As a hush came over the crowd, Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount. They awaited his words with great expectation and intrigue. Yet who would have expected his first words to be a pronouncement of blessing on the poor in spirit? Blessed? The poor in spirit? How can this be?
Through out his ministry, Jesus challenged one cultural assumption after another. Blessing is unexpected for the poor in spirit because they are the broken, crushed and contrite. But they are blessed because they know that they have nothing to commend them to God and no claim on God beyond His mercy. It shall always be the case that God resists the proud and lavishes grace upon the humble (see: Luke 18:9-14).
Jesus led his audience immediately to the grace of God. It was like saying that 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. Paradoxical to the human mind! The grand reversal of every religion!
Wait! If being blessed and poor in spirit seems out-of-place, the paradox became more startling when Jesus pronounced a blessing on mourners. Blessed are the sorrowful? Blessed are the grieving? How could this be?
Jesus reverses cultural assumptions
We naturally resist the teaching of Jesus. We would say, “Blessed is the person who has no sorrow or sadness.” What kind of mourning or sorrow could someone experience that would make him blessed? Since there are many kinds of sorrow, Jesus could not mean that all who mourn are blessed. We know that not all who mourn will be comforted. How are we to understand this? What kind of mourning would be blessed by God?
Is it possible that this second beatitude (blessed are those who mourn) is the emotional counterpart to the first (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 seem to unfold in a progressive experience common to the true disciples of Jesus. The one who begins with poverty of spirit will mourn about his sin. Those who are blessed of God are those who cry out with the apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24).
Not all who mourn
When Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted,” He does not speak of mourning for all kinds of misery. It was mourning associated with the 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” (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).
Just as conviction leads to conversion, genuine confession will always involve contrition (sorrow and remorse over sin). The apostle Paul wrote of, “godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to (or “indicating the reality of”) salvation (2 Corin. 7:10). Yet he also wrote of, “the sorrow of the world which produces death.”
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, Esau and King Saul–the sorrow of the world. They are sorry they I got caught and had to suffer. When this kind of person gives a display of confession, they will mostly verbalize it in relation to themselves — to their hurt, and their 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 Cor. Pp 272-273).
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).
In this life, the initial awareness of sin and sorrow at the time of salvation will always be with us. Often it intensifies as we grow closer to God. There is an ever-deepening awareness of the pervasive evil of sin against the holiness of God. The very indwelling presence of God’s Spirit at salvation brings comfort and joy, but (as with Romans 8), it is precisely because we have the deposit of the spirit that we groan with longing for completion of our redemption.
“Already, through the indwelling presence of God’s spirit, we have been transferred into the new age of blessing and salvation; but the fact that the spirit is only the first fruit makes us daily conscious that we have not yet severed all ties to the old era of sin and death. There is a healthy balance necessary in the Christian life, in which our joy at the many blessings we already possess should be set beside our frustration at our failures and our intense yearning for that day when we will fail no more when we shall be like Him” (Douglas Moo, W.E.C. Romans, p. 557).
“Some Christians seem to imagine that, especially if they are filled with the spirit, they must wear a perpetual grin on their faces and be continuously boisterous and bubbly… 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 distinguishing characteristic of the godly, yet it often coexists with 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 scribe Ezra identified 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, an 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.
“I cannot help feeling that the final explanation of the state of the church today is a defective sense of sin and a defective doctrine of sin. Coupled with that, of course, is a failure to understand the true nature of Christian joy. There is the double failure. There is not the real, deep conviction of sin as was once the case; and on the other hand there is this superficial conception of joy and happiness which is very different indeed from that which we find in the New Testament. Thus the defective doctrine of sin and the shallow idea of joy, working together, of necessity produce a superficial kind of person and a very inadequate kind of Christian life” (Sermon on the Mount). (cf. 1 Cor. 5:2- “should you not have rather mourned?”).
They shall be comforted:
The blessedness of those who mourn is directly related to the promise that, “they shall be comforted.” There is clearly 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.
There is a day coming, as Jesus said, when those who are “blessed of My Father,” will “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). On that day, the poor in spirit will enter into the joy of their Master.
Keep two exclamatory affirmations near to your hearts each day:
- Romans 7:24 – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death (my imprisonment to sin)?
- Romans 7:25 – “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).