As quietness came over the crowd, with anticipation they awaited Jesus’ words. But who would have expected his first words to be a blessing on the poor in spirit? Like the opening of the Psalms, Jesus started with a declaration: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 5:3). Is Jesus serious? The poor in spirit are blessed? This is not what anyone would have expected!
As usual, Jesus spoke counter-cultural truth. He challenged the assumptions people held about what it means to be blessed. We think of the poor in spirit as broken, crushed and contrite — not blessed. They’re the ones who know they have nothing to commend themselves to God. They have no claim upon God beyond his mercy. They are bankrupt in spirit.
Jesus draws his audience immediately to the grace of God. Heaven is reserved for those who know they don’t qualify. The blessed (those who have God’s favor resting on them) are those who know how much they don’t deserve God’s favor. How paradoxical! This is the grand reversal of every religion.
The paradox intensifies
But if being blessed and poor in spirit seems paradoxical, the next pronouncement is more startling. “Blessed are those who mourn…” (Matthew 5:4). Blessed are the sorrowful? Blessed are the grieving? How could this be?
If you plan to follow Jesus, prepare to be counter-cultural. We would likely say: “Blessed is the person who has no sorrow or sadness.” Ask yourself: What kind of mourning or sorrow could someone experience that would make him blessed?
Since there are many kinds of sorrow, Jesus couldn’t be saying all who mourn are blessed. And certainly all who mourn will not be comforted. So how are we to understand this? What kind of mourning is blessed by God?
An emotional counterpart:
Is it possible that the second beatitude (blessed are those who mourn) is the emotional counterpart to the first beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit).
“It is one thing to be spiritually poor and to acknowledge it; it is quite another to grieve and mourn over it” (John R. W. Stott, Sermon on the Mount, p.41).
The eight beatitudes unfold in a progressive experience common to all true disciples of Jesus. The one who begins with poverty of spirit will mourn about his sin. Like the apostle Paul, those who are blessed cry out, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24). Earlier the apostle said: “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwells no good thing.” Like the prophet Isaiah, aware of the greatness of the holy God, we react with a sense of personal devastation, ” “Woe to me!”.….”I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips…” (Isa. 6:5).
On Oct. 18th 1740, David Brainerd (the godly missionary to the American Indians) expressed poverty of spirit and mourning when he wrote in his journal, “In my morning devotions, my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.”
At the end of his suffering, the righteous man Job said to God, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6; contra. Rev. 16:8-11).
In the days prior to his conversion, Augustine wrote, “I grew more wretched and thou didst grow nearer.”
The first two beatitudes are a picture of the tax-gather with down cast eyes beating his chest and crying out, ‘God be merciful to me the sinner’” (Luke 18:9-13). In Psalm 38:18, David, the man after Gods heart said, “I confess my iniquity I am troubled about my sin”
When Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted,” He was not speaking of mourning for all kinds of misery. It was mourning in recognition of one’s poverty of spirit.
“Blessed is the man who is moved to bitter sorrow at the realization of his own sin. The way to God is the way of the broken heart. Penitence is the first act of the Christian life, and penitence is sorrow” (William Barclay).
“To mourn is something that follows of necessity from being ‘poor in spirit’. It is quite inevitable. As I confront God and His holiness, and contemplate the life that I am meant to live, I see myself, my utter helplessness and hopelessness. I discover my quality of spirit and immediately that makes me mourn. I must mourn about the fact that I am like that (Martyn Llyod-Jones, Sermon on the Mount, P.58).
Conviction leads to conversion, but true confession will always involve contrition (sorrow and remorse over sin). The apostle Paul wrote of, “godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to (indicating the reality of) salvation (2 Corin. 7:10). Yet he also wrote of, “the sorrow of the world which produces death.”
Sorrow that is not blessed:
Some people give a show of sorrow about sin but they’re really sorry for the consequences their sin caused for them. They display the sorrow of Cain and Esau and of King Saul — the sorrow of the world. They’re sorry they I got caught and had to suffer. This person frames his confession in relation to himself– to his hurt, and pain, not in relation to God and others.
“The sorrow of the world, indeed is not something distinct from sin; on the contrary, it partakes of the very essence of sin. It is not sorrow because of the heinousness of sin as rebellion against God, but sorrow because of the painful and unwelcome consequences of sin. Self is its central point; and self is also the central point of sin. Thus the sorrow of the world manifests itself in self-pity rather than in contrition and turning to God for mercy” (Philip Hughes, N.IC.N.T. 2 Corinthians, pp. 272-273).
They shall be comforted:
The blessedness of those who mourn is directly related to the fact that, “they shall be comforted.” But it is precisely because they mourn that they stand in need of comfort. There is most certainly a present and future aspect to this comfort. Just as the Christian life begins with poverty of spirit and an emotional response of godly sorrow over sin, so it breaks out into the joy of forgiveness, the joy of God’s salvation.
The psalmist declared, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him… (Ps. 32:1-2).
“He speaks, and listening to his voice New life the dead receive, the mournful, broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe” (Charles Wesely).
The wonderful grace of Jesus is “broader than the scope of my transgression”? With great comfort, I can sing “My sin O the bliss of this glorious through my sin not in part but the whole; is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul”
The initial awareness of sin and sorrow at the time of salvation never goes away in this life. In fact, it usually intensifies as we grow closer to God. There is an ever-deepening awareness of the evil of sin against the holiness of God.
We must not expect that mourning over sin will end with salvation. I am deeply concerned that we do not misrepresent the Christian life as one of unending joy. There is an emotional variety that intensifies and should be understood and accepted.
“Some Christians seem to imagine that, especially if they are filled with the spirit, they must wear a perpetual grin on their faces … The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them” (John Stott).
“There can also be a mourning stimulated by broader considerations. Sometimes the sin of the world, the lack of integrity, the injustice, the cruelty, the cheapness, the selfishness, all pile onto the consciousness of a sensitive man and make him weep. The Christian is to be the truest realist. He reasons that death is there, and must be faced. God is there, and will be known by all a savior or judge. Sin is there, and it is unspeakably ugly and block in the light of God’s purity. Eternity is there, and every living human being is rushing toward it. God’s revelation is there, and the alternatives it presents will come to pass; life or death, pardon or condemnation, heaven or hell. These are realities which will not go away. The man who lives in the light of them, and rightly assesses himself and his world in the light of them, cannot but mourn. He mourns for the sins and blasphemies of his nation. He mourns for the erosion of the very concept of truth. He mourns over the greed, the cynicism, the lack of integrity. He mourns that there are so few mourners (D.A. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, p. 19).
Joy is a characteristic of the godly, but joy must be placed beside tears and sorrow. The Psalmist said: “My eyes shed streams of tears because men do not keep thy law” (Ps. 119:136). God’s faithful people are described as those who: “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:4). The godly man Ezra identifies with the sins of the people in confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God.
Jeremiah (the weeping prophet) said:
“Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night. For the slain of the daughter of my people! O that I had in the desert a wayfarers lodging place; that I might leave my people, and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, and assembly of treacherous men. And they bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the Lord.”
The apostle Paul wrote about many “of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18).
The emotion of the eternal God was recorded in Genesis 6:5-6, “the Lord saw that the wickedness or man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart.”
Although the gospels never record the laughter of Jesus, they do record his anguish and tears ( Mt. 26:34-38; Jn. 10:35; Heb. 5:7-9). The prophet Isaiah identified the coming messiah as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, who would bear our grief and carry our sorrows” (Isaiah 53).
Too often, we “are prepared to walk with Jesus through Matthew 23 and repeat his pronouncements of doom; but will we stop before we get to the end of the chapter and join him in weeping over the city” (D.A. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, p. 19).
“Those who mourn with the sorrow of the world rather than being comforted will end their self-centered sorrow with the weeping of final judgment (Mt. 13:42,50, 23:30). But those who mourn with godly sorrow will be comforted —in this life, as they receive the comfort of sins forgiven. And, even this great comfort will be surpassed one day in a new heaven and new earth, the kingdom of God will be consummated, and God himself will wipe away all tears from the eyes of those who once mourned. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away” (Rev. 21:4) (see: D.A. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, p.19).
Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning and in our mourning!
“The disciples of Jesus bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the Cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. This is their comfort, or rather, he is their comfort, their comforter. … This alien community is comforted by the Cross” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship).