Blessed are Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

This is now week 12 meeting as Ethos Communion Church. We are still in our soft launch stage, and trying to hone in on the vision that God has for us a church. We know there is a Huge Harvest of yet to be believers out there, and we want to prepare so that we are sharpened instruments ready to be used by the Lord however he chooses.

Last week, we began a series where we are asking, “What did Jesus teach?” As much as we want to love people into the kingdom of God, and we ought to, it is also necessary that we teach them into the kingdom as well. Put simply, to become a Christian, one needs not only like Jesus, they need to obey what he taught. And so as we get ready to bring in the harvest, we need to be ready to teach what Jesus taught.

And so we’re looking at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 which begins with this list of blessings called The Beatitudes. The first is “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We dug into that last week. Today, we are going to consider the second, “Blessed are those who mourn…for they shall be comforted.”

Now, before we dig into this beatitude specifically, I want us to zoom out and look at the list as a whole. You’ll notice that there are nine beatitudes. And what you’ll also notice is that most of them take some kind of negative condition and then flips them saying, “in these you are blessed.”

The first high level lesson we need to learn is this: see life with spiritual eyes. If you are poor, or if you are mourning, or if you are hungry, or persecuted, we tend to see those things as negative. But Jesus is teaching us to see with new eyes; spiritual eyes, that is, with the eyes of faith. There is one way to see things, that is natural, the way that everyone else sees things. But there is another way to see things, that is spiritual, and this is what Jesus is teaching us how to do. To look at a situation, where it is natural to feel cursed, but then to flip it, and to realize it is actually a blessing.

We may throw around the word blessing, but the original word for blessed means to be supremely happy. It is an ideal condition for the ideal life. This is what the gospel does, it takes what most people would see as a curse, and turns it into a blessing.

And this is especially the case in today’s beatitude, where Jesus teaches us that the way to supreme happiness is through mourning.

Today, we’re going to ask four questions:

  1. What is Mourning?
  2. How is Mourning a Blessing?
  3. What Comfort Does the Gospel Give to Mourners?
  4. Mourning Practice?

What is Mourning?

Now, the first thing we need to consider is what is mourning? This may seem somewhat obvious, but let’s dig in a little.

The Oxford Dictionary defines mourning this way: To “feel regret or sadness about (the loss or disappearance of something).” I think this definition is insightful. This is telling us that mourning is the result of losing something. This makes sense of mourning after a death. The grief is really a feeling of emptiness. And the more a person filled your life, the more their absence will be felt. It seems to me that the process of mourning is really the process of your body; your emotions, and your nerves, catching up to reality. When someone you love dies, it is shocking. You question and wonder how life can go on without them. And the reality is, that life will go on…but it will not be the same. Grieving is the process of acclimating to the void.

It is a slow and painful process. It may take years. Even decades to grieve. In the classic book entitled Good Grief, Granger Westberg says there are ten movements of the grieving process:

  1. State of Shock: Initial reaction of disbelief and numbness.
  2. Express Emotion: Allowing oneself to feel and express emotions.
  3. Feeling Depressed and Very Lonely: Experiencing deep sadness and a sense of isolation.
  4. Physical Symptoms of Distress: Manifestations of grief through physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomach issues.
  5. Panic: Feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the future.
  6. Guilt: Experiencing feelings of regret or guilt about things left unsaid or undone.
  7. Anger and Resentment: Anger towards oneself, others, or even the deceased.
  8. Resistance to Returning to Normal Life: Difficulty in resuming daily activities and responsibilities.
  9. Gradually Hope Comes Through: Beginning to see a glimmer of hope and possibility for the future.
  10. Struggle to Affirm Reality: Coming to terms with the loss and finding a new sense of normalcy.

Now, anyone who has gone through this, knows the pain, and would not wish it upon any of their friends. And yet, for some reason, Jesus says to mourn…is to be blessed. How can that be?

How is Mourning a Blessing?

First of all, he is bringing consolation to those who are in suffering. In other words, he is speaking to those who are already in this state and he intends to bring comfort to them. The reality is, he knows that the life of a Christian is going to be difficult. The first century Christians underwent severe persecution, and so he is preparing them for that. And we’ll get more to the comfort the gospel provides.

But secondly, I think he is doing more than merely providing consolation to the suffering. He is not just saying, if you’re mourning there is comfort for you. This would merely be the equivalent of saying, “everything is going to be ok.” He is going further and says that there is blessing in the mourning itself. In other words, against common sense, mourning is a good, blessed, condition to be in. We naturally want nothing to do with mourning. Whether it is the loss of someone we love, or the loss of anything near and dear to us (health, job, dreams, favorite possessions, etc.). We want to hold onto all the good things we have in life forever.

But what is the reality? Life is sweet and bitter. And the reality is that the things sweetest to us will cause the most bitterness when we lose them. Not if we lose them, when. And so why is it blessed to mourn? Jesus is bringing us into reality. To live, if you live long enough, is to mourn.

If I could broaden out the intended meaning of mourning here, it is grieving over the fact that things are not the way they ought to be. There is pain, there is loss, their is brokenness, there is death in this life. And we would be living against reality, we’d be in denial, if we ignored the brokenness.

Probably the book of the bible that brings the clearest reality check is the book of Ecclesiastes. And what it says corresponds to what Jesus says here.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. 2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.”

Ecclesiastes 7:1–6

Basically, this is saying that the day of death has more meaning than the day of birth because there is more wisdom found in mourning than in feasting and laughing. Laughter can help someone cope with the pain. But the bible is saying that only by fully experiencing sorrow and sadness will the heart be made glad.

So the gospel begins with the bitter reality that this world is broken, and everyone is going to die. And it belongs to blessing to accept this reality; things are not the way they are supposed to be. As Romans 8 puts it, “…the whole creation is groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:22) Such is the bitterness and pain of life and all creation: There are natural disasters, there is environmental degradation and pollution, poverty, wars, diseases, mental health issues, broken relationships, addiction, corruption, human trafficking, famine, systemic injustice, just to name some broad categories. And one hundred percent of the time, everyone’s life ends in death. Such is the bitter reality of life: it always ends.

And so why is it blessed to mourn? Because the day of death brings us to sobriety. We can often get drunk on this world. We get drunk on worldly ambition and fleshly desires. There is so much to see, and do, and conquer, that we forget…how short life is, it’s just a vapor, and then we die.

John Piper has written a book, and the title speaks volumes, Don’t Waste Your Life. Sadly, too many waste their lives because they live without having serious considered death. What is the meaning of life, if everyone you love is going to die, and so are you?

Now, that sounds incredibly bleak and dismal and depressing. But it is just reality. And it is more wise, more blessed, to live in accordance with reality, rather than to deny it. There is something about knowing that you will one day lose something that makes you treasure it all the more. And so should it be especially with the loved ones in our life. How we take them for granted so easily.

I remember my mom mentioning something like this a long time ago, I don’t know if she remembers. But she said you should say every good bye as if it could be your last, because before you know it, it will. My Father-in-law died recently, and it took us all completely by surprise. And this can happen with anyone. Keep that in mind, and I think it should affect the way you treat them.

So there is a practical, everyday blessing that comes with mourning. But there is even more, and that leads us to our next point.

What Comfort Does the Gospel Give to Mourners?

Jesus finishes the beatitude by saying, “Blessed are those who mourn…for they shall be comforted?” Now, the grammar of the original language here is significant. There are two key points to highlight.

First, notice, the word is future. Shall be comforted. Meaning, though you mourn now, there is comfort coming in the future. Second, the word is passive. Meaning, the comfort is something that you can’t create. Rather, it is something that happens to you, or it is done to you. In other words, the comfort comes from outside of you and beyond you.

And this is where faith comes into the picture. It is objectively wise to mourn, that is, to consider the day of death, because it is just reality. However, in spite of its practical benefits (like making us appreciate who and what we have), it is still a bitter reality. And we need some kind of comfort. Where does this comfort come from?

For those who do not believe in God, where can they find comfort?

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust and he spent time in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He wrote a book about this called Man’s Search for Meaning in which he made some observations about how various people dealt with the trauma of losing everything and being enslaved in a concentration camp awaiting their cruel death. And basically, he observed that the people whose hope and meaning was only found in this life, whether in their job, or someone they loved, or their beauty, they were the one’s most likely to lose the will to live. And they literally would wither and die. But on the other hand, it was the one’s whose meaning was placed in something beyond this life, for example, the hope that they would one day be reunited with loved ones, who had the resilience to transcend above their circumstances.

I think this is a sincere question that we can ask people? “Where do you find comfort?” It seems that many people find comfort in coping mechanisms. And those things are fine as far as they go. And if there is no God, then that’s all you can do. But Christians have a resource, through faith, that can bring everlasting comfort. They have a resource in One who will never leave them, where not even death can separate them. In fact, this One is working all things together for good, even the suffering. And that means that there is even meaning to the suffering, it is not just pointless chaos.

And so this is the real blessing of mourning: It should lead you to faith. To realize that we are in this broken world where things are not as they ought to be, and we can’t fix it. We’ve tried, and we’ve been trying, but it seems to just get more and more broke. The fixing, the real comfort, needs to come from outside of us.

And this is made evident in the suffering of the Son of God. He left the comforts of his life, and entered into our mourning. It’s interesting when you consider the life of Christ, it was full of emotion. But the two emotions that he most often experienced was grief and anger. You can think of John 11 at the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus was dead, and everyone is crying. He knows what’s going to happen in the next moment, he’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet in this moment, he experiences two emotions. The first is grief. Everyone is crying, Mary is crying, and he cries with them. But in the very next verse, we’re told that Jesus was “deeply moved.” This word can also be translated as intense anger, to even snort with anger like a horse.

What does this mean? Jesus, though God, was not emotionally removed or distant from our experience. Our pain grieves him, but it also makes him angry. In other words, he cares. But he not only cares, he can do something about it. And so the comfort and the hope that we have is Jesus cares about the brokenness in this world. But he not only cares, he did something about it.

He tasted death on our behalf, and in rising from the dead, he conquered death. This means, one day, there is eternal comfort coming. Not just words of comfort, but actual change of circumstance. Where we will be reunited with loved ones who have died, and we will be in his perfect kingdom where the brokenness is fixed, no more disease, no more pain, no more death. And this is why as believers in this gospel, we can grieve, yet with hope (1 Thess 4:13). Because we believe there is true blessing found in the mourning. Because we follow a Savior who suffered, grieved, was tortured, and died a cruel and painful death, but now he is at the right hand of God, in everlasting joy, and that is where he will bring all who believe in him.

This is how the gospel brings comfort to mourners. Because though we suffer in this life, it is but light and momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory (2Cor 4:17). There is a glory awaiting us that will make all mourning in this life seem light and momentary in comparison. There is a real future comfort that God will bring to us forever.

Mourning Practice

Now, let me end by giving you some ways to put this into practice. Is mourning something that we can practice? I just finished reading a book called Practicing The Way by John Mark Comer. In it, he argues that spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically, and it doesn’t happen by mere will power. It happens when we live by faith…by practicing. Just as in life, you have to practice to get good at anything (instruments, sports, etc.) You also need to have spiritual practical. And then the Holy Spirit uses your practice to shape you.

So when it comes to mourning, is there a way we can practice? Let me give you four.

  1. Fasting. In mourning, people may lose their appetite. There are several reasons why this may be the case, but there is a connection between mourning and fasting. You may try fasting a single meal or two within a week. As you starve your body, let it remind you of your mortality, and as a way to apply Gal 5:24, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you think about it, fasting is literally praying with your body, offering all that you are to God and nullifying the flesh.
  2. Solitude. Fasting can be more effective when done in solitude away from the busyness of the world. It may even be beneficial to visit loved ones at a mortuary or a cemetery and then meditate on a passage like 1Thessalonians 4:13ff which speaks of the resurrection.
  3. Meditation. This is primary. The first two practices provide some structure, or an environment, for your meditation. A few things to meditate on: 1) Mortality, 2) Brokenness of this world, 3) Sin, 4) the comfort of the Resurrection. More tangibly, you can mediate on the Psalms of Lament. There are lots of them (you may google it). And as you mourn in your meditation, and as you feel the fallenness of this world, let this meditation move you into evangelism.
  4. Evangelism. When we are in touch with the brokenness of this world, and realize the ultimate cause of all the brokenness is sin, it should move us to evangelism. I think often we are so drunk on this world, we don’t have that sense of urgency to share the gospel. But when we properly mourn, we should see that everyone needs the everlasting comfort that only the gospel can bring. One question to start a conversation is: “Where do you find comfort in grief?” Be open to sincerely listening and trying to understand. And then be prepared to give an answer if they ask you the same question.

These are some ways that we can practice mourning. As we do, may the Lord bless you, and lead you to lead others into the comfort that only he can provide.

Prayer: Our Father in Heaven, we thank you for the wisdom you give to us. That the blessed life, is one that begins with mourning; that tastes the bitter reality of this world; that it is not as it ought to be. You created the world good, but there is so much bad. Thank you for sending your Son to restore and make all things new. Thank you for the hope of the resurrection. I ask that you would teach us to truly mourn, so that we might find true comfort in you. And use us, also, to bring this comfort to those who have yet to know it. Amen.

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