A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this afternoon and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Last week, Larry introduced us to this text known as the Sermon on the Mount that spans Matthew 5-7. Here, Matthew presents Jesus’s vision of kingdom living. Larry discussed how these beatitudes, these blessings, articulate what the happy life, the good life, the flourishing life looks like. Jesus is telling his hearers and inviting them into a way of living life in this world that will lead to happiness and blessing from now into eternity.
But the striking thing about this passage is its paradoxical presentation of this ideal life. It’s the opposite of what we would expect. We saw this last week. His teaching begins with the statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .”
To be “poor in spirit” is not a position anyone would choose to occupy. It is a recognition of our spiritual poverty. We have nothing to claim as our own. No way to earn right standing before God or eternal life.
But Jesus describes this position—being poor in spirit—as precisely the position of divine happiness—“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is only from this position, this vantage point, that one can receive the saving grace and goodness of God for salvation.
The next verse builds on this foundation. Jesus begins with the same word, “Blessed,” which means divinely and truly happy or flourishing, “Blessed are those who mourn . . .”
This has been described as “one of the strangest paradoxes in the world.” Just as being “poor in spirit” makes the Christian strikingly different from those of the world, so the disposition of “mourning” marks off the Christian’s life.
The word used here describes a deep, significant, and continuous grief. But it’s not just grief over pain or loss or death. It is specifically a grief over sinfulness. It is grief over the damage that the curse of sin has unleashed on the world.
We see and experience this every moment of every day. All sickness and pain are a result of sin entering the world. All disorder, all disappointments, all broken promises are because of sin. All disagreements and fractured relationships are because of sin. Even death itself exists because of sin. The curse of sin fills every nook and cranny of life in this world and we can’t escape its reach. And this is all great cause for mourning.
But while the “mourning” that Jesus speaks of includes the effects of sin, he is ultimately referring—not to the sin of others and the effects it has on the world—but to the Christian’s own sinfulness.
Mourning is the necessary and appropriate response before a holy and righteous God. When we come before him and look to him, we must respond with grief over our sin, our own failure, how we fall short of the standards God sets out for us in his Word.
This is sin. Sin is disobeying and not conforming to God’s law in any way. We are all sinners. Do you ever want what someone else has? Do you ever speak an unkind word? Do you complain? Do you ever become bitter towards someone else? Do you withhold forgiveness? These are just some of the ways we sin. And when we see our sin, when we see that we have fallen short of the glory of God, our response should be mourning. It should be grief that we have disobeyed and dishonored the God who created us.
But who really wants to do that? Who wants to be characterized by this brokenness and mourning? Have you noticed how much the world around us looks down upon mourning, looks down upon grief? You may not have thought about it much, because we are often the same way.
We think of those who mourn as the most unfortunate people. We give them our sympathy and pity. We might extend some help and comfort. But then we get out of there, thanking God that we are not like them. We are just grateful that we have better health or more stable relationships or more financial security or more living loved ones. Even as we see others in sin, or we sin ourselves in sin, we often just want to move on and be done with it. Can’t we just let bygones be bygones? Can’t we just forget about it?
But this is not what the Christian is called to do. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that while worldly grief produces death, godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret. Worldly grief is marked by mourning over the things of this world. Worldly grief cares about and tries to hold onto what this world has to offer and mourns over the loss of these things.
But the concern of godly grief is God himself. Godly grief mourns over the effect that sin has on our relationship with God. Godly grief mourns over anything that impinges on our fellowship with God. This type of grief is what Jesus has in mind here. It’s to this kind of mourning that we are called.
And this kind of seems miserable if we stop here. But thanks be to God, the words of Jesus do not end here. He gives us the reason why those who mourn are blessed, why this is the path to divine happiness. He says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Those who mourn over their sin and the devastating effects of their sin shall be comforted. The blessed promise is this: comfort has come and is coming. In other words, the mourning and the grief are not the end. They are not defining. But they are headed somewhere. They have a destination. And that destination is the comfort that only Christ can bring.
We see this idea all over Scripture. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Peter gives us a similar exhortation in 1 Peter 4:12-14 when he says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
We also see this same thing illustrated in many stories throughout the Old Testament. It is the suffering, the poor in spirit, the mourning who pass through these things only to receive the Lord’s goodness. Think of Job and Joseph, Abraham and Moses. Their lives testify to a God who uses weakness for his own glory and his people’s good.
To mourn as Jesus calls us to necessarily stretches us. And this is not easy. It is painful to reflect on how our sin effects those we love. It is difficult to think about how often we fail, how twisted we’ve been. But if we are to ever know the comfort that Christ brings then we must be a people who grieve, a people who mourn.
And here is the good news. For the one who truly mourns, they shall ultimately be comforted. They shall rejoice. They shall flourish. They shall be made divinely happy. For in their hopelessness, in their grief over their sin, the Holy Spirit shows forth Jesus Christ as the one who has paid the debt owed because of their sin. He is the one who has died for this sin, and who was raised, and is even now our advocate before God.
In our grief we are drawn out of ourselves to see the goodness and grace of God, for the one against whom we have sinned is the one who forgives sinners! Jesus Christ has made complete provision for all of our needs. And from this provision we receive eternal comfort. From our sorrow comes everlasting joy.
It’s important to note what Jesus does not say here. He does not say that “Blessed are those who mourn, for they are comforted.” No. He says that they will be comforted. While we taste of his comfort and his goodness now, we will not truly know it in full until his return. This verse teaches us to fix our eyes ahead. We don’t grieve as those without hope, but we mourn as those who have a great hope.
The Christian has a true, serious, unwavering joy that’s found by looking to Christ. Even in our mourning we are filled with joy, with hope, because in Jesus we see that sin and death are not the end.
And, really, this is what Christmas is all about. This is what it’s all meant to point us to. You’ll often hear the word “Advent” spoken around churches during this season, and this is often understood as an anticipation of Christ’s birth, but this is only a part of the story.
The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word which means “coming.” And the church’s celebration of advent is both a celebration that he once came, but also that he is coming again. Here, we look back to that fact that Jesus came to earth to as Messiah and Savior, and we look forward to the day when he will return for his people. Hope has come. And hope is coming.
There is something greater to come and we get an incredible and vibrant vision of this in the first coming of Jesus Christ, for while we grieve over the devastation of death, he comes and lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, he was born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. For while we mourn over a sin-sick world he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.
So, as we come to the joy of Christmas morning this week, let us enter into this joy, not as those who do not know the pain of sin, but as those who have received the comfort of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to pretend that we can hold onto those fleeting moments or freeze time and just live there. But the joys and thrills and anticipation and expectation of Christmas are all meant to point us forward to something so much greater, so much better.
The world we are made for will have no more disappointment. It will have no more sin. It will have no more pain; no more tears or mourning. This is what we are made for. And it is all promised in this baby boy. His coming is meant to point us to another coming where we will be comforted fully and completely, where our mourning will turn to joy.
Jesus did not come once and is not coming again for those who have it all put together, for those who have no sin. He came and is coming for the mourning, for the weak and discouraged, for those who need comfort. And this is the beautiful paradox of God’s kingdom: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Amen.
Song of Response
Sermon Audio from Recent Sundays