“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” — Matthew 5:4
Of all the beatitudes of our Savior, perhaps one of the most accessible pronouncements given to His hearers is on the topic of mourning and our great need of comfort in that low state. Indeed, the death of a loved one is a tragic thing for everyone, and a brutal reminder of man’s fleeting mortality. We are immediately shaken to our core at the loss of dear souls taken from our immediate senses, much more aware at that very moment that “all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass,” which withers and falls away (I Peter 1:24). And thus, we all mourn.
But is the object and quality of one’s mourning truly a blessing?
In the annals of history, Queen Victoria certainly exemplified the most tragic pose of a mourner overcome with grief and depression. For four decades until her death, she mourned deeply over the passing of her husband, Prince Albert, who succumbed at age 42, most likely from typhoid fever. So devastated by the loss of her beloved consort of 21 years, she practically ceased to exist as before. According to journalist Sean O’Keefe:
“The Queen’s grief became a prime concern of her existence over the years following Albert’s death. She wore nothing but black clothing (something she would continue to do for the remaining 40 years of her life); she stayed in seclusion rarely appearing for her people. Prince Albert’s private rooms were maintained as he would have liked when he was alive with hot water brought in every morning as formerly done for his morning shave” (“The Widow of Windsor – A Queen in Mourning”, Royal Central).
This historic display of mourning, however, was surely not what Jesus had in mind when speaking of being blessed and comforted. Obviously, poor Victoria never found that comfort in life, nor could she, since her obsessive fixation was on a temporal loss she could never reclaim, even with all the earthly power of her monarchy. Nor could even a lowly commoner within her kingdom find solace in a similar disposition of overwhelming grief.
No, our Savior was speaking on a much grander scale of spiritual truth when He declared, “Blessed are those that mourn.” In this, He reveals an active, mindful bearing of sorrow that is a blessed thing and, strangely enough, a thing to be commended. But why would our loving Lord desire such a solemn condition for us? Because, unlike Victoria and her inconsolable grief over one man’s death, we must grieve over every man’s eventual demise, and the fatal cause of that miserable end, which is sin.
Sin is an insidious and monstrous thing. At the rebellion in Eden, Adam sinned against His Creator, and that sin brought both spiritual and physical death into the world. Now everyone has sinned, and in turn brings the specter of death to everyone (Romans 5:12). Like Adam, “every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.” Then when lust has conceived from within, “it brings forth sin” (James 1:14-15).
Thus, sin comes to full display in the works of the flesh, which are these: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21). And sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. Indeed, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
This is an overarching truth that should lead to a lifelong awareness of our own sins and the sins of the world, and should keep us “steadily and habitually serious, watchful, and circumspect,” according to Joseph Benson’s commentary. This is the blessed state of the true mourner that Jesus is picturing. It is a person with an abiding, profitable grief. As John Gill sees it, a Christian must mourn “for their own sins… for the sins of others, for the sins of the world, the profaneness and wickedness that abound in it; and more especially for the sins of professors, by reason of which, the name of God, and ways of Christ, are evil spoken of.”
In his inspired epistle, James dictates an even more severe posture in reaction to sin, though perfectly in line with Christ’s teachings: “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:9-10).
Why, then, are so many in Christendom today seeking mindless distractions and levity as the tonic for the harsh reality of a fallen world? A quick look around on the Internet will reveal that “fun” is the order of the day for many church groups. It’s as if John Piper’s cringe-worthy, oxymoronic “Christian hedonism” has finally come home to roost.
As one such congregation unabashedly boasts on their website homepage:
“…At (So-and-so) Church we ALWAYS value laughter, a spirit of celebration, and having fun together! In fact, “Church is Fun” is one of our core values. Here’s what fun looks like…. Incredible, rockin’ music… that you’ll WANT to sing all week long. Your kids begging to go to church! Imagine costumed characters, crafts, games, and prizes… kids have FUN while they learn. Messages that don’t put you to sleep… you’ll LAUGH, you’ll cry… you’ll relate… It boils down to this: We take God seriously… ourselves not so much!”
Another Christian site likewise proclaims, “Fun is a strategic imperative for the church today… When was the last time you made fun of yourself in front of your church?”
In light of Jesus’ beatitude on mourning, one is forced to ask: When does a “strategic imperative” of fun as a “core value” ever trump the sober-minded disposition of the believer? How can we afford to “make fun” of our dire spiritual state as sinners and not take ourselves too seriously? Isn’t this the kind of fun the world already enjoys without Christ? Especially when they make sinful behavior fodder for comic entertainment?
As Matthew Poole rightly notes in his commentary:
“The world is mistaken in accounting the jocund and merry companions the only happy men; their mirth is madness, and their joy will be like crackling of thorns under a pot: but those are rather the happy men, who mourn; yea, such are most certainly happy, who mourn out of duty in the sense of their own sins, or of the sins of others, or who mourn out of choice rather to suffer afflictions and persecutions with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season. Though such sufferings do excite in them natural passions, yet it is a blessed mourning, for those are the blessed tears which God will wipe at last from his people’s eyes, and such are these.”
Sadly, some professing Christians seem to have capitulated to the world on this point. Whether they realize it or not, they have dismissed their Lord’s teaching on true happiness being found among those who are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers — and even persecuted! They argue instead that such Spirit-led states of humble discipleship will make us dour and depressing. They seem to suggest we need to interject fun to counter all this awful seriousness. Not so, says our Savior!
Deep, abiding sorrow for sin does not lead to a joyless state of despondency, but to an amazing ongoing comfort in the consoling arms of our Savior when the Gospel takes root in one’s heart. Here is where true joy and happiness resides, and where a more sanctified delight (or fun) can emerge. As Matthew Henry wrote, “Those that mourn are happy. That godly sorrow which worketh true repentance, watchfulness, a humble mind, and continual dependence for acceptance on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, with constant seeking the Holy Spirit, to cleanse away the remaining evil…”
We have great joy, therefore, because in our daily meditations we are mindful of sin as the cause of suffering and death, and because of this we better understand the powerful spiritual remedy found in the Gospel alone. To this truth, Charles Spurgeon framed it eloquently: “Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly” (“A Wafer of Honey”, Sermon 2974). Indeed, how much more God’s grace shines within that darkness of sin!
Far too many people, however, are content to seek the comfort of Christ only in the specific event of physical trial or death. Yet when Jesus spoke of those who mourn, He wasn’t referring to our common reaction to various emotional traumas (though certainly Christ can and does bring comfort in those instances). Instead, He was speaking to the bigger issue of sin and the destruction it leaves in its wake.
If Jesus’ focus was merely on the superficial act of mourning someone’s death, then surely He would not have dealt so sharply with the disciple who wished to take leave in order to bury his father. Jesus bluntly told him, “Let the dead bury the dead” (Luke 9:60), and the implication was clear. There was, and is, a greater work that will one day destroy sin and death forever, and hence we must “go and preach the kingdom of God” to those still alive who are in desperate need of that essential spiritual comfort. The dead have already met their end and cannot turn back (Hebrews 9:27), but sin is still among the living.
This astounding truth is not only plainly displayed in Christ’s words but also in His example. At Bethany, our Savior arrives at the sad scene where Lazarus has now been dead four days. Inexplicably, Jesus is suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and begins to openly weep for his departed friend and his mourners (John 11:35). How utterly heartwarming to see tears from the Son of God! But why would He succumb to such grief when He knew within moments He would call Lazarus from the grave and remove the cause for mourning? Clearly, his spirit was troubled not so much by death, but by the sin that always lies in wait to bring a tragic end to every man, woman and child.
As one commentary points out:
“…Was there nothing in those tears beyond sorrow for human suffering and death? Could these effects move Him without suggesting the cause? Who can doubt that in His ear every feature of the scene proclaimed that stern law of the Kingdom, ‘The wages of sin is death’, and that this element in His visible emotion underlay all the rest?” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).
This, then, is the biblical pattern set by our Master. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying those blessed times of fun and merriment that our Lord provides us, we are called to a more serious consistent task. As believers, we well know the remedy for the human condition, so why would we not make it our daily commission to pray for the lost and dying, and vigorously pursue every avenue of evangelism to bring the Gospel to the fallen world around us?
When we as Christians truly grieve as Jesus did, we are then fully equipped to reach out to those who mourn for lack of spiritual comfort in the midst of their damning sin. Oh, how exciting it is to join our voices with that of the prophet Isaiah by proclaiming to those with ears to hear:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release from darkness to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of our God’s vengeance, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who grieve in Zion—to give them a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
And that, dear mourners, is our serious, yet joyful call.