Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

The First Mourning, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The First Mourning, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Christian terms, the world can be divided into two – those who love, and seek to follow Christ, and those who don’t. In view of this verse, the world can be divided into two – those who mourn and those who don’t. Mourning here does not refer to the expression of sadness following the death of an individual, but the death of mankind’s innocence.

As Christians, we know that we are sinners; we are aware of the sin and the wickedness of the world around us. As a result, we plead for forgiveness from God. Those who do not know Christ do not share these feelings. Whilst they may accept that there is a level of wickedness in the world, they will probably feel that they themselves are basically alright.

This is, I believe, what Jesus is getting at here in the second of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. The previous beatitude, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” suggested that a Christian will know of their own inadequacy before God. This verse takes that idea one step further – not only will a Christian know that they are “poor in spirit,” but this will provoke a reaction. How can a follower of Christ fail to feel despondent when looking at the world around us? God made us a beautiful, perfect world, but all around us we see the effects of sin – murder, slander, rape, violence, the list goes on. Yet because we feel this way, because we are aware of the Godlessness of the world, we will find comfort. We know that we have sinned, and have turned to Christ in repentance. The rest of the world, who do not know Christ, have not done so – because they do not mourn the state of the world.

Is it simply enough to mourn the sins of the world around us, though, when we ourselves are sinners? No, it is not. We have played our part in making the world what it is today, and need to fall on our knees before Christ and ask for forgiveness.

Genuine repentance brings with it a genuine sorrow. We all have our own weaknesses, and sins that we are very aware of committing regularly. Every time we commit a sin we have repented of, we feel very strongly our own weakness and inadequacy. This is an element of the mourning that Jesus refers to here.

By mourning the death of innocence, we share in God’s pain. The Psalmist clearly demonstrated what our response to sin should be when he wrote, “streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (Psalm 119: 136). How many of us have actually wept, though, when we have seen mankind rebelling against God? Or, indeed, at our own rebellion? It doesn’t seem a very common thing to do. Yet there are many examples of God’s people throughout the Old and New Testaments who do just this. In Ezekiel chapter nine, God issues instructions to “go throughout the city of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. … Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark” (Ezekiel 9: 4, 6). Mourning the evil in the city is here a sign that someone loves God. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we are told that sin should grieve us – “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” (1 Corinthians 5:2). In Romans, we see Paul mourning his own sinfulness – “what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7: 24). Paul goes on to answer this question, however – “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Paul clearly knows the answer to this question – Jesus Christ will rescue him from his “body of death.” When we recognise that we, too, have bodies of death, Jesus will rescue us too! This is, in fact, the second part of our verse – the verse doesn’t just say “blessed are those who mourn,” but goes on to say why – “for they will be comforted.” What an amazing promise!

By looking back at the Old Testament prophecies, we learn that Jesus came to comfort those who mourn. Isaiah 61 states that the messiah would come “to comfort all those who mourn, and provide for all those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61: 2-3). Jesus is the fulfilment of this prophecy – through his death and resurrection, we can be free from our sin, and reconciled to God our Father. We can enjoy eternal life in his company, where there will be no sin or mourning, only rejoicing!

So what have we learnt from this verse, the second beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount? We’ve learnt that mourning will be an aspect of the Christian’s character much in evidence. Christians will mourn the state of the world, because they know that a godless world is not pleasing to God. Christians will also mourn their own sinfulness, because they know that when they sin, they are displeasing God. But we’ve also been reassured by this verse. Through Jesus Christ, we can be reconciled to God, and can have eternal life in his presence, where there will be no mourning.

So, look around the world and mourn at how far removed it is from God, but give thanks that we, as Christians, can be comforted.

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