4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
R. Kent Hughes has pointed to an article that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times some years back concerning the scandals surrounding U.S. Representatives Daniel Crane and Gerald Studds. The article was entitled “There is One Thing Worse than Sin” and was written by Dr. Thomas F. Roeser. In it, he discussed two Congressional scandals: Representative Crane’s inappropriate relationship with a seventeen-year-old female page and Representative Studds’ inappropriate relationship with a seventeen-year-old male page. Both inappropriate. Both sinful. Both wrong. But what struck Dr. Roeser about the scandals were the different reactions of the two Representatives to the July 14, 1983, censures they both received from the House. This is what Roeser wrote:
Being censured is the only thing Crane and Studds have in common. The nation got a flimmer of their philosophical differences when Crane admitted tearfully to his district, then to the full House, that “broke the laws of God and man,” casting a vote for his own censure, facing the House as the Speaker announced the tally. Studds, in contrast, acknowledged he was gay in a dramatic speech to the House, then defended the relationship with the page as “mutual and voluntary.” He noted that he had abided by the age of consent, and said the relationship didn’t warrant the “attention of action” of the House. Studds voted “present” on the censure and heard the verdict from the Speaker with his back to the House.
Hughes says that, “Roser went on to contrast the different moral traditions both these men represent – properly excusing neither one for his sin.” He quotes Roeser’s conclusion:
But there’s one consolation for Crane. His…philosophy teaches that there is one thing worse than sin. That is denial of sin, which makes forgiveness impossible.
That’s intriguing. Two men. Two sins. Two censures. Two totally different reactions. One Representative at least appeared to mourn over his sins, to acknowledge them, and to accept his punishment. The other was defiant, back turned to the sentencing body. In fact, Studds would never acknowledge the sinfulness of his actions.
Does it matter how we react to our sinfulness, our own rebellions against God? Is it important, and, if so, why? I would like for us to consider how the second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” address precisely this question.
Before we do, let us remember that we defined the Beatitudes as divine, celebratory pronouncements of present and future joy for those in the Kingdom of God yet living in the world. They do not appear to make sense to the world because the world is upside-down. They are a roadmap for the values of the Kingdom of God in the overlap between the Kingdom of God and the fallen kingdom of this world. They should be exhibited among the people of God, through whom the reign of God’s Kingdom is currently breaking through into this world.
The Progressive Nature of the Beatitudes
To get at the meaning of the second Beatitude, a general point about the relationship between the Beatitudes themselves is necessary. It is a significant point, and one I would like us to consider. Simply put, it is that the Beatitudes are interconnected and progressive. They are interconnected insofar as they are not intended to be separated one from another. They are progressive insofar as they are presented in a deliberate order and build one upon another. Thus, the second Beatitude follows the first necessarily, as the third follows the second, the fourth follows the third, etc.
In this sense, it is best to think of the Beatitudes as a ladder with eight rungs, the bottom-most being poverty in spirit and the upper-most being persecution. I believe if you will take the time to consider the particular order of the Beatitudes you will see that this makes sense.
For instance, we considered last week that poverty of spirit refers to an acknowledgment of our souls’ impoverishment outside of the Lord God and His merciful grace. That is to say, to be poor in spirit is to recognize our great and abiding need for Jesus Christ. Is to realize that we bring nothing to the table but our sins whereas He brings to the table His love, which is everything.
The last Beatitude refers to the blessedness of persecution, of suffering and of possibly even laying down your life for the gospel. We might say that a willingness to suffer for Jesus Christ is the ultimate mark of true Christian maturity, and martyrdom is the ultimate expression of that mark. But between poverty of spirit and persecution there is a journey we must undergo, a journey of growth and maturation.
How does the recognition of the Beatitudes’ progressive nature help in our interpretation? It helps in that we can look at the preceding Beatitude to give us a sense of direction in considering the current Beatitude. Thus, “those who mourn” has something to do with those who are “poor in spirit.” And that leads to a very natural conclusion: those whom Jesus speaks of as mourning are those whose mourning arises out of the poverty of their spirit, out of the recognition of their lostness outside of Jesus Christ. Meaning, they are mourning their spiritual poverty that is itself a result of human sinfulness. They are mourning their sins.
This is a fascinating idea, but we might ask if there is any reason for believing that this is what “those who mourn” is addressing?
The Nature of this Mourning
Let me first say that the suggestion that “those who mourn” is a reference to “those who mourn their spiritual poverty and sinfulness” is not a rejection of the idea that the Bible offers comfort to those mourning the loss of a loved one or friend. To be sure, scripture offers wonderful comfort to those who mourn and grieve over death and pain. The gospel itself is comfort. Nor would I suggest that it is wrong to say that the statement, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” is not true in regards mourning and grieving in general. Rather, I am simply suggesting that, in the context of these Beatitudes, the mourning of which Jesus speaks is mourning over our own sinfulness.
There are nine Greek words for “sorrow.” The one Jesus uses here (pentheo) is the most extreme, denoting the most intense form of sorrow and mourning. That is a significant fact. It means that the mourning addressed here is profound, painful mourning emanating from the deepest recesses of the heart. These are hard tears indeed! And what are these tears for? They are for the destitution of our own sinful hearts. They are for the realities that lead us to being poor in spirit in the first place.
If the thought of mourning over sins seem theoretical to you, let me suggest that you recall how often scripture shows this reality. For instance, we often see the godly grieving over the lostness of the world. Consider Luke 19:41-44, which records the reaction of Jesus as He looked down at the city of Jerusalem.
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Consider Romans 9:1-3, in which Paul expresses the sadness of heart he feels over the Jews’ rejection of Jesus Christ.
1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Consider 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, in which Paul scolds the Corinthian church’s acceptance of a member who was having a relationship with his father’s wife.
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
In Luke 6:25, mourning is promised those who are blithely carefree and careless in the world. There, Jesus says, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”
I will never forget the first time I saw my father cry. That is a memorable experience for a young man. I was out of high school and was talking with my dad about the 1960’s, his generation. He was sharing with me his opinion that the hippie movement of the 60’s had started out going in the right direction, that it was rightly protesting a great deal of the superficiality, plasticity, and hypocrisy of the American machine. It was righteously indignant about government corruption and all that goes with it. As he talked, he told me that, in his view, something went wrong with that movement. Instead of moving towards Jesus Christ as the answer, it moved towards hedonism, careless and selfish free love, drugs, and debauchery. Then he began to cry. It caught me very much off guard at the moment, though I found it very moving: my father crying over the lostness and sinfulness of his generation.
Have you ever shed tears for the depravity of the world? Have you ever shed tears for your own depravity?
James seemed to feel that such tears were necessary and crucial. In James 4:8-10, he wrote:
8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Do you see how James’ words seem to be connecting the first two Beatitudes? Poverty of spirit is reflected in James call for humility (v.10) and mourning is called for explicitly in verse 9. Yes, the Bible knows quite a lot about the need to mourn over sin as the first step to coming to God.
I would argue that this is evident nowhere so clearly as in 2 Corinthians 7:5-13. In this amazing passage, Paul is trying to comfort the Corinthians. He is having to comfort them because they have come under deep conviction after receiving Paul’s first letter to them, 1 Corinthians, in which, again, he chastised them for being complicit in the open moral rebellion of a church member. As you read this passage, keep in mind the words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.
Truly amazing! Paul notes that the Corinthians were “grieved into repenting” (v.9). Interestingly, he calls this kind of grief “godly grief,” noting that “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” and that godly grief produces “earnestness” in the believer (v.10-11).
The words “godly grief” suggests that there are kinds of grief that are not godly. That is, there are kinds of grief, even grief over sin, that do not lead to repentance and salvation. Thomas Watson, writing in 1660, spoke of a five-fold mourning that “is not the right gospel-mourning for sin.” He defined these impure mournings, with accompanying examples, as:
- A despairing kind of mourning (i.e., Judas Iscariot’s mourning)
- Hypocritical mourning (i.e., Saul’s hypocritical repentance before Samuel)
- Forced mourning (i.e., Cain’s fear of his punishment instead of his sin)
- An outward mourning (i.e., “They disfigure their faces” Matthew 6:16)
- A vain fruitless mourning (“Some will shed a few tears, but are as bad as ever.”)
Do any of these faulty kinds of mourning look familiar to you? Do you recognize them in your own life? Have you ever mourned the consequences of your actions and confused it for mourning your actual actions? Have you ever mourned on the surface but not from your heart? Have you ever mourned on the outside, employed a little bit of theatrics, without truly mourning?
Some of us who became believers at a young age may wonder how we can mourn over our sins. Some of us have even listened with a kind of weird envy to those dramatic testimonies that we usually put front and center in churches: testimonies of people caught in shocking addictions or guilty of shocking crimes who were suddenly and dramatically converted from darkness to light. Some of us might even say to ourselves, “Why could I not have had more dramatic sins to mourn over, to be redeemed from, to tell stunned audiences about?”
Let me say that the mistake of such thoughts is a mistake of perspective: all sins are profoundly ugly and destructive and all sinfulness should drive us to mourning. Consider as well the sins you have committed since coming to Christ. Consider your sins of mind. Consider your sins of neglect and omission. Consider your heart whenever it turns from Jesus. Look deeply into your heart and you will have more than sufficient reason to mourn, be you eight or eighty.
True mourning is heart-brokenness over our actual sins. The mourning that brings the blessing of God arises when one who is poor in spirit sees, is broken by, and grieves over the specific sins and the sinful disposition that has separated that one from the Lord God. Those who mourn in this way will be blessed, for the Lord Jesus does not despise the grieving heart.
The Beauty of Comfort Christ Gives
The poor in spirit are blessed. Those who mourn their poverty of spirit are blessed. The Kingdom of God is for those who are broken over their great and undeniable need for God. Those who are not so broken cannot even receive the Kingdom anyway, though they desperately need it!
I love how the great John Chrysostom put it:
Where shall they be comforted! Tell me. Both here and there. For since the thing enjoined was exceeding burthensome and galling, He promised to give that, which most of all made it light. Wherefore, if thou wilt be comforted, mourn: and think not this a dark saying. For when God doth comfort, though sorrows come upon thee by thousands like snow-flakes, thou wilt be above them all. Since in truth, as the returns which God gives are always far greater than our labors; so He hath wrought in this case, declaring them that mourn to be blessed, not after the value of what they do, but after His own love towards man.
The gospel tells us that the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover all our sins. This means that you can rest in the comfort that Christ has won us! This means that you can, indeed, be free!
We often hear Revelation 21 read at funerals, but let me ask you to consider this passage, particularly verses1-4, in the light of the second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” These verses read:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Ah! The “loud voice” shouts out, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes!” A friend of mine once said to me, “Wyman, have you ever asked yourself why it is that everybody is crying in Heaven, that everybody has tears that need to be wiped away?” He then suggested that the reason everybody is crying is because we know we do not deserve the Kingdom, because we are mourning what we know of our own hearts and the distance we see between our hearts and His glory.
But herein lies the comfort: Jesus is in the business of wiping away heart-broken tears! Jesus is in the business of picking up those who are broken under their sinfulness! Jesus is in the business of calling home those who are far off! Jesus is in the business of comforting those who mourn!
Bless are you who are mourning, for you will be comforted!
 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), p.29.
 John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), p.157.
 John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Vol.10. First Series. Ed., Philip Schaff (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), p.93.