Therefore, as with all of these blessings, it is not so much the condition described which brings blessing, but rather, being in that condition at the same time as knowing and trusting Jesus
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Matthew #11 . 5:4-5
As we return to Matthew this week, let me remind us where we are. Jesus has climbed a small mountain with his disciples, and he is teaching them what Jesus followers “look like” and how they are to live. He has begun with a list of character traits, which nowadays, for obscure reasons, we call “the beatitudes.” These character traits are key to understanding the entire sermon on the mount. In fact, one way to look at it is like this:
· Jesus first explains that these character traits (the beatitudes) should be part of the life of every disciple.
· Following that, in the rest of the sermon, he gives practical examples of these character traits in action.
For example, in chapter 6, he talks about depending upon the Father for everything we need in life – including finances and other material resources. We can’t totally rely on the Father like that unless we become “poor in spirit” – understanding our complete dependence upon the Lord, and his gracious desire to take care of us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is of course, the first character trait that Jesus spoke about, which we looked at last time. For now, we will move on to two more of these Jesus-follower character traits.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
This statement of Jesus is full of meaning. I believe Jesus may have been thinking of several different kinds of “mourning” including:
a. The grief of lost loved ones. The Greek word used here for “mourn” describes lamenting for someone who has died. It is the sort of grief that consumes a person, and cannot be hidden. Therefore I believe that among other things, Jesus was referring literally to people who had lost loved ones to death. This is stunningly counter-cultural for me – how can we say someone who has lost a husband, a wife, a child, a sibling or a parent is blessed? The point is, of course, we can’t say that – but Jesus can. And the reason he does say it is simply and only because of his own resurrection. Remember, Jesus is talking here to Christians – people who know him, who have placed all their hope in him alone. Therefore, as with all of these blessings, it is not so much the condition described which brings blessing, but rather, being in that condition at the same time as knowing and trusting Jesus. In other words, not everyone who mourns the loss of a loved one is blessed – it is only those who know Jesus who receive true comfort for their mourning. When we lose a loved one who is in the care of Jesus, we know that we will see that person again. We know that in fact, we get to spend eternity with our Christian loved ones in the presence of God. We know that even before that, our loved ones are in a better place. Now, on the other hand I have often struggled with the idea of losing a loved one who doesn’t know Jesus – there doesn’t seem to be much comfort there. And yet, I receive in faith the promises of Revelation 21:4
“He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
There is a tremendous grief in losing someone who is close to you, but the blessing comes in the fact that this grief is temporary – for they shall be comforted.
b. There is another kind of mourning that brings blessing in Jesus. I call it the grief of brokenness. This is not so much mourning about losing someone else, but rather losing something inside yourself, or something that you desperately wanted or needed. For some, it might be that they didn’t receive the approval they sought from their parents. For others, perhaps they simply do not feel loved for who they are. Still others might be seeking self-significance, or a marriage partner, or healthy family relationships. What the world around us counsels in these situations is to do whatever it takes to make up for the loss in our lives. So people needing approval try to become successful or famous, hoping the adulation of the crowds will fill them up. Some try to make other people give them what they want – this is where we see unhealthy patterns of relationships developing. Jesus counsels us instead to mourn. The key to being comforted is first to mourn. So many of us (myself included) do not like to acknowledge those areas where we are truly weak and needy – it isn’t pleasant to go there. So we try to by-pass the mourning part, and go straight to the comfort. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. But when we acknowledge our brokenness, when we truly mourn the fact that we did not, and will not, get what we needed from circumstances or other people – then Jesus has an opportunity to heal us, and to bring comfort. This is a very deep truth, but very important. We can’t receive the blessing of comfort that Jesus promises unless we first learn to mourn. The mourning of brokenness, like the mourning of lost loved ones, is an acknowledgement that we can’t do anything about the situation, and that it grieves us to the core. It is only when we give up control that Jesus can begin to comfort. We must learn to mourn by giving up the right to try and fix ourselves. When we do mourn our own losses of love, approval, significance, relationship or anything else, we find the comfort of Jesus.
c. The grief of sin. The third sort of mourning I believe Jesus is talking about is heartfelt sadness and repentance for the sins we have committed. Our society has undergone a tremendous transformation in its attitude toward sin. Forty years ago, no one wanted to be a sinner, because everyone understood that there were consequences for sin. People cared about sin – it mattered. Today, most people freely acknowledge that they are sinners – but they don’t seem to care about it, and it doesn’t seem to matter to them. In short, although many people freely admit to sinning, they do not mourn about it. Sin does not grieve their hearts. Jesus is offering a better way. Listen to what James, the brother of Jesus writes about mourning for sin:
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 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 4:6-10, italics added by me)
When we truly, in our hearts, mourn for the sins we have committed, Jesus offers comfort. When we are sorrowful and grief stricken for the crimes we have perpetrated against Jesus and against our fellow human beings, God gives grace. We shall be comforted.
Very briefly, I want to consider the next blessing –unless we begin to move a little faster, we will never get through the sermon on the mount, let alone the book of Matthew.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. The way most of us remember this verse is something like “blessed are the meek…” This verse used to bother me, along with the poem “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild…” Meekness is not something which is initially attractive to me – frankly, it sounds wimpy. But what does Jesus mean by it? I think it is obvious when we read the gospels that Jesus was no wimp. So what does he mean when offers this meekness, or gentleness as an important trait of a disciple? While researching the Greek word for gentle/meek (“pra-us,” if anyone cares) I found an excellent definition that seems to me to really get at the heart of what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 5:5. I’m not sure that I could word it any better than the lexicon, so instead I will quote at length:
Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting…The meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Is. 41:17, Lu. 18:1-8) Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. (Gal. 5:23)
Therefore the key to gentleness and meekness is to trust God to act on our behalf and to not rely on our own strength, which in comparison to God’s, is pitiful anyway. The result of such meekness, such trust? We inherit the earth, or in other words, the promised land. The promise is very germane to the business of trusting and being meek, because we cannot grab the land, or get it for ourselves. We receive it only as we trust God to get it for us.
I want to remind us again, that we cannot, simply through sheer effort, manifest these character traits in ourselves. We can’t just suddenly feel blessed as we mourn, or suddenly give up our own self-interests. Instead, remember, these are character traits of Jesus himself. The way we “get them” is first. to trust Jesus, and second, to allow him to own our lives, and to express His life and will through us.
May we be blessed this week as we mourn and remain humble and trusting!
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Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995, emphasis added by me.