Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
You have heard me preach enough sermons to know how they usually start. I like to lead with a funny or cute little story as a way to break the ice. Then we move to the text and I try to talk about what that text means for us today as well as on Tuesday or Friday. As we approach our text for this morning we need to take a different approach. There is no funny or cute story this morning, instead I want us to start this morning by looking at a passage I usually use when I am speaking at a funeral.
Solomon was an old man when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. In this book he included all of the hard lessons he had learned in this life. It’s striking to me that he would write in Ecclesiastes 7:2-3: It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
I thought it was appropriate to start with this reminder from Solomon today because we often forget the basic biblical principal; the act of mourning is important. We are told by our culture to chase entertainment and pursue pleasure at all costs. Most of our lives are spent avoiding sorrow and pain. Even when we get bad news on TV, the news casts often conclude with a funny story or one about puppies and kittens in an effort to make us smile. The mantra of many today is something like this: “Blessed are those who laugh their way through life.” Some of us will do almost anything to stifle our sadness and turn away from tears.
There is an old Arabic parable that I find to be helpful: All sunshine and no rain makes a desert. We need sunshine and rain if we want growth. In the same way that we need rain, we also need to experience sorrow.
When we read this passage at a funeral I always remind those in attendance that Solomon never says that mourning is more enjoyable than laughter, he says mourning is better. It’s the same sentiment Jesus expressed in our text for this morning; the second beatitude found in Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.
It is helpful for me to be reminded from time to time that God is much more concerned with my character than He is with my temporary condition. This second Beatitude flows from the first one: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” because spiritual bankruptcy should always lead to spiritual brokenness. John Stott wrote, It is one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it; it is another to grieve and to mourn over it…confession is one thing, contrition is another.
I hope you remember that we can trade the word blessed for happy, but I’m not sure that is very helpful at face value. Happy are those who cry makes about as much sense as full are the ones who refuse to eat. Or tired are those who got a good night’s sleep.
Remember the purpose of the beatitudes is to set the ground work for what it takes to live a life of peace and true joy. If it sounds different from the fake happiness the world offers that’s probably because Jesus is offering true heavenly joy. If we are going to find true happiness then we have to first learn how to cry.
There is a big difference between worldly mourning and spiritual mourning. Don’t get seduced by the idea that mourning is sorrow because things aren’t going our way or because we are in distress. My car breaks down, or my kid gets sick in the middle of the mall, or it starts to rain right in the middle of the family reunion and we tend to act like our world is falling apart. Just because someone changed the schedule and now you have to work on Saturday does not mean that you understand the suffering of Job.
Jesus never guaranteed we would be comforted when things don’t go our way. The truth, we all know by now, is life here on this earth is far from perfect. If you’ve ever lost someone you love due to divorce or death you know comfort is hard to come by. When you have financial hardships, or someone disappoints or hurts you, your heart aches, and you may mourn, but that is not the mourning Jesus is talking about here.
I read an article last week that said we must remember that Jesus says Blessed are they that mourn, not blessed are they that moan. Regardless what I may have thought or heard or even read in a commentary, this is not the Jesus blesses the complainers passage. Maybe you have heard the old proverb, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Maybe that wives tale was used to shape your character. But being able to complain the loudest or the most is not a spiritual virtue.
A quick read through the Old Testament will give you an understanding of how much God likes grumblers. Just ask any of the Israelites who had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years what God thinks of complainers. In the New Testament Paul writes: do everything without complaining or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)
According to William Barclay the word Jesus uses here is the strongest word for sorrow they had in the Greek language. Mourning is a deep, sorrow that pierces the heart. He writes, “This sorrow is no gentle, sentimental, twilight sadness; it is a sorrow which is poignant, intense. The real meaning has to do with sorrow for sin. Jesus is saying here, ‘Blessed is the man who is moved to bitter sorrow at the realization of his own sin.’”
The Jeremy Houck translation of the second beatitude would be happy is the person who has a deep sorrow for their sin. That’s why sorrow is connected with comfort. Our journey with Christ began because we were dissatisfied with what the world has to offer. We started this series with the thought the beatitudes are like steps up a mountain trying to get us closer to the pentacle of living the life like Jesus, the one we were created to live.
When we addressed the first commandment I said we have to be poor in spirit, or humble enough to admit we don’t have it all together and we need someone to put it together for us. Once we have made that first step then we are at a place in our lives where we can be genuinely sorry or mournful about our condition.
Paul takes this beatitude and expands on the idea in 2 Corinthians 7 as he talks about the two different types of sorrow. Now I am glad—not because it caused you grief but because you were moved to make a permanent change that can happen only with the realization that your actions have gone against God—I’m glad to know you suffered no long- term loss because of what we did. Now this type of deep sorrow, godly sorrow, is not so much about regret; but it is about producing a change of mind and behavior that ultimately leads to salvation. But the other type of sorrow, worldly sorrow, often is fleeting and only brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 The Voice)
Paul says there are two types of mourning: first a Godly sorrow or mourning that leads to repentance, and then a worldly sorrow or a grief that keeps you from repentance and brings death. Paul is reminding the Christians in Corinth, and the Christians in Mid County, there is a right way to mourn over your sin and a wrong way. Maybe it would be helpful if we took some time this morning to look at a couple of differences between Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow:
First we see that Godly sorrow is remorseful over sin. Worldly sorrow only regrets being caught.
There is a difference between sorrow that comes from walking a long time with Christ and a worldly, immature sorrow. Immature people don’t get upset they have sinned as much as they get upset they were found out.
If you have ever raised kids or if you ever were a kid you are familiar with immature sorrow. A kid get’s caught with their hand in the cookie jar after being told no cookies until after supper. So they look at you and say they are sorry they were in the cookie jar, but since they are already holding the cookie, then they should be able to eat it, right?
Or in our churches there are times when someone will come forward at the invitation because they were arrested and their name was in the paper. The 20 times before when they exhibited the same behavior did not illicit repentance. They sought repentance after they embarrassed their family or the church and their name was in the paper.
While we may feel remorse, it is the remorse over being caught not because we have broken the heart of God. My granddaddy would tell me, If you keep doing it then you were not sorry for what you did, you were sorry you weren't smart enough to do it and not get caught. There is something to his logic.
Secondly we see that Godly sorrow is evidenced by a humble attitude. Worldly sorrow continues to display a resentful spirit.
If a person is really sorry for what they have done then they can admit it and say, I’ve sinned and I deserve the consequences. But people who have worldly sorrow usually say things like, Who are you to judge me? There’s no way I’d go back to that Church, not after what they said.
Some times instead of being mournful for our choices we would rather play the blame game. We are not responsible for anything, it’s not my fault. I am in trouble because of the environment, my parents, I came from a dysfunctional family, my friends talked me into it, or the devil made me do it. It is everyone’s fault but mine.
Folks have been playing the blame game ever since Genesis 3. Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and then turned and gave the fruit to Adam who also ate it. When God shows up in the garden He asks Adam what he had done. Not being the most loving and responsible husband, Adam immediately blamed God and Eve. You gave this woman to me and she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.
Instead of striking Adam dead right there on the spot, God turns to Eve and asks her, What have you done? Eve, following Adam’s lead blamed the snake, The snake tricked me, so I ate the fruit. But nowhere in the text do we see that the snake forced Eve to eat the fruit. He didn’t force her to pick it, take a bite, chew, and swallow. He suggested it, and she did everything else on her own. Neither God nor Eve forced Adam to eat the fruit, she offered it and he did what he wanted to do. It was their choice, and one that they made.
When we have Godly sorrow we can see what our sin is and what it does to us and those around us. We quit blaming everyone and every thing else for our decisions and take responsibility for our choices.
Thirdly we see that Godly sorrow results in a willingness to change. Worldly sorrow results in hanging on to the sin.
Worldly sorrow sees the sin as precious. You know in your heart that it is wrong but you find yourself desperately trying to figure out some fool proof way to keep it close to you. You have become deceived into thinking you can keep it under control. And every day you become enslaved a little more and you never realize it. Or worse we claim it as our pet little sin and we expect folks to excuse our behavior because after all I am Irish, or German, or Cajun, or whatever.
God desperately wants to free us of our sin. But before that can happen we must be willing to let go of the trappings this world offers. We need to stop hanging on to what we think is precious and be willing to change. Transformation is not easy, but there is nothing about being a disciple of Christ that’s easy. Change is difficult, change means we recognize we were wrong and there is a better way. That’s why mourning can only come to those who are poor in spirit.
Finally Godly sorrow brings repentance. Worldly sorrow brings death.
If you want to find true comfort then you must understand what true repentance is. We have talked before about how the Greeks used to have word pictures to describe their words. Well the word for repentance also has a word picture associated with it. Repentance was not a religious word, but a word that was used for travel in the first century.
Imagine you were traveling towards a particular destination but after a little while you realize your a little lost because you took a short cut that didn’t work out. So you ask someone for directions and that person tells you that you were headed in the wrong direction. That person would say you needed to repent and go back this way. Repentance is a change of direction. Paul says clearly that Godly sorrow brings repentance, a change of direction, a change of lifestyle that leads to salvation. The key to understanding what Jesus means by mourning is to understand your need for a change of heart. Without a change of heart, you will never change your behavior.
A life that refuses to turn around and change direction is a life headed towards death. A life that is only sorry that they got caught is a life that is heading towards death. A life that wants to blame everyone else for their sins is a life that is headed towards death. A life that is trying to find ways to justify their sin is a life that is headed towards death.
Christ is our Messiah and Savior. He knows who we are and what we have done and He chooses to love us anyway. That is a great comfort to me. It’s difficult to stand up here week after week knowing how imperfect I am. It’s difficult to talk about love when I am not always loving, to talk about forgiveness when I don’t always forgive, to talk about acceptance when I don’t always accept.
The truth of my life is that I am ashamed of some things I have done in my past. I have often sinned and fallen short of what God desires for me to be. But I rejoice and have the ability to stand before you today not because of my perfection, but because I have taken my sins to God and He has forgiven me. My value is not found in my perfection, but in God’s forgiveness. I deeply depend on the goodness of God for my salvation.
We are not a perfect church. In the five years I have been with you, we have made mistakes. We have hurt people, been hateful, arrogant, unloving, and cowardly. And that’s not you, that’s me and us. But everyday, we are greeted by a loving God who calls us to repentance. We are greeted by a Savior who loved us enough to offer us forgiveness and hope in the midst of our brokenness. And we are greeted by the Holy Spirit who desires to come into our lives and help us find true peace.
This morning, God is calling you to true repentance, true sorrow by admitting your brokenness and allowing God to lift your burden of sin and cover you with the shed blood of Jesus Christ.