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Blessed Are the Mourners (Matt 5:4)


Blessed Are the Mourners

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

Application Question: In what ways are the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven different from the kingdoms of this earth, especially as seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)?

The second beatitude declares God’s blessing—God’s approval and joy—on the life of those who mourn. It is paradoxical, as many of the statements in the Beatitudes. Essentially, Christ says, “Happy are the sad.” For most, this is the exact opposite of logic. Happiness is the avoidance of grief or things that bring pain.

It is important to remember that the Beatitudes are written in a style of writing called an “inclusio.” The first and the last beatitude end with the promise, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It fits like two bookends around the Beatitudes. This tells us that each of these characteristics are in those who are part of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is the place of God’s rulership. It exists not only in heaven, but also on the earth, where people obey and worship him (cf. Matt 6:10). Currently, on the earth, the kingdom exists in spiritual form, as Christ taught that the kingdom of heaven was in our midst (Lk 17:21), but one day, it will literally come to the earth at Christ’s return. With that said, the kingdom of heaven is the opposite of the kingdom of this world in many ways. While the world says, “Blessed are the strong in spirit—the tough,” Christ’s kingdom says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”—those who recognize their weakness before God. While the world says, “Blessed are those who laugh,” Christ’s kingdom says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” In fact, Luke 6:25 says, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” While the world says, “Store up your riches on earth—pursue wealth,” Christ’s kingdom says, “Store up your riches in heaven” (Matt 6:19). The citizens of the kingdom are different from the people of this world.

These Beatitudes represent the character of the citizens of God’s kingdom, and at the same time, they represent the aspirations of kingdom citizens. Only Christ perfectly models these characteristics, but if they are not in our hearts to the least bit, then we might not be part of God’s kingdom (cf. Matt 7:21-23).

In this study, we will consider the paradoxical statement, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Big Question: What does this beatitude mean and what are its applications for the Christian life?

God Blesses Mourners

Application Question: How can you reconcile Scriptures’ commands both to continually rejoice in the Lord and to mourn (Phil 4:4, James 4:8-10, cf. Gal 5:22, Matt 5:4)? How can joy and mourning co-exist?

There are nine Greek words used in the New Testament for mourning, and Christ uses the strongest of them all.[1] It was used of someone mourning the death of a loved a one.[2] It is a present participle, and it means to “continually” mourn. There is a continuous state of mourning in the life of a true believer.

Again, this is paradoxical. Scripture commands the believer to “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 4:4) and teaches that joy is a fruit of the walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:22). However, there should be a continual mourning alongside the believer’s joy that separates him or her from the world.

Interpretation Question: What type of mourning is Christ referring to?

1. It refers to mourning over personal sin.

Obviously, it doesn’t refer to mourning over bad circumstances or loss of something precious, since this type of mourning is true to world as well. It refers to a mourning over personal sin. When people are born again, God changes their relationship to sin. They can’t enjoy it, as they use to, or live in it. First John 3:9-10 says,

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

When John refers to continuing in sin, he is not saying that Christians don’t sin anymore. In 1 John 1:8, he said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we claim to be without sin, the truth, referring to the Gospel, is not in us (cf. 1 John 5:13). We are not truly born again. The Gospel confronts us with our sin and our need for salvation. But when God saves us, he forgives us and changes our relationship to sin. The believer will fall and make mistakes, but the direction of his life is forever changed. He tries to live for God while, at times, stumbling along the way. To continue in sin, means that the direction of a person’s life is still fulfilling his lusts instead of seeking to obey God.

Believers cannot continue in a lifestyle of sin because God’s seed remains in them, and because they have been born of God (1 John 3:9). God’s seed can be translated God’s nature.[3] At salvation, a believer receives God’s nature which exerts a strong influence on a believer to holiness. It is so radically transforming that a true believer cannot continue in a life of sin. Similarly, in Galatians 5:17, Paul describes how God’s Spirit works through our new nature to battle against our flesh—creating a spiritual war in each believer. As a believer walks in the Spirit, he will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:16). In addition, in being “born of God,” John may also have in mind the reality of God’s discipline on his children. Hebrews 12:5-6 and 8 says:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”… If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

God disciplines through the “rebuke” of his Word (v. 5); if a believer doesn’t respond, he “chastens” or whips through storms and trials (v. 6). If the believer continues to persist in sin, God may even take the believer home through an early death. James 5:20 and 1 John 5:16 talk about a sin unto death. We saw this in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira, who lied about their offering and were struck down by the Lord. Also, in 1 Corinthians 11, some believers died, as a discipline for abusing the Lord’s Supper. Believers cannot go on sinning because they have been born again—God’s nature indwells them, and as a child of God, the Lord lovingly disciplines them. God, like any human father, is fully invested in the holiness of his children. He will not let them live in continuous rebellion.

Therefore, at salvation, there will be a change in the life of a true believer. John says, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child” (1 John 3:10).

Because of God’s nature and God’s discipline, there is a continual mourning in a true child of God because of sin. Consider David’s experience when he didn’t initially repent of sin:

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Psalm 32:3-5

When he continued in sin and didn’t repent, he was miserable. God’s hand was heavy upon him—he was depressed, and maybe even sick, until he acknowledged his sin and repented. This is true of every believer. Though we may try to live in sin, we can’t. For the genuine believer, it will ultimately lead to mourning. “It is significant that the first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses states that the entire life is to be one of continuous repentance and contrition. It was this attitude in the Apostle Paul that caused him to affirm, well along into his Christian life, that he was the chief of sinners (l Timothy 1:15).”[4]

The opposite of mourning is rejoicing or laughter. And this is exactly what we often see in the world. Instead of mourning over sin, they rejoice in it. They laugh about it, as they share stories in the locker rooms. They enjoy it through the TV and their music. They celebrate and promote it, as they parade through the streets. Where the world rejoices, the believer mourns. One of the fruits of true salvation is a mourning over sin. If our profession of Christ has not changed our relationship to sin, then it is likely that our profession has not changed our eternal destiny.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced personal mourning over sin or even God’s discipline?

2. It refers to mourning over the sins of others.

A true believer does not only mourn over sin, he also mourns over the sins of others. A great example of this is with Isaiah. When he saw a vision of God’s glory in Isaiah 6:5, he cried out, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” He mourned over his own sin and that of his people. In addition, David said this in Psalm 119:136, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.” We should mourn over injustice, corruption, sexual immorality, homosexuality, trafficking, the brokenness of our families, the sad state of the church, etc. Christians should not only continually mourn but also be provoked to seek change.

Sadly, the church often does not mourn, and therefore doesn’t seek to be agents of reformation. Instead of mourning over sin, we’re either apathetic towards it—where we become spiritually numb, and it doesn’t bother us—or worse, we laugh at sin, like the world, and sometimes enjoy it. We watch it on the TV and listen to it within our music. Satan has a wise strategy. He knows that if he can tempt us to laugh at sin—soon it will lead to acceptance and then practicing it. And that is exactly what has happened to the church. Consider God’s neglected command to Israel to mourn in Isaiah 22:12-13:

The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say “for tomorrow we die!”

Unfortunately, this is often the practice of the church—laughing, joking, and celebrating when they should mourn. In James 4:8-10, God also commanded compromising Christians to mourn. He said,

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Jesus Christ the Mourner

In the OT, Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, as he constantly wept over Israel’s sins. In Jeremiah 9:1, he said: “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” In the NT, Christ is compared to Jeremiah; some actually thought Christ might be a resurrected Jeremiah (Matt 16:14). To that end, Christ is never seen in the Gospels laughing, though he probably did, but the narrators do mention his crying twice. He cries over the effects of sin when Lazarus died (John 11:35) and also over the rebellion in Jerusalem (Lk 19:41). Mourning must have been a common character trait of Christ. No doubt, Christ often wept when he saw the false religion of Israel and its leaders, the corruption of the Roman government, and the brokenness in the families. Isaiah prophesied that Christ would be “a man of suffering and familiar with pain” (Is 53:3). Christ, though full of God’s joy, was also a mourner.

In the same way, believers should not only be known by their joy but also by their genuine sorrow. Romans 8:22-23 describes how creation groans, and we groan as well, awaiting our deliverance from sin and full adoption as sons of God.

No doubt, as God spoke to Israel and commanded them to mourn (Isaiah 22:12-13), and as he also commanded the Christians in James (James 4:8-10), he says to the contemporary church, “Groan, weep over your sins and the sins of your church. Mourn over how far your nation has fallen away from God!” Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Sadly, the contemporary church has not discerned the seasons. They laugh, when they should weep. They watch and listen, when they should close their eyes and ears. They dance, when they should sit in mourning. Consequently, the church has become largely secular. Many times it is hard to tell the difference between a nonbeliever and a Christian. They talk the same, dress the same, laugh at the same things, mourn the same things, and have the same goals.

God commands us to mourn! Are we mourning? Have we ever mourned over our sin and that of the world? Or are we apathetic? Have we lost our sensitivity to sin?

Application Question: Are there any specific ways that God is calling you to mourn locally or nationally? Are there any ways that God is calling you to be an agent of change?

God Comforts Mourners

The word “comforted” has the same root as the Greek word “paraclete,” which Christ used of the Holy Spirit.[5] In John 14:26, Christ called the Holy Spirit our Helper, Counselor, or Comforter—the one who comes alongside us to help. In 2 Corinthians 1:3, God is called, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” The “they” in Matthew 5:4 is emphatic—meaning “they alone.” Only those who deeply mourn the effects of sin experience God’s comfort.

Interpretation Question: In what ways do mourners experience God’s comfort?

1. God comforts mourners through salvation.

When people truly accept the Gospel—that they are sinners under the wrath of God and in need of salvation (John 3:36)—mourning and repentance always follow. John preached repentance (Matt 3:2), Christ preached it (Matt 4:17), and so did his apostles (Acts 2:38). Repentance, which comes from godly mourning, is necessary for true salvation. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul said, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” God comforts mourners with true salvation.

Kent Hughes simply said, “Spiritual mourning is necessary for salvation. No one is truly a Christian who has not mourned over his or her sins. You cannot be forgiven if you are not sorry for your sins.”[6]

2. God comforts mourners through forgiving their sins.

Psalm 32:1 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” As with the Beatitudes, “Blessed” can be translated, “Happy.” There is a Divine happiness bestowed upon believers when God forgives their sins. At the cross, God forgave us judicially. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1). When God sees us, even though we fail, God sees the perfect righteousness of his Son (1 Cor 5:21). We are now sons of God. But we still need relational forgiveness to restore intimacy. For example, even though I have a fight with my wife, it doesn’t changes our legal status—she stays my wife. But a fight does affect our intimacy, and therefore, forgiveness is needed. In the same way, with God, we daily need relational forgiveness. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess ours sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness.” And when he forgives and cleanses us, we experience his comfort, joy, and intimacy—we experience God’s blessing.

3. God comforts mourners by delivering them or others from sin.

God blesses those who mourn, and many times this blessing, this favor, is manifest through deliverance from sin and the fostering of righteousness (cf. Matt 5:6). When God does this in our lives or others, we experience his comfort. Sometimes, he delivers us or a friend from a stronghold; at other times, he revives a church, changes a city or a nation, as we groan and pray over it. Believers experience God’s comfort, as he delivers us and others from sin.

4. God comforts mourners through his Word.

Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

As we’re meditating on Scripture, God often comforts us with the blessed hope of our Lord, Jesus Christ, returning. He comforts us with the hope of new bodies and that one day we won’t struggle with sin or sickness. He comforts us with the hope that he works all things for our good, including our trials and failures. Everything written in Scripture was meant to give us hope. If we are not drinking deeply from Scripture, we will lack much of the comfort and hope God provides those who mourn.

5. God comforts mourners through the ministry of other believers.

In 2 Timothy 1:16, “Paul said, May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” While Paul was in prison, God refreshed him many times through Onesiphorus. God often lavishes his comfort on us through other believers as well.

6. God comforts mourners ultimately at Christ’s second coming.

At Christ’s return, God will deliver us from the presence of sin all together. We will have new bodies that are free from pride, lust, anger, and everything that causes stumbling. He will make all things right as he rules on the earth. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”

Without mourning, we never experience God’s comfort. It is a necessity. Without mourning sin, no one can be saved. Without mourning, we never break strongholds in our life. The reason sin often lingers is because we don’t hate it as we should. Only the mourners, experience God’s comfort. Without mourning, nations aren’t changed. Nehemiah began with mourning and then God sent him to build the wall around Jerusalem and bring a national revival (Neh 1). In that revival, Nehemiah experienced God’s comfort over his mourning. The problem with the church is that we don’t mourn, and therefore, we often lack God’s comfort. God is looking for mourners, so he can bless and use greatly for his glory.

Are you mourning? Have you experienced God’s comfort?

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s comfort in the midst of mourning over sin or its effects?

Growth in Spiritual Mourning

Application Question: How can we grow in our spiritual mourning?

As with all Beatitudes, we must desire to grow in them. How can we grow in spiritual mourning?

1. We grow in spiritual mourning by turning away from sin.

First Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil” (ESV). Sadly, many of us don’t do this. Instead of abstaining, we entertain it, talk about it, and soon, lose sensitivity to it. Ultimately, it begins to manifest in our lives. If we are going to be mourners, we must flee from every form of evil. Don’t pump it in your ears, don’t read about it, don’t watch it, and don’t joke about it. If we choose to do so, we are on the slow path of decay.

In Psalm 1:1, David said, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (ESV). Many commentators see this as the pathway into depravity. It starts with simply walking and listening to the counsel of the wicked—what sinners are saying. Maybe some rationalize these actions by saying, “We have to know what’s going on in the world so we can relate to them.” Then it leads to standing in the “way”—meaning it has gone from listening to practicing. Then the final stage is sitting with mockers. This means that believers begin to mock holy things. They say, “Do you really believe that God created the world by his Word—apart from evolution? Do you really believe that people should wait to have sex before marriage? Do you really believe homosexuality is sin?” And they mock those who believe such things. But it all starts out with listening to the wrong “counsel.” Many have lost the blessing of God simply by what they read or listen to.

If we are going to be blessed mourners, we must stay away from “every form of evil.” It slowly hardens our conscience and decays our morals.

2. We grow in spiritual mourning by studying God’s Word.

It is God’s Word that tells us what is wrong and convicts us of it. It is like a mirror that shows our failures and that of others (James 1:23-25). It is a sharp two-edged sword that pierces our consciences so that we can repent (Heb 4:12). If we don’t study God’s Word, we will lose our sensitivity to sin, and soon begin to indulge and practice it like the world.

3. We grow in spiritual mourning by confessing our lack of mourning and praying for God’s grace.

We must confess that we have lost sensitivity and that we are no longer offended at sin. We may in fact enjoy it and laugh at it, even if only through entertainment. We must pray for grace to be like our Lord who mourned over the world and its sin.

Application Question: How is God calling you to pursue growth in spiritual mourning? Are there any other ways that believers grow in spiritual mourning?

Conclusion

As we conclude, let us consider Ezekiel’s vision about Israel’s destruction in Ezekiel

9:1-6. It says,

Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to

execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men

coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly

weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at

his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of

Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the

threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the

writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a

mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things

that are done in it.” As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city

and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men

and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark.

Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the

temple.

In the natural world, God was sending Babylon to judge Israel, but in the spiritual world, he sent six angels with weapons. In addition, there was one angel with a writing kit who was called to mark those who grieved and lamented over all the detestable things done in the city. They mourned over the idolatry, the sexual immorality, and the general dishonoring of God. While others were judged, the mourners were saved. In the same way, there is a group of people on this earth who are part of God’s kingdom. They are identified by their mourning over sins—theirs and the worlds. And because of this, God marks them. He sets them apart to himself and protects them from his wrath. They will at times be mocked by the world because they are different—because they won’t partake in or condone sin. At times, they are even persecuted for it. However, they are salt and light to the earth. They are a blessing to those who persecute and hate them. And though disliked and at times marginalized by the world, God marks them and blesses them, and one day they will physically enter God’s eternal kingdom.

Are you a mourner? Blessed are the mourners for they will be comforted both in this life and the life to come.

[1] Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Guzik, D. (2013). Matthew (Mt 5:4). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

[3] Stott, J. R. W. (1988). The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 19, p. 130). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[5] Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 30–31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[6] Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 29). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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