GOD TRANSFORMS OUR HEART’S THROUGH MOURNING.
We are continuing our series that is looking at Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the mount, which are probably Jesus’ most practical teachings on how to conduct our lives and fulfil his callings, whilst living in the world, but not of the world.
John Stott calls them ‘probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably the least understood’.
Here Jesus is teaching that the secret of true happiness, is to be found in who we are, not by the things or people or positions we place around us. This is very counter-cultural stuff.
This month we are looking at verse 4 – ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’.
Or as Alex explained last month that the word ‘blessed’ means ‘receiving God’s favour’ or ‘happy’, so you could read it as ‘happy are those who mourn’ or paradoxically ‘happy are the unhappy’
For some of us this will be a complete outrage. Some of us will still be feeling the raw pain of bereavement, of losing a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, a loved one.
How can Jesus be saying – happiness comes from this grief?
Let’s unpack it:
Well, Luke’s version of this beatitude used the word ‘weep’ ‘Blessed are you who weep’– so is he just talking about weeping/ crying?
I’m famously rather soppy when it comes to films or emotional events, I cried at our wedding, at the birth of our first daughter, my daughter Mia often turns to me while we’re watching something like Strictly Come Dancing to check whether, in her own words I’m ‘crying inside’, she might have cottoned on to the fact I may be masking my tears.
Or, is it like when Frank Sinatra died in 1998, his funeral in Beverly Hills was attended by over 500 people, who all are said to have cried, it was reported that there ‘wasn’t a dry eye in the place’.
Is Jesus saying that those who attended that funeral are in some way blessed, happy or given God’s favour?
I think not. The Greek word used here for ‘mourning’ is ‘pentheo’ which is often used to describe grief expressed by tears; it is used when describing the deep mourning of the dead, as in Genesis 37, when describing Jacob’s utmost raw grief when he thought his son Joseph was dead. Verse 34 says he ‘tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days’.
So Jesus is talking about that raw, painful grief. But is he talking about the sorrow of bereavement?
Possibly not, but he is talking about that same expression of pain, of hurt that breaks our hearts, that leaves us feeling numb. When we are at our most broken we are often at our most dependant. Dependant on God
And through that broken or hurting heart God works good, works change, he transforms usmore into his likeness, he slowly refines us and speaks to us.
As I said, Jesus here isn’t talking about bereavement – For me there are three ways in which Jesus is saying we should grieve.
Let me explain:
The first. God transforms our hearts through mourning for the world.
Jesus often wept over the sins of others, he wept over the state of Jerusalem (Lk 19:41), Paul wept over the enemies of Christ in Philippians (3:18). I’m often left in broken despair when I see the suffering around us, my work has taken me to some forsaken places ravaged by conflict or poverty, I often come away numb with grief of what man can do to another. But possibly I haven’t grieved enough. Has God used this grief to change me or enacted me to better the situation? For some he really has.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of Jackie Pullinger, in brief, she was a music graduate that travelled to Hong Kong in 1966, she found work as a teacher in the Kowloon Walled City, in the 60s it was a lawless area, run by triad gangs, , it was rife with drug use and prostitution, the police wouldn’t enter it. Jackie was hit by the pain and suffering of the gang members around her, ravaged by a dependence on crime and drugs.
Through her mourning for these people God used her for good, God worked into her broken heart, and she began running a youth club, then a charity which to date has helped hundreds of people come off a dependence of drugs, find Jesus and transform their lives. God used her mourning. Mourning leads to compassion, which leads to change if we let God work in us.
The second. God transforms our hearts through mourning our own suffering.
There are times in all our lives when things don’t work out, everything goes wrong, when we grumble through the trials that come our way.
This week I interviewed a woman that has suffered incredibly with an illness for the last 10years, but she didn’t moan about it, sure its been hard, but she spoke of hope of knowing God would use this for good. James writes the we should ‘count it all joy… when you meet trials’ (Jm 1:2).
Jesus didn’t say‘blessed are those who moan’. He said we should Mourn. When through mourning our hard times, we see the intent of God’s trials. Romans 8 tells us, ‘all things God works for the good of those who love him’. Through Mourning we draw closer to God, we open our heart, which allows him to work in us, transform us, give us hope and give us comfort.
And Thirdly. God transforms our hearts through mourning our own wrongs.
We might call this the ‘sorrow of repentance’. The theologian John Stott says‘confession is one thing, contrition is another’. [contrition – state of feeling remorseful and penitent].
Grieving highlights our failings, it is through mourning those moments when we think ‘oh no, I’ve messed up again’ that we process our weaknesses and wrongs, when Peter denied knowing Jesus when he was arrested, Matthew tells us that Peter ‘went out and wept bitterly’ (Matt 26:75).
It is through the process of weeping or mourning that our heart is transformed. This week I was tired and busy and I snapped at someone close to me, I was wrong, and in normal circumstances I would quickly apologies and move on, but as I was preparing this, I chose to take time to mourn my actions, and through that I hope God is further shaping, pruning, refining me to be more like him, and helping me to have more grace and patience for others.
This raises for me one of those misconceptions, both in my mind and those of the wider public, that Christians always happy and cheery – the term ‘happy clappy comes to mind’, we often make light of grace thereby making light of sin, that the slate is too easily wiped clean, which in a way it is – God tells us forgiveness comes with repentance.
But we forget that there is also a time to mourn ‘godly grief’, to feel sorrowful. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, ‘There is a time for everything… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance’.
The truth is that there is such a thing as Christian or ‘Godly’ tears, and too few of us ever weep them. Weeping the world around us, weeping for our trials or weeping for our wrongs.
But the verse doesn’t end there through this weeping comes Comfort.
The second half of the verse says, ‘For they shall be comforted’– what is Jesus saying here, does he mean a warm hug, an arm round the shoulder, we often say – we travelled in comfort or a nice chair is comfortable.
But actually ‘comfort’ comes from the Latin ‘com’ – as in ‘together with’ (same as ‘co’ as in co-star/ co-driver) and ‘fortis’ – as in ‘fort’ or strengthen, – so ‘happy are those weep, for they with be strengthened or fortified together’ – it has a far more powerful meaning when read that way.
But who strengthens us, who fortifies us, any suggestions?
Here Jesus uses the same word that he uses in John 14 (you remember, the I am the truth, the way and the life bit..) to describe the holy spirit, so when he says we shall be ‘comforted’ he means we’ll be fortified/ strengthened by the holy spirit.
When our hurts are being healed, when we are at that moment of acknowledging our spiritual poverty, when we are broken by the wrongs of the world and our own, God’s spirit comes to comfort us, to strengthen us.
Romans tells us that ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’(Rom 5:5); in Acts chapter 9, we are told us that the early church walked in ‘the comfort of the holy spirit’.
But also, with that comes possibly the greatest relief from internal distress – that of God’s free forgiveness. The Victorian theologian Richard Lenski sums it up as ‘The greatest of all comfort is the absolution pronounced upon every contrite mourning sinner’.
It is when we mourn the havoc of suffering and death and the effects of sin in this world, of our own trials and our own wrongs that Christ pours oil on our wounds and speaks peace and comfort into our hearts. And out of that compassion comes an outpouring of love for those around us.
Mourning, creates an entry point into our heart, for God to get our attention, speak to us, change us.
God is far less likely to get our attention when everything is going smoothly, we all mellow a bit when everything is going our way.
God allows that which produces mourning, so that we might just seek him, kneel before him, learn from him. That is why mourning is a blessing.
This is why the second step of true happiness comes from this grief that drives us into God’s arms.
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 5:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.