Sermon preached on Matthew 5:4 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/26/2014 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”
As we’ve started studying the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, we have begun to see the Christian described, at least in one sense. Yes, I’ve made the case that Christians recognize how we don’t measure up adequately to this description. And yet, by the grace of God there is a way that the true Christian has begun to find this description of themselves, even though we are still a work in progress. And so, as it will become clearer as we work through these beatitudes, these are nonetheless beginning to describe us who have come into Christ’s kingdom. And for us who have begun to be described in this way, we are told that we are blessed. And so we began to see this last week when we saw that blessed are those who are poor in spirit. We said such people are blessed, because that describes the people who spiritually have come to be beggars. They are the people who spiritually bow down before the almighty God, acknowledge that God is Lord over all, acknowledges how they doesn’t deserve to be in God’s kingdom, and so they beg for grace and mercy in abundance. And we said, that in Christ, we receive that grace and mercy. So, to such a spiritual beggar who comes to Christ, Christ gives them the kingdom in his grace. Well, that describes the born-again Christian. Yes, the Christian in this life will need to continue to grow in humility. But they still possess a beggarly spirit in a way that the world does not. The world will not seek this of God on their own. Unless a man be born again, he will never enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s in part because such an unregenerate man will never be poor in spirit at all in the way we described.
And so now in a similar vein we come to the second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is a lot of similarity between this and the first beatitude. But there is also some helpful nuance here. Let’s start by thinking about the mourning. Then we’ll think about the comfort. Third, we’ll think about the opposite of this mourning and it’s outcome.
First then, let’s talk about this mourning. Realize the challenge that brings right from the start. It’s a blessing to be mourning. It’s a blessing to be grieving and sad. I mentioned two weeks ago how you could also translate “blessed” as “happy”. So you could even translate this as “Happy are the sad!” So, do you see the tension here? It almost sounds self-contradictory. But of course it’s not ultimately, as we’ll see. But to start, do notice this tension.
Well, then, what kind of mourning is this? Well, to start, let me clarify that not all mourning is righteous. This not talking about unrighteous mourning. Humans can become grieved and depressed over sinful lusts when those lusts aren’t fulfilled. That seems to be what was going on with Amnon in 2 Samuel 13, when he got himself sick over unfulfilled lusts regarding his sister Tamar. It’s not right to mourn over sinful things. Or take King David when his army had victory over his son Absalom who had tried to take the throne away from David. David was so mourning over his dead son that his army started to become ashamed at their victory. As you read it over in 2 Samuel 18, you can appreciate a father’s loss of his son, even a wayward one, but given the circumstances, David’s mourning went too far. My point then to start, is that there are unrighteous ways people can mourn, and that is surely not what Jesus is talking about.
That being said, there are many things that we do rightly mourn over. I’ll mention three categories of things we might mourn over. First, we can mourn over the general sorrows of life. Like when a loved one dies, or when some tragic thing happens. This general sorrow is expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:4 when it says that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. There are general times of life that bring sadness and mourning. That is so true. And yet let me say this about such mourning. Such mourning can only begin to approach what Jesus is talking about here. Because this kind of general mourning is something that we all experience, whether you are a Christian or not. But, the point of these beatitudes is that it’s describing a subset of people in this world. It’s describing those who do belong to Christ’s kingdom, and it’s clear this description of those such blessed is not a universal thing among humans. So, such general mourning is not most specifically in view. But for a Christian, it is a starting place. It cues us in to the reality that there is something wrong with this world. And it makes us ask, “Why?” Of course, the answer is that the world we live in is a sin-cursed world, something we need to recognize as Christians.
The second thing we mourn over is over the world’s evils. Like when you look around and see people like Hitler murdering masses of people. Or when you hear about all the unborn babies murdered for the parent’s convenience. We rightly weep over such things. This is now starting to get more around the kind of mourning Jesus is talking about. Because we recognize that these evils are done because of man’s sin. And that is something to truly weep about.
A third thing we mourn over is our own personal sin. This is especially getting at the heart of the mourning Jesus is talking about here. Remember when Peter so proudly told Jesus he would never deny him. But then that very same night he went and betrayed Jesus three times. When Peter finally recognized it when the cock crowed twice, it says in Luke 22 that Peter went out and wept bitterly. We should weep at our sin. We should mourn over our sin. Our sin is wrong. Our sin is evil. Internally, our sin can have negative consequences on our bodies or souls. It so often affects others in horrible ways. But ultimately our sin is against our God and creator who so lovingly made us. It’s a violation of his laws. It leaves us guilty and deserving of God’s eternal wrath and curse. And so when we see it in ourselves, we should mourn. When we observe it in others through the world around us, we should mourn. And when we recognize that this world has things like death and thorns and pain during child birth, we realize that’s related too — because we live in this world cursed of God, again, because of sin. And so we should mourn in that regard as well. Jesus says it is blessed to mourn over such sin. This is of course, a part of repenting of our sin. We need to acknowledge our sin and mourn over it. Actually hate it. Be disgusted that it’s in us, and in others around us. Mourn over the existence of sin!
Let me note here that this is what is starting to show us that the Christian needs to see these different beatitudes together to understand a more fuller sense of how someone becomes a Christian. We saw last week that it is good to have the beggarly spirit that says I need Christ to save me. But that same person must also confess and mourn over their sin. As an opposite example, you can meet someone who is physically poor, that’s a beggar, but blames everyone else for their poverty. Spiritually, that must not be us. Rather, Jesus is saying that those who are in his kingdom are both beggarly of spirit, but also those who mourn. In other words, we come spiritually begging Jesus for salvation, and at the same time acknowledge and mourn over our culpability in our poor spiritual estate.
So then, along those lines, let me also note here that this mourning of sin must include then the coming to Christ for forgiveness and grace. It must not be a bare mourning. That we see in Judas Iscariot, it seems. After betraying Jesus to the cross, the gospels record that Judas changed his mind. Judas acknowledges his sin and seems to mourn over by committing suicide. But Jesus also says that Judas is a son of perdition in John 17:12. In Luke 22:22, Jesus says “woe” to the one who betrayed him. “Woe” there is the opposite of the “Blessed” here in this passage. In other words, don’t expect to see Judas in heaven. Or more specifically, Judas’ mourning was not the kind of mourning described here. It didn’t go and take the next step of coming to Christ, begging him for forgiveness and grace. That’s in the context here. It’s not just mere mourning. Read all the beatitudes to see a fuller expression of the person who is in Christ’s kingdom. For example, we need that beggarly spirit that comes to Christ as a beggar looking for grace. And so it’s not just mere mourning over sin here that’s commended. But it’s the mourning that then turns to humble yourself before God and look to him for pardon and grace in Jesus Christ. James 4:6-9 talks a little about that.
As we talk about this mourning, again look to Jesus Christ and how he fulfilled this. He, in his perfect righteousness, again showed us what it means to mourn like this. Of course, note the way that we most need to mourn is over our own personal sin. That was not a way that Jesus needed to mourn. He didn’t have any such sin to mourn over. But he did mourn. I think of how we see Jesus mourning over the city of Jerusalem in Luke 13, because of their sin and how they largely hadn’t come to know how to be saved from that sin in Christ. Or in John 11, Jesus weeps over the death of Lazarus. Even though he knew he would raise him momentarily. Jesus knew the sorrows of life. There with Lazarus, John 11:33 seems to point to part of why Jesus wept was because of their unbelief, not realizing that Jesus who stood right there was the resurrection and the life. So, Jesus wept and mourned.
The suffering servant passage in Isaiah 53 especially drives this home. Isaiah 53:3 says that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Isaiah seems to connect that with how he suffered for us, to ultimatly die in our place for the remission of our sins. It was Jesus’ mourning over our sin that meant he would bear our griefs and sorrows and suffer in our place. He mourned over sin, hated its wretchedness so much, that in order for us to be a part of his kingdom, he would have to pay the penalty of that sin for us. It’s that spirit that mourns over sin like that, to the point of the cross, that comes inside us. That works in us a real genuine mourning and hatred of sin.
So that’s a little bit about this mourning. Let’s turn now to the comfort that Jesus says will come to those who mourn. In general, this is something God brings to his people. 2 Corinthians 1:3 says that God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations. In what ways does God comfort us? Well, as we are seeing in these beatitudes, the blessings are already and not yet. There is a way in which we find comfort already as Christians. And there is a way in which the comfort is still future. In terms of the “already” aspect, God comforts us by sending the Spirit of Christ into our hearts. Remember, Jesus called the Spirit the Comforter. And in Acts 9:31, it says that the Christians were walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. How does the fact that the Holy Spirit lives inside us comfort us already? Two thoughts immediately come to mind. First, the Holy Spirit comforts us in that he assures us of the forgiveness of our sins in Christ. This is huge of course. It’s of utmost comfort to know that as we mourn for our sins, that we are forgiven of our sins. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says that God has not appointed us as Christians unto wrath, but unto salvation. This, of course, is possible through the forgiveness of sins. Otherwise, we’d continue to be under his wrath. But instead we are saved. That passage in 1 Thessalonians says that’s why it’s not a defeat for a Christian when they die. And it says that we should comfort each other with these words. Did you catch that? Our salvation from the guilt of sin is comforting! The Holy Spirit encourages our hearts then that we are forgiven and have this comfort. How do we know the Spirit is doing this? Well, if you have faith in Christ, then that’s the Spirit at work.
A second way our comfort comes through the Spirit is seen in our sanctification. When we mourn over sin and wretchedness, I think of Romans 7. Paul is describing his mourning and hatred over his ongoing sin. But then in Romans 8 he finds comfort. Comfort not only in the lack of condemnation for sin, but that we have the Spirit in us. Romans 8 talks about how the Spirit changes everything. It changes our perspective on the law. It changes our perspective toward righteousness. The Spirit helps in our weaknesses, even growing us to call upon God for help. And the Spirit is at work in us to put to death the deeds of the body. So, in our ongoing struggle with sin, as we mourn over that, as we grow to seek God more for help, we also recognize the Spirit bringing comfort in these sorts of ways. It’s especially comforting when we see the Spirit beginning to deliver us from our bodies of sin and death. As we see the Spirit bearing fruit in our lives, this should comfort us!
And so, this is the beginning of the ways that we as a Christian are comforted. This is some of the “already” aspect of our comfort. But we especially look forward to the final comforting that has not yet come. That’s looking ahead to glory. Revelation 21 describes the New Heavens and the New Earth that is in store for Christians. It says that in that place, that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. In that place there will be no more sorrow, no more crying. Remember the three main things we said we mourn for — they’ll all be done away with at that point. At that point, all our sinfulness will have been fully put to death. At that place the sinners throughout the world who have not come to Christ for salvation, will be removed. And at that place, there will be no more curse on the world, as there will be no sin left in that new world. In other words, that’s why there won’t be any mourning left. There won’t be any reason left to mourn about! Instead, God will comfort us in the full, wiping away every tear. Along those same lines, God will bring healing. Revelation 21, in symbolic imagery, describes the Tree of Life in glory as having leaves which provide healing for the nations. This is all getting at the fullness of how God will comfort us in glory.
Let’s turn then now to our third point and think about those who do not mourn like we have talked about today. In Luke’s gospel, in Luke 6:25, Jesus gives a word that seems intentionally to contrast these beatitudes. He says, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” Just to clarify, this is surely not saying Christians can’t laugh. But it’s talking about those people who do not mourn over sin like we have talked about here. But they are content and even laugh at their current circumstances before God. Think of the scoffing that the world sometimes does when you talk about things like sin and hell. Their scoffing is often put in terms of laughing. So often they laugh at the idea that they are somehow guilty before God and would have to answer for their sins. They often flippantly joke about the notion, not really believing a judgment is coming. The unbeliever is not one stricken by a sorrow for sin that looks to God for forgiveness in Christ. They don’t really think they have anything to mourn about — not in this way, that is. Not over sin, or in fear of judgment, or anything like that. If they really believed they were guilty and going to hell, then surely they would mourn and weep and wail. But that’s why they don’t mourn. Because they really don’t believe it will happen. Instead they carry on with life, like they did in the days of Noah, eating and drinking and being merry, disregarding the preaching of Noah, until finally they were swept away in the flood of judgment.
You see, this is why Christians can affirm with Jesus that blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. You see, if the alternative was just not ever mourn and not ever need to thus be comforted, then we could appreciate the appeal of not having to mourn. If you don’t ever have to mourn, then you don’t need to be comforted, that would surely be better than a mourning which leads to comfort. It’s like if you could lose a loved one, but then be comforted, that’s great that you are comforted; but you would prefer to just not lose the loved one in the first place. But you see, that’s not the options given to man. Man is a sinner. God says you can either mourn over your sin right now, repent, and come to Christ for forgiveness, and be comforted. Or you can enjoy your sense of relative comfort now, and not mourn over your sin, and just keep on living the way you want; but at the end you will mourn. When on the final day of judgment God condemns you as guilty and throws you into the eternal lake of fire, where it says that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then such a person will mourn. You see, whether your mourn or not is not an option. One way or another, ever person will mourn because of their sin. But if you mourn for a little while now, while salvation is held out to you, you can find eternal comfort. But if you look to find a little comfort now by not mourning, there will come a time when the offer of salvation is no more. And on that day of reckoning you’ll enter into a time of eternal mourning. The choice should be obvious.
But not all believe. And so not all mourn. And so not all will take up God’s offer of salvation here and now. That’s why Jesus says blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted. And woe to you who won’t mourn, but laugh now instead, for you will mourn and weep. And so my friends, this leads me to the gospel call right now. Believe in Christ. Believe in what he says about us, and this world, and the coming judgment. Mourn and wail and weep over your sin and the sin of this world. Mourn over your inability to save yourself. And come to Christ as a beggar, pleading with him to save you by his grace. Pray to him that his sacrifice would be counted on your behalf. And if you truly do this, know that you are saved. Be comforted even now with that proclamation. That’s why we have the formal assurance of God’s pardon each Sunday during the service. It’s to comfort you who are in Christ.
So then, I’d like to end this message with some final application to beware of some false thinking about mourning that you might find in church settings. These can be common temptations for us in the church, and we should be on guard against them. And so one false attitude toward mourning looks at your sin and mourns over it because you think you have to live relatively righteously in order to really be right before God. You don’t set God’s perfect standard before you, but you have some lower standard that is relatively better than most people. When you generally keep that lower standard, you feel happy, and think you are right before God. When you don’t, you mourn, because you think you’ve fallen out of favor with God, and maybe even fear if you are truly saved. On paper you might give lip service that you are saved by grace, but in practice you don’t really act or think like that. In reality, you judge yourself by some lesser standard and when you keep it you rejoice and when you don’t you mourn. But frankly that just sounds like moralism to me, and that’s not what we’re talking about today.
That being said, the opposite attitude toward this is to not be affected by your sin at all anymore once you claim to become a Christian. You did some initial “mourning” when you first became a Christian, you asked God to save you, and now you live basically however you like. You really don’t think twice about your sin. Oh, you might think once about your sins. You might acknowledge them on paper as wrong. But you don’t really look to turn from them; not really. You certainly don’t mourn over them. You tell yourself Christ has comforted you, and tell yourself that so you don’t feel guilty because you really aren’t living of life of repentance. But that’s not what we’re talking about either. The real Christian looks at their ongoing sin. They really do weep and mourn over it. They continue to acknowledge they don’t deserve to be in Christ’s kingdom. They keep trusting in Christ for forgiveness. They do find immediate comfort. But they also still do truly mourn over those sins that are in their life still. Their never content with the remaining sin. They recognize this ongoing battle within them of the old man versus the new man. That’s Christianity. And you are blessed in that state, Jesus says.
A few other bad views on mourning to be aware of, that are especially tempting in the church: We can “mourn” by sharing how bad we are with each other, and it can quickly devolve into a pride thing. Look at how bad of a sinner I am, is still drawing the focus on yourself. At the same time, we need to be able to truly confess our sins and mourn together over them, and then comfort each other in Christ. But it needs to be a humble and genuine thing, not a pride thing.
Another danger is we “mourn” over our hardships, but really are just complaining. Maybe we turn it into a prayer request. To be sure, it’s appropriate to truly mourn in our troubles, and do that with your Christian brothers. The Bible even tells us to mourn with those who mourn. But may it be genuine mourning, and not complaining which is actually just blaming God.
Another danger that us Calvinists need to beware of is to make sure we don’t fall into some false hyper-Calvinist way of thinking that “mourns” over our sin but really is blaming God for it. A hyper-Calvinist might say something like, “I sure hate this sin in me, but I’ll have to struggle with it until God gives me the grace to overcome it.” That might sound holy and Calvinistic, but it’s actually not. It’s actually just blaming God, and it’s not biblical thinking or even Calvinistic at all.
So then, let us by the grace of God truly mourn over our sin. As Calvinists, we know that God grants us the new heart that really does begin to mourn over our sin. As we preach on this mourning, we thank God for how he has worked this in our hearts. That we really do recognize and mourn over our sin. But let us then also recognize that we still don’t mourn enough over our sin. That this is something to seek God to grow us in more too. That the Spirit of Christ that weeps over sin, so much that he bore our sorrows even to the cross, that this Spirit would grow us all the more in mourning over our sin. And as we see ourselves mourning in this way, look to Christ and know his comfort. Know that he extends to you this blessing. Blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.