Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. So says Jesus in the second of the Beatitudes, eight sayings right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount which turn the world upside-down! But these are words which have become so familiar that we miss the paradox. How can people who are mourning be blessed? A better translation to bring out the stark contrast would be, “Happy are the unhappy.” In God’s upside-down Kingdom, those who have the least reason to be joyful can know the greatest joy. Happy are the unhappy!
But what are the kind of things that the people who Jesus says are blessed actually mourning and grieving about? I can think of three things, and they are the precisely the things that Jesus Himself wept about on the three occasions that the Bible tells us “Jesus wept”.
Mourning over the death of loved ones
At the graveside of his dear friend Lazarus, it is marked out for us in the shortest verse of the Bible John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” Jesus had just told Lazarus’ sister Martha (John 11:25-26)
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Nevertheless at the graveside, Jesus wept. Jesus knew that He was about to raise Lazarus who was dead back to life again. Yet still He wept.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
And that is the way it should be. When somebody we care about dies, we will mourn and grieve and weep. That is the human response to death. The more we loved them, the more we will weep and grieve. Mourning is a necessary part of life. Part of the process of adjusting to life without our loved one in it. And even when we know that the dead person was a Christian and we share their happy certainty of eternal life in glory in God’s presence, we will still mourn and grieve. If we try to put on a happy face, and pretend we are not sad and angry and lost when somebody dies, that is not healthy. We should not try to dodge or ignore the reality and finality of death. Some people need to learn how to grieve. Blessed are those who mourn – we can only be comforted if we first learn how to mourn.
Mourning over this fallen world
The second place we find Jesus weeping is on the road into Jerusalem as He entered riding a donkey on Palm Sunday.
Luke 19 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Death is not the only consequence of the sin which entered the world through Adam and Eve and has been the curse of human beings ever since. Selfishness, greed, pride and all the other deadly sins cut people and communities off from each other and from God. As a result the whole world is contaminated by pain and suffering. Wars, famines, floods and droughts. There is so much suffering to be distressed about. Millions dying without the necessities of life. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and Christians should be weeping for the immeasurable suffering around the world, especially of people who are marginalized and powerless, the godly poor we thought about last week.
Perhaps we are complacent because we are comfortable in our salvation. As Christians we know we are safe in Christ for eternity. But then surely we should also be mourning for all the people who are lost, facing eternity in darkness without Christ. Jesus wept for Jerusalem as God mourns for all the suffering and pain caused by human sinfulness.
Mourning over our own sinfulness
The third occasion we read about when Jesus sorrowful and troubled was on the night before He was crucified, as He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Matthew 26 36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus was sorrowful because He was just hours away from the cross. He knew the colossal true cost of human sin which He was preparing to pay. There was no other way to save human beings but the death of the Son of God. For Jesus to take upon Himself the sins of the world. To experience for Himself the separation from the Father which is the most terrible consequence of sin.
So we also should mourn and weep for the sinfulness of sin. Especially for our own sins which nailed Christ to the cross. The apostle James wrote these words to Christians.
James 4:6 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
We thought about this last week. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who know they are spiritually poor. It is entirely appropriate for Christians to mourn for their own sinfulness.
2 Corinthians 7:9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.
Mourning over our own sins used to be commonplace amongst Christians. In the Church of England 1662 Book of Common Prayer in the prayer of confession at communion everybody says, “we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sin and wickedness. There isn’t so much acknowledging or bewailing in some churches nowadays.
In the 18th century David Brainerd was a missionary among the American Indians. He wrote in his journal, “In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.” Not many Christians today bitterly mourn over our exceeding sinfulness. It is too easy to take our forgiveness for granted. Too easy to forget that each of our sinful thoughts and words and deeds were part of the burden Jesus bore on the cross for us. Every sin added to his agony and desolation. Each of us should indeed acknowledge and bewail our manifold sin and wickedness.
Mourning over the death of loved ones. Mourning over this fallen world. Mourning for our own sinfulness. So here is God’s wonderful promise.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“They shall be comforted.” That sounds all very nice, but a bit vague and wishy washy. Until we remember that Matthew who wrote down these words of Jesus was a devout Jew even though he was also a tax collector. And a respectful Jew would never use the name of God. That’s why in Matthew we read about the Kingdom of Heaven where in the same sayings the other Gospels record Jesus talking about the Kingdom of God. But the two, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are exactly the same thing. Matthew couldn’t bring himself to use the name of God so he wrote about the Kingdom of Heaven instead.
Something similar is happening here in the Beatitudes when we read “they will be comforted.” The technical term is a “reverential circumlocution” and that just means Matthew shifted the words round to avoid using the name of God. The third person passive form, “They will be comforted” very much means what some translations make explicit, “God will comfort them.” This isn’t some vague wishy washy promise but a guaranteed certainty that God Himself will intervene and bring blessing. Those who mourn will be blessed because God Himself will give them comfort!
Sadly some people never experience this wonderful comfort from God Himself which Jesus promises. Some people settle for inferior substitutes for comfort.
Some people try to find comfort through indifference. They aren’t mourning because they really don’t care. When it comes to death or the suffering of others, many people nowadays have a desensitized conscience. It is estimated that by the time a child reaches the age of 16 they will have seen 16,000 deaths on television, either portrayed in drama but even actual deaths recorded in newsreels or documentaries. And that doesn’t count the countless deaths portrayed in Role Playing computer or video Games, first person “shoot-em-ups” where the player shoots or stabs or blows up virtual adversaries, or worse in massively multi-user online games, other human players. From very early on, our children and young people are being desensitized to suffering, violence, shock, horror and even death. So they don’t ever get to mourn properly because they have become indifferent to suffering and death.
The word apathy literally means a-pathos, an absence of pathos or sympathy. People are apathetic when they lack feeling or emotion when they should be sad or grieving. Apathy means being unable to feel sympathy for others who are suffering or indeed have died.
Paul Simon wrote, “I am a rock, I am an island. For a rock can feel no pain and an island never cries”
But that is not the way people are meant to live. The traditional English “stiff-upper-lip” is not a Christian virtue but an expression of the misguided ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism. When what is happening should make us sad or cause us to mourn or grieve, indifference and apathy are not the right way forward.
Other people try to find comfort through activity. When something makes them sad they try to do something about it. For many people doing something is limited to talking with friends, or forming committees and arranging meetings. They try to solve the world’s problems through endless discussions which achieve nothing except helping the talkers feel better. Other people immerse themselves in action, doing something, anything, which might make the sad situation better. As long as they are busy doing something, they don’t feel so bad.
Still other people cope with sadness and grief by escapism. They hide away in their work or in material possessions or in entertainments. Such things may help people forget their problems by offering some temporary distraction but they are not the answer.
Blessed are those who mourn, said Jesus, but not because they become
indifferent and apathetic, or because they immerse themselves in activity, or even because they find ways to escape or hide from their true feelings.
The reason the happy are the unhappy is only because God Himself will give them comfort. The only way to know real joy and comfort and consolation is to turn to God. It is God who promises comfort to all who seek Him.
Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
When we are mourning and grieving our only hope is Jesus Christ. Through His death and resurrection Jesus offers us eternal life, life in all its fullness which not even death can take away from us. This comfort and consolation comes to us through the work of God the Holy Spirit living inside us all the time. And as God comforts us, He also enables us to bring his comfort and His peace to other people who are grieving.
2 Corinthians 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
Happy are the unhappy. Blessed are those who mourn and grieve and weep – mourn over the death of loved ones, mourn over the suffering in the world, mourn over our own sinfulness. God promis