In the last study we came to understand we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, because in realizing our shortcomings, we can turn to God to renew us and change us. In verse four we read another revelation from Christ which at first appears to be a bit of a paradox.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4
Here again, we find Christ connecting an emotion which we normally deem to be an unpleasant aspect of life with a blessing. Rarely would anyone consider mourning to have anything good about it, and typically we seek to avoid this experience. However, in this extraordinary and yet brief sermon, given to us directly from God, our understanding of life is again challenged. For we find this terse statement in which mourning is spoken of as second only to the blessing of being poor in spirit. How unlike the world’s teachings are Christ’s. How unlike our thinking is God’s. And how far we are from understanding and implementing such sage advice and wisdom from our Creator.
Surely, we would never hear such words from a motivational speaker. We would complain that the person was "negative," and more than that, unintelligible. Such a speaker would never be invited back, because he did not give us that quick lift we were seeking – the feel-good emotional elixir that is supposed to prepare us to compete in the world and boost our achievements. No, the world would not accept this Jesus as their motivational speaker – He would be considered a strange character who was not "with it." His view of life would be considered unenlightened, and we might even say that He lacked the success in life required to prove that He had the qualifications to speak before our clubs or businesses or civic groups.
We might go even further and complain that He was depressing and made us feel bad by diminishing our self-esteem. And indeed, until one has laid his or her life before the cross, and experienced the heavenly flow of living water coming from our blessed Savior, it would be quite unusual not to be unsettled by His recondite sayings. However, for those who have glimpsed His treasure of wisdom, and for those to whom His bejeweled crown of glittering truth has shone in its multifaceted glory, the perfect words He spoke can never be compared to man’s petty witticisms and profundities. In fact, all of the world’s wisdom cannot compare to even one sentence of what He uttered upon that high mountain, as God condescended with loving care and fatherly concern to teach mankind things that had never been revealed on earth until that blessed day. Oh, what a wonder that He came to earth for us, and what a wonder that He cared enough to open our hearts to heavenly truth, and what a wonder that the Holy Spirit is even at this moment teaching us, as Jesus promised us when He said:
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." John 14:26 (NKJV)
Joy in the Mourning
The essence of what Christ is communicating is that there is joy even in mourning – that is, if we are mourning about the things God mourns about. To understand this concept, we need to first examine the precise meaning of the word used here for mourning. During the time of Jesus, the Jews were under Roman control because Rome was ruling the known world. However, although Rome conquered Greece, the Greek culture was alluring to the Romans, and so the Greek language was spoken in the Roman Empire. Having been under occupation for such a long period, some of the Jews growing up at this time failed to learn Hebrew, or learned it poorly. For this reason, the rabbis translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and this translation was called the Septuagint.
The Greek word used here for "mourning" is the same word used in the Septuagint for the way Jacob felt when he was told that his son, Joseph, was killed. As we read this passage in Genesis chapter 37:33-35, we can feel the breaking of his heart as he believes his only godly son is dead. The grief is so deep that it is described using the strongest word for grief in the Greek language. The idea behind this word is that the grief is so deep it brings involuntary tears to one’s eyes – it is a heartbreaking, desperate grief that nothing is able to quench.
Why Is the Sadness Important?
How, then, does this relate to us, and why would Jesus use such an extreme word regarding this blessing? To grasp this, we must understand how important it is for a Christian to be a caring person. Jesus was a man of sorrows and well-acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), but this does not mean that He was personally unhappy – it refers to His concern for the world. Today we read about children and adults starving in foreign countries, and we know that Christians and others are being persecuted around the world. We know that children are being molested in the so-called most civilized and advanced countries; and we see infanticide, pornography, fornication, and other sins becoming so commonplace they have been made legal. And yet many care little about all of this, but are rather seeking their own comfort and pleasure, for the prediction of Christ in Matthew 24:12 is quickly being realized: "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."
Nevertheless, surely we know that no matter how much evil abounds, no matter how commonplace and acceptable it becomes in society, and no matter how many people brag about their sins on talk shows, God is no less grieved. We may become inured to it all, and we may become tired of hearing about the misfortunes of others, but do any of us think that God’s care and concern have diminished one iota? And if we believe this is the case, then should not we also be concerned, for we are told that we have His mind in 1 Corinthians 2:16 "…But we have the mind of Christ"?
The question then is, do we want His mind? Being concerned and compassionate does not simply come because we care, but also because we keep our minds from being infiltrated with filth. In other words, we cannot have God’s compassion and watch movies with God-mocking jokes and immoral sexual innuendoes. We cannot constantly seek pleasure and fail to deny ourselves and then make progress in aspiring to Christ’s disposition. Quite simply, if we swim in the world’s cesspool and revel in the world’s lust, we will degrade our minds and lose the potential blessing His mind can give us. Moreover, we may even be in danger of judgment, for in Ezekiel 9:4-5 we read something quite interesting about how God reacts to our lack of concern:
"And the Lord said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." To the others He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity.’" Ezekiel 9:4 (NKJV)
Whom Do You Love?
The world’s way is the constant pursuit of pleasure. Men are pleasure-lovers today, and they often do not care in what degrading manner they find it, nor who it hurts. The irony is that as they pursue pleasure, it becomes more elusive and controlling upon them, bringing them into the bondage of sin. They care not to mourn about the ills of mankind, for they are concerned only with themselves.
We are living in what might be called an age of narcissism. In Greek mythology, Narcissus once loved Echo, but as he was walking in a beautiful garden, he chanced upon another, whom he saw as he looked into a still, mirror-like pond. Soon his love for Echo left, and he became hopelessly in love with the person in that pond – which was of course, the reflection of himself. Eventually he gazed so deeply into his own reflection that he drowned.
The signs of our self-love are evidenced when we want only to please ourselves and not others. And this is the culture of the day. Narcissus could never receive love, because the one he loved could not return anything. He could not sow love and concern for another, because he had no interest in others. In a similar manner, unless we care about others, no one will care for us, and we will be as lost in narcissism as this character in the Greek legend was. And as the cycle continues, we become unhappy and depressed because we realize that no one really cares for us. We are told that a man reaps what he sows, (Galatians 6:7) and if we have no compassion for others, how do we expect others to have compassion for us?
In contrast, when we "walk away from the mirror," when we stop caring for ourselves to the exclusion of others, when we stop worrying about what we will eat and drink and our clothing, etc., and begin to care about this lost and dying world – it is then we will share God’s compassion for the world and also His mourning about its condition. And it is then we will also receive the promise attached to this verse – we will be comforted by God. That comfort is essentially what we all seek, but many of us seek it in self-love, where we can never find it. For only to the extent that we put ourselves to death, only to the extent that we busy ourselves with the great concerns of our Creator, will we also experience the fullness of His blessing of comfort and peace. Through grace we will experience some of that blessing even if we are selfish, but not the fullness we all desire.
In other words, as we get the godlike sorrow, we also get the godlike joy. This is completely foreign to the way the world thinks, as are most of the basic concepts of Christianity; nevertheless, they cannot be escaped. There is no other way to joy except by way of Christ’s prescription.
The Value of Mourning
Let us examine the mourning of Abraham and Moses when they were aware that their people were going to be destroyed. Abraham appeared to be "bargaining" with God in the following passage, but can we not surmise that God was looking for an intercessor to mediate on behalf of Lot and his family? We read the following in Genesis: 18:25-28
"Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" So the Lord said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes." Then Abraham answered and said, "Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: "Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?" So He said, "If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it."
This dialogue goes on until God finally promises He will not destroy the city if there are ten righteous in it, and an angel ends up leading Lot and his family away before the fire and brimstone fall on the city. But what would have happened if Abraham had rejected the "burden" for Lot and his family? Would they have been destroyed in Sodom? Does anyone know the dynamic produced when we share God’s burden and concern for others? Surely it must be of paramount importance since Christ Himself was the ultimate intercessor, and is even at this time interceding on our behalf. For we read:
"It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." Romans 8:34 (NKJV)
Moses cared so much about the Israelites that he even turned down God’s offer to destroy them and start the race all over again with him. What a superlative offer! What man would turn down the chance to become the new "father" of the whole human race? And yet, as degenerate as the Israelites were, Moses went to Mount Sinai and fasted both food and water so that God would not bring on them the destruction they so richly deserved. Moreover, he offered the ultimate sacrifice, asking God to condemn him to eternal damnation with the rest of the Israelites if God would not give them another chance!
"Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, "Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! "Yet now, if You will forgive their sin--but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written." And the Lord said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book." Exodus 32:31-33 (NKJV)
Paul had the same compassion for his Jewish brethren, for we read in Romans 9:3 (NKJV)
"For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh."
Some talk about what great miracles God is going to perform in the end times, but perhaps God works mightily only when his servants show the type of altruistic self-sacrifice that these men exemplified. Should we then be looking for a move of God in areas where the church is still selfish? In God’s sovereignty, of course, He may act without our participation. Nevertheless, how many of us come even close to making the type of sacrifices these patriarchs were willing to make? Many of us do not even want to hear about the troubles of other Christians in our own church, let alone in other countries where the suffering is manifold. Many of us also see non-believers as the enemy, and fail to have the type of compassion for them that drives us to cry out to God for their salvation.
Who knows how many souls would be saved if we interceded with the zeal of Abraham or Moses? Who can say to what extent heaven would be moved if we dropped our own agenda and asked God to burden us with His compassion for the lost? Who can measure the potential spiritual dynamic – the supernatural power that may abound for God’s cause if we consider the plight of each lost soul we meet, and consider the eternity of misery each faces, instead of "knowing them according the flesh?" Who knows what would happen if each of us would pray a blessing on everyone who recklessly pulls out in front of us in traffic, or is rude to us when we do business with them? What tremendous power is unleashed when we love our enemies and pray that God will bless those who abuse us.
Have Mercy on Me a Sinner!
A more personal aspect of the blessedness of mourning is a concern for our own transgressions. When Paul pointed out to the Corinthians that they had sinned by allowing a man who was in blatant sin to continue in fellowship with them, they mourned over the fact that this sin was in the church, as evidenced in 2 Corinthians 7:7:
"…but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more."
He had to rebuke them, but they profited from it, as he explains in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10:
"Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death."
If we allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts regularly, and we mourn over our sin when we see it, we will also receive comfort from the same source. However, let us consider that this is not just an interesting theory; it is rather part of the very foundation upon which our Christianity must stand. If we disdain to embrace this understanding, and if we are unwilling to acknowledge it, we will not only block numerous blessings from our lives, but will also develop a self-absorbed, introspective attitude that will ultimately depress us. For if we are not concerned about the world, the body of Christ, and our own sin, we will instead become pitifully over-concerned about our own lives.
The One and Only Prescription
In Acts 4:12 we read the words of Peter, as he boldly proclaims that there is no other way to God except through Jesus Christ: "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." No true believer would even slightly doubt this statement, because it has not only been written in our Bibles, but also in our hearts. Why then should we doubt the words that Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount will lead us to true blessings? Surely the pull of the world is exceedingly strong but its wisdom will always be confounded and nullified by Christ’s words – for they are eternally true.
An analogy might be made of one traveling in the northwestern portion of the United States. The traveler desires to get to Seattle, Washington, and is starting the trip from Portland, Oregon. A quick glance at the map will prove that the traveler must go north. But this stubborn, mixed-up traveler refuses to look at the map and keeps going south. He gets bad directions from people along the way and continues south until he reaches California. The difference in states should alert him that he is on the wrong road, but as he gets farther from the true destination, he becomes increasingly disoriented, and does not realize he should turn around. Continuing through California in search of Seattle, he finally reaches Mexico – putting him in an even stranger environment, and even farther away from his desired goal. In Mexico they do not even speak his language. Now he is really confused – and, of course, he has gotten so far away that it will take him even more time and effort to get back to the correct city.
The traveler represents our search for joy and fulfillment without using the God-given map of the Bible and the deep teachings of Christ. He is instead getting directions from the other lost people in this world. The world tells us that riches, promotion, physical pleasures, and admiration from other worldlings are noble goals that will bring us to our desired destination. However, Jesus tells us the only way to joy, and one cannot get there in any other way. No matter how deceptive and alluring the things of the world appear, and no matter how much they promise to give us the peace we seek, they are mirages. The joy they promise disappears as we get closer to them. There is only one way to get to the Christian destination we seek, just as there is only one direction by which we may travel from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. We may argue all we wish, but that will not change the truth.
Let us then seriously consider what we are doing in our own lives. Are we taking these words that Christ uttered seriously, or are we thinking they are only theoretical and not for modern Christians such as ourselves? Are we so busy pursuing worldly, selfish pleasures and wealth that we have gone astray and are not following the "map" He has gave us? Let us ask God today what is breaking His heart, so that we may share the burden and be an agent for change in His kingdom. Once His concerns are our concerns, His inexpressible comfort and the joy that it brings will also be ours.