Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Author: Tim

Date Posted: September 24th, 2012



Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
#4/17 - Momentum: How To Make Progress In Your Christian Life
Matthew 5:4; James 4:1-10


September 22nd / 23rd, 2012
by Pastor Colin S. Smith

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4


As we continue looking at the beatitudes, these wonderful words of blessing that were spoken by the Son of God, I don’t want us to miss the most obvious point of all, that this is about blessing. The word “blessed” is repeated here, and over and over in the beatitudes. Eight times Jesus uses the word “blessed.”

This takes place at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He begins the Sermon on the Mount. The Son of God has come among us in order to speak to us about blessing, and to lead us into everything that He speaks about.

At the beginning of Matthew 5, we read that Jesus went up on a mountainside. Think of that–God on a mountain. We’ve seen that before in the Bible. Remember Mount Sinai where the presence of God came down, but His face was never seen. He remained invisible, surrounded by smoke on a mountain that was aflame with fire. 

The people were kept at a distance. Darkness descended and trumpets were blasting (Deuteronomy 4:11-12). The whole scene was so terrifying that even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Hebrews 12:21). If that’s how Moses felt, how do you think you or I would have felt?

But when we come to the Beatitudes, the scene is completely different. Now God has come down and taken human flesh. This is God with us–Emmanuel. The Son of God goes “up on the mountain (Matthew 5:1), and when He sits down, his disciples come to him. There is no fire, and there is no smoke.

At Sinai, God spoke thundering words, so terrifying that the people begged that no further words would be spoken (Hebrews 12:19). But here the Son of God speaks, not thundering words of condemnation, but wonderful words of blessing. Who would not want to draw up a chair and listen to God in the flesh tell us about the life that is truly blessed.

We have seen that Christ begins with this astonishing statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). We saw last time that Christians are people who know their own poverty. They look to Jesus for what they do not have, and know that in Him they have everything they need.

Aren’t you glad that the first beatitude is: “Blessed are the poor in spirit?” I can get there. I am there. I’m thankful that the first beatitude is not ”Blessed are the pure in heart.” If blessing begins with being pure in heart, none of us would ever get there. That’s beyond us. Thank God that the starting point is to recognize that we are poor in spirit. Spurgeon says…

A ladder, if it to be of any use, must have its first step near the ground…  [1]

Isn’t that good? What’s the point of a ladder if the first rung is above your head? You can’t get on it. The law will bring you to a place called “poor in spirit” and Jesus will meet you there: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” Today we move on to the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Three Kinds of Mourning

“Blessed are those who mourn…”  Matthew 5:4

What is this mourning that Jesus says is blessed without qualification? There are three kinds of mourning—natural, sinful, and spiritual.

Natural mourning is grieving for someone you have lost
God gave you a wonderful gift, and now that gift has been taken away. The natural response is to mourn. Those who’ve been bereaved know about this. Jesus knew about this. He wept at the graveside of a friend. That’s natural mourning.

The presence and comfort of Jesus in the journey of bereavement is a treasured gift to every believer, but that’s not what Jesus is speaking about here. Here’s why… in the Beatitudes, Jesus is speaking about qualities we are to proactively pursue. We are to go after purity of heart. We are to seek righteousness. We are to desire meekness.   

We are to get as much of these things that we possibly can. Jesus is speaking about conditions of heart that are so laden with blessing, and He is encouraging us to go after them at any cost.

That is true of all seven Beatitudes, and the eighth that is added (being persecuted for righteousness sake), is simply the outcome of a life marked by the other seven. We are to desire and to go after as much of these blessed qualities as we can get.

Nobody would say that about natural mourning. No bereaved person would say, “I want to go after as much of that as I can possibly get.” So that is not what Jesus is speaking about here.

Sinful mourning is pining for something God has not given
Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  2 Corinthians 7:10

There is no sin in natural mourning. Jesus wept. Grieving over something or someone God has taken away is modeled by Christ. But there are other kinds of sorrow. Paul warns us about a worldly sorrow that leads to death. This sinful mourning is pining for what God has not given.

You have an example of this in the story of Ahab, the king of Israel (1 Kings 21). God gave him a palace and a kingdom, but next to the palace, there was a poor man called Naboth who had a vineyard. Ahab set his eyes on Naboth’s little vineyard. It began to get into him.

Ahab looked at what God had given his neighbor, and he began, to use the Bible’s word, to covet. The Bible says that Ahab became “vexed and sullen.” We might say today that he’s “pouting.” Why? Because he could not get his hands on the vineyard. His pining after what God never intended for him to have eventually consumed him. This led to the murder of Naboth, and it brought the very opposite of blessing into Ahab’s life. 

Spiritual mourning is sorrow over our sins against God
A. W. Pink says,

The mourning for which Christ promises Divine comfort is a sorrowing over our sins with a godly sorrow. [2]

This is the godly sorrow Paul speaks about in 2 Corinthians 7:10. It is blessed because it “produces a repentance that leads to life.” You know about natural sorrow. You may know about sinful sorrow. What do you know about godly sorrow, this mourning that is blessed?

This subject is of huge importance to the church today, because true Christians are surrounded by a form of faith that has been so emaciated, so diluted, that it’s unrecognizably different from what Jesus speaks about.  

Thank God for the marvelous truth that we are justified by faith: “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Why does faith justify? Why does faith justify and not works?

A believer is justified by faith because faith unites a person to Jesus Christ, who justifies, sanctifies and glorifies believers through the power of His shed blood. This power is applied to the life of the believer by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Trivialization of What is Called “Christianity” in Our Time

Faith, which unites a person to Christ…
has been reduced to belief, an assent to certain truths
Simply believing certain things will never change you. Jesus Christ will change you! 
Faith justifies because it is the bond of a living union with Jesus Christ who justifies, sanctifies and glorifies. It’s the presence of Christ in a person’s life that is life-changing, not simply believing certain things.

When Jesus Christ enters a life, He comes to forgive you and He comes to make you holy. He accepts you as you are–that’s grace, but He never leaves you as you are–that’s grace too!

The replacement of faith, which unites a person to Christ, with mere assent to certain truths, leads thousands of people to “accept Christ” without ever bowing to His Lordship in their lives, and without ever experiencing the blessing of those who are in Jesus Christ.

That is a form of faith that is so far from the biblical reality as to be utterly unrecognizable. It is a form of faith that leaves a person essentially unchanged. When the world looks at this, it despises it, and it is right to do so.

Repentance, which involves a change of direction has been reduced to…
…merely admitting that I’m a sinner and saying a prayer
Listen to Scripture, and try to take in how far the Bible is from the kind of message that often poses under the banner of Christianity today. Here’s the biblical call to repentance:

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him and to our God for he will abundantly pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7

God says to the wicked “Forsake your way. Stop doing what you are doing. Turn!” That’s a million miles away from admitting I’m a sinner and continuing on with my ways. Or listen to this from the New Testament:

God’s foundation stands firm, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows who are his” and “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”  2 Timothy 2:19

Paul is talking about something foundational, something that’s at the very core of Christianity. If you are going to name the name of the Lord, here’s what it means: “Depart from iniquity!” The call of God to repentance, which involves a change in direction, has been replaced by “admitting you are a sinner,” and “asking Jesus to forgive you.”

I remember going to a conference as a 17-year-old, and hearing Alan Redpath, a seasoned preacher near the end of his life. I’ll never forget the force of hearing him say,

God has not promised to forgive one sin that you are not willing to forsake. [3]

For a boy who knew too much about cheap grace, that went right in. How dare I, seventeen-year-old-Colin, come before God  and say, “I admit, I’m a sinner, and please forgive me,” while I have every intention of carrying on doing the same thing.

If a generation grows up believing, because of an emaciated presentation of the Gospel, that all you really need to do is admit you’re a sinner, and there isn’t any real expectation of change, then what’s going to happen? You will have a generation that grows up in church world thinking the Gospel is essentially about my past sins being written off and heaven for the future, as I continue to pursue the American dream as an unchanged person. 

A. W. Tozer saw this coming. Writing in this city of Chicago, more than half a century ago (1948), this is what Tozer said:

The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved” but he is not hungry or thirsty after God. [4]

We are surrounded by a form of faith that poses under the banner of Christianity, an emaciated faith that has been redefined to accommodate our intransigence, and a repentance that has been repackaged, reshaped to fit our own continuing indulgence.

Most of us have been immersed in this emaciated faith all our lives. The result is a growing mass of people who “admit that they are sinners” and who “accept Jesus,” and yet have not really experienced the life that is in Christ. What is the evidence of that?

The evidence is that they don’t feel poor in spirit, and they don’t really know what it is to mourn over their own sins. There really isn’t a hunger and a thirst for righteousness, or a submissiveness to the will of God when things get hard. They’re not merciful. There’s not much purity of heart either. Most of all, they’re missing out on the sheer joy of all that’s in Christ.

They do not know, even in the gathering for worship, the joy and the blessing of a person who has discovered that in Christ they have all that they need. This theme of spiritual mourning is of critical importance to the whole church in our time. It’s a message that all of us need to hear. 

What Does Spiritual Mourning Look Like?

Spiritual mourning arises from humility
Spiritual mourning follows naturally from becoming poor in spirit. When you see that you do not have what it takes, you will mourn over the sins that are yours, and mourn over the righteousness that you do not have.  

We’ve been picturing the Beatitudes as a series of seven rings, and you move forward in the Christian life by moving from one ring to the next. Swinging on that first ring of being poor in spirit will lead you to the second ring of the mourning that is blessed. Here’s what that means: You can’t begin on the second ring. You’ve got to start on the first ring.

There is a certain pleasure in every sin, a passing pleasure, but pleasure none the less. Nobody would sin if there weren’t a pleasure associated with every sin. There is an attraction in us for sins that we have indulged, and that leads to the great question: How can I come to hate what I used to love? How can I turn from what I used to choose?

It’s not just a matter of saying, “I’m going to make that switch!” You can’t suddenly mourn over what used to bring you joy. You can’t start on the second ring. You start on the first. And when you swing on that first ring, you take hold of your need before God, and that will get you to the place where mourning is within your reach. It arises from humility, discovering your true position before God. Get on the first ring and it will not be long before the second is within your grasp.  

Spiritual mourning is a matter of the heart
Everyone knows there’s a huge difference between the person who says, “I’m sorry,” and is merely trying to resolve a problem, and the person who says, “I’m sorry,” and is really sorry from the heart. Spiritual mourning is more than saying sorry to God; it’s a matter of the heart.

The Bible tells us the story of Saul, a high achiever with a twisted heart. Saul was the first King of Israel. He led his army into battle and then took plunder for himself and for his men. He cheated, deceived and stole, and then he lied to cover it up. But later he was found out. Samuel confronted him with the truth, and Saul had nowhere to hide.

So Saul confessed. He said he was sorry. He said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Kings 15:24). I’m sure he had a very long face when he said it. Then he says something else to Samuel, “I have sinned, yet honor me now before the elders of my people” (1 Kings 15:30).

He appears sorry, but the truth is that he would have continued what he was doing, if he could. He says he is sorry but his focus is on damage limitation, and making sure that everyone thinks he’s a great guy. There has not been a change of heart.  

Spiritual mourning is the key to tackling what we call “habitual sins,” sins that keep recurring in a person’s life. A true Christian does not live in a cycle of sinning, saying sorry to God and then repeating the same behavior, year after year after year…

Why do we know so much of habitual sin? Because we know so little about mourning. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance, not to presumption.

Here is a person who is content to sin and assume forgiveness, but who does not mourn and does not change. That is not walking the path of repentance. That is walking the path of presumption. God announces mercy for mourners. Those who are not mourners have nothing to do with mercy. Alexander Maclaren says:

If you have never been down on your knees before God, feeling what a wicked man or woman you are, I doubt hugely whether you will ever stand with radiant face before God, and praise Him through eternity for His mercy to you. [5]

Spiritual mourning is infused with hope
Now Judas grieved over his sin in betraying Jesus, but Judas did not mourn spiritually for this reason: His grief led him to despair. Despair is always the work of Satan; it is never the work of the Holy Spirit. Whenever you become serious about the things of God, that’s happening because the Holy Spirit is at work in your life.

But as soon as the Holy Spirit is at work in your life, the enemy of your soul is going to be paying attention, so its very important to be able to distinguish the work of Satan from the work of the Holy Spirit. Here’s one way to distinguish between them: Satan will lead you to despair of self, but he never brings you to hope in Christ. Satan will just leave you in despair. He’ll leave you consumed with mourning. He’ll never let you get to this place: “…for they shall be comforted,” the very reason why those who mourn are blessed!   

The Holy Spirit will bring you to the end of yourself. The Holy Spirit will bring tears to your eyes, perhaps, over seeing the extent of your sin and what you’ve done to others, and what the offense looks like to God, and how long this pattern has actually been there. As you begin to see the extent of it, you will say with the apostle Paul, “Oh, wretched man that I am!”  But the work of the Holy Spirit will never, never, never leave you there.

Judas’ mouring is not spiritual mourning; it’s him being consumed by the devil. That’s why Judas goes and takes his life–he’s in despair. But the Holy Spirit never leaves you in despair. True repentance leads to life, that’s why it’s blessed–there’s comfort in it. Thomas Watson says,

Gospel tears drop from the eye of faith. [6]

Do you see what he is saying? There’s a way of weeping over sin that is a matter of the heart. Don’t get caught up on whether there are physical tears or not. There can be tears of self-deprecation, but Gospel tears fall from the eye of faith. They have an eye on the cross. They see the extent of my sinfulness in the light of the price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross. That’s why there’s hope.

Hope, my friend, is the signature mark of spiritual mourning. It’s not spiritual mourning if there isn’t hope there. So, when Jesus is talking about the blessing, the joy, and the comfort that comes to those who really mourn their own sins, He is pointing us to this–a spiritual mourning that is marked by humility that comes from the heart, and is infused with hope that streams from Christ crucified, the man of sorrows, who is also the friend of sinners. 

That’s why authentic Christian experience is always a two-sided coin. Paul puts it this way, “We are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Why are we sorrowful? Because we see our own need. We mourn our own sins. You never outgrow that. We’re always seeing how we need to grow, and we’re always seeking the grace of God to move forward.

Why are we always rejoicing? Because the kind of mourning Jesus is talking about does not leave us in the place of despair. It brings us to the cross, to the place of hope, and to Jesus Christ. The true Christian says, “Who is sufficient for these things?” You come to the place of saying, “How am I going to get through this week?” You feel your need, but the work of the Spirit will never leave you there, so you go on to say with Paul, “Our sufficiency is of God.”

Spiritual mourning leads you to the place of saying, “O wretched man that I am,” but because it is infused with hope, the Holy Spirit will not leave you there. The other side of the coin is this: “Thanks be to God who has given me the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Spiritual mourning may lead you to the place of identifying with the apostle Paul when he says, “I am the chief of sinners.” You’ll say, “I’m there. I see in myself what I have come to loathe and mourn and grieve.” But the Holy Spirit, if it’s spiritual mourning, will never leave you there. He will also lead you to the hope of the Gospel to say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”

True Christians mourns their sins, but they never end there. Spiritual mourning is infused with hope that arises from the man of sorrows. He carried our griefs, carried our sorrows, and bore them on the cross, so that in drawing near to Him, the Holy Spirit may take all that was purchased by Him and apply the comfort that is found in Christ into the deepest places of our lives.

As you walk the path of genuine faith and genuine repentance, until the day when the comfort that is begun now in Jesus Christ is complete, and there will be no more mourning, for on that day God will wipe all tears from our eyes.


[1] C.H. Spurgeon, from sermon #3156, “The First Beatitude,” 1873

[2] A. W. Pink, “The Beatitudes,” p. 15, Over the Hill pub., 2011

[3] For more on Alan Redpath, see:

[4] A. W. Tozer, “The Pursuit of God,” p. 2, Christian pub., 1982

[5] Alexander Maclaren, “The Beatitudes and Other Sermons,” optimized for Kindle, 2012

[6] Thomas Watson, “The Beatitudes,” p. 82, Banner of Truth, 1980

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