Monday, January 23, 2023

MATTHEW 5:4 BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN

 


The Sermon on the Mount in general, and the Beatitudes in particular, are truths spoken 
to Christ's disciples (5:1). This is not an evangelistic sermon. This is all about the application of the gospel which. It is a discipleship lesson. It is the exposition  of  the  Christian worldview. Francis Schaeffer called this  the Christian Manifesto. This is the faith that we are called to live out before the world.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) begins with 8 characteristics of true Christian discipleship (Matt 5: 1-12).  These are unusual characteristics. They are out of character with the world in which we live, but they carry God’s approval. The Lord calls these that bear these characteristics as blessed or happy. To be blessed or happy is surely the desire of every man and woman in this world.  Here is God’s way to ultimate happiness in this world!

Our world at large and the Word of God have fundamentally a different set of values.  The Beatitudes in particular make that very clear.  This is obvious as we now consider the second beatitude - “Blessed are they that mourn”. At face value this is an absurd statement.  How can one that mourns be blessed? The biblical logic here evades the mind which is governed by conventional thinking. Conventionally our world doesn’t deal well with pain and suffering and ultimately death, which produce this state of mourning. Entire industries have been established to deal with this problem of sadness and mourning - pharmaceutical and medical and psychological.  A lot of money is spent on escaping pain, be it physical, emotional or of a spiritual nature. And generally we avoid conversations that cause us sadness and mourning. Have you noticed that when we meet someone and ask, “How are you?”, they will generally  answer, “Fine, thank you”, despite the   fact that   they might be screaming inside – “I am not ok - would  somebody help me please!”. We are so conditioned by our world to look good, feel good and to speak positive thoughts  into life so  that thoughts of sadness or mourning are desperately excluded. We see this particularly in the Western attitudes to death and mourning.  Western funeral services are generally short, they avoid coffins and burials and try to get things over and done with in a hurry. Healthy grieving is a rarity.  We want to get away from mourning over the harsh realities that govern our  world.

But Jesus says here that those who mourn are the ones that are ultimately blessed or happy, and they will be comforted. In the parallel account in Luke 6:21b there is an even more striking statement of this truth: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  What does He mean? What is He getting at?

Jesus statement  goes beyond thoughts of  conventional  mourning.  He is not referring to those who mourn  or weep in  the most common  sense e.g. the loss of a loved one, the loss of health or the loss of material possessions and the like.  He goes far deeper. He is going to the root of the problem- the ultimate cause of all mourning. The profoundest problem which this world faces is the problem of sin, and the way in which this adversely affects all people. Jesus is speaking about a sense of mourning which is induced by the knowledge of what sin is and does. 

Similarly, in the previous verse we see that poverty of spirit does not refer to economic or intellectual poverty.  He goes deeper, to the root of the problem. He speaks about our spiritual poverty – our inability to see the world as God sees it – a world so disfigured and marred by sin.

And so when Jesus is speaking to His disciples, He is speaking to them and to us about an understanding of our own sin and the sin of our world. He speaks to us on the basis of having been redeemed from the awful, eternal consequences of that sin. He speaks to us about our new relationship to this world. That is why these beatitudes are followed by the statements on being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (5:13-16).

And so Jesus is calling those blessed who have an insight into their poverty of spirit. He is calling those blessed  that grieve  and  mourn – who see sin for what it is  and what it does. Only when we see the world as God sees it, and only when we see God’s  solution  to the world’s problem  will we be comforted.  

BACKING THIS UP WITH THE TEACHING OF THE N.T. IN GENERAL

When we seek an example of one who was grieved by the state of the world it was our Lord Jesus Himself. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones drew my attention to the fact that we never read in the Scripture of the fact that Jesus laughed. We are told that He was angry, that He hungered and thirsted - but there is no record of laughter. Recognizing that an argument from silence is a dangerous one, we must nevertheless pay attention to that fact. The prophecy of Isaiah 53:3 portrays Him essentially as a "man of sorrows and familiar with suffering".  Jesus wept over godless Jerusalem in Lk 19:41-44. He was grieved and angered when he saw the temple abused (Mk. 11:15-17)

In applying this Jesus is calling His disciples to take a good look at themselves. Self- examination in spiritual matters is important.  We see this in Romans7.  Any thorough, honest self- examination will prove the reality of Rom 7:18, "I know that nothing good lives in me....". The Christian says, "For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do...” (Rom.7:15). To mourn is thus something which essentially follows from the first beatitude - being "poor in spirit".  As I contemplate the life that I am   meant to live, I see myself; I see my utter helplessness and  hopelessness, and I must mourn about the fact that I am like that. If we never subject ourselves to that  self- examination  we will never mourn, and therefore we will not be the people that  are ultimately blessed (happy). I need to point out that Paul’s solution, having cried out in 7:24 , “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”, was the gospel, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

So then, with respect to this second beatitude it is really important that we develop an understanding of the biblical view of sin.  How does God see our world? The Bible describes man as totally depraved and alienated from God (see Romans 3:10-18).  Man is in a sad state, and there is nothing to suggest, that our condition is improving.  Evolutionary theory has suggested that we are evolving –that we are getting better. Based on this assumption modern Psychology (the study of the psuchē- the soul) treats man as basically good. Psychology ignores  the  biblical doctrine of sin, and says that   the basic problem is ignorance and that this can be cured by education. Unfortunately the facts of history stand against that sort of argument. Rulers and governments, with exceptions, have not improved the common lot of mankind over time. They may start off well, but they quickly deteriorate. From Scripture (mainly the OT) we learn that if the common grace of God  did not intervene from time to time we would have no civilisation  left. Unaided, we do not get better. We get worse. It is the doctrine of the common grace of God that keeps us and restrains us from destroying ourselves and others.

And so Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn!"  Blessed are you when you mourn and weep and lament over what sin  does in this world. Blessed are you  when you weep  over the sad state of your souls, the state of your  families and homes, your cities, your country, your continent and indeed – your world. Oh, dear people how we must lament, mourn  and weep, because of these things the wrath of God is coming.  And we must ask – what hope is there for us?  This is an important question, for this  introduces us to the need for the gospel.  

 FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED

An understanding of the Sermon on the Mount is so important. 

The Sermon on the Mount starts with negatives. We have to confess our poverty of spirit before we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. We must mourn   before we are comforted. CONVICTION must precede CONVERSION. A real sense of sin must come before there can be true joy of salvation.  Those that know that they have been forgiven much will love much (Lk. 7:47).   Once a person has grasped the awful nature and consequences of sin, and have reached out to Jesus and said , “Lord save me” – these  can never be the same again: They  will mourn, they will cry out, they will be comforted .

UNDERSTANDING THE TRUE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN JOY.

In what sense is the Christian blessed or happy? The Christian is happy because

(i)           they know  that they have their sin forgiven!

(ii)          The Christian knows that even now in all things they are more than  conquerors (Rom. 8:37). They are not slaves of sin.

(iii)        A Christian is  happy because  they  know  the  outcome -  our ultimate joy  will be the hope of glory (Rom 8:18). Paul writes, "we fix our eyes not on  that which is seen but on that which is unseen.” (2 Cor. 4:18) That is the basis of Christian comfort and therefore our joy.

We see he inseparable connection between godly sorrow and godly joy. And the outcome of that is  that a  Christian mourns but is not morbid. The Christian mourns but is not miserable. The Christian can have ‘gravitas’ – a seriousness, but they  are  not cold and prohibitive. There is warmth.

The Christian is a person that looks at life seriously, groaning because they understand the fact and nature of sin, but they are not in the hands of sin. They are in the hands of the Saviour, and therefore they are happy and blessed. They are fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy.

Here then, in this verse,is a high doctrine of sin and a high doctrine of joy. This knowledge taken together, produces the blessed, the happy person.

Biblical Christianity teaches us to look at the world and to weep; And we are called to look to our Saviour  and  we are comforted, both now and forevermore. Amen.

 

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