Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This is our first such series here at Servants of Grace through an extended biblical passage and is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- Dave opened the series by looking at Matthew 5:1-3.
- Today Dave explores Matthew 5:4.
The first beatitude leads to the second: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This means that Jesus blesses those who mourn over their weakness and sinfulness. Taken literally, “Blessed are those who mourn” is almost contradictory. How can Jesus say mourners are happy? Jesus does not bless all mourning; He blesses the mourning that coheres with Kingdom values. There are kinds of mourning that God does not bless: criminals mourn their arrest; corrupt politicians mourn their loss of power. God does not promise to comfort everyone who mourns for every reason.
But God does promise to bless those who mourn over the right things. There is godly mourning over sin. After Paul rebuked the Corinthians for certain sins, he said that he regretted hurting them, “yet now I am happy … because your sorrow led you to repentance.… Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:9–10). This suggests the types of mourning that the Lord does bless:
- He blesses when disciples mourn over their own sin(s).
- He blesses when disciples mourn over the sins of their brothers and sisters in the church.
- He blesses when disciples mourn over sins that pervade society. Amos mourned over injustice and oppression. God will not avert his wrath against the sin of Israel, he said, for “they trample on the heads of the poor … and deny justice to the oppressed” (Amos 2:6–7).
- He blesses when disciples mourn indifference to the gospel. Jesus mourned, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37–38; cf. Rom. 9:1–5).
Steve Garvey, a former baseball star for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, unintentionally showed how important it is to mourn. When he was a player, the media called him “Mr. Clean.” But his teammates called him “Mr. Phony,” and eventually all Los Angeles knew why. Garvey divorced his wife (with whom he had two children) and became engaged to a second woman, who claimed to be pregnant by him. Just before the wedding day, however, Garvey married a third woman. When that became public, a fourth woman asserted that Garvey had fathered a child recently born to her. One commentator reported the conclusion this way:
Surprisingly, Garvey did not deny either woman’s claim. (He acted, shall we say, more like a padre than a dodger.) Indeed, he said, “If the children are mine, I’ll live up to my moral obligations, which I feel strongly about because I am a Christian.” In a television interview, when asked why he did not seem embarrassed or disturbed by all these affairs, Garvey said that God has a purpose in everything that happens to us.
Garvey’s fatalistic shrug toward his sin shows that he knew not how to mourn. Both his sin and his indifference brought shame to the name of Christ.
David, by contrast, knew how to mourn. He said, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (Ps. 119:136). James also knew that sinners need to mourn: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8–10). Such mourning is a blessing, for it leads disciples away from sin. It is far better to mourn over sin than to be indifferent to it.
Jesus says mourners will be comforted. That is, God will comfort those who mourn correctly. First, He forgives our personal sins, if we repent of them. Second, He cleanses us from sin. He begins now, and he finishes when we meet him. Finally, He will cleanse His world at Christ’s return, and we will rejoice with him.
When we learn to mourn we eliminate hindrances, conceit, stop being presumptuous, and stop procrastinating by looking to the Cross, studying God’s Word and start praying regularly.
The first step eliminating hindrances requires removing the hindrances that keep us us from mourning, the things that make us content with ourselves, that make us resist God’s Spirit and question His Word, and that harden our hearts. A stony heart does not mourn. It is insensitive to God, and His plow of grace cannot break it up. It only stores up wrath till the day of His wrath.
Love of sin is the primary hindrance to mourning. Holding on to sin will freeze and petrify a heart. Despair hinders mourning because despair is giving up on God, refusing to believe that He can save and help. Despair is putting ourselves outside of God’s grace. Jeremiah 18:12, “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” The one who despairs believes he is destined to sin. Because he believes God has given up on him, he gives up on God. Despair excuses sin by choosing to believe that there is no choice. Despair hides God’s mercy behind a self-made cloud of doubt.
Another hindrance is conceit, which tries to hide the sin itself, choosing to believe that there is nothing over which to mourn. It is the spiritual counterpart of a doctor treating a cancer as if it were a cold. If it was necessary for Jesus Christ to shed His blood on the cross to save us from our sin, our sin must be great indeed!
Presumption hinders mourning because it is a form of pride. It recognizes the need for grace, but not much grace. It is satisfied with cheap grace, expecting God to forgive little because it sees little to be forgiven. Sins are bad but not bad enough to be confessed, repented of, and forsaken. Yet the Lord declared through Isaiah in Isaiah 55:7, ” let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
No pardon is offered to the unrepentant, presumptuous person who refuses to forsake his sin. The gospel that teachers otherwise has always been popular, as it clearly is in our own day, but it is a false gospel, a different gospel, a distortion, and contradiction of the gospel of Scripture.
Procrastination hinders godly mourning simply by putting it off. It says, “One of these days, when things are just right, I’ll take a hard look at my sins, confess them, and ask God’s forgiveness and cleaning.” But procrastination is foolish and dangerous because James 4:14 says, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” The sooner the disease of sin is dealt with the sooner comfort will come. If it is not dealt with, we have no assurance that comfort will come, because we have no assurance we will have time to confess it later.
The most important step we can take in getting rid of hindrances to mourning, whatever they are, is to look at the holiness of God and the great sacrifice of sin-bearing at the cross. If seeing Christ die for our sins does not thaw a cold heart or break up a hardened heart, it is beyond melting or breaking. In her poem “Good Friday, “Christina Rossetti gives these moving lines:
Am I a stone and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.
Yet give not oe’r
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
The second step toward godly mourning is to study sin in Scripture, to learn what an evil and repulsive thing it is to God and what a destructive and damaging thing it is to us. We should learn from David to keep our sin ever before us (Psalm 51:3) and from Isaiah to say, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5). We should learn from Peter to say, “I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8) and from Paul to confess that we are the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). As we hear those great men of God talking bout their sin, we are forced to face the reality and the depth of our own.
Sin tramples on God’s laws, makes light of His love, grieves His Spirit, spurns His forgiveness and blessing, and in every way resists His grace. Sin makes us weak and makes us impure. It robes us of comfort and, much more importantly, robs God of glory.
The third step toward godly mourning is to pray for contriteness of heart, which only God can give and which He never refuses to give those who ask. It must always be recognized that humility depends on the working of the Lord. The way to godly mourning does not lie in pre-salvation human works, but in God’s saving grace.
Knowing whether or not we have godly mourning is not difficult. First, we need to ask ourselves if we are sensitive to sin. If we laugh at it, take it lightly, or enjoy it, we can be sure we are not mourning over it and are outside the sphere of God’s blessing.
The mock righteousness of hypocrites who make effort to appear holy on the outside (Matthew 6:1-18) has no sensitivity to sin is only sensitive to personal prestige and reputation. Nor does the mock gratitude of those who think they are better than other people (Luke 18:11). Saul regretted that he had disobeyed the Lord by not slaying King Agag and by sparring the best of the Amalekite animals. But he was not repentant; he did not mourn over his sin. He instead tried to excuse his actions by claiming that the animals were spared so that they could be sacrificed to God and that the people made him do what he did. He twice admitted that he had sinned, and even asked Samuel for pardon. But his real concern was not for the Lord’s honor but for his own. 1 Samuel 15:30, “Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.”” Saul had ungodly regret, not godly mourning.
The godly mourner will have true sorrow for his sins. His first concern is for the harm his sin does to God’s glory, not the harm its exposure might bring to his own reputation or welfare.
If our mourning is godly we will grieve for the sins of fellow believers and for the sins of the world. We will cry with the Psalmist in Psalm 119:136, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.“ We will wish with Jeremiah that our hearts were fountains of water that we could have enough tears for weeping (Jer. 9:1; Lamentations 1:16). With Ezekiel we will search out faithful believers “who sigh and groan overall the abominations which are being committed” around us (Ezek. 9:4; Psalm 69:9). We will look out over the community where we live and weep, as Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept (Luke 19:41.
The final way to determine if we have genuine mourning over sin is to check our sense of God’s forgiveness. Have we experienced the release and freedom of knowing our sins are forgiven? Do we have His peace and joy in our life? Can we point to true happiness He has given in response to our mourning? Do we have the divine comfort He promises to those who have forgiven, cleansed, and purified lives?
Psalm 126:5-6, “The godly mourners “Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.”