I was sitting with a friend one day and he said something that has stayed with me. My friend isn’t a Christian – although he is a deeply spiritual person. He appreciates my faith – respects it – and is curious about what we believe – to the point that he has spent time reading the Bible – a lot of time, actually.
My friend told me he really appreciates the narratives of the Old Testament. He loves the story of David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah. He also appreciates the beauty and the rawness of the Psalms. And he loved reading the Gospels. Jesus fascinates him and he admires Jesus and understands why people are drawn to him.
But, my friend also told me that there are some things that Jesus said that confused him and a few things he found strange. At first, he thought I was offended but I quickly put him at ease when I said – even people in Jesus’ day found some of the things he said confusing and strange. It is little wonder that would carry over to today. I really enjoyed talking with my friend about my faith and I appreciated the fact that he was interested.
I hadn’t thought about that conversation until this week as I re-read Matthew 5:4. Matthew 5:4 says,  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
I don’t usually think that there is anything blessed about mourning, do you? The notion of being comforted – well now that’s good but – blessed? I immediately thought of my friend – pondering over that text and I wondered if Jesus’ disciples thought that was strange.
You see, in those days, the first century, they had a high infant mortality rate. Chances are good that every one of Jesus’ disciples – like so many of us – had buried someone they loved even someone under the age of 5. They probably weren’t strangers to mourning or grief – any more than you or I.
No one has to define mourning to us. Many of us know the feeling all too well. But I dare say, I’ve ever associated blessing with mourning.
So, I can see why my friend would think that text sounds a bit strange – or confusing. What does Jesus mean when he says that folks who mourn are blessed for they will be comforted?
Well – you know Matthew 5:4 is part of Jesus’ most famous sermon – the Sermon on the Mount. It was called that because – well – Matthew 5:1-2 tells us that “Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And Jesus opened his mouth and taught them…”
So the first thing to make note of is that Jesus is teaching his disciples; he’s training them. That’s the target audience of his sermon. While there may have been a crowd of others listening in – Jesus’ sermon was focused on his disciples. He wanted them to hear, understand, and embody what he was telling them.
Matthew tells us – in Matthew 4 – that Jesus began his ministry by calling his disciples and healing people mentally, physically, and spiritually. As you can imagine, that drew a large crowd. And when Jesus saw the crowd – he walked away from them – went up on a mountainside and began to teach his disciples.
Why would he do that? Why would Jesus pull away from the crowd? And what was he teaching them?
Well as one theologian put it, “Jesus wants to incorporate his followers into his healing ministry and ethic. Jesus apparently believes that when disciples believe, obey, and teach his sermon, they become a sick world’s major antibodies and antidotes” (Bruner 153).
In other words, Jesus pulls away from the crowds – he pulls away from doing the ministry of bringing healing to the world – in order to teach his disciples how to do the same sorts of things that He is doing. He’s training them to be Christians – how to go about being a Christian and doing the sort of things that Christians are supposed to do. And he starts by talking about the essential qualities of a Christian – and he gives them 8 of them – what we call beatitudes.
That word beatitude is where we get the word blessing – and when we think of blessing – we think happy. That’s why in some Bibles the beatitudes start with Happy are those – rather than blessed are those. But the word blessed – at least here – has more to do with approval than happiness. In this context, it means to be approved by God – which should make us happy; it is a blessing to be approved by God.
Which brings us back to Matthew 5:4. The second quality of a Christian that Jesus mentions is they are “that those who mourn.” Again, in some Bibles, that verse is translated as “happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We could even say, approved of God are those who mourn.
But isn’t that confusing? Isn’t that strange? It sounds awfully strange to me. Happy/blessed/approved are those who mourn?
As I said earlier, we don’t need a definition of mourning. Many of us still feel the pangs over having lost people we love. We normally associate the word mourn with grieving the loss of someone we love. There are tears and sorrow. We feel it deep within our heart of hearts – and we will always carry a bit of that sorrow with us. We learn to live with it over time – but there is always a part of us that will mourn that loss. A bit of our heart will always be broken. We understand mourning but we may not fully appreciate how Jesus uses it here.
For just a second I’d like to ask you to draw on your experience with mourning. As much as you are able – just hold it in your imagination. As you do consider this. Jesus isn’t talking so much about mourning over the loss of a loved one but he is talking about being brokenhearted – or mourning – over sin – our sin and the sin of the world and the way that sin has wreaked havoc in our lives and in the lives of others. In fact, this sort of mourning that Jesus is referring to is something that the Apostle Paul calls Godly grief.
If you’ve ever had the chance to read any of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth you’ll know what a mess they were. I’m not going to go into details – but – sin ran amok among them. Paul wrote them a number of letters and addressed head-on some of the things that were going on. He spoke directly to the issues. Which brings me to 2 Corinthians 7:9–13 Paul wrote, “ 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.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  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.  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.  Therefore we are comforted” (ESV).
When Jesus tells his disciples that an essential quality of being a Christian is to mourn, it is akin to Paul’s urging the church of Corinth into Godly grief over their sin and the way sin impacted those around them.
Let me take a quick rabbit trail – because I’ve used the S word. We don’t like the S word too much in our society. We don’t like to talk about sin or sinners – but – if we want to be faithful to the Bible – if we want to understand what Jesus is talking in Matthew 5:4 – we need to bring that word up and talk about sin.
I love the way that the Westminster Confession of Faith’s Shorter Catechism defines sin. According to the confession, sin is “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” That’s a fancy way of saying, sin is anything in our lives that doesn’t perfectly conform to God’s plans and purposes.
We could just take the 10 Commandments and see the ways we don’t conform perfectly to God’s plans and purposes – right? Especially if you take into account the things that Jesus had to say about the 10 Commandments. Even if we have broken those things in our hearts – then we are out of conformity with God’s plans and purposes. I’m confident that God’s plans and purposes don’t include lying, or murder, or cheating, or gossip…and the list goes on.
Jesus says that part of what it means to be a Christian – and to bring healing to the world is to be brokenhearted by our inability to live in perfect conformity to God’s plans and purposes. And – it doesn’t hurt to be brokenhearted about the way sin wrecks havoc on all aspects of our world.
That’s the thing – isn’t it? We know that one person’s greed, or dishonesty, or temper, or addiction, or urges, or appetites can impact a lot of people. I hate to say it but my sin – your sin – sin in the world impacts everything. And, according to Jesus, we’ve got to own it. We need to mourn – to grieve – to be brokenhearted over sin. We need a good dose of Godly grief – because that leads to repentance – and in that, we will find the comfort that comes through the person, word, and work of Jesus.
Jesus promises here – those who mourn – those who are broken-hearted over their sin – will be comforted – comforted by what?
John Stott wrote, “Such mourners, who bewail their own sinfulness, will be comforted by the only comfort which can relieve their distress, namely the free forgiveness of God” (Stott 42).
That is good news – that Jesus says that those who mourn will be comforted. That is news worth sharing – especially at a time when our communities and our world are in such a mess. Jesus came into the world to save sinners – He came to save those who can’t perfectly conform to God’s plans and purposes – which is everyone.
A chief quality of a Christian – is that they mourn the fact that they can’t
perfectly conform to God’s plans and purposes and they are brokenhearted over the way that sin, in general, and specifically, has impacted our families, our friends, our communities.
We need a healthy dose of Godly grief. The world needs the church – God’s people – to have a healthy dose of Godly grief. It is an essential quality of a Christian. And – that’s where healing begins. We can’t even begin to be comforted by all that Jesus has done for us until we’ve truly mourned our sinfulness – our inability to perfectly live in conformity to God’s plans and purposes. And like all other mourning – it doesn’t really end. We are comforted – yes – but we still carry a bit of it with us all the time.
Yes, as strange as it may sound, as confusing as it may be – folks who truly mourn over their sin are blessed and they will be comforted because of Jesus they are approved of God – grief and all.