Pastor David B. Curtis


The Blessed Mourners

Matthew 5:4

Delivered 06/16/2002

The "Sermon on the Mount" is a concentration of the teaching of Jesus during His life and ministry. This sermon presents us with a kind of distillation of our Lord's teaching. The themes of this sermon (from Matthew's account) are taken up through the entire account of Luke. Many of the major themes of our Lord's teaching are found in this one sermon.

We began last week to look at what are called "the beatitudes." The beatitudes describe the character of one who is truly righteous and who will experience kingdom life. It is a stark contrast with the character of the scribes and Pharisees. The teaching of our Lord, and His interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures was radically different from Jewish traditions and the teachings of the Rabbis.

Matthew 5:3 (NKJV) "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Let's see what you remember from last week. What does it mean to be blessed? Many translate this as "happy". But I can't buy that. Happiness is an emotion that is based upon circumstances. The Lord is not talking about an emotion here, He is talking about our condition before God. "Blessed" means: "one who has received a gift or favor from God". We are not just talking about "happy." Blessed is the opposite of cursed. We could translate this: "O the blessedness of the poor in spirit!" In commenting on verse 4 one writer said, "Jesus is saying, 'Happy are the sad'". Does that make any sense? That violates the first law of logic, which is the law of contradiction. If you are happy, you are not sad; and if you are sad you are not happy. What Jesus is saying is, "O the blessedness of those who mourn!" We'll get to what that means in a little while.

What does it mean to be "poor in spirit?" The word that Jesus used for "poor" is the Greek word ptochos. The verb form in the Greek text means: "to cower and cringe like a beggar." A person who is poor in spirit has no sense of self-sufficiency. This describes the person who understands that he is absolutely incapable of improving his spiritual condition, and that he is totally dependent on God's grace.

Have you ever heard the expression, "Christianity is a crutch for people who can't make it on their own"? What do you think of that, is it true? I would say, "Absolutely!"

Let me ask you another question, "Why is the thought that Christianity is a crutch considered to be a bad thing?" People don't usually look at a crutch and say, "That's bad. It's just a crutch." People don't in general think that crutches are bad things. Why does a crutch become a bad thing when it's Christianity?

I think the reason that the thought of Christianity being a crutch is considered a bad thing is because if Christianity is a crutch, then it's only good for cripples. But we don't like to see ourselves as cripples. And so it is offensive to our self-sufficiency to label Christianity as a "crutch."

Notice what Jesus said:

Mark 2:17 (NKJV) When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

In other words, the only people who will ever come to get what Jesus has to give are sick people, people who know that they are spiritually and morally crippled.

Why is the thought that Christianity is a crutch considered a bad thing? It is considered bad, because we don't want to see ourselves as cripples. We believe that real joy and fulfillment in life are to be found in the pursuit of self-reliance, self-confidence, self-determination, and self-esteem.

Any Savior who comes along and proposes to replace self-reliance with childlike God-reliance, and self-confidence with submissive God-confidence, and self-determination with sovereign grace, and self-esteem with magnificent mercy for the unworthy - that Savior is going to be a threat to the religion of self-admiration. Our Savior takes the disease that we hate most; namely, helplessness, and instead of curing it, makes it the doorway to heaven - Blessed are the spiritually bankrupt, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The next thing that our Lord says in this sermon is:

Matthew 5:4 (NKJV) Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

This seems contrary to human experience - O the blessedness of those who mourn. Our society is pleasure mad and has an entertainment-park mentality. People spend much of their money, time, and energy in an attempt to be entertained. They want to enjoy life and put sorrow and mourning as far away as possible. But our Lord said, "Blessed are those who mourn". As we saw in our last study "Blessed" means: "one who has received a gift or favor from God". So, those who mourn are approved by God.

Now, in order to understand who receives favor from God, we must understand what it means to mourn. What kind of mourning is Jesus talking about here? There are several types of mourning in the Scripture.

1. Mourning Over Unfulfilled Evil Desire:

Someone might mourn, because he can't satisfy his lust. David's son, Amnon, wanted to have sex with his sister. He mourned over his unfulfilled lust until he became sick:

2 Samuel 13:1-2 (NKJV) After this Absalom the son of David had a lovely sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. 2 Amnon was so distressed over his sister Tamar that he became sick; for she was a virgin. And it was improper for Amnon to do anything to her.

Amnon was so consumed by unfulfilled, incestuous lust that he mourned over it. There are those who mourn over their unfulfilled desires, even when those desires are sinful in nature.

King Ahab mourned, because he couldn't have a vineyard that belonged to a man named Naboth:

1 Kings 21:4 (NKJV) So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers." And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.

He coveted Naboth's vineyard so much that he mourned over it. This kind of mourning is certainly not what Jesus had in mind when He said, "Blessed are those who mourn."

2. Mourning Over The Circumstances Of Life:

This kind of mourning encompasses all the legitimate sorrows that are common to mankind. It is perfectly proper to mourn over events that bring us sorrow. The death of a loved one brings mourning. I'll never forget the day my father died, I vividly remember the pain and the mourning it caused me.

When David's son, Absalom, was killed in battle, David mourned greatly:

2 Samuel 18:33 (NKJV) Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: "O my son Absalom; my son, my son Absalom; if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!"

After the death of Absalom, David carried on so much that his soldiers were actually ashamed they had won the battle. Joab, David's commander-in-chief, told him,:

"...I perceive that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died today, then it would have pleased you well" (2 Samuel 19:6).

News of the sickness of someone we love also brings mourning. Many tragic events bring mourning. The tragic events of this past September 11 caused most Americans to mourn. These are legitimate expressions of the human condition. But while Jesus' comfort extends to these situations, there is a more specific application to make concerning the mourning He had in mind.

Some say Matthew 5:4 is saying that after you've mourned, you feel better. They point out that sorrow has a way of building up and strengthening a person.

William Barclay illustrated that perspective with this poem in his commentary on Matthew (The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, rev. ed. [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], p. 94):

I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chatted all the way, But left me none the wiser For all she had to say.

I walked a while with Sorrow, And ne'er a word said she, But, oh, the things I learned from her When Sorrow walked with me!

An old Arab proverb says, "All sunshine makes a desert" (Barclay, p. 93). That's a nice sentiment, and it is true that sorrow teaches us many things. But Matthew 5:4 isn't talking about feeling better after mourning. Jesus was not talking about the sorrow of the world, whether legitimate or illegitimate.

One commentator writes, "'Blessed are those who mourn.' How very different than the usual salutation given to mourners! Imagine saying 'You are blessed' to someone who is mourning a great loss. Jesus said that it is those who mourn, those who experience painful, difficult circumstances and yet don't cover it up and deny it, but rather mourn over it, who are comforted." This is not what Jesus is talking about!

As a pastor, it is often painfully obvious to me that all who mourn will not be comforted!! Have you ever tried to comfort grieving relatives in an unsaved family, who have lost a loved one, who lived his life with no obvious thought of God. It is heartbreaking! How can you comfort them when you believe that their family member is in the Lake of fire?

3. Mourning Over Sin:

The mourning and weeping referred to in this beatitude is not because of financial loss, terminal sickness, the death of loved ones, loneliness, a divorce, a problem with children, or rejections experienced. This "mourning" springs from a sense of sin, from a tender conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over rebellion against God and hostility to His will. In some cases it is grief over the very morality in which the heart has trusted, over the self-righteousness which has caused such complacency.

To mourn is something that of necessity follows being poor in spirit. As I am confronted with God's holiness, I see my utter helplessness and hopelessness, and I mourn because I realize that they have sinned against a holy God and have brought dishonor to his name

We must realize that we all have violated God's law. But only Christians, under the conviction of the Spirit, will realistically declare that not only are they spiritually bankrupt, but also they are grieving over the multitude of their personal sins. Only Christians will declare that they are by nature enemies of God, acknowledging that to sin means to set oneself against a holy God. Opposition to God is the very heart and essence of sin.

It begins with poverty of spirit. The Beatitudes begin, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). A person who is poor in spirit knows he is spiritually bankrupt. He knows that in his flesh there is no good thing (Rom. 7:18). When you are convinced intellectually that you are spiritually bankrupt, you will respond emotionally by mourning over your sinfulness.

The Greek word translated "mourn" in Matthew 5:4 is pentheo. It is the strongest of all the Greek words used in the New Testament to express grief. It often refers to mourning for the dead - the passionate lament expressed for a lost loved one. In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) it is used of Jacob's grief when he was told his son Joseph was dead:

Genesis 37:32-34 (NKJV) Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, "We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son's tunic or not?" 33 And he recognized it and said, "It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces." 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days.

A form of the word is used in Mark 16:10 of the disciples "as they mourned and wept" over Jesus' death. Pentheo conveys the idea of deep inner agony - not just external grief.

How many people do you know who mourn over their sin? V. Raymond Edman quotes David Brainerd's journal on October 18, 1740: "In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness." One problem we increasingly face in our day is a conspicuous lack of seriousness concerning sin. In many places, even among Christians, sin is seemingly not taken seriously anymore. Oh, there are those churches where pastors rail against sin, but they have usually identified certain outward behaviors of which they disapprove, while ignoring many of the more deadly attitudes of the heart- like pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and a judgmental spirit. This is not taking sin seriously.

Taking sin seriously means that we truly mourn over our sinful condition. This is what it means to mourn. It is the cry of the one whose heart has been broken, because he has sinned against God. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he mourned deeply over his sin - his soul was wrenched to its very depths:

Psalms 51:3-4 (NKJV) For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight; That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

David was devastated by the effects of sin on his relationship to God. He wrote:

Psalms 51:10-12 (NKJV) Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

David had sinned against God, and he could not escape that sin. He mourned over it, not because he had been caught, but because he had committed the sin itself. It was an affront against God, and it broke David's heart.

Psalms 32:3-4 (NKJV) When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah

Does your sin cause you to mourn? When is the last time you mourned over your sin? For me it was yesterday; I spoke to my wife in an angry hostile manner, and as soon as I calmed down and allowed the Lord to deal with me, I mourned over my behavior. We ought to be mourning over our sin.

The seriousness with which we must take sin is evidenced by the Greek word used to speak of mourning in our text. There are nine different Greek words used in the New Testament to speak of sorrow. The one used here is the strongest. Like grieving over the death of a loved one, so we are to mourn our sin. It is a present participle, indicating continuous action. In other words, we are to continually mourn our sin that God may continually apply His forgiveness to our lives. And this will never happen unless we take sin seriously.

How seriously does God take sin? God takes sins so seriously that He sent Jesus, His only Son, to die to pay the penalty for sin. In God's sight, sin is so serious that nothing else short of the death of Jesus Christ could deal with it. It was because of the seriousness of sin that Jesus Christ had to go to the Cross. When those nails were driven through His hands and feet, it was because of your sin and mine. Because of my sin and yours, He suffered hour after hour upon the Cross, His life slowly ebbing away. God the Father had His Son suffer this horrible agony, because it was the only way to deal with our sin. Let there be no doubt what God's opinion of sin is. As we casually joke about sin, we need to be reminded that to God it is not funny.

How seriously do you take your sins? Does it break your heart when you have sinned against God? Do you laugh when you see evil? Do you laugh at ungodly jokes and television shows? Proverbs 2:14 says there are some who "delight in the perverseness of the wicked." Many in the church today have a defective sense of sin; we take it much to lightly.

Mourning has to do, first of all, with personal sins, and we see that aspect of it demonstrated in the life of David. But a person exhibiting godly sorrow also grieves for others. In the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel, Daniel not only confesses his own sins and weeps for them, but he also weeps for the sins of others. And after Ezra prayed his great prayer in Ezra 9, we read:

Ezra 10:6 (NKJV) Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib; and when he came there, he ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those from the captivity.

A true mourner mourns not only over his own sin but also over the sins of others.

Jeremiah 9:1 (NKJV) 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!

He cried for those who were going to be judged for their sinfulness.

Matthew 23:37 (NKJV) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Jesus is weeping over the city of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 9:4 (NKJV) and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it."

If this was done today would you be marked by God as one who mourns over the abomination that are committed in our society?

The psalmist, reflecting on the sins of others, said:

Psalms 119:136 (NKJV) Rivers of water run down from my eyes, Because men do not keep Your law.

Do you weep like that? Is your heart broken when God's heart is broken? We should mourn for our own sins, but we should also mourn for the sins of our family, for the sins of church, and the sins of the world. I mourn over the loss of fellowship I have with different people because of sin. When you see a friend or loved one involved in sin, do you mourn? Does it break your heart?

They Shall Be Comforted:

The pronoun translated "they" in Matthew 5:4 is placed emphatically; only those who continually mourn over their sin will be comforted.

The background for what Christ is saying is found in Isaiah 61, a passage Christ applied to Himself:

Isaiah 61:1-3 (NKJV) "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3 To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified."

This passage describes those who are overwhelmed with their sinfulness when the Messiah comes. Isaiah spoke of the promise of comfort the Messiah will bring. This is tied inseparably with what Christ says in Matthew 5:4 regarding those who mourn. The Jews would recognize this message in the context of the coming Messiah. Those who have experienced anguish and sorrow over their sin will receive the blessing that only the Messiah can bring.

In Isaiah 40:1, we read: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." God's plan from all eternity was to comfort his people. And the truth is, the Comforter - the Christ, the Anointed One, the Suffering Servant - came. And in Isaiah 53:5 we read, "The punishment that brought us peace," that is, comfort, "was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed," meaning we are saved, we are comforted.

Last week in the question and answer time after the message, Rich asked the question, "Do you view being "poor in spirit" as covenantal or practical? My answer was, "Yes!" I think it is both. In the Beatitudes we are shown the character of the Christian. Christians are blessed, because they see their bankruptcy and turn to Christ. Christians are blessed, because they mourn over their sin. Christians are blessed, because they are in a covenant relationship with God - this is covenantal. But the more a Christian grows in poverty of spirit, the greater his fellowship with God, and he is blessed practically and temporally.

Do you understand the distinction between union and communion? We were united to Christ when we placed our trust in Him for our eternal salvation. We can never lose our union with Christ. But our communion with Christ, our experiential fellowship, can be lost by our disobedience and unbelief. Notice what James says:

James 4:8-10 (NKJV) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

What does he mean by "draw near to God"? One writer described our relationship with God this way: "Closer to God I can never be, for in the person of Christ I am as close as he." This is very true - positionally. It speaks of our union. How can believers who are in union with Christ be told to "draw near"? This call to "draw near" speaks of experiential relationship to God, our communion, if you will. The call to draw near in this text is a call to communion to believers who are already in union with God. Drawing near speaks of our experiential relationship with God. We, as believers, are joined to God by faith through Jesus Christ. Our communion is based upon our union.

God has given us a picture of union and communion in marriage. When a man and a woman get married, they enter into a relationship, a union. As the years pass, their relationship, their communion, may be good or bad. But whatever their experience, the fact of their union remains. In a similar way, we enter an eternal union with God at salvation, but our communion is based upon a living, active faith. We can drift in and out of communion with God, just as we can drift in and out of communion with a spouse.

I John 1:6-9 gives us the condition of fellowship:

1 John 1:6-9 (NKJV) "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness [disobedience], we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Willful disobedience breaks our communion with God; when we are in communion with God, we are constantly cleansed by Christ's blood. This is a beautiful description of the intimacy and fellowship that our union in Christ should bring.

The Bible indicates from the earliest chapters that God desires our communion:

Genesis 3:8-9 (NKJV) And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?"

God is calling out to Adam that they may fellowship. We see this same idea in Revelation where God is calling his church to have fellowship with Him:

Revelation 3:20 (NKJV) "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

So, "They shall be comforted." receives its fulfillment, first, in that Divine consolation which immediately follows a conversion, namely the removal of that conscious load of guilt which lies as an intolerable burden on the conscience. It finds its accomplishment in the Spirit's application of the Gospel of God's grace to the one whom He has convicted of his dire need of a Savior. This "comfort" issues in a sense of a free and full forgiveness through the merits of the atoning blood of Christ - this is covenantal.

Second, there is a continual "comforting" of the mourning saint by Christ who comforts by the assurance that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

The blessed mourn over their sin. As the clouds come between the earth and the sun making the sun disappear, so do our sins come between us and the Lord disrupting our communion.

Isaiah 59:2 (NKJV) But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

So, all these beatitudes speak of the attitude of one who is in union with God - one who is in His kingdom. But they also speak of the ongoing attitude of one who is in communion with God.

The tense of the verb is not "have mourned," but "mourn" - a present and continuous experience. The Christian himself has much to mourn over. The sins which he now commits are a sense of daily grief to him, or should be, and will be, if he is in fellowship with God.

True mourning is sorrow over sinning against such a loving, good-giving God. The Lord's chastening hand is not our main concern. The primary concern is that we have sinned against our loving God causing a separation between us and the Lord. Because of our sin, God has become our stranger. We have lost communion with God. This offense against such a benevolent God, not just the consequences of sin, causes us to mourn. Let me give you a personal illustration of this. Back in 1981 I was sent by the Naval reserves to Mississippi for two weeks. I was assigned to a room with one other man whom I did not know. When I arrived at the room, I noticed a Playboy magazine on the night stand. I tried to avoid that magazine, but it continued to call out for my attention. I began to rationalize, thinking, I wonder if those magazines have changed much in the years since I have become a Christian and quit looking at them. I walked over to the night stand and began to flip through the pages. My heart was pounding, not with excitement, but with anxiety. After a while I could take it no longer and closed the magazine and fell to my knees at my bed. I began to cry and to pray. I felt terrible, not because I was afraid that God would judge my sin, but because I had hindered my relationship with my Father. I felt I had let God down, and I mourned over my sin.

Do we understand what it means to love God? Do we mourn every time we have broken His law? Does it cause us to mourn that we are displeasing Him in so many ways? We desire after the inner man to obey His law, but we come so short. This is not with a desire to merit heaven, because Christ purchased it with His blood. We mourn over sin because we have sinned against such love by every violation of His commandments.

Does sin break your heart? Whether it be your sin or the sin of others, does it cause you to mourn? It should! If it doesn't, why doesn't it? Let me propose that it is either because you are out of fellowship with God or because you are not a believer. We must mourn at knowing how God's glory is affected by our sins and how we heap dishonor on the name of our glorious God by our sins.

Let me close by giving you a Curtis paraphrase of this verse: O the blessedness of those who continually mourn over sin for they alone will be comforted.

Media #247b

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322