Let’s move on this week to the second blessing. Last week Jesus explained to us how and why the poor of spirit are blessed. This week he is explaining why it is a blessing to mourn.
Verse Four – “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
Many people when they read this verse just speed on past it without stopping. Those who pause long enough to notice it may conclude that Jesus is saying that when you are sad he will console you and bring comfort. Others react to the idea of mourning, as if because all Christians who die go straight to heaven we shouldn’t mourn. If you mourn, they say, it shows there is something wrong with you.
In fact, denying genuine emotion is cruel, cold-hearted, repressive and unreal. Jesus wept tears on several occasions, such as when his friend Lazarus died.
This is a demonstration of love and humanity. And this beatitude is a promise that in times of deep sorrow God will comfort us now and in the future.
But there are two other meanings that we can consider, and they are both concerned with sorrow over sin rather than death.
In Matthew chapter 23 Jesus is standing on a hill and looking at Jerusalem. He cries over the people’s hypocrisy and love of power, and he grieves at there lostness.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38)
This is mourning for the sins of others.
While his disciples were amazed by the buildings of the temple, Jesus mourned the spiritual barrenness of the ‘City of God’. When they said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones.” Jesus said, “But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
Just because he mourned for the sins of others did not mean Jesus walked around being miserable all the time. Far from it. He enjoyed being with others and eating with them. In fact, whereas John the Baptist was condemned for being too ascetic and fasting all the time, Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and glutton because he took pleasure in meals and parties.
What we see in Jesus is that although he wasn’t a killjoy, he wasn’t devoted to the superficial pleasures in life. Jesus never took his eyes off reality and the basic need to always be close to God.
When we mourn in this way for the world around us, we do it not as Jesus did as a sinless person. We mourn as Nehemiah did, as one of the sinners. We confess both our sins and the sins of the nation. He said, “I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly.” (Nehemiah 1:6)
Even as those around us party their lives away, we feel sorrow that they have forgotten justice, repentance and the Way of Jesus. We mourn over the sins of others.
But deeper and more powerful is our mourning over our own sins.
Nehemiah led the people of Israel in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. When the task was complete they planned a huge celebration. Nehemiah chapter 8 tells us what happened.
On 8 October, Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly. From early morning until noon he read it aloud. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law.
The leaders encouraged them to celebrate, saying “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” But the sound of weeping spread as all the people were overwhelmed with the reality of their own sin. Instead of a party they had a day of fasting, confession and repentance.
There followed a fresh start, and then they celebrated. The mourning was a required prelude to repentance and moral renewal.
The preacher Jonathan Edwards, born in Connecticut in 1703, lived during the Great Awakening. He recalls one time when he was at a church where a number of men were reluctantly standing at the very back, looking very bored and leaning on the columns.
As the sermon progressed they did not move but sank to the floor in tears, overcome by a realisation of their own sin. There is an important difference between these two types of mourning. We can mourn over the sins of others, but we cannot repent on behalf of other people.
When we mourn over our own sin we are led into a place where we can repent and make a new start. The mourning is a reaction to the discovery of how deep and dark are the pits of sin within ourselves. This is not misplaced guilt, it is not irrational or the result of failing to have strong enough positive feelings. It is true guilt for real sins.
The Bible is able to give us many insights into the nature of sin, and how dreadfully it affects our lives and the lives of those around us today and for all the days to come.
Jeremiah bewails how impossible it is to overcome sin – “Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.”
You are so accustomed to sin, it is so much part of your nature, you cannot get away. He says the human heart cannot be cured of this disease. Ezekiel says we have a heart of stone and we need a new heart of flesh from God. And in Romans 7 Paul says – “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”
In the depths of agony he laments – “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”
This is mourning for sin. This intense self-recrimination is not bad, it is a good thing as our eyes are opened to reality and we are led to repentance for our own sins.
The more clearly we see ourselves, the more likely we are to mourn over our sins. This is not an experience reserved for the especially wicked people, but is for even the best of us such as Saint Paul.
It is a valuable experience for every believer. It is to those who mourn over their own sins that Jesus is speaking the words of deepest comfort in this beatitude.
The first comfort is the blessing of having our sins forgiven through the grace of God. Out of love we totally don’t deserve, Jesus made a way for us to be reborn.
Secondly, we are liberated from our sinful nature. Thirdly, after Jesus left this earth, he sent Holy Spirit to come and live in us. To fill those places once filled with sin with his light instead. This life in us produces the fruit of the spirit, the result of a character that is being renewed.
To mourn is a blessing because it enables us to repent. If we want to experience the full blessing that is promised we need to discover what it really means to repent and mourn over the sin of our nations and our world. And to mourn deeply and intensely over our own sin.