This post is the 3rd in the series of posts on the Beatitudes—a section that spans from Matthew 5:3-12. In this section, the Lord Jesus describes 8 attitudes that should be present in the life of everyone who claims to be his follower. In this post, we will be looking at the second attitude described in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
An advertising sign put up by a bar on a highway billboard that’s on my way to work has these words, “Happy hour every hour!” That statement truly captures the essence of what people all over the world pursue. Repeatedly, we are told that life is all about having a good time. What’s in it for me? Will this make me happy? Ian Duguid rightly captures this prevailing mindset of the world through these words: “Most people would be more than content to have this epitaph written on their grave: He had a happy life” [Hero of Heroes: Seeing Christ in the Beatitudes].
Yet, Jesus says this in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Totally counterculture! Followers of Jesus march to a different drumbeat. As Don Carson rightly says, “The world does not like mourners; mourners are wet blankets.” Yet Jesus says only mourners know God’s blessing. They alone receive God’s approval or favor.
Right at the outset, let me assure you this does NOT mean that Christians should never laugh or be joyful. Many verses do command us to be joyful [Phil 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16]. The key is to understand that even the joy we experience must not be apart from an attitude of mourning.
The word “mourn” Jesus uses here is the strongest word in the Greek language to describe intense grief—grief from deep within. For example, this word was used to describe the misery of the disciples when Jesus died [Mk 16:10]. And Jesus, by using that word, teaches us that we cannot soften the meaning of this word.
And it’s also in the present tense, thus rendering the verse as, “Blessed are those who are continually mourning.” So, it’s clear Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of mourning. But what kind of mourning is he describing here? Before we answer that question, let’s see what kind of mourning he is NOT describing here.
What this mourning is not.
This mourning is not a reference to the sorrow when a loved one dies or when a person doesn’t get what they want [e.g., 2 Sam 13:2; 1 Kgs 21:4]. Neither does it refer to the sorrow when life becomes hard due to various challenges of daily living. And finally, it’s not a reference to going around with a long face that lacks joy.
You see, both believers and unbelievers experience the kinds of mourning mentioned above. However, the mourning that Jesus describes in the Beatitudes is an attitude only believers—only his faithful followers can display.
What this mourning is.
The mourning Jesus describes here is mourning over sin. Only believers can display such an attitude as a lifestyle. Just as the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” [Matt 5:3], refers to spiritual poverty rather than material poverty. The mourning Jesus describes here is spiritual mourning—mourning over sin from deep within the heart—intense mourning!
You see, poverty of spirit, the 1st beatitude, describes the intellectual side of our understanding of sin. And mourning, the 2nd beatitude, describes the emotional side of our understanding of sin. They both go together. When a person undergoes conviction of sin and realizes they are spiritually bankrupt [i.e., poverty of spirit], there is remorse for it as well [i.e., mourning for sin]. “Sin must always have tears,” said one puritan. Mourning over sin should not be present only at conversion, but it should be present continually since we sin constantly.
The words of James 4:9 also support this truth, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Interestingly the word “mourn” in this verse is the same Greek word that Jesus uses in Matthew 5:4. And the immediate context of James also makes it clear the mourning is spiritual mourning—mourning for sin.
Now the Bible in 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes two kinds of mourning or sorrow over sin—one is godly mourning, and the other is worldly mourning: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Godly mourning [or sorrow] is God-centered and drives one back to God in repentance from sin. Worldly mourning is self-centered and does not drive one back to God.
The classic example would be that of Peter and Judas. Both mourned for betraying Jesus. Peter’s mourning led him back to Christ—God-centered mourning. Judas’s mourning didn’t drive him to Christ because it was self-centered and worldly mourning! In this beatitude, Jesus calls for God-centered mourning—one that will drive us in repentance back to God and back to Christ for comfort!
The shallowness of our mourning.
Unfortunately, the mourning of many professing Christians resembles worldly mourning. The mourning often revolves around not having desires met, not being popular, not climbing the corporate ladder, etc. Let’s think for a moment.
When was the last time we grieved about our pride, our selfishness, our jockeying for a higher position, our subtle attempts to gain praise from others, our cutting words to others? When was the last time we felt an intense pain for grieving a holy God for violating his commands? When was the last time we shed tears for our sins?
A flippant youth asked a preacher, “You say that unsaved people carry a weight of sin. I feel nothing. How heavy is sin? Is it ten pounds? Eighty pounds.” The preacher replied by asking the youth, “If you laid a four-hundred-pound weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?” The youth replied, “It would feel nothing because it is dead.”
The preacher concluded, “That spirit, too, is indeed dead which feels no load of sin or is indifferent to its burden and flippant about its presence.”
You see, believers, on the other hand, are those who are no longer spiritually dead. They have been made alive by the Spirit [Eph 2:4-5]. They are born again. And one clear proof of the new birth is to feel the weight of sin! Where there is no feeling of the weight of sin, where there is no mourning, the legitimate question to ask is this: “Did the new birth really occur?”
Often, we convince ourselves that since we are saved by grace, we don’t need to weep over our sins. We confess our sins, claim the forgiveness that Jesus offers, and move on. We just want to get it over quickly. Or, in some cases, we don’t want to give up our sins. We just want to hold on to it for just a little longer. So, we stay away from mourning over it. Because mourning means we have to give up! And when we do mourn, often it’s for those sins that have lost their appeal to us!
But Jesus clearly says those who are his followers grieve deeply over all their sins. Even the most minor sin bothers them! They cry for deliverance from it. Not a cry of hopeless despair for sure, but an intense cry that the indwelling Holy Spirit prompts—that not only grieves over the act but also wants deliverance.
John Stott rightly states, “Some Christians seem to imagine that, especially if they are filled with the Spirit, they must wear a perpetual grin on their face and be continually boisterous and bubbly. How unbiblical can one become?” According to the Bible, he’s right because this kind of lighthearted attitude toward sin is not what we see as the response of godly people.
David was a man who exhibited such a response when he sinned. Notice his words: “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” [Psa 38:4]. “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin” [Psa 38:18]. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” [Psa 51:3]. The world would say, “David, what a negative attitude. That’s not the recipe for happiness!” Yet, God says, there is a godly man—a man after my own heart [Acts 13:22]. So, you see, mourning over one’s sin is consistent with godliness.
Mourning over sins of others.
Now the Bible not only calls believers to mourn for their sins, but it also calls them to mourn for the sins of others. To the proud Corinthian church that tolerated sexual immorality, Paul rebukes their failure to mourn for the sins of others in this way: “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning?” [1 Corinthians 5:1-2].
You see, the world either condemns or excuses the sins of others. But we are to first and foremost grieve for the sins of others. That was the pattern of the believers as seen in the Scriptures [see Psalm 119:136; Jeremiah 13:17; Phil 3:18].
Even Jesus, the One who spoke this beatitude, mourned for the sins of others. Luke 19:41 says, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” He wept over the city whose very residents would commit the great sin of killing him in just a few days! No wonder the Bible describes Jesus as a man of sorrows [or suffering] [Isa 53:3]. A man of sorrows in the sense that the sins of others bothered him. He intensely mourned over the sins of others—not his own, because he “committed no sin” [1 Pet 2:22].
In light of that, how can we, his followers, not be affected by the sins of people around us, including fellow believers’ sins? How can we just be laughing away our lives when we see the rampant sin around us?
Many have bought the lie that the Christian life is all smiles. Yes, God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” [1 Tim 6:17]. And Solomon does say that a “cheerful heart is good medicine” [Prov 17:22]. But is life only about enjoying the good things? Is it all about trying to do everything to avoid any sadness? Is it all about entertaining ourselves to the point of numbing any grief? If we are honest with ourselves, are we not guilty of overdosing on the pleasures of this life?
It’s foolish and spiritually dangerous to live such a kind of life. Let’s hear the wise words of Solomon who warns us against the mad pursuit of a pleasure-dominated lifestyle, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure” [Ecc 7:2-4].
Solomon says, pursue mourning. Jesus says, pursue mourning. These are straightforward words designed to shake us out of the web of deceit we have woven over our hearts. What we cry over and what we laugh about reveals the true condition of our hearts. And if we are honest with ourselves, are we not guilty of laughing over the things we should be weeping over and weeping over the things we should be laughing at?
Jesus’s words are clear: God blesses only those who continually mourn over their sins and the sins of others. God approves only such people.
The promise of comfort.
And the reward of pursuing an attitude of mourning? Comfort! Look at the last part of Matthew 5:4, “They will be comforted.” They and they alone will be comforted—in this present life and in all fulness in the future when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom when God will wipe away all our tears. That’s Jesus’s promise.
The word “comforted” is from the familiar word, “parakaleo,” a word that means someone who comes alongside to comfort, encourage and strengthen. God is called the “God of all comfort” [2 Cor 1:3]. Jesus is called a comforter [1 John 2:1] though the same word is also translated as Advocate. The Holy Spirit is also called the comforter, encourager, or strengthener [John 14:16].
The Father and the Son, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, provide comfort and encouragement for us as we mourn over sin—directly through our personal reading of the Scriptures, through the hearing of a sermon, and even through the fellowship of other believers.
David had such confidence that God will comfort mourning hearts, which led him to say, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18 [see also Psalm 51:17]! When we mourn over sins and take it to Christ in true repentance, the Holy Spirit assures us that our sins are forgiven. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
So, there is comfort which leads to joy and happiness in this life and the fullest experience of that comfort forever in the coming kingdom. Revelation 21:4 says in the future, God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Yes, this indeed is the future that awaits all who pursue a lifestyle of mourning for sin—in the here and now!
But if you’d rather keep laughing through life now and shun at this idea of mourning, here are Jesus’s words from Luke 6:25, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” There is a coming reversal. Weep now for sin—comfort forever. Keep on laughing now about sin—Keep on weeping forever! I believe Jesus is very serious. His words here are not just for our information. They are for our transformation. We must make it our goal to pursue this kind of mourning.
So, how do we do it? How do we pursue a lifestyle of mourning over our sins and the sins of others? 2 suggestions in the form of 2 words that may be of help: Reflect and Run.
We must regularly take time to reflect on our spiritual condition. During those times, we must ask ourselves serious questions like these:
Why do I often think of sinful thoughts? Why do I react poorly when I don’t get what I want? Why do I respond in anger when someone provokes me? Why am I jealous when others prosper? Why did I pursue that lustful thought instead of turning away from it? Why am I judging others with such a self-righteous attitude? Why do I constantly compare myself with others? Why am I not content with what God has given me and complain so much? Why do I go to places where I should not go and see the things I should not see? Why do I use my mouth to hurt others?
We must put ourselves on the stand and cross-examine ourselves. We must deal with these issues with an honest heart. We must ask God to search our hearts [Psalm 139:23-24] and bring to light those sins that we might not even be aware of.
So, let’s take time to reflect on all the sins the Holy Spirit brings to our attention. The weight of our sins will produce genuine conviction. Then we will start to mourn over our sins—those very sins for which Jesus was spat upon, for which the whips tore his back, for which nails were driven into his hands, feet and for which the thorns were driven into his forehead.
We will then know what it is to genuinely cry out, “What a terrible sinner I am! It is not just that I sin, but I don’t even respond to sin as I should. My repentance is so shallow. “
And when we come to this point, here is suggestion # 2.
The purpose of the reflection is to run to Christ for comfort. To run into his welcoming arms—the very arms that will never refuse a mourning and repentant sinner. We don’t need to keep wallowing in misery. We can tell him we’ve sinned and ask him to cleanse us. And without hesitation, the compassionate Jesus will not only grant forgiveness but will also grant peace and comfort to our troubled souls.
A college freshman went to the dorm laundry room with his dirty clothes bundled into an old sweatshirt. But he was so embarrassed by how dirty his clothes were that he never opened the bundle. He merely pushed it into a washing machine, and when the machine stopped, pushed the pile into a dryer and finally took the still-unopened bundle back to his room. He discovered, of course, that the clothes had gotten wet and then dry but not clean.
God says, “Don’t keep your sins in a safe little bundle. I want to do a thorough cleansing in your life—all the dirty laundry of your life.”
Let’s never forget, “the blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. So, reflect and run. Those are the two things I suggest we all practice daily if we seek to live out this beatitude in our daily lives.
And lest we despair, Jesus kept this beatitude entirely on our behalf. So, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that we ought to perfectly display this attitude of mourning to gain acceptance with God or stay accepted by God. Instead, let us look at him as our model as we run this race—as the Holy Spirit works from the inside to change us to become more like Jesus [2 Cor 3:18].
The past is the past. Today is a new day. We can start again by believing and acting upon this great truth: Blessed indeed are those who mourn…over their own sins and the sins of others…for they, and they alone will be comforted!
Note: CLICK here for a sermon associated with this beatitude.