came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John” (v. 13). Like John, he has been living in seclusion far from the beaten path of his culture. But no more. It is more than 60 miles from Nazareth to the place where the baptism probably occurred; can you imagine walking from Weatherford to Dallas to be baptized today?

John’s reaction demonstrated his understanding of Jesus’ divinity: “I need to be baptized by you” (v. 14).

But Jesus wanted to make public his own commitment to his Father, so John consented. And the Father blessed his public proclamation with his own: “this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (v. 17).

Why should we?

Here’s the point: Christianity is a public faith. It is not a private commitment reserved for Sundays at church. It is not a personal, individual, subjective belief best kept to ourselves. Our faith has always been public in nature. Jesus’ baptism was public, not the private ceremony he could have arranged with John. His ministry was done in public, and his disciples followed him in public, not in private closed-door meetings. He died in public, even though a private execution would have paid for our sins. He appeared in public for 40 days after his resurrection, and ascended to heaven in public.