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This is the third in a series of post on the beatitudes, here are the other posts in this series:
The second blessing in Matthew 5 is this:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Last week, we looked at how the poor in spirit are those who recognize their need for a Savior. The whole world is spiritually bankrupt apart from Christ, and the poor in spirit are simply those who recognize their bankruptcy, by the grace of God.
Those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy receive the riches of heaven.
This week, though, we’re looking at “mourners.” The first question I had, and perhaps the first question you have is “What’s the difference between one who is “poor in spirit” and one who “mourns”?
The difference is subtle, but it is a difference nonetheless.
There are a few possibilities people point to when attempting to identify the “mourners” Jesus cites in Matthew 5:4:
1) The mourners are just sad people.
2) The mourners are people who are sad over their own brokenness and sin.
3) The mourners are people who are sad over the brokenness and sin of the world.
4) Some combination of the above possibilities.
If you were to look at this verse out of its context, completely on its own, you could probably just decide that Jesus is telling sad people that he will comfort them. I mean, this is true, right? We see it in other parts of Scripture, particularly as it relates to his return and the ways he will restore the world to perfection.
But the problem is, this verse doesn’t exist in a vacuum on its own. It would be irresponsible to take this verse to mean, broadly, that sad people will be comforted. While that is true, and we see that in other parts of the Bible, that’s not what Jesus means here.
Context. Context. Context.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn,” he is likely referring both to those who are grieved by their own sin and grieved by the sin of the world. There are good arguments to be made for both of these options, and I happen to think both are possible and likely.
It is no coincidence that this blessing follows the blessing of the poor in spirit, or those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy. Those who mourn could easily be understood as those who, after recognizing their own sin, mourn the ways they’ve sinned against God.
Kent Hughes writes of the relationship between the “poor in spirit” and “mourners”:
The first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is primarily intellectual (those who understand that they are spiritual beggars are blessed); the second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn,” is its emotional counterpart. It naturally follows that when we see ourselves for what we are, our emotions will be stirred to mourning. (The Sermon on the Mount, pg. 26)
I find Hughes’ explanation of these verses to be helpful and plausible at least. But I think there is reason to think it is not only that, but more as well.
When Jesus said “blessed are those who mourn,” anyone in the audience of the Sermon who had a good grip on the Hebrew Scriptures would have quickly thought back to the mourners of old who awaited the redemption of the Messiah.
Isaiah 61:1-3 says:
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; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 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.
The Messiah has come to comfort those who mourn the exile of the people. The mourners of old mourned the physical exile of the people of God. The mourners of today mourn the spiritual exile of the world.
The Lord comforts those who mourn not only with the promise of his presence in glory. The Lord comforts the mourners in the present.
The sins of the world, though pervasive and worthy of mourning, are fought back by the forgiveness of Christ, salvation though his sacrifice, and the promised Holy Spirit.
By God’s grace, he has forgiven us, long before we even knew to mourn. In faith, accepting the forgiveness of God and seeking salvation in him alone is the immediate comfort promised to the mourner here in Matthew 5:4.
For the non-Christian, comfort is found in the salvation of God in Christ. For the Christian, comfort is found in the Holy Spirit.
The word for “they shall be comforted” in Matthew 5:4 is παρακληθήσονται.
The word for the Holy Spirit is known as the “Advocate,” the “Helper,” or the παράκλητον (the paraclete).
Notice the identical roots there. The root for “comfort” is the root for the “Helper” Holy Spirit.
Certainly, those of us who mourn over our own sins and the brokenness of the world can find peace in our future residence in God’s presence, but we must not miss the comfort we may find now in the Holy Spirit and our salvation.
Comfort for the mourner is found only in the promises and Presence of God.