Mourn to Be Happy | Matthew 5:4; Psalm 32:1-11
Over the month of August, we are looking at a series called The End of Me, based on a book written by Kyle Idleman I will say that this sermon is based from his chapter. We are looking at Jesus's Sermon on the Mount and unpacking some of the counter-intuitive truths: brokenness is the way to wholeness, mourning is the path to blessing, and emptiness is required in order to know true fullness. Ultimately, we will discover how Jesus transforms us as we begin to live out these paradoxical principles. Only when we come to the end of yourself can you begin to experience the full, blessed, and whole life Jesus offers.
Ernest Hemingway, who was a well-known author once made a bet. It was with a group of authors over lunch, and it has since become an story.
The guys bet him ten dollars he couldn’t come up with a short story only six words long. Hemingway took that bet, pulled out a napkin, and wrote the following story on it: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.
Hemingway understood the power of words, even just a few words, which was actually the essence of his style. And what he wrote were powerful six words of a very sad story.
If you were to write a story that had or has a big impact on your life, what would they be?
There has been a terrible accident.
I’m leaving. The marriage is over.
Your position is no longer needed.
I just want to be friends.
The cancer isn’t responding to treatment.
Here’s a rose off the casket.
These six words all contain a powerful story that can be described as very sad.
But what if things were different? What if you could reverse the outcome? What if your mourning could lead to a blessing?
Jesus makes another kingdom in reverse kinda statement. Like last week, when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 NIV) He begins to introduce us to the great kingdom paradox: at the end of me, at the end of my rope, I find real life in Him.
And so in the midst of loss and deep disappointment, when it feels like we are coming to the end of our rope, Jesus turns the page and shows us a new story of hope and redemption.
As he continues that sermon, preached on the mountain near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus shows us another way of life that looks different through his kingdom lens.
Let’s look at a little more context for this sermon in Matthew 5–7. Matthew lets us know that a huge crowd is there to hear Jesus preach. In verse two where Matthew said that Jesus “opened his mouth and taught them…” (Matthew 5:2 NIV) has a deep meaning. In the Greek language this phrase “opened his mouth” means that what Jesus shared was very important and from his heart. Matthew wanted us to know that what Jesus taught on this mountain was very much on his heart.
And over the month of August we are exploring what was on Jesus’ heart that He wanted us to know.
Jesus launches his sermon with a list of very striking paradoxes. For our purposes we will look at four of these statements that sound ridiculous at first but start to make sense once you think a little deeper and compare your personal experience.
Last week we looked at how blessed are the poor in spirit – that is – those who are down to nothing, at the end of their rope and while they had their cling to their rope or their lives, as they’ve come to the end of their rope they have become “poor in spirit”. They have nothing left to cling and yet Jesus says that they are blessed if they cling to God for “theirs in the kingdom of heaven”, meaning that God will reign in their life.
Jesus then goes onto the next beatitude, “Blessed are…”. What will it be? Based on how the world works, in your experience, how would you complete his sentence? Blessed are:
Those who get great jobs, your new house, when you something else great happens to you. I mean, let’s face it, many of us have used the statement “We’re so blessed” in reference to a great holiday or new jobs or new car.
Here’s how Jesus finishes it: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 NIV). Hang on! “Those who mourn”?
Sitting down on a first-century mountain, in an age of infant mortality, of short life spans, of hunger, of disease, of national humiliation, he says those words. “Those who mourn” make up probably a major portion of that audience.
1. Mourning Our Circumstances
So then what was Jesus thinking about when he uses the word mourning. The Bible offers a few examples to help us understand.
First, we mourn the hard circumstances of life. The commentator William Barclay says about this word, “The Greek word for to mourn, used here, is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language.… It is defined as the kind of grief which takes such a hold that it cannot be hidden. It is not only the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow which brings the unrestrainable tears to the eyes.”
And so we think, “well that’s ok, but where is the blessing in that?”
I think this is one of those areas where 21st Century Western Culture has influenced most of us. For most we would say something like “we are so blessed when things are going well”. “We are blessed when we get into our chosen course”. A blessed life, as any normal person would define it, would be a life free from mourning, not a life marked by it!
Jesus says that when we mourn—when life gets extremely difficult, when we experience the deepest suffering we’ve ever encountered, when we come to the end of our rope—then we are blessed.
It seems upside down. But maybe the problem is that we’ve spent so much of our lives looking at something upside down that it seems right side up to us.
2. Blessed by His Presence
In surprising ways, suffering makes room in our spirit for us to know and experience the blessing of God’s peace and presence. Without suffering, we simply can’t know his comfort. In mourning, we experience the blessing of God’s presence.
In the Old Testament book of Job, Satan was looking forward to Job’s suffering. Job was experiencing what most of us would call a blessed life. He was rich, happily married, living the good life. But storms—really nasty storms—were coming his way. Satan thought that once the bad stuff came, Job would hold it against God and declare his religion invalid and useless.
The first chapter of the book tells us that Job had seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred donkeys, not to mention a small army of servants.
Then Job became a kind of case study of faith in suffering because he lost nearly everything, bit by bit. A strong wind knocked down his house and killed his children. But the book of Job was just getting started. In the second chapter, Job lost his health. He was infested with sores over every inch of his body. He lost all his livestock and all his wealth, and Satan was betting on him losing all his faith too. His wife’s best advice was, “Curse God and die!” (2:9).
To Satan’s bewilderment, Job experienced God in a way he never had before. “I had only heard about You before, but now I have seen You with my own eyes” (Job 42:5 NLT).
Here’s what we find in our suffering. There is a deep void that used to be filled with whatever we lost. That could be stuff or even relationships—none of which are bad things. But when it’s gone, it leaves an aching cavity, and God is there to fill it up with himself.
When we suffer, we mourn. And when we mourn, we are comforted by “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). Blessed are those who mourn.
Everyone experiences loss, and no one is overjoyed by it. Black is black. Except when it isn’t. Let’s write another six-word story. God will not waste your pain. Here’s another one: God will not leave you alone.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases Matthew 5:4 this way: “You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you” (Matthew 5:4 MSG).
When you are at the end of your rope, you have an opportunity to experience the presence of God in a way you never have before. Maybe you’ve embraced some wonderful things and lost them. But there’s no embrace like the divine one.
Jesus isn’t recommending that you take up suffering as a weekend hobby. He just wants you to realize that you can find an incredible blessing hidden in the shadows and the valleys. And that blessing might be visible only through the lens of your tears.
When disaster comes, we can’t see anything bigger than what we’ve lost. But the truth is, God more than fills that space. We begin to see that he’s not just filling that space, but spaces we didn’t even know we had.
Everyone experiences loss. Everyone mourns. But those who follow Jesus find that their pain is not wasted. There is a blessing that seems totally illogical. It requires climbing to the bottom of the deepest pit, without a flashlight, venturing far into the darkness. But the blessing is there, and it’s worth everything.
3. Mourning Our Sin
The Bible speaks about another form of mourning. There is also the mourning that is our response to the sin in ourselves and in our world. This sinfulness wreaks havoc on us, on those we love, and on the world around us. Throughout Scripture there’s a connection between mourning over sin—of every kind—and receiving God’s blessing. Israel often mourned together as a nation and received God’s blessing as a nation.
There’s an intriguing example of this kind of mourning in the Old Testament. David, you may remember, had an affair with Bathsheba. In time, the magnitude of his sin came crashing down on him, and he was utterly distressed, distraught, undone. He mourned from the depths of his soul.
In Psalm 32, he talks about the period of time before he took on that mourning. On the surface he actually would have appeared happier. Denial puts on a positive face. But at the soul level, it was a different story. He was missing out on a life-changing, faith-altering blessing from God: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalms 32:1-2 NIV).
The word blessed is used twice in these two sentences. But that’s not the only word. Sin appears twice too.
Sin is an interesting word. A century or so ago, our English vocabulary was rich in synonyms for sin. Words like iniquity, transgression, depravity. New Testament Greek had thirty-three different words for sin.
Amongst my colleagues, preachers, we don’t speak much about sin, or even use the word. If we do, we may water it down so it doesn’t offend.
We may be able to wipe sin from our sermons but we cant wipe it out of our souls. As a culture, we can try to rub out the definition of sin, but the condition isn’t going anywhere.
If we fail to acknowledge sin’s reality, there can be no mourning. And without mourning there can be no confession. And without confession we miss the richest blessing of God’s forgiveness and grace.
Without seeing the depths of sin, we’ll never understand the heights of God’s love and grace.
In Psalm 32 David goes on to say, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalms 32:3-5 NIV).
Have you experienced the blessing of facing up to sin? It’s amazingly liberating. We put so much energy into running away, hiding, and pretending someone else did it. Or that the hole we dug wasn’t really so deep.
Sooner or later we stop running, usually because we’ve run out of places to run to. We finally let the tears come, and that’s when we find the missing strength. The twist is that it’s not our strength at all. It’s the power of God’s arms wrapped around us. And when I am at the end of my rope, I find the richest of blessings.
So, let’s be clear. You will fall into sin. Everyone does. And you’ll still be slow to face your mourning. Everyone is. Just understand that in your hesitancy to mourn your sin, you’re also delaying the blessing of God. There is no way to get to that blessing without the mourning that precedes it.
David has told us about sin, about confession, about the wonderfulness of God’s forgiveness and righteousness, and he disrupts the whole discussion like this: “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (Psalms 32:11 NIV).
Mourning isn’t a “no big deal” thing. It isn’t an “okay if you’re into that” thing. It isn’t a “think positively and it will go away” thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s a very beneficial thing. A blessing thing.
Here’s James’s advice for us: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8-10 NIV).
Since repentance and mourning don’t come naturally to us, let me offer some questions to ask yourself to start you on this path that leads to blessing.
How have I sinned in the last few days?
Who else has been hurt by my sin?
Besides confessing to God, is there someone I need to apologize to?
How can I clean up the mess my sin made?
Whom will I confess my sins to?
What excuses and justifications have I just come up with in answering these questions?
The Old Testament had compelling traditions which we should take a closer look at a few of them. One is called penitential mourning. It was usually a period of seven to thirty days, and it was a time for the whole community to grieve together over its sin. People sometimes wore sackcloth as an outer expression of their inner mourning—to visually communicate that they were at the end of their rope.
Perhaps some of us need a time of penitential mourning lasting for days. Instead of putting on a happy face, you’ll let the tears come. You’ll invite them.
Back in the sixteen hundreds, the Puritan Thomas Watson said it this way: “Tears melt God’s heart and bind His hand.” It’s a far cry from the “have a nice day” faith we tend to preach. I realize that. It’s not too ra ra type of sermon. But it happens to be aligned with truth, and it happens to be the one path to the deepest, fullest joy that God offers. You’ll walk through the valley of the shadow, but I promise you this: you’ll never walk alone. The blessing awaits.