17 February 2013
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 ESV)
Using the alternate translation verse 4 would read "Happy are those who mourn", and we would look at that and say "no they aren't". Mourners are the opposite of happy they are sad. In truth they are sad, but they will be happy when comfort comes from God.
There is a time and a place for mourning, Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."
There is a time of mourning when we deal with the temporal loss and pain it brings. For Christ followers mourning will cause us to seek after the God of comfort and press into him to recover. But sometimes people turn away from God, get angry with God and turn to bitterness.
Mourning is not Just about Sadness, it is about Repentance
In the Sermon on the Plain we find in Luke 6:21 the similar beatitude: "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." These are opposing peeks of human emotion. Psalm 126 provides us a good spiritual correlation of them:
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126)
In this passage laughing is for those who are with the Lord, and weeping is something that can only be overcome by the work of the Lord.
The mourning that Matthew mentions is attached to bereavement. It is the mourning of someone who cannot do anything to help themselves. It is the mourning of one's complete inability. It is like the words of the psalmist,
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me. (Psalm 55:4-5)
There are times when we are sad and when we are down and then there are times when we are beside ourselves. Mourning is this later category.
This type of mourning is what Isaiah has in mind in Isaiah 61:2-3
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
This type of mourning exists wherein the only comfort that can come for it is from the Lord. It allows one to trade beauty for ashes, gladness for mourning, and praise instead of faintness. It is done by God so that He is the one who receives all the glory.
We are all sinners, but few these days truly mourn their sin. Sure we mourn the loss of friends and family, we mourn the situations in our life that are difficult, we will find comfort from these as well, but we often do not live in a sense of mourning for our sinfulness. More than individual sins, this is our nature of sinning. We cannot escape sin, we must confront it, mourn for it, humbly come before God and seek forgiveness for it. Then we are blessed. Then we are comforted.
Mourning is an Activity of the People of God
The necessity of mourning in the Christian life is exhibited throughout the Bible in a variety of ways. In Greek, there are nine different words for grief in the New Testament alone. This is a common feeling and expression in the Bible. Let us briefly look at those who mourn.
In Genesis we find that Abraham mourned the loss of his wife: "And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." (Genesis 23:2). The first man of the nation of Israel understood the need to mourn, to bereave. Through this bereavement process he found comfort.
The psalmist in Psalm 42 understood the mourning that comes when one is out of the presence of God:
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
"Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:2-3)
Jeremiah understood the calamities of his people, the one's he was prophesizing to, and in that he mourned for there state of being:
Oh that my head were waters,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people! (Jeremiah 9:1)
In the New Testament Paul is ever the character to emulate. Often we find him mourning over those he knew who needed salvation or who were in sin. In Acts 20:31 he says, "Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears." As he writes to the Corinthians he explains the need for grief and mourning: For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10) Here we see the need for godly grief to create repentance. Finally, in 2 Timothy 1:3-4 he speaks of the mourning other Christians had had for him: "I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy." (2 Timothy 1:3-4)
Peter particularly exemplifies the mourning over one's sins after the betrayal of Jesus: "And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly." (Matthew 26:75)
Finally, we see that even Jesus wept: "Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. (John 11:32-35)"
As we can see different types of mourning exist in the Bible, and they all bring comfort. It is the mourning over sin, however, that produces godliness and comfort.
Mourners are Blessed because of Forgiveness
We also must note that in this beatitude is the aspect of being happy. It seems quite paradoxical to have these two thoughts next to each other. We must somehow come to an understanding of how these two concepts can be placed alongside each other: happiness and mourning.
What we must see is not that we are happy because we mourn, we are happy because when we truly mourn we are repentant. When we are repentant we find forgiveness. It is those who are forgiven that are truly happy.
You see we must take the words of James as a commentary on this beatitude:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)
To be exalted by God we must first find forgiveness with God. If we want to be happy in our mourning we must understand the fruit of our mourning is forgiveness from sin, but that can only happen when we truly mourn our sin.
Mourning Promises Comfort
Finally, we need to see the effects of those who mourn. Once again this is a purpose clause in the beatitude. When we are happy in our mourning (and only then) we will find comfort.
The first beatitude was in the present tense. "Yours is the kingdom of heaven." Notice the difference in this "you will be comforted." It is important to note this, for the comfort that comes from God may not be immediate. Some comforts from God may only come when we receive glory and see God face to face. However, this does not negate the promise. We must find assurance in this beatitude. We will be comforted; we just need to wait patiently for that comfort.
Now this comfort comes to us in a variety of ways. First, it comes to us through the Holy Spirit. In John 14 we find Jesus saying farewell to the disciples and provides a means of comfort: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you." (John 14:15-17) This "Helper" is also known as the "Comforter." It is the person of the Holy Spirit who will indwell believers. The Spirit aids us in reading Scripture and in Prayer. In fact it is better for Jesus to go so that the Spirit may indwell us.
Second, we have the Word as comfort. The Scriptures are to be comforts to us always. Romans 15:4 tells us, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Many times in our lives we find comfort through the remembrance of Scripture. The nature of the Bible is to be a message of hope, that message provides comfort. If you are not being comforted try reading the Bible, it just might work.
Finally, Jesus himself is a comfort to us. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).
Our ultimate comfort and reconciliation really comes in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the presence of The Lord. Until that time we will have many opportunities to mourn. But in each of those times of mourning we must remember that comfort is on the way; so blessed are those who mourn.