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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 12, 1998
Blessed are Those Who Mourn
This morning we will be looking at one of the many paradoxes in the Christian life. A.W. Tozer wrote an article once entitled, “That Incredible Christian” in which he sets in contrast these paradoxes of the Christian life.
“The Christian believes that in Christ he has died, yet he is more alive than before and he fully expects to live forever. He walks on earth while seated in heaven and though born on earth he finds that after his conversion he is not at home here . . . the Christian appears at his best in the heavenly places but does not fit well into the ways of the very society into which he was born.” For the Christian to be victorious he must live in a pattern contrary to the common pattern of mankind. “That he may be safe he puts himself in jeopardy; he loses his life to save it and is in danger of losing it if he attempts to preserve it. He goes down to get up. If he refuses to go down he is already down, but when he starts down he is on his way up.”
“He is strongest when he is weakest and weakest when he is strong. Though poor he as the power to make others rich, but when he becomes rich his ability to enrich others vanishes. He has most after he has given most away and has least when he possesses most.”
“He may be and often is highest when he feels lowest and most sinless when he is most conscious of sin. He is wisest when he knows that he knows not and knows least when he has acquired the greatest amount of knowledge. He sometimes does most by doing nothing and goes furthest when standing still. In heaviness he manages to rejoice and keeps his heart glad even in sorrow.”
“He believes that he is saved now, nevertheless he expects to be saved later and looks forward joyfully to future salvation. He fears God but is not afraid of Him. In God’s presence he feels overwhelmed and undone, yet there is nowhere he would rather be than in that presence. He knows that he has been cleansed from his sin, yet he is painfully conscious that in his flesh dwells no good thing. He loves supremely One whom he has never seen and though himself poor and lowly familiarly with One who is king of all kings and Lord of all lords, and is aware of no incongruity in so doing. He feels that he is in his right altogether less than nothing, yet he believes without question that he is the apple of God’s eye and that for him the Eternal Son became flesh and died on the cross of shame.”
“The . . . Christian is both a confirmed pessimist and an optimist the like of which is to be found nowhere else on earth. When he looks at the cross, he is a pessimist, for he knows that the same judgement that fell on the Lord of glory condemns in that one act all nature and all the world of men. He rejects every human hope out of Christ because he knows that man’s noblest effort is only dust building on dust. Yet he is calmly, restfully optimistic. If the cross condemns the world the resurrection of Christ guarantees the ultimate triumph of good throughout the universe. Through Christ all will be well at last and the Christian waits the consummation. Incredible Christian!”
The Christian does have quite a life of paradox doesn’t he? This morning we are going to look at Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The paradox of the Christian is that he cannot be happy, unless he is sad. To the world this seems like foolishness – shear stupidity. The two are contradictory – opposite of each other. Yet, for the Christian, this is a vital truth and part of the message of the gospel of hope that we seek to share with the world. How can this be? What does Jesus mean here? To answer those questions we have to remember the context in which our precious Lord spoke them.
Jesus’ ministry was now well underway. The people were wondering if He could indeed be the Messiah. He spoke with authority in both His teaching and in His proclamations about God. He was performing wonderful miracles that could only be done by God. But if this was Messiah, when would He establish His kingdom? And how can we become part of it? The religious leaders were already against Jesus because He did not follow their teaching and He had already rebuked them for their false righteousness.
In this sermon, Jesus the King presents His kingdom program, and if you want to enter into His kingdom, your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and pharisees (5:20). The scribes and Pharisees considered themselves righteous (i.e. “good”) because they did a fairly good job at completing a list of do’s and don’ts they had compiled for themselves over the centuries. Self-righteous works will not get you into the kingdom. True righteousness is a matter of the heart which says, “I love you Lord, be merciful to me and help me to do whatever pleases you.”
As Jesus begins the sermon, he makes a series of statements which we call the “Beatitudes.” This is not a list of the things you must do to enter the kingdom or even to become righteous. It is a list of the blessings the righteous person receives because his or her character is as described.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the foundational characteristic of the kingdom citizen of being “poor in spirit.” By the way, every true Christian is a kingdom citizen. Our “citizenship is in heaven” – Phil 3:20 and “He [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” – Col 1:13.
Being “poor in spirit” does not have anything to do with finances or material wealth (or lack thereof). There is no benefit in being materially poor except possibly a greater awareness of your need for help. Jesus said that the poor in spirit were blessed because they are in the kingdom of heaven. The word “poor” means “destitute,” “impoverished,” “begging poor.” This person realizes their utter spiritual bankruptcy. They know without a shadow of a doubt that no good thing dwells in them. They understand that there is absolutely nothing they can do to earn their way to heaven. They can do nothing to establish a relationship with God except according to God’s mercy and even then only on God’s terms. They comprehend the fact that they have no basis upon which to make bargains with God. They come to God on His terms or not at all. They have no spiritual merit and they can earn no spiritual reward. This demands complete humility and nothing less. Pride is gone, self assurance is gone, and they come to God empty-handed.
This is the nature of those that are truly righteous. It describes the person’s attitude toward themselves. This is what is meant by being “poor in spirit,” and “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is upon this foundation that we come to the next statement of Jesus in this sermon. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
This is in complete contrast to what the world believes. The world believes that happiness and joy come only from focusing on circumstances that are fun and forgetting about any troubles that may be around. Commercials tell you to buy this or that and you will be happy. Girls, purchase this make up, wear these clothes, use this perfume and men will pay attention to you. Guys, dress this way, use this to get rid of your dandruff, floss and use this mouthwash and the girls will chase after you. Drink this beverage – whether that is a certain brand of beer or soft drink and you will have lots of friends. Children are not exempt. Look at the advertisements directed at them – “you haven’t lived till you get this toy” – “you can be just like a grown up with this toy.” The world presents this or that activity as the ultimate in having fun.
At the same time, anything negative that might bring pain is to be avoided. Some years ago a song entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was voted #1 for its class of music. The song never gave a reason not to worry, except to combat it by glibly putting on a happy face. Years before another song said the same thing with its line, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.”
The title of Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” so aptly describes our society’s mad chase after fleeting happiness, for even what should be educational and help us to live responsibly has been turned into entertainment and amusement. Amusement’s original meaning was to “divert the attention of so as to deceive” (Webster). It usage now means “to pass or cause to pass the time pleasantly.” “To entertain or occupy in a light, playful, or pleasant manner.” It is the opposite of “muse” which means to “become absorbed in thought,” “a state of deep thought.” Our society is preoccupied with diversion, not deep thought, for diversion may bring happiness. Deep thought may bring pain. The original meaning of amusement still applies. Our society is deceived.
King Solomon had been down the path of seeking pleasure and found it too was futility (Eccl 2:1). Jesus says in Luke 6:25, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” Why? Because those laughing had amused themselves and were deceived about the harsh realities of life. The laughter would end, the penalty of sinful pleasure would have to be paid, they would be held accountable for all their actions.
Their laughter would be turned to sorrow in two ways. First, in the present. Talk to those who have pursued worldly pleasure and are now paying the cost. The alcoholic who destroyed his family and his health, the party animal that became a drug addict that fried his brain and can no longer function normally. Talk to the man or woman suffering from sexually transmitted diseases because they bought Satan’s lie about sexual activity. Talk to the woman who is now sterile because of an abortion and imagine the mourning and weeping she goes through knowing she killed the only child she will ever conceive. Talk to the homosexual who is dying in a hospice with AIDS – all because of the pursuit of a fleeting moment of physical pleasure.
The second sorrow comes after physical death, because unless they repent and turn to Christ in this life, they will spend eternity in hell where there will be much “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:42,50).
No wonder that Solomon even went on to remark in Ecclesiastes 7:2-5 said, “It is better to go to a house of mourning Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, For when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.”
But what is the mourning that Jesus is talking about here? Is he referring to those time that deep sorrow comes because a loved one has died? The word mourn here (penthounteV /penthountes) is a strong word for sorrow. There are nine words in greek that can be used to speak of sorrow. This word is the strongest of them. It was used to describe Jacob’s grief when he thought Joseph had been killed by wild animals (LXX – Gen 37:34). It was used of the disciples’ mourning for Jesus before they knew He was raised from the dead (Mk 16:10), and it is used of the world business leaders mourning over the destruction of their system of commerce during the tribulation period (Rev. 18:11,15). The strength and emotion of the word is seen in its usage in conjunction with the death of a loved one, but it is not limited to that.
The sorrowful mourning described by Jesus here is mourning over sin that comes from Godly sorrow. Paul describes it in 2 Cor 7:9-10 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to [the point of] repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to [the will of] God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to [the will of] God produces a repentance without regret, [leading] to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. Godly sorrow over sin leads to repentance, and repentance to life. This mourning is seen in David in Psalm 51:3,4 as he considered his sin – For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge. It is also seen in Job, a man who was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). Job goes through a lot, and God never answers Job’s questions. God only reveals more of His power and nature – the result being Job’s repentance in 42:5-6 “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees Thee; 6 Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.”
Spiritual poverty – the first beatitude – leads to mourning over sin – the second beatitude.
But be careful to note here that the blessing does not come from the mourning itself, but from what that mourning brings – God’s comfort. I already pointed out what Paul said in 2 Cor. 7 – Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness is God’s comfort, and there is no greater joy that can be known that of God’s forgiveness and comfort. James says something similar to this in James 4:8-10. “Draw near to God and will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
The starting point of drawing near to God is being poor in spirit and mourning over your sin.
This is a missing element in church. Christians in America are too often found to be no different from unbelievers in their pursuit of amusement and entertainment – with the even more distressing fact that they seek after the very same amusements. And I am not talking about going to Great Adventure or Hershey Park. We draw an arbitrary line on sin and think we are okay because we did not cross that line, yet we are participating in sin vicariously if not actually when we laugh at the crude and immoral things the world laughs at. How do you respond to jokes told at work? Do you laugh – inside or out loud? Do you think you’re good because you refrain from laughing? Do you mourn over sin in which your co-workers are entrapped? Do you smile at ungodly talk? Are you entertained by the perversity in our society? What is your reaction to modern soap-operas and the talk shows which feature every kind of depraved subject imaginable? To joke about marriage problems and divorce, to make light of cruelty and to be intrigued by sexual immorality is to rejoice when we should be mourning, to be laughing when we should be crying. Proverbs 21:14 says that to, “delight in doing evil and rejoice in the perversity of evil,” is the way of evil. 2 Thess 2:12 speaks of the judgement God will bring on those who, “took pleasure in wickedness.”
There are three areas in which we should mourn over sin. First, our own sin. The Holy Spirit has been sent to convict us of sin (John 16:9). He brings to us the awareness of the Holiness of God and our utter depravity. That is the starting point of becoming poor in spirit and mourning over sin. We see ourselves for what we really are apart from God. We repent from that, ask for God’s forgiveness and on the basis of His mercy and grace alone He wonderfully saves us from sin and changes us and a new life is begun. But that is not the end of mourning over our own sin. The verb “mourn” in Matt 5:4 is a present tense participle denoting a continuing action. The Holy Spirit begins His work of sanctification within us. He continues to convict us of sin – and there is turmoil as we battle against it. We struggle with the sin that is still in us like Paul describes in Romans 7. Turn there and look at verses 14-25. As we grow in Christ, areas of sin are conquered and new ones revealed. In our growing love for Christ we know that there is no such thing as an insignificant sin, for each one causes Him sorrow. You continue to confess your sins to Him according to 1 John 1:9 that you may walk in intimate fellowship with Him. You long for the day that you will put this body of sin away and you will be with Jesus in holiness for eternity. You mourn over your sin and fight against it knowing that it grieves the Lord whom you love. How can you claim to love Jesus and not mourn over your sin?
If you do not see your own sin as serious, if it does not bother you and cause you the deep anguish of mourning described here, then you have a serious problem. If my saying that does not prick your heart and cause you to want to cease from your wandering away from the Lord and seek Him will all you heart again – then perhaps you had better consider Paul’s challenge in 2 Cor. 13:5 to “examine yourselves and see if you are in the faith!” Don’t allow yourself to be self-deceived on such an important matter as the destiny of your eternal soul.
True mourning over our own sin leads to our comfort. The mourning of Godly sorrow leads to repentance and repentance forgiveness and cleansing by Jesus. David described his sin in Psalm 38:4 as a “heavy burden” that weighed too much for him. That burden is lifted and taken away by Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing of us. That is why the person who mourns over their sin can be blessed – joyful – because the mourning led to being comforted by forgiveness and cleansing.
The second area of mourning for sin is over the sin of others. We see this in Jesus when He laments over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” Jesus mourns over the hard heartedness of the people. Their sinfulness was leading to their own destruction. Is that the way you view the sinful people around you? If not, you need to seriously ask yourself why not? Perhaps you have become desensitized to the sin around you, or perhaps you lack in love for those still caught in sin’s cruel trap?
And the third area of mourning for sin is over the general sin that has affected the world. We find this in Jesus in John 11 when He goes up to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. As Jesus arrives He is met by Martha who says to Him, (verse 24) “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus responded, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Martha’s answer that she does believe that He is “the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” Jesus is then taken to the tomb, and verse 35 says that “He wept.” Why did Jesus weep? Jesus knew that He was about to raise Him from the dead, so it could not be over the loss of a friend. I believe Jesus wept over the general sin that is in the world that causes men to die. Notice in verse 33 that Jesus is moved by Mary and the others weeping. In verse 38 we find Jesus again deeply moved. Jesus is seeing the effect that death is having on these friends of His and He mourns over the pain that it causes. Jesus then raises Lazarus from the dead (verses 43,44). Romans 8:21 & 23 speak of Creation itself and we who believe “groaning” as we await the redemption of the physical world from the corruption of sin.
That is our mourning over sin – our own, that of others, and the general sin that has our world in bondage. Yet in each area God gives us comfort. He forgives our sins; He has given us a message of hope to others; and He has given us a sure promise of the redemption of all things – a new heaven and a new earth. God gives us comfort in Himself for He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3) and His promises bring the comfort of hope (Rom 5). He has also given us the Holy Spirit – who is even called the “comforter” in John 14. That is why we those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted by God, and there can be no greater or deeper joy than that.
What keeps a person from mourning and receiving God’s comfort which follows?
1) The love of sin is the primary obstruction. Holding on to sin will freeze and harden any heart – it did so even to David’s heart, the man who had a heart after God. You will not change until you see the reality of your sin, its wretchedness and what it has cost you, those around you and God.
2) Falling into despair rather than mourning. Despair comes when hope is given up. It moves us outside of God’s grace. Despair excuses sin because it believes there is not choice. The person feels God has abandoned them, so they abandoned God. God’s mercy is hidden behind a self-made cloud of doubt. Despair is only overcome by believing what God has said and trusting Him in spite of any feelings. “Thou wilt keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee” (Isa 26:3).
3) Presumption that the sins committed are not that bad and therefore do not need to be confessed. This is a cheap faith believing in cheap grace. Isaiah 55:7 says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” No pardon is offered to the unrepentant, presumptuous person who refuses to forsake his sin. Such a gospel would have a distorted view of Christ, the cross and the nature of sin. The unrepentant and presumptuous are not “poor in spirit.”
4) Procrastination is the final hindrance to mourning over sin. It simply puts it off. But procrastination is dangerous, because we do not know the future and you do not know A) the damage being done by the procrastination, and B) when your life will end and it will be too late.
How can you mourn over sin. 1) Get to know God. Examine His holiness and the price paid for sin by Jesus on the cross. 2) Study the Scriptures and find out how ugly sin is to God. Find out how destructive and damning it is to us. 3) Pray that God will break and melt your heart before Him. Pray that He will search your heart and reveal any sin that is there.
You will know that you are mourning in the sense of this beatitude when your sensitivity to sin increases and when you have a corresponding sense of God’s forgiveness. Blessedness belongs to those who mourn because it brings the comfort of God – His forgiveness, cleansing and hope.
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