As you know last week we began a study of The Beatitudes—or as we are referring to them in this series—FLIGH LESSONS—attitudes we need to embrace as Christians—if we are going to SOAR toward Christlikeness. You should also know that I have challenged you to MEMORIZE these verses. And to show you that it is possible—we have our AWANA children to share our text for both LAST week and THIS week by memory.
Matthew 5:3-4 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Way to go kids! To quote our dear departed friend Eric Thomas, “Big children can you do it?” Let’s say these verses together.
Matthew 5:3-4 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Any true fan of Superman comics has heard of this guy—a character called Bizarro. Bizarro was a flawed clone of Superman—flawed in that, instead of being a copy of Superman—he is an opposite. In fact, for Bizarro EVERYTHING is the opposite. In his mind, bad is good and good is bad. Bizarro lives on a planet called Htrae—that’s Earth backwards. And continuing the “opposite theme”—Htrae is not round—it’s square. Plus—its society is ruled by the Bizarro Code which states “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”
- On Htrae, salesmen sell bonds that are guaranteed to lose money.
- Batzarro is not he world’s best—but rather the world’s worst detective.
- Bizarro Aquaman cannot swim.
- There’s even a Bizarro Marilyn Monroe—the ugliest woman on Htrae—which of course makes her a beauty “queen” according to Bizarro standards.
These old comic book memories came into my mind as I studied this week because for many Jesus’ teachings here in Matthew 5 seem to be the opposite of the way people—then and now—think. I mean, they are counter-intuitive—they seem more designed for life on the “Bizarro world” than here because they go against the grain of society’s norms. And, of all the Beatitudes, the one that is perhaps most counter-intuitive and counter-cultural is our text for this morning, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I mean—this one just doesn’t make any sense. It seems illogical. It’s like saying, “Happy are those who are sad.” Sounds like something Bizarro would say. Who in their right mind wants to mourn? Mourning means tears, grief, loss; we think of funeral homes, cemeteries, empty places at the table, shattered dreams. Let me put it this way—if “poor in spirit” is the last thing in the world people want to BE, “mourning” is the last thing in the world people want to DO. In fact, I think when Jesus talked about the blessedness of mourning, someone in the crowd sitting on that hillside LAUGHED out loud—they assumed Jesus was jesting. I say this because in Luke’s reporting of this part of Jesus’ message, he gives what I think was Jesus’ response to the laughter of this individual. Our Lord says, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25) I’m sure when Jesus said this everyone, beginning with this individual who now realized he had put his foot in his mouth, realized Jesus was not kidding. It hit them that they had heard Him right. He had actually said that people who mourn are blessed people—people who are receive the approval of God.
Now before we get into what this perplexing verse MEANS—let’s look at it from the OPPOSITE view point. Let’s see what it DOESN’T mean. Here goes: Jesus is NOT saying, “Blessed are the grim, cheerless Christians.” This is important to note because sadly, over the years some believers have apparently interpreted it this way. Charles Spurgeon once remarked that some preachers he had known “appeared to have their neckties twisted around their souls.”
Robert Louis Stevenson must have known some preachers like this because he once said—as if it were a surprise—“I’ve been to church today and am not depressed.” Well—Jesus is not talking about FORLORN, pessimistic, negative believers here. Nor is He referring to mourning for the WRONG reason. I mean, there are types of morning that are NOT blessed.
- For example, Amnon mourned because his lust was not fulfilled when he assaulted his half-sister, Tamar (2nd Samuel 13:2).
- Ahab mourned because he wanted but couldn’t get Naboth’s vineyard (1st Kings 21:4).
These are not the kinds of mourning our Lord was referencing.
So—what DID Jesus mean? Well, those of you who commented that you liked our little Greek lesson last week should feel good—because to answer this question we’re going need to go back into “GREEK LESSON MODE.” Last Sunday we talked about two Greek words: “penEEs” which referred to very poor people, people who work but earn just enough to barely get by—and “ptokos” [TOKEHAUS] a Greek word that means desperately poor—begging poor. With this understanding of Greek vocabulary under our belt, we learned that in His sermon Jesus was describing someone who realized they were absolutely destitute in a spiritual sense—hopelessly bankrupt before God’s grace. Well, today as we come to verse 4 we add a third word, “pentheo” – and it is the word that we translate as: “to mourn.” But that two-word translation doesn’t really suffice because, as we have learned already, getting at the complete meaning of a Greek word is never a simple thing. We need more info—so here goes.
There are nine different Greek words in the New Testament for sorrow or mourning, and “pentheo” is the strongest one of them all. In the first century, “pentheo” was used to describe the most heart-felt grief an individual could experience—a deep sorrow that caused the soul to ache and the heart to break. I mean, this Greek word carried the idea of deep inner agony—agony that could not be held in—agony that expressed itself in uncontrollable outward sobbing and weeping and wailing.
When my dad died—I was okay. I didn’t mourn outwardly—until I started calling Christian friends—those long-time members of the church my dad had pastored. As soon as I heard their voice on the phone I started sobbing and crying. I couldn’t help it. I guess as I shared this news with dear friends who I had known all my life—dad’s death became real to me—and my sorrow just flowed out in an uncontrollable way. I cried like a baby. That’s the kind of mourning “pentheo” was used to describe in Jesus’ day.
Here’s some Biblical examples.
- In the Septuagint—an early Greek version of the Old Testament—“pentheo” is the word used to describe Jacob’s grief when he was told that his son Joseph was dead. (Genesis 37:34)
- It’s also the word used in Mark 16:10 to describe the response of Jesus’ followers after His crucifixion where it says, “Those who had been with Jesus were mourning and weeping.”
And—as we did last week, here’s some other translations of this verse to help. The Message puts it like this: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you ” J. B. Phillips words it this way, “How happy are those who know what sorrow means!” So—we’re talking about the blessedness of heartfelt mourning—DEEP SORROW. The point Jesus is making is that if we are going to SOAR—if we are going to become more like Him—we must not just have “poor-in-spirit” — DESPERATE—hearts. We must also have MOURNING—BROKEN—hearts as well. And before we go any further, let me share with you some basic facts about sorrow that leads to mourning, facts that will help us fully appreciate this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
a. The first thing I need to point out is that this is a hard verse for many people to understand because mourning is not always considered a virtue in our culture.
I mean everything in our society opposes the spirit of this second beatitude. As I’ve told you before—I love to browse through Barnes and Noble. I love the smell of books. In fact, I’m afraid that smell will go away soon because like me most people have KINDLEs. But when I’m at Barnes and Noble, I usually browse their huge magazine rack and I was thinking—in all that browsing over the years I’ve seen a lot of faces on the covers of those magazines—but I’ve never seen a SORROWFUL face. No—all the covers I have seen feature HAPPY men—HAPPY women—people with perfect hair and shiny white teeth. Life is obviously good for all these people—they are happy!
I read this week that the cover of Oprah’s magazine once had this statement: “How to Calm Down and Cheer Up.” Happiness was the emphasis of the entire issue. It even had a special bonus section called: “The Bad Mood Cure.” And—have you noticed the drug ads on TV—the way when they list the side-effects they do so with a happy tone: “This may cause heart disease, cancer, depression or even death!” And what about our nightly newscasts. When they do report on bad things they newscasters say it with a sort of lilt in their voice—and then quickly segue to a funny story or something designed to make us smile? I mean, the mantra of many these days is exact opposite of this beatitude. Most of us believe, “Blessed are those who laugh their way through life.” What really gets me—what really causes me to MOURN—is the fact that our entertainment is so oriented toward happiness that we laugh at things that should cause us to cry.
We have an entire type of humor—one that is very popular—called RAUNCH humor. The things this kind of humor laughs at—should make us mourn.
In many of the world’s cultures, parents raise their children with the mind set to be successful, to work hard, and achieve. In other nations children are taught the value of studying and diligently preparing for the future. But American culture is altogether different. More than anything we want our children to avoid difficulty and hardship and be happy. Think of it. How many times have kids asked their parents what they should do with their lives, and parents have responded, “Do whatever makes you happy!” Why not? After all it’s in the founding document of our nation, the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We live in a culture that has made the pursuit of happiness its chief goal in life. I mean, we’re pleasure-mad. We avoid problems. We run from difficulties. We despise troubles. We don’t want to deal with things that make us unhappy. Life is hard enough as it is. Our society says, “Forget your troubles. Turn your back on them. Do everything you can not to face them. Sorrow is bad; happy is good. Things are bad enough as they are without you going to look for trouble. So don’t mourn. Don’t worry. Be happy.”
This reluctance to embrace mourning has even found its way into the church—the people who should know the importance of embracing this second “flight lesson.” This week I did some googling and found several churches who have called themselves, “The Happy Church.” Here’s one that made their building reflect the name—it’s in Jackson, Kentucky. It’s even located on Happy Lane! When I flip through the channels on Sundays—there’s one pastor who I won’t name—but his church obviously embraces the “happy only” philosophy. He smiles so much I’m afraid his face will break. Whether they realize it or not these particular believers are embracing the world’s way of thinking—people who seek entertainment and pursue pleasure at all costs.
They have forgotten the importance—the blessedness—of mourning. Do you see what I mean? One reason the message of this beatitude is hard for us to grasp is because we don’t like to mourn—to us it’s not a virtue, it’s a curse!
B. A second thing I want to point out is that when we do mourn we are indicating what is truly important to us.
I mean we tend to grieve and weep and mourn only over the things that are most precious to us—so in essence our grieving displays our values in life. Do you remember when that United passenger was forcibly removed from the plane a few weeks ago? As he was dragged—bruised and bleeding—from the cabin people mourned with him! There were gasps and cries. Passengers said, “What are you doing?! Look what you’ve done to him!” People were shocked—because the well-being of that man was important to them. Plus—they knew if they continued to fly the “friendly skies” they might be next. We all mourned over what happened on 9-11 because those people who suffered were important to us. Their loss affected us all deeply. We mourned because we valued their lives. I could go on—but you get my point. Our mourning shows our values. It shows what is important to us.
C. And then one final fact I want to mention is this. The things we mourn over show our maturity level.
I mean, little children will cry over things that seem trivial to us “old people.” This week I read about a terrible train accident in Great Britain that killed a number of passengers several years ago. In one of the cars there was a mother with a little child in her arms and the mother was dead but the child was unharmed. When the rescuers took the child away from the dead mother, the child laughed and played; but when they took away her candy, she broke into a terrible tantrum of weeping and screaming. The fact that her mother was dead did not bother the child because she knew nothing about death—she wasn’t old enough—mature enough to do so. But she did know about candy. So she cried when it was taken from her. Do you see what I mean? The things we mourn indicate our maturity.
Well, let me pause and ask: what do you mourn about? What bothers you most in life? Do you mourn over truly important things? Would you say your mourning indicates that you are mature or childish? Okay, with the basics out of the way, let’s take a close look at this verse. Jesus said, “Blessed—to be congratulated—are those who ‘pentheo.’ Blessed are those who mourn deeply—visibly—-for they will be comforted.” What exactly is our Lord saying we should mourn over in this part of the Beatitudes? What is the “flight lesson” here? Well, I think Jesus was referring to not ONE but at least THREE things—three kinds of mourning we should NOT avoid, no matter what our culture says—three values we should embrace—three sources of grief that should be found in all truly maturing—soaring—Christians.
(1) First, Jesus is saying that we should LAMENT the LOSSES of life.
In other words, we SHOULD grieve and mourn over things like illness and job loss and death. Jesus is saying that this kind of mourning is a blessed thing—a good thing. Yes—as Christians we should be joyful—but there are times when we should mourn.
- As your pastor, I know that some of you have gone through or are even now going through some very serious health issues that make you afraid of the future.
- Some of you have experienced relational ruptures with a friend or even a spouse and it’s eating your heart out.
- Many of us have lost family members or friends to death recently or fear we will do so in the near future.
The fact is all of us in this church family know what it is to cry and mourn and lament over the inevitable losses of life. We can all relate with the words of Psalm 6:6 where it says, “I am worn out from groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” Well, I believe that one thing Jesus is saying in this verse is that this kind of mourning is a good thing. You see, God made us able to weep. He designed our emotional and physical systems to interact such that we can “vent” our fears and anxieties by mourning. Grief over things like this—grief that leads us to cry—-is therapeutic. It’s good for us. Doctors and psychologists say that weeping releases a healing process in a person’s life that enables him to accept the pain, work his way through it, and adjust to life again. They also say that when we don’t mourn—when we hold pain and anxiety in—we poison our system.
The Bible tells us that the heroes of the faith—the best examples of SOARERS—didn’t make this mistake. They didn’t avoid visible grief. They didn’t hold it in! No, they mourned over the natural losses of life. For example,
- Abraham wept when his wife died.
- David wept when Absalom, his rebellious son, was killed in battle.
- Paul wept when he said farewell to his friends from Ephesus, and they wept right along with him.
So, as Ecclesiastes 3 says, “To everything under Heaven there is a season, a time to be born, and a time to die a time to weep and a time to laugh.” And you know, mourning is not only physically and emotionally therapeutic. It is also a great TEACHER. Through it we learn things we would not learn otherwise—things we must learn if we are going to SOAR. For example, ironically—SORROW increases our appreciation of JOY.
The Arabian people have a proverb that says, “All sunshine makes a desert.” Well, as people who live in the desert they know better than anyone else that the land on which the sun always shines will soon become an arid place in which no fruit will grow—and they are right. There are certain things which only rain will produce and in a similar way there are certain experiences which only sorrow and mourning can generate.
- Think of it. When we go through sorrowful times we learn how KIND people can be.
- The mourning times of life also show us how wonderful GOOD TIMES really are. I mean mourning makes us truly grateful for the blessings of life.
The fact is when things go well, it’s possible for us to live on the surface of things but when sorrow comes we begin to truly understand the important things—the precious things—the deep things of life. I mean, pain teaches us principles we could never learn from pleasure. One poet put it this way,
“I walked a mile with Pleasure; She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow, and ne’er a word said she,
But, oh, the things I learned from her, when Sorrow walked with me.”
But perhaps the best benefit of the inevitable sorrows of life—the main reason mourning over them is a blessed thing—is because often they PUSH US CLOSER TO GOD. Sorrows humble us and remind us that we NEED His presence. I will testify that I have found that God draws especially close to me in the tough times of life. When my heart is breaking over something, I can almost feel the arm of my Heavenly Father around my shoulders. How many of you have learned that? This lines up with the teachings of the Bible.
- Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses.
- Isaiah 53:34 says Christ took up our infirmities and carries our sorrows.
- Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
- In fact, Psalm 56:8 says that God collects every tear we shed. Did you know that? It says, “Oh God, You number my wanderings; You put my tears in a bottle.”
These verses proclaim the reassuring fact that God cares about our sorrows! He draws close in our times of mourning. He comforts us in these times. So, when you feel like crying, go on your knees and let the tears fall. Adults, run to our Heavenly Father the way you ran to your earthly parents when you skinned your knee. Run to God and cry out to Him because He understands! He cares, and He will provide you with a form of comfort and that is indeed a BLESSED experience. As the Psalmist who had obviously done this put it, “God, You have turned my mourning into dancing, You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” (Psalm 30:5a, 11) So, mourning can be a blessing because it can push us closer to God. And in fact, sometimes it takes crisis to motivate us to decide to follow Jesus in the first place. John R. W. Stott, the former minister of All Souls Church in London, once conducted a poll of his congregation to find out what actually caused his members to decide to become Christians. He was surprised to find that a majority listed as the greatest single factor, a feeling of personal desperation, a sense of being at the end of their resources. A time of blessed mourning drove them to faith in Jesus! So, mourning, lamenting over the losses of life can indeed be a blessed thing—a thing that enables us to experience the comfort of God.
(2) A second kind of mourning Jesus was referring to here-a second thing He was saying mature believers should do—is CRY over the CONDITION of others.
He was saying that mourning for the suffering of other people is a good thing—a blessed thing. I mean, as I just said, God comforts us in our times of mourning—but He doesn’t want that comfort and compassion to STOP. In essence, He wants us to RECYCLE it. He wants us to be a CONDUIT of the comfort we have received—that goes to someone else who is in need. Let me put it this way. Matthew 5:4 reminds us that the essence of Christianity is CARING. I mean, blessed indeed—applauded by God—is the person who cares so intensely for the suffering, and for the sorrows, and the needs of others that they mourn deeply and visibly—and then let that mourning prompt him to do something to help. Followers of Jesus Christ should mourn for the sorrows of others—-mourn so much that they DO SOMETHING about it.In fact, the world would be a sorrowful place indeed if it weren’t for Christians down through the centuries who did.
This week I read about the life of Lord Ashely Shaftesbury—a man who was instrumental in establishing legislation that stopped much of England’s abuses when it came to child labor. He helped make it illegal for small children to slave away their lives in mines and sweat shops. He also established schools for these children—over 100 of them before his death in 1885. This all began when as a small boy he came upon a pauper’s funeral. The coffin was a shoddy, poorly made box sitting on a rickety wheelbarrow. It was being pushed by four men who were obviously drunk; and as they pushed the wheelbarrow along, they were singing songs and joking among themselves. When they began to shove their odd “hearse” up a hill, the coffin fell off the barrow and burst open. Some people would have thought the whole thing was funny, some would have turned away in disgust. Some would have shrugged their shoulders and would have felt that although it was a pity, it had nothing to do with them—but not young Shaftesbury.
No! When this young Christian lad saw this happen he said to himself, “When I grow up I’m going to give my life to see that things like that don’t happen.” And he did. He dedicated his long life to caring for others. Mourning for their situation prompted him to help.
Well let me ask you—do you weep for the suffering people of our world? When you watch the news do tears ever stream down your face? Do the endless stream of headlines about acts of terrorism on the other side of the planet affect your mood negatively? Or do you go about your happy life as if nothing has happened? Does your heart break for the hungry millions of this planet—people who eat less food than your dogs do? How does it make you feel to see people living in abject poverty—the TOEKAWS people of the world who cannot even dream of the kind of opulent lifestyle you experience every day? Did the news about the nerve gas attacks in Syria affect you negatively? How do you react when you hear that more people are enslaved today than ever before in the history of the world—including young women taken by human traffickers?
You know, I’m not much of a bumper sticker guy but I love this one: “If you’re not outraged—you’re not paying attention.” Spiritual brothers and sisters, listen to me! Christianity involves caring for people. As children of God, we should nurture our social conscience. In fact, if we don’t have one, I think we have reason to doubt our relationship to Jesus. One thing Jesus is saying here is that insensitivity to the plight of others is sin. It is wrong for us not to grieve for the hardships of others. We forfeit the comfort that God gives people who mourn when we allow our hearts to become hard, toward the hurting people of this world.
And, while we’re on this subject, let’s take it a couple steps further. Let me ask you—do you grieve over the people who ignore God’s law and suffer the consequences of their sin? How do you feel about the convicted felons who fill our prisons—especially the repeat offenders? Do you grieve for the people who embrace a homosexual lifestyle—a lifestyle that is anything but gay?
Do you weep for the victims of abortion: both the unborn and their parents? You know, as evangelicals we’re pretty good at taking aim at those who sin differently than we do. We speak up and sometimes we shout, and we encourage each other to vote in a certain way. But I wonder how many times we cry. I wonder—how often do we mourn for the condition of people who ignore God’s loving law and suffer the consequences? Too few of us cry about things like this. We don’t mourn as the Psalmist did when he wrote, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes oh God, for Your law is not obeyed.” (Psalm 119:136)
And there’s one other aspect of this kind of mourning that we should note. We should mourn for the condition of the billions of people in this world who don’t know Jesus–the multitudes who are still lost in their sins. Remember, on Palm Sunday while everyone else was shouting joyfully, Jesus was crying because of the hard hearts of people of Jerusalem. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus looked out over the city—and I think with tears flowing down His face He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—but you were not willing.” Well, do you mourn visibly-deeply over the lost of this world? Do you cry in your bed at night not just over your lost family members, but over your lost neighbors—co-workers? Too many of us who are Christians have forgotten that people are lost without Jesus. They are dead in their trespasses and sins separated from God both now and for all eternity unless something happens. How can we not mourn over this fact!!!???
One pastor described Christians as being part of “A Dry-eyed Church in a Hell-bound World.”
He’s right—too many of our eyes are dry when they should be wet.
So, in this part of His sermon, Jesus was saying we should lament the losses of life and that we should cry over the physical and spiritual condition of others.
(3) But Jesus’ main emphasis here is that we should be SORROWFUL for our SINS.
Now—do you remember what we learned about verse 3—the statement Jesus made prior to this one in verse 4? We said Jesus was referring to the blessedness of the realization that we are spiritually bankrupt—totally dependent on the grace of God. Our Lord was saying that the person who understands how lost they are is to be congratulated. Well, in this next verse He continues that thought. Jesus says, “Blessed is the man who not only recognizes his sinful state but is also desperately sorry for it! Blessed is the man who grieves over his own sin and his own unworthiness.” He’s saying it is this kind of mourning that brings the blessed comfort of our salvation, because grieving over our sins pushes us to God. We realize we are desperate without Him; we mourn over that fact, and then turn to Him for forgiveness. And when we do, He gives it. This is what Paul was talking about in 2nd Corinthians 7:10 when he said, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation.” John Stott put it this way, “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.” He’s right. Contrition—or sorrow over our sins—leads us to repent. It pushes us to cry out to God for forgiveness and salvation. But please understand, mourning over our sin should not stop once we become Christians because even though we are forgiven, we don’t stop sinning. We should continue to grieve and mourn whenever we disobey God. We can’t be comforted with a close relationship with our Holy God unless we mourn over those times we yield to temptation! So, whenever we sin we should obey James 4:8-10 where it says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep—let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom.”
I like something Andy Stanley says about this. He points out the difference between a mistake and a sin. He says that a mistake is a goof-up, an error, a miscalculation. We regret mistakes. We apologize for a mistake. We might even try to make amends for a mistake. But we don’t mourn a mistake. And he’s right. We don’t PENTHEO a mistake. What we mourn is sin: a fundamental flaw in our character that compels us to think or say or do the wrong thing; a skew in our spirit that consistently takes us in the wrong direction. For example, we were made to be generous, but we tend toward greed. We were designed to treasure our sexuality, instead we trash it. We were wired to worship God, instead we worship cars or sports or nature or ourselves. As Stanley says, “We’re not just ‘mistakers,’ we’re ‘sinners.’” To mourn is to face the truth about ourselves and the truth is that we are a messed-up people living on a messed-up planet. When we finally realize that, when we finally admit that we’re “sinners” and not just “mistakers,” all we can do is put our head in our hands, and weep.
Let me ask you, fellow Christian, how seriously do you take your sins? Does it break your heart to know you’ve sinned against God? IT is the only way to receive the COMFORT we all need—the comfort that comes from having our sins forgiven—the comfort from knowing there is life beyond the grave—the comfort that a better world is coming—a place where there is no more sorrow—no more weeping or mourning. Let us pray.