The Beatitudes – 2 – Mourning
Mourning isn’t fun, but it is important for Christians. But what does it mean to mourn in the context of the Beatitudes? How do we acquire this essential attitude?
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We’re on a series on The Beatitudes. I’ll bet everybody here didn’t know that. We’re talking, today, about Mourning, which is the second beatitude – poverty of spirit being the first.
We saw last time that the first building block for spiritual character is poverty of spirit, realizing that God knows everything about spiritual things, while we, without His revelation to us, would know nothing. We also saw that poverty of spirit means that we’re completely dependent on God for everything – that He sustains our life. It says that He is the sustainer of life. So, should He grow bored with that, or just lose focus for a moment and He forgot to sustain the universe, we would be unsustained. We don’t think about that often. We talked, last time, about the earthquake in San Francisco and how it shook people from their delusion that they have power and control over their lives. We also saw that all our talents and abilities come from God. He created life and makes us the way we are. And so we can’t take credit for any of those things either.
So today, we’re going to look at the second building block of spiritual character – the second beatitude, which is mourning. So we’re going to look first at what the word means. Let’s read the scripture – Matthew 5:4.
Mt. 5:4 – Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are…. What does that mean? It means happy are you – blessed are you – it’s a benefit for you. …when you mourn. Then the next word that we want to think about is the word mourn itself. The Louw & Nida Domain Oriented Lexicon says it means to beat the breast and lament as an expression of sorrow. It’s used in Luke 8:52, where – breaking into the middle – everyone there was crying and mourning for her. If you think about people at a funeral, they’re mourning. So that’s what it would mean.
In Acts 8:2, it says;
Acts 8:2 – Some devout men buried Stephen, making loud lamentation over him.
The lamentation word there is the same word that is translated mourning in Luke 8:2 and Matthew 5:4. In a number of instances, the closest equivalent of to beat the breast is to beat the head or even to pull out the hair.
I remember once, I had a little boy come to me at nine years old – his mother brought him – and he had a big red knot right there on his forehead, where he had been banging his head on the sidewalk and on the hardwood floor in their house. Why? Because he was very upset about something, and his mother didn’t know what it was and couldn’t resolve it. So, even in our society, people do things like that. They tear out their hair, or they beat themselves on the head – different things.
But the term just means to be overwrought with emotion, sadness or loss. Then comforted…that word means exactly in Greek as it does in English. It points to one of the great spiritual paradoxes here. Those people who feel bad are going to feel good later. In order to feel good, you have to feel bad first. That’s the point of it. But why? What’s this talking about? Well, let’s look deeper at the attitude.
What is it that makes us so upset that we might tear out our hair? I want to talk to you, first, about a pattern that we see in life. We’re all in this pattern all the time. And that is, problems, upset, resolution.
I’ve seen teachers come to my office – when I was a school counselor – all upset because there was this one little kid that just wouldn’t do what he was told. So I would talk to him, and he would tell me how mean the teacher was being to him. And then I’d talk to her, and she would point to all the things he’d done to upset the whole class. After about three or four years of that, and watching what happened time after time, I realized that there would be a time of upset, and then they would finally get used to each other, learn how to communicate with one another, and kind of come to an uneasy truce in the classroom about that. So there would be a problem. Everybody would get upset. And then there would gradually come a resolution to that problem. Usually, by the end of the semester – by Christmas – everything was just going along. He found out what he had to do to stay out of trouble and she found out what she had to do to keep him from getting upset.
We have these things with everything. The kind of mourning that Jesus talks about fits into this pattern, but it’s not the same thing as getting upset with somebody. It’s not just about the problems of life.
I talked to somebody recently – a young woman…. The reason she comes to mind is because she feels so bad. She’s having panic attacks, has hives, and wakes up achey every morning with big swellings. Her lips are all swelled up and itchy. Her skin is blotchy. All of this is happening to her because she’s gone through a lot of really bad things in her life, and she’s had a panic attack, and now she’s afraid of how her life is going to go if she doesn’t get rid of that. So it feels to her like her world is going to constrict, I think, and she’s very anxious about all of that. The problem, and there’s the upset about the problem, and now comes the resolution. Right? She doesn’t know how that is going to happen yet. But I think it will.
But we’ve all experienced distress because of problems in life, whether it’s things like this young lady, or like the teacher and the kid in the class, or like worrying about whether we’re going to lose our job, or if we’re going to be able to find one, or the loss of a loved one. I see a lady, who everytime she talks about her mother, who died five years ago, she breaks out in tears. She was doing that at work so much that she lost her job. She’s in the upset-resolution thing, too. So we all have these things. And with all of these things that come upon us, we go through that problem/upset/resolution cycle. And what’s the point of that? Well, these kinds of losses are not the kinds of losses that we’re talking about when it comes to talking about mourning.
Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then. Right? And I found one a couple weeks ago while I was preparing for this presentation. I found it in a commentary – Critical and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments. It says: Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. And then they comment: This mourning must not be taken loosely for that feeling which is wrong for men under pressure of the ills of life, nor yet strictly for sorrow on account of committed sins. So it’s not just a sense of loss that we feel when we’re unhappy about life, or worried about life, or guilty because we know we’ve done something wrong. They continue: Evidently, it is the entire feeling, which the sense of our spiritual poverty begets. And so the second beatitude is but the compliment of the first. The one is intellectual,the other the emotional aspect of the same thing.
So we postulated at the beginning that these are building block steps. You have to accomplish the one before you can get to the next. The first one causes the next, and so on. And that’s what they’re saying about this. They’re saying that spiritual poverty causes us to mourn. That one is the awareness and the other is the feeling that comes from it. Okay?
So why is that an acorn? Well, it’s an acorn because I didn’t know that they believed like I did about this. I’m not the only person who believes this beatitude is founded on, or caused by, the first. So it’s always nice to have company.
Poverty of spirit is the realization that without God, we are nothing – helpless, sold under sin – and mourning is the emotion that comes out of that awareness. In the work that I do, thinking and feeling are very closely related. We always feel according to how we think. So poverty of spirit is an insight that causes us to mourn and feel a sense of loss. The question now becomes, “What is it that we lose, or give up, when we realize we are powerless in spiritual things? What’s the loss to mourn over?” Well, let’s read what Jesus said. Let’s go to Mark 12, and verse 28.
Mk. 12:28 – One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commands, which is the most important?” That’s what the lawyer asks Jesus. “The most important one” – verse 29 – answered Jesus, “is this: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” So it’s not about just “with our intellect,” but it’s about “with our whole self” – all of our feelings, all of our energy, all of our effort. It’s not just an insight, but also an emotion.
Now notice what they say in the commentary as well: Religion, according to the Bible, is neither a set of intellectual convictions nor a bundle of emotional feelings. There are religions, within Christianity, that are almost all emotion. And then there are others that are almost all thinking. And it says: Religion is neither a set of intellectual convictions nor a bundle of emotional feelings, but a compound of both – the former giving birth to the latter. Thus, closely, do the first two beatitudes cohere.
So we come to the realization here that it can be helpful to know that the beatitudes are linked – that each one is the foundation for the next. So what would it mean, for example, if a person has never felt a sense of mourning? Well, it would mean that poverty of spirit is not yet theirs. But we don’t have to feel bad about that. Some people feel that sense of mourning and they understand about God from the beginning, and that’s what drives them to repentance. Other people get it at the other end of things. Because God has promised that He is going to comfort us. And that means that we’re all going to have to mourn sometime. Nobody gets into the kingdom without taking that step. It’s just that some take it early and some take it later. Some of us have to take it all the time. So we don’t need to feel bad. We just need to get ready – if we haven’t had that deep sense of loss.
We still haven’t answered the question, “What have we lost and what are we mourning about?” That will come.
Let’s look at some examples in the Bible. Romans 7, verse 14. Here’s Paul:
Rom. 7:14 – We know that the law is spiritual. But I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do. So I find this law – he’s in 21 now – at work. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being, I delight in God’s law. But I see another law at work in my members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner to the law of sin at work within my members.
So what are these verses about? Well, they are an insight – an observation – aren’t they? An intellectual thought process about how weak he is. That’s poverty of spirit.
V-24 – What a wretched man I am. That’s mourning. That’s feeling bad about the state that he’s in – extremely frustrated and feeling a deep sense of helplessness. Do you think this was the first time Paul ever felt that way? I don’t think so. I think, on Damascus Road, he had a profound experience of both poverty of spirit and mourning, all at once. He lost all his control. Here he was, out doing a great work for God by killing all these Christians. He was looked up to, thought highly of in the synagogue, because he was doing such a great work for God. He was very powerful. And then, within just a blinding second, he couldn’t even see, and he was being told, by the God he worshipped, that he was killing His people. So all his status, as a great man of God, just dissolved. He said that he was the least of all the saints. He considered himself to be the biggest loser. He was very aware of his own failings, his own weakness, and very frustrated that he couldn’t be the way God wanted him to be. That frustration and sorrow is the expression of his mourning – because of his poverty of spirit.
Psalm 51:1 – another example.
Psa. 51:1 – Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love. Who wrote this? David. …according to your great compassion. What did he do? He had a very faithful, loyal soldier sent to the front lines…. Maybe he’s thinking about that. Wash away all of my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. “I just can’t get away from it. I can’t stop thinking about it.” Against You – You only – have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak, and justified when You judge. Surely I was sinful at birth – sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely You desire truth in the inward parts. You teach me wisdom in the innermost place. Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Bring to light all of my…. – “all the games I play, all the nasty things I’ve done. Just help purge that out of me, no matter what it takes.” Let me hear joy and gladness. Let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me, “because I know I don’t have that.” That’s what he’s saying. Do not cast me from Your presence, or take Your Holy Spirit from me – even though You well deserve to – and restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
“Instead of self-will, and working to get what one wants for oneself, give me a willing spirit to follow You, and let You provide the things that I need.” Do you detect the emotion here? You can’t miss it, can you? He’s mourning. He’s mourning because he knows he can’t be clean. He can’t please God. He can’t even have a right attitude. He can’t desire to go the right way. How did he come to that awareness? Well, he came to that awareness by just doing what he wanted to do. So that’s the problem. Then the upset and the resolution come later.
So what is it that we have to give up to be poor in spirit? Everything! All the stuff we want, all the goals we have, all the things that we value, all of our opinions, all of our everything. The human mind is such that it is self-defending. It needs to think of itself as good.
When Adam and Eve listened to the devil and turned, they had to defend their sense of self, didn’t they? Immediately, they began excusing themselves and blaming others for the problem. There is a term that some people like to use. I think it’s pop-psychology more than psychology, but it’s the word ego-defense. Ego is a neutral term. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just yourself. There’s good parts and bad parts to it. But to defend one’s sense of self is something that all humans want to do. We need to believe that we are good, or justified, or whatever. Poverty of spirit means to let go of that. Our problem is that we want to be seen as good, but we’re unable to do good. It’s the conundrum we’re caught in and ego-defense is the response.
Do you ever get embarrassed? When we appear weak or foolish – wrong, bad, we make faux pas and people catch us – that sense of embarrassment comes because of what I’m talking about – ego-defense. It’s part of the natural person. Let’s read an example of that in Genesis 4.
Gen. 4:2 – Now Abel kept flocks and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD, but Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering, He did not look with favor. Why not? Well, because, apparently, the rule was you were supposed to offer animal sacrifices. Well, Cain was a farmer, so he didn’t have animals, but he certainly…you can’t tell me that he was a vegetarian. He probably bartered with his brother to have meat. So he could have had something to sacrifice. So Cain was very angry. His face was downcast. He was pouting. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must master it.” So he wanted to be accepted, and he wanted to be thought well of, but instead of realizing that is impossible without God’s help – instead of doing what God told him to do – he decided to take matters into his own hands. “Abel is making me look really bad here, so let’s just take care of him.” And that’s what he did. See, when a person is poor in spirit, they realize they are not good and they need God.
So letting go of self-defense is a serious loss to the self. It makes us all feel exposed and vulnerable. We have to have faith to do that. And that causes mourning.
So how does God help manipulative people finally come to a sense of mourning? By going through a whole lot of really bad stuff. Those people have a really hard time coming clean and being honest with God and themselves. The only way to do that is to have problems. So that’s what He does for us.
Daniel 9, verse 9 – another example.
Dn. 9:9 – In the first year of Darius, son of Xerxes, a Mede by descent, was made ruler over Babylon. In the first year of reign, I, Daniel, understood from the scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So here’s Daniel. His people have been carried away captive by the Babylonians. And he’s been told by God that captivity is going to last for seventy years. So I turned to the LORD God and pleaded with Him in prayer, and petition, and fasting in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed, “O LORD, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with all who love Him and obey His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled. We have turned away from Your commandments and laws.” What were they doing? Well, they were offering their children in child sacrifice to pagan gods – that God told them not to have anything to do with! That’s what they were doing. And they killed and turned away from every single warning prophet that God sent to them – for hundreds of years! “We have not listened to your servants the prophets – verse 6 – who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. LORD, You are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame. The men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, and all Israel, both near and far, in all countries where You have scattered us, because of our unfaithfulness to you.” So what part of the cycle would this be on? This would be on the upset part, wouldn’t it, where they all…. Everything was fine until the Babylonians showed up on the horizon – right? – and took the city, and carted them all off. And now was the time for regret. After that, then, comes resolution. Right? So do you know your Bible history? Well, even before they were taken into captivity, God promised them that He would save them from it, didn’t He? He’s telling Daniel, here, that captivity is going to last for seventy years. He says in verse 8:
V-8 – “O LORD, we and our kings, our princes, our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against You.”
So here’s a man…what does it say about Daniel? One of the most righteous men that ever lived. And here he is feeling bad about sins that he didn’t commit – but sins that his people committed – sensitive to his own sins and the sins of others – not trying to cover anything up, not trying to make any excuses, facing the facts, and mourning over them – and realizing that the human way leads to trouble and undoing. God’s way leads to salvation, recovery, blessings and comfort. That’s how the process works. We are weak, but You are strong.
One of the central themes of the Bible is that of comforting those who mourn. People mourn because they’ve done wrong and gotten into trouble. God gave His promise of restoration and comfort. We mourn our sins and repent, God forgives and comforts us as He restores us. But before we can be comforted, we have to mourn. It wouldn’t do any good if all those people were carted off into captivity, and they just said, “Why did this happen?” They wouldn’t get it. It wouldn’t do any good. He’d have to do something else until they could say, “Oh, we messed up!”
Okay, so there’s the answer to the question. How does this relate to the salvation plan? Well, we said that Passover and the poverty of spirit had a connection. When we come to Passover, we come face to face with our inability to save ourselves. We know we need God. We know we’re weak and He’s strong. That understanding is poverty of spirit – closely associated with the lesson of Passover.
So the next festival is Unleavened Bread. So I’m going to make a connection between Unleavened Bread and mourning. It’s a week-long festival that pictures the effort to live sin-free. We put the leavening out. We keep it out for seven days. The point of that is to keep sin out of our lives, right? That’s what it pictures. We’ll look at Paul explain the meaning of this in 1 Corinthians 5:6:
1 Cor. 5:6 – Your boasting is not good. Do you think there was any ego-defense there? Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, that you may be a new batch without yeast, as you really are. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, keep the festival, not with the old yeast – the yeast of malice and wickedness – but with bread without yeast – the bread of sincerity and truth.
So the point there is, that our efforts to get rid of sin are no more successful than getting all of the leavening out of our homes. Have you ever had the thought while you’re vacuuming your carpet that you’re really not getting it all? And what is it about leavening? A little bit of leavening can become an entire loaf, provided the right conditions. So, try as we might, small traces remain, and under the right conditions, those small traces can become a whole loaf of bread again – a great big sin again. And the lack of whole-hearted repudiation of the self – because that whole-hearted repudiation is getting rid of the sin – but if we don’t make that whole-hearted repudiation of self – and I don’t know anybody that’s ever been able to do that very well – always leads back to a downward spiral into sin. And the attitude that comes from understanding our own helplessness, and our own inability to live sin-free, and the realization that there is always lots of sin there – even though it might be small now, but the seeds of it are always present – that attitude is mourning. It’s the realization that we’re helpless and the sorrow that we feel, and the frustration that we feel – “O wretched man that I am,” as Paul said – that we come to grips with during Unleavened Bread, if we understand what the festival means.
So understanding what the first two beatitudes are, actually have enriched our understanding of what those two holy days portray. Facing our own sins is distinctly humiliating and frightening. Giving up the human way of self-defense always feels like a loss of safety to us – both emotional and physical – at times. Realizing that the only way we can be with God forever is to take all of that off is a terrifying thought. We don’t like to be embarrassed and humiliated and exposed.
I was reading the Albuquerque Journal the other day, and there was a little article down in the corner of the front page about some state official, who had been caught with hundreds of thousands of dollars that he had stolen. And the picture they had of him was with a great big smile on his face. He is not feeling that way. He is not happy about that.
Realizing that our sins caused Christ’s death is a sobering awareness. We mourn over what had to happen for us, because of what we have done. But, if we are willing to mourn all these things, then, in the end, God promises to wipe away all our tears and to comfort those who mourn.