Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
This article was first published at Servants of Grace as part of a devotional series on the Sermon on the Mount.
Everyone seems to be selling a method to their happiness these days. Even Christians offer consultation services to share their wisdom on how to have a more fulfilling life in Christ. While I’m sure God has blessed many of us with particular strengths and gifts that we can offer one another there is no better source for our happiness in the Christian life than found in the Bible.
In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus clarifies what a blessed life in him looks like. The word blessed can also be translated as happy, which should make our ears perk up. If we were to consult Jesus on how to have a happy life, what would he say?
As we’ve seen in the previous article, this meeting would start out a bit rough. He’d begin with our spiritual poverty, the absolute necessity of recognizing how much we do not measure up before the Lord. We have nothing to offer him. We are dead in our transgressions, in desperate need of a Savior who not only paid the penalty for our sins but also causes His people to be made alive together with Christ, and now indwells and empowers them by His Spirit.
In Matthew 5:4, Jesus addresses those who mourn the destructiveness of sin in their lives, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” These are folks who are heartbroken over their spiritual poverty, who bemoan their existence because they are simply not okay.
Paul describes this type of mourning in 2 Corinthians 7:10 as a godly grief that produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.
James puts it this way, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:9-10).
In his exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, John Stott paraphrases Matthew 5:4 as “Happy are the unhappy” and states that “it is one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it; it is another to grieve and to mourn over it. Or, in more theological language, confession is one thing, contrition is another.”
If we were to sit down with Jesus for insight on happiness, with the one who created us and knows what it really means for humanity to flourish, he would persuade us to refrain from seeking comfort and happiness on our own terms. He would challenge our failed attempts to cover the stench of death with the pleasantries of the world and beckon us to sit with it, grieve its deadly effects, and turn to the Lord for his answer. Only then will we receive true and lasting comfort. Only then will we taste a joy like no other.
Alexander Maclaren elaborates on the comfort we receive well in the following excerpt from a message he taught on the beatitudes:
Ah, brethren! You will never know how deep and ineffably precious are the consolations which Christ can give, unless you have learned despair of self, and have come helpless, hopeless, and yet confident, to that great Lord. Make your hearts empty, and He will fill them; recognise your desperate condition, and He will lift you up. The deeper down we go into the depths, the surer is the rebound and the higher the soaring to the zenith. It is they who have poverty of spirit, and mourning based upon it, and only they, who pass into the sweetest, sacredest, secretest recesses of Christ’s heart, and there find all-sufficient consolation. (Expositions of Holy Scripture: Ezekiel – Matthew Ch. 1-8)
While it’s tempting to see this as a one-time event that occurred upon our conversion to Christ, we must regularly mourn the sin in our lives and its effects if we want to thrive in him and reap a harvest of abiding and bearing fruit. To do this, we must regularly keep the truth before us about God, ourselves, and the world and then turn in faith and trust to the Lord for his everlasting comfort. This is how we persevere in the faith, how we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and how he brings to completion the good work he started in us.
Picture perfect images on social media may sell a different route to happiness and fulfillment, but Jesus tells us the truth. And as we receive his comfort, we are refreshed, and able to enjoy the life of God by his spirit. As Christians, we experience soul happiness, so much richer than anything this world offers, a joy that glorifies our great God.