2. Blessed Are the Mourners (Matthew 5:4)Related Media
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4 (NET)
Application Question: In what ways are the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven different from the kingdoms of this earth, especially as seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)?
The second beatitude declares God’s blessing—God’s approval and joy—on the lives of those who mourn. It is paradoxical, as are many of the statements in the Beatitudes. Essentially, Christ says, “Happy are the sad.” For most, this is the exact opposite of what is logical. Usually, happiness is the avoidance of grief or things that bring pain.
It is important to remember that the Beatitudes are written in a style of writing called an “inclusio.” The first and the last beatitude end with the promise, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” This promise fits like two bookends around the Beatitudes, and tells us that each of these characteristics are in those who are part of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is the place of God’s rule. It exists not only in heaven, but also on the earth, where people obey and worship him (cf. Matt 6:10). Currently, on the earth, the kingdom exists in spiritual form, as Christ taught that the kingdom of heaven was in our midst (Lk 17:21). One day, it will literally come to the earth at Christ’s return. With that said, the kingdom of heaven is the opposite of the kingdom of this world in many ways. While the world says, “Blessed are the strong in spirit—the tough,” Christ’s kingdom says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”—those who recognize their weakness before God. While the world says, “Blessed are those who laugh,” Christ’s kingdom says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” In fact, Luke 6:25 says, “‘Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” While the world says, “Store up your riches on earth—pursue wealth,” Christ’s kingdom says, “Store up your riches in heaven” (Matt 6:20 paraphrase). The citizens of the kingdom are different from the people of this world.
These Beatitudes represent the character of the citizens of God’s kingdom and, at the same time, their aspirations. Only Christ perfectly models these characteristics, but if they are not in our hearts to the smallest degree, then we might not be part of God’s kingdom (cf. Matt 7:21-23).
In this study, we will consider the paradoxical statement, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Big Question: What does this beatitude mean and what are its applications for the Christian life?
God Blesses Mourners
Application Question: How can you reconcile Scriptures’ commands both to continually rejoice in the Lord and to mourn (Phil 4:4, James 4:8-10, cf. Gal 5:22, Matt 5:4)? How can joy and mourning co-exist?
The New Testament uses nine Greek words for mourning, and Christ uses the strongest of them all.1 It was used of someone mourning the death of a loved one.2 It is a present participle, and it means to “continually” mourn. There is a continuous state of mourning in the life of a true believer.
Again, this is paradoxical. Scripture commands the believer to “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 4:4) and teaches that joy is a fruit of walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:22). However, there should be a continual mourning alongside the believer’s joy that separates him or her from the world.
Interpretation Question: What type of mourning is Christ referring to?
1. It refers to mourning over personal sin.
Obviously, it doesn’t refer to mourning over bad circumstances or loss of something precious, since this type of mourning is common to the world as well. It refers to a mourning over personal sin. When people are born again, God changes their relationship to sin. They can’t enjoy it, as they once did, or live in it. First John 3:9-10 says,
Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.
When John refers to continuing in sin, he is not saying that Christians don’t sin any more. In 1 John 1:8, he said, “If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we claim to be without sin, the truth—referring to the Gospel—is not in us (cf. 1 John 5:13). We are not truly born again. The Gospel confronts us with our sin and our need for salvation. But when God saves us, he forgives us and changes our relationship to sin. The believer will fall and make mistakes, but the direction of his life is forever changed. He tries to live for God while, at times, stumbling along the way. To “not practice sin” means that the direction of a person’s life is still fulfilling his lusts instead of seeking to obey God.
Believers cannot continue in a lifestyle of sin because “God’s seed resides” in them; they have been “fathered by God” (1 John 3:9). “God’s seed” can be translated “God’s nature.”3 At salvation, a believer receives God’s nature which exerts a strong influence on a believer toward holiness. It is so radically transforming that a true believer cannot continue in a life of sin. Similarly, in Galatians 5:17, Paul describes how God’s Spirit works through our new nature to battle against our flesh—creating a spiritual war in each believer. As a believer walks in the Spirit, he will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:16). In addition, since being “fathered by God” hinders a believer from continuing in sin, John may also have in mind the reality of God’s discipline on his children. Hebrews 12:5-6 and 8 says:
“My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”… But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons.
God disciplines his children through the correction of his Word (v. 5); if the believer doesn’t respond, God may chasten or spank through storms and trials (v. 6). If the believer continues to persist in sin, God may even take the believer home through an early death. James 5:20 and 1 John 5:16, for example, talk about a sin unto death. We saw this in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira, who lied about their offering and were struck down by the Lord. Also, in 1 Corinthians 11, some believers died as a discipline for abusing the Lord’s Supper. Believers cannot go on sinning because they have been born again—God’s nature indwells them, and as a child of God, the Lord lovingly disciplines them. God, like any human father, is fully invested in the holiness of his children. He will not let them live in continuous rebellion.
Therefore, at salvation, a true believer’s life will change. John says, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God” (1 John 3:10).
Because of God’s nature and his discipline, a true child of God continually mourns over sin. Consider David’s experience when he didn’t initially repent of sin:
When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah) Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.” And then you forgave my sins. (Selah)
When David continued in sin, he was miserable. God’s hand was heavy upon him—he was physically sick and maybe even depressed, until he acknowledged his sin and repented. This is true of every believer. Though we may try to live in sin, we can’t. For the genuine believer, it will ultimately lead to mourning. Kent Hughes adds: “It is significant that the first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses states that the entire life is to be one of continuous repentance and contrition. It was this attitude which caused the apostle Paul to affirm, well along into his Christian life, that he was the chief of sinners (l Timothy 1:15).”4
The opposite of mourning is rejoicing or laughter. And this is exactly what we often see in the world. Instead of mourning over sin, they rejoice in it. They laugh about it, as they share stories in the locker rooms. They enjoy it through TV and popular music. They celebrate and promote it, as they parade through the streets. Where the world rejoices, the believer mourns. One of the fruits of true salvation is a mourning over sin. If our profession of Christ has not changed our relationship to sin, then it is likely that our profession has not changed our eternal destiny.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced personal mourning over sin or even God’s discipline?
2. It refers to mourning over the sins of others.
A true believer does not only mourn personal sin, he also mourns the sins of others. A great example of this is Isaiah. When he saw a vision of God’s glory in Isaiah 6:5 (NIV), he said, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” He mourned over his own sin and that of his people. In addition, David said this in Psalm 119:136, “Tears stream down from my eyes, because people do not keep your law.” We should mourn over injustice, corruption, sexual immorality, homosexuality, trafficking, the brokenness of families, the sad state of the church, etc. It is this continual mourning that provokes believers to pursue reform.
Sadly, the church often does not mourn, and therefore doesn’t seek to be agents of reformation. Instead of mourning over sin, we’re either apathetic towards it—where we become spiritually numb, and it doesn’t bother us—or worse, we laugh at sin, like the world, and sometimes even enjoy it. We watch it on TV and listen to it on the radio. Satan has a wise strategy. He knows that if he can tempt us to laugh at sin, soon it will lead to acceptance and participation. And that is exactly what has happened to God’s people. Consider God’s neglected command to Israel to mourn in Isaiah 22:12-13:
At that time the sovereign master, the Lord who commands armies, called for weeping and mourning, for shaved heads and sackcloth. But look, there is outright celebration! You say, “Kill the ox and slaughter the sheep, eat meat and drink wine. Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
Unfortunately, this is often true of the church—laughing, joking, and celebrating instead of mourning. In James 4:8-10, God also commanded compromising Christians to mourn. James writes,
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and make your hearts pure, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and weep. Turn your laughter into mourning and your joy into despair. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
Jesus Christ the Mourner
In the OT, Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, as he constantly wept over Israel’s sins. In Jeremiah 9:1, he said: “I wish that my head were a well full of water and my eyes were a fountain full of tears! If they were, I could cry day and night for those of my dear people who have been killed.” In the NT, Christ is compared to Jeremiah; some actually thought he was a resurrected Jeremiah (Matt 16:14). To that end, Christ is never recorded in the Gospels laughing, though he probably did; however, the narrators do mention his crying twice. He cries over the effects of sin when Lazarus died (John 11:35) and also over the rebellion in Jerusalem (Lk 19:41). Mourning must have been a common character trait of Christ. No doubt, Christ often wept when he saw the false religion of Israel, the selfishness of its leaders, the corruption of the Roman government, and the brokenness in the families. Isaiah prophesied that Christ would be “a man of suffering and familiar with pain” (Is 53:3 NIV). Christ, though full of God’s joy, was also a mourner.
In the same way, believers should not only be known by their joy but also by their genuine sorrow. Romans 8:22-23 describes how creation groans, and we groan as well, awaiting our deliverance from sin and full adoption as sons of God.
No doubt, as God commanded Israel through Isaiah and the Jewish Christians through James to mourn (Isaiah 22:12-13, James 4:8-10), he also commands the contemporary church saying, “Groan, weep over your sins and the sins of your community. Mourn over how far your nation has fallen away from God!” Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Sadly, the contemporary church has not discerned the seasons. They laugh, when they should weep. They dance, when they should sit in mourning. They binge-watch and listen, when they should close their eyes and ears. Consequently, the church has become largely secular. Many times, it is hard to tell the difference between nonbelievers and Christians. They talk and dress the same, laugh and mourn at the same things, and have the same goals.
God commands us to mourn! Are we mourning? Have we ever grieved over our sin and that of the world, or are we apathetic? Have we lost our sensitivity to sin?
Application Question: Are there any specific ways that God is calling you to mourn personally, locally, or nationally? Are there any ways that God is calling you to be part of efforts toward reform?
God Comforts Mourners
The word “comforted” has the same root as the Greek word “paraclete,” which Christ used of the Holy Spirit.5 In John 14:26, Christ called the Holy Spirit our Helper, Counselor, or Comforter—the one who comes alongside us to help. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, God is called, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” In Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” “they” is emphatic—meaning “they alone.” Only those who deeply mourn the effects of sin experience God’s comfort.
Interpretation Question: In what ways do mourners experience God’s comfort?
1. God comforts mourners through salvation.
When people truly accept the Gospel—that they are sinners under the wrath of God and in need of salvation (John 3:36)—mourning and repentance always follow. John preached repentance (Matt 3:2), Christ preached it (Matt 4:17), and so did his apostles (Acts 2:38). Godly mourning and repentance are necessary for true salvation. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul said, “For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death.” God comforts mourners with true salvation.
Kent Hughes simply said, “Spiritual mourning is necessary for salvation. No one is truly a Christian who has not mourned over his or her sins. You cannot be forgiven if you are not sorry for your sins.”6
2. God comforts mourners through forgiving their sins.
Psalm 32:1 says, “How blessed is the one whose rebellious acts are forgiven, whose sin is pardoned!” As with the Beatitudes, “blessed” can be translated, “happy.” Divine happiness is bestowed upon believers when God forgives their sins. At the cross, God forgave us judicially. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1). When God sees us, even though we still fail, he sees the perfect righteousness of his Son (1 Cor 5:21). We are now sons of God. But we still need relational forgiveness to restore intimacy. For example, even though I have a fight with my wife, our legal status doesn’t change—she stays my wife. But a fight does affect our intimacy, and therefore, forgiveness is needed. In the same way, with God, we need relational forgiveness on a daily basis. First John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” And when he forgives and cleanses us, we experience his comfort, joy, and intimacy—we experience God’s blessing.
3. God comforts mourners by delivering them or others from sin.
God blesses those who mourn, and many times this divine favor is manifest through both being delivered from sin and the fostering of righteousness (cf. Matt 5:6). When God does this in our lives or others, we experience his comfort. Sometimes, he delivers us or a friend from a stronghold; at other times, he revives a church, changes a city or a nation, as we groan and pray over it. Believers experience God’s comfort, as he rescues us and others from sin.
4. God comforts mourners through his Word.
Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.” Godly mourning often leads us to Scripture (cf. Ps 119:71), and when it does, God frequently comforts us with its rich truths: He comforts us with the blessed hope of our Lord’s return. He comforts us with the hope of our resurrected bodies and that one day we won’t struggle with sin or sickness. He comforts us with the hope that he works all things for our good, including our trials and failures. Everything written in Scripture was meant to give us hope. If we are not drinking deeply from Scripture, we will lack much of the comfort and hope God provides.
5. God comforts mourners through the ministry of other believers.
In 2 Timothy 1:16, Paul said, “May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment.” While Paul was in prison, God refreshed him many times through Onesiphorus. Similarly, as we mourn, God often lavishes his comfort on us through other believers as well.
6. God comforts mourners ultimately at Christ’s second coming.
At Christ’s return, God will deliver us from the presence of sin altogether. We will have new bodies that are free from pride, lust, anger, and everything that causes stumbling. He will make all things right as he rules on the earth. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.’”
Without mourning, we never experience God’s comfort. Without mourning sin, no one can be saved. Without mourning, we never break strongholds in our lives. Without mourning, nations aren’t changed. The problem with the church is that we don’t mourn, and therefore, we often lack God’s comfort. God is looking for mourners, so he can bless and use them greatly for his glory. Every great reformer throughout history was a mourner who experienced God’s comfort. Nehemiah, for one, fasted and mourned and then God sent him to build the wall around Jerusalem and bring a national revival (cf. Neh 1, 8). In that revival, Nehemiah experienced God’s comfort over his mourning.
Are you mourning? Have you experienced God’s comfort?
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s comfort in the midst of mourning over sin or its effects?
Growth in Spiritual Mourning
Application Question: How can we grow in our spiritual mourning?
1. We grow in spiritual mourning by turning away from sin.
First Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil” (ESV). Sadly, many of us don’t do this. Instead of abstaining from sin, we entertain it, talk about it, and soon, lose sensitivity to it. Ultimately, it begins to manifest in our lives. If we are going to be mourners, we must flee from every form of evil. Don’t pump it in your ears, don’t read about it, don’t watch it, and don’t joke about it. If we choose to do so, we are on the slow path of decay.
In Psalm 1:1, David said, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (ESV). Many commentators see this as the pathway into depravity. It starts with simply listening to the counsel of the wicked—what sinners are saying. Maybe some rationalize these actions by saying, “We have to know what’s going on in the world so we can relate to the lost.” Then it leads to standing in the “way”—meaning their behavior has gone from listening to practicing. Then the final stage is sitting with mockers. This is when believers begin to mock holy things. They say, “Do you really believe that God created the world by his Word? Do you really believe that people should wait to have sex before marriage? Do you really believe homosexuality is sin?” And they mock those who believe such things. But it all starts out with listening to the wrong “counsel.” Many have lost the blessing of God simply by what they listened to or read.
If we are going to be blessed mourners, we must stay away from “every form of evil.” Exposure to evil slowly hardens our conscience and decays our morals.
2. We grow in spiritual mourning by studying God’s Word.
God’s Word tells us what is wrong and convicts us of it. It is like a mirror that shows our failures and that of others (James 1:23-25). It is a sharp two-edged sword that pierces our consciences so that we can repent (Heb 4:12). If we don’t study God’s Word, our consciences will grow calloused and dull.
3. We grow in spiritual mourning by confessing our lack of mourning and praying for God’s grace.
We must confess that we have lost sensitivity and are no longer offended at sin, as we should be. We may, in fact, enjoy it and commonly laugh at it. We must pray for grace to be like our Lord who mourned over the world and its sin.
Application Question: Are there any other ways that believers grow in spiritual mourning? How is God calling you to pursue growth in spiritual mourning?
As we conclude, let us consider Ezekiel’s vision about Israel’s destruction. Ezekiel 9:1-6 says,
Then he shouted in my ears, “Approach, you who are to visit destruction on the city, each with his destructive weapon in his hand!” Next, I noticed six men coming from the direction of the upper gate which faces north, each with his war club in his hand. Among them was a man dressed in linen with a writing kit at his side. They came and stood beside the bronze altar. Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub where it had rested to the threshold of the temple. He called to the man dressed in linen who had the writing kit at his side. The Lord said to him, “Go through the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the people who moan and groan over all the abominations practiced in it.” While I listened, he said to the others, “Go through the city after him and strike people down; do no let your eye pity nor spare anyone! Old men, young men, young women, little children, and women—wipe them out! But do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary!” So they began with the elders who were at the front of the temple.
In the natural world, God sent Babylon to judge Israel, but in the spiritual world, he sent six angels with weapons. In addition, there was one angel with a writing kit, called to mark those who grieved and lamented over all the detestable things done in the city. They mourned over the idolatry, the sexual immorality, and the general dishonoring of God. While others were judged, the mourners were saved. In the same way, there is a group of people on this earth who are part of God’s kingdom. They are identified by their mourning over sins—theirs and the world’s. And because of this, God marks them; he sets them apart to himself and protects them from his wrath. They will at times be mocked by the world because they are different—because they won’t partake in or condone sin. At times, they are even persecuted. However, they are salt and light to the earth. They are a blessing to those who persecute and hate them. And though disliked and, at times, marginalized by the world, God marks them and blesses them. They are members of his kingdom, and one day they will fully inherit it at Christ’s coming.
Are you a mourner? Blessed are the mourners for they will be comforted—both in this life and the life to come.
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
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1 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
2 Guzik, D. (2013). Matthew (Mt 5:4). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
3 Stott, J. R. W. (1988). The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 19, p. 130). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
5 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 30–31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
6 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 29). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.