Meditations: SOTM9 Matt 5:4 (1)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matt 5:4 (ESV)
Filled with the riddles of life is the Sermon on the Mount; filled with the paradoxes that point to the narrow way of salvation.
Remembering that the word “blessed” here does not refer to that form of blessing which is God’s favour and grace working on behalf of a person – the Divine Decree working blessing in all things – but rather to a state of perfect happiness of soul which is the fruit of walking in the Lord’s ways. So paradoxically, what this verse is saying is “Perfectly happy are those who mourn”.
But the answer to this mystery is again found in Messiah, the One of Whom the prophets spoke, the One to Whom Jesus was always pointing when He chose phrases that would conjure up memory of scriptures which powerfully promised their salvation through the Anointed One. Jesus is always pointing to Himself as the Messiah by delivering those blessings which Messiah would bring.
The blessing of mourning would remind them of 2 powerful prophecies which promised the thing they most desired: the deliverance of Jerusalem from her enemies, and the coming of their Eternal King.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” Isaiah 61:1-11 (ESV)
Here the Lord had promised Zion, the City of the Great King (the promised Davidic Messiah), comfort for those who mourn – comfort which comes through the coming of the Anointed One bringing the year of the Lord’s favour on the people, vengeance of the Lord on Israel’s enemies, replacing mourning with celebration and building up of a city of righteousness, walking in the favour of El Shaddai.
Another is like it:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom theyhave pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. 11 In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem,… they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.
Zech 12:9-11; 13:9 (KJV)
Again the Lord had promised He would bring on them a spirit of mourning and seeking Him for mercy, and as they returned to Him so He would return to them and deliver them from their enemies, and forever be their God.
When the Lord said blessed are those who mourn, He was intentionally conjuring up hope in the coming Messiah Who would deliver Israel from her foes. He was pointing toward Himself as Messiah and to mourning as the pathway of salvation.
But what is this mourning? There are FIVE WAYS OF MOURNING scripture speaks of, to which the Lord alludes. For the first form of mourning, James gives us an exegesis from the Old Testament on that mourning the Lord calls us to:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:1-10 (ESV)
The first form of mourning is mourning our own sin. The beginning of mourning is the end of continuing in sin and being double minded (desiring salvation in Jesus AND to be friends with the world which makes us enemies with God). Note here that James was writing to “christians”, a people who prayed to God for their wants and needs (v3) and read a letter addressed to followers of Christ in a time where followers of “The Way” of Jesus in Jerusalem were greatly despised and rejected by society. Yet these believers in Jesus he called an “adulterous people”, friends with the world and enemies of God. Why? What made them friends with the world if they believed in Christ? “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”. It is that self-centred heart focused on one’s own comforts and pleasures that befriends the self-centred spirit of the world.
The opposite of the spirit of the world is that spirit which draws near to God (v8), which seeks intimacy with Him, which finds its pleasure in ascending His Holy Mountain and there worshipping Him in His splendour and enjoying His greatness forever. And that is why such seekers of the face of God (v8) mourn (v9). For
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Psalms 24:3-6 (ESV)
Just when we start to seek the face of God, we become desperately aware of our sin, of our selfishness, our utter unworthiness to ascend that Holy Hill. We become desperately aware of our need to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts so we may enter the courts of the King. And of course the blood of Christ is that cleansing, which is why Jesus continually points to Himself as Messiah – so we will receive by faith that cleansing by which we can boldly enter the Holy Place, that Heavenly Throne Room, the High and Lofty place where Father dwells in glory.
But remember, here James is speaking to those who already believe in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. To them, these believers, he says “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” So James is speaking here of something other than professing faith in Jesus. He is speaking of sincerity in seeking the face of God, and desiring to live in ways pleasing to Him.
Again James uses imagery well-known to these Messianic Jews, which tells them just what he means.
15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. 18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white assnow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for themouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 1:2-20 (ESV)
The washing of hands refers to removing the blood-guilt of neglecting to “do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause”. There is no living selfishly and claiming the atonement of Christ.
O Jerusalem, purify your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?
Jer 4:14 (ESV)
Washing / purifying our hearts refers to removing wicked thoughts – desire for selfish gain at other’s expense, and malicious thoughts of hurting those who have hurt us. There is also no claiming the atonement of Christ and harbouring wicked thoughts. Receiving atonement is receiving Jesus which is receiving new Life which does justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly with God
We must remember again that the Lord stood before the foundation of time and looked on our brokenness and utter sinfulness and said “I will save her, I will have her, I will make her whole and bring her to be with me where I am reigning forever in my glory”. Father so loved the world that He sent His only Son to die for us that whoever believes should be saved. Mourning is having the revelation of being loved – loved by the Infinitely Holy and Gracious Creator of the universe – and desiring fellowship with Him Who loves us (“draw near to God” / “ascend the Hill of the Lord”), seeing the obstacle of our own wickedness, and lamenting our wicked ways. It is a mourning born of desire for intimacy with the Loving, Dying Saviour and our Father Who sent Him to die for us.
These mourners are comforted in the salvation that follows mourning. Because following true mourning comes repenting from worldly ways (ceasing to be “friends with the world”) – repentance from our sins of commission and omission and wicked thoughts (“washing your hands” and “purify your hearts”) – and trusting in His grace to wash away our sins and draw us into His Presence (“draw near to God and He will draw near to you”). We are comforted in the knowledge that when we repent and believe we are cleansed, and when we draw near to Him He draws near to us. We are comforted in the knowledge that we only desire drawing near to Him because He desires to intimacy with is and so He calls us and lays on us a spirit of grace and supplication and so we are broken by revelation of our sin so we will seek mercy and receive grace in the hour of need.
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 2 Cor 7:10 (KJV)
That is the first way of mourning: mourning our own sin, leading to repentance, leading to salvation in Jesus, which makes us never regret that repentance because we enter into His Presence, intimacy with our Almighty God and beautiful Saviour forever, and comfort in the knowledge of His great love for us.
Therefore, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matt 5:4 (ESV)
Original date of work: 27 Jan 2011
By: J Goldberg