The Sermon on the Mount, Part 5

Blessed are those who mourn

Why does Jesus bless those who mourn?

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Psalm 51:16–17

The dictionary defines mourning as a feeling of grief or sorrow that is the result of a profound loss. Most of us associate mourning with the death of a loved one, but the mourning Jesus speaks of is entirely different. He is referencing one of his favorite Bible passages. In Isaiah 61:2–3, God says he will “comfort all who mourn” and replace their mourning with “the oil of gladness.”

Given the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, the mourning Jesus describes as “blessed” can be understood on two levels. On the individual level, it happens when a person realizes who God is and who they are in relation to him. It is Isaiah saying, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” (6:5).

In the Bible, we often find mourning associated with repentance. James 4: 7–10 is a good example:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

So on the individual level, mourning refers to the penitent–those who have acknowledged their own sinfulness and are in the process of turning their life around. But the mourning Jesus blesses is also directed toward God.

  • In Old Testament passages like Isaiah 61, we find Israel oppressed (v. 1), their cities in ruins (v. 4), and God’s people mired in shame and dishonor (v. 7). Meanwhile, the wicked thrive, and God has not acted to reverse their circumstances.
  • We find the same thing happening in the New Testament. God’s people are still persecuted, the wicked still get their way, and God’s will is still not done on earth as it is in heaven.

Until things are made right, godly men and women will mourn. They will mourn the lack of justice in the world. They will mourn the cruelty and selfishness that so often motivates humankind. They will mourn their governments’s lack of integrity. They will mourn the way the media makes heroes of antichrists. They will mourn the apathy of the multitudes who call Jesus their Lord and Savior.

They will mourn, but they will NOT respond the way most people do–they will not condemn others and call it mourning. Television, radio, and the internet are constantly presenting stories of grieving people who are spewing hatred at their oppressors. This is not the kind of mourning Jesus calls blessed; it is the kind that leads to resentment and bitterness.

Instead, the mourning of God’s people is to be characterized by patient endurance. Christ followers can do this by focusing our attention on things above, not on earthly things. We are to remind ourselves that we have already died, and our life is now hidden with Christ in God, and when Jesus returns, we will also appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

That kind of attitude can radically alter the way we endure hardships, as can reminding ourselves that this world is not our home, and we are just passing through. But while we are here, we are to be ambassadors for our home country (2 Corinthians 5:17–20). And ambassadors, even when in deep mourning, are not dour and vinegar-tongued. They stay on mission because they know their discomfort is only temporary, and they will be comforted by God himself.

 

Next: Blessed are the meek.

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