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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Blessed are those Who Mourn
Text:Matthew 5:4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 126:1,2,3                                                                                 

Ps 42:2,3                                                                                                        

Reading – Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 5:1-12

Ps 38:1,2,3,8,10

Sermon – Matthew 5:4

Hy 73:1,2,3

Hy 15:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, the children of God can be a happy people. Think of the New Testament command: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). And we rejoice for good and substantial reasons. We rejoice because we have a Lord and Saviour. We rejoice because we have a new life and glorious future. Those who belong to Christ have much to celebrate!

Even so, God’s children are no strangers to sadness. There is plenty of grief in this life, and for plenty of reasons. We mourn when people die. We grieve over sin and the results of sin. In this life we are regularly disappointed, frustrated, and saddened.

And this is how it will be. For those who faithfully follow Christ, this will be the present reality; says Jesus, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matt 5:4). We will mourn and be grieved. In fact, it’s right that we do! These beatitudes of Christ are road signs which point us to take God’s way—it is often the harder way, but it’s always the better way. “Blessed are those who mourn.”

Together, these texts can sound like a contradiction: “Rejoice always,” says God in one breath, and in the next: “Don’t forget to weep, too.” It’s because we have our feet in two worlds. Even within our hearts we are divided, where there is that continuing change from darkness to light. It’s a transformation, and it’s not yet done. But as we rejoice, and as we mourn, God provides hope and comfort through Christ. On our Lord’s second beatitude I preach to you on this theme,

Blessed are those who mourn:

1) our mourning

2) God’s comforting


1) our mourning: Grief can be a really uncomfortable thing. Sometimes the grief that we see in another person is so raw, so intense, it’s hard to know how to react. Sometimes our own grief is like that, and it leaves us angry, or hopeless, or feeling completely numb. The point is, grief is difficult and at times overwhelming.

Which makes this second beatitude sound so jarring. Already with the first beatitude, Jesus has said something most unexpected: the poor in spirit get a kingdom! Usually the poor get the leftovers, they get charity, or they get nothing at all. But through God’s way of looking at things, the poor in spirit receive his kingdom—even every benefit of salvation through Christ’s glorious victory over Satan.

This next beatitude too, is astonishing. It speaks of the joy of sorrow, it proclaims the gladness of grief: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Just to make that more striking, the Greek word for “mourn” is really vivid. There’s nothing understated about this grief; it’s not like saying you’re “sad” when the clothing shop doesn’t have your size, or you’re “upset” when you don’t get the exam mark you were hoping for. This sadness is much more intense.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a funeral in the Middle East, but they can be loud and noisy affairs. There is wailing and shouting and people doubled over in their grief. That’s the word for “mourning” which Jesus uses; it’s the word for loud crying at a funeral. This is a sorrow that pieces the heart, a sorrow that is visible.

So what should we be so distressed about? Is Jesus saying that any grief is good grief? Scripture does say there is value in mourning. For there are some things that only sorrow can teach. This is why Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” It is often in our sorrow that God leads us to discover the things that matter, and the things that do not matter.

But Jesus’ lesson is more pointed than this. He is speaking about a particular kind of grief. We know this when we reflect on one of the main themes of his ministry. It’s a theme we hear as soon as Jesus begins preaching in Matthew 4, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (v 17).

Repent! That’s the headline message. Christ came to preach repentance, to call everyone to turn away from our sins, and to turn toward God humbly, through the only available avenue—the way that is Jesus.

Repent: know your sins, and grieve your sins, so that you may receive the sure comfort of the gospel! The way to God is the way of the broken heart. But what does that take? How can we really mourn the things we’ve done wrong, and mourn them in a serious way, with the kind of broken spirit that pleases God?

Beloved, it is impossible to grieve our sins like Jesus says if we don’t realize what sin actually is. What I mean is, we tend to regard our sins as little more than mistakes: a sin is something we should’ve got right, but we got wrong. We said the wrong thing to our mom when we were upset. Or we let our mind go to an impure place when it shouldn’t have. Or we should’ve prayed more yesterday, but we didn’t. Mistakes happen, right? To sin is human. Nobody’s perfect. God will forgive sin—it’s his job!

That’s not the right way to view our sin. So we must think about what it actually is. First, what is our position before God? We are creatures in rebellion against our Creator. That’s bad. Yet you and I aren’t just “anybody.” We’ve been blessed beyond words, welcomed into the Father’s family—all for the sake of Christ. So you see that for a child of God to sin against the Father’s will is more terrible. If all of mankind has no excuse, then we have even less.

Second, reflect on the fact that sin is lawlessness. Sin is when we break the holy law that God himself has made. When we break his law—whether it’s by using foul language with our mates, or being greedy for money, or neglecting worship, it hurts our God deeply.

For we’re sinning against him: God, the infinitely holy One. Sin is personal! Our sins hurt him because it’s his law, reflecting his perfect wisdom. When we sin, we scorn the God who has lovingly told us what He wants. We say that our way is better, when it actually leads to death.

And then when we sin, who gets the glory? Often ourselves. Most sins do a little something to serve our cause. Sin promotes our own pleasure or honour or ambition in some twisted way—as just one example, you share some gossip, and it makes you look better because they look bad. And even if a sin doesn’t serve us outright, it serves Satan. He rejoices, because he’s all about that one purpose: opposing God and his good will.

Beloved, this is what happens when we sin. Our sin might only take a moment of our time, even just a split-second—even so, when we throw an insult at our sibling, or fail to show kindness to our neighbour, or surrender to pornography again, or cave in to anger, this is what’s going on. It’s a rejection of God himself, the God who wants to be our God.

So there should be sadness for sin among those who love the Lord. You can understand why we should mourn. Once more, this is a truth that Jesus draws from the Old Testament. Like the Psalmist says in Psalm 119, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (v 136). That is the reaction that God wants, calling out to sinners in Joel 2, “Even now, return to me with fasting and weeping and mourning” (v 12).

This is what the New Testament calls “godly sorrow” for sin (2 Cor 7:10). And there is no doubt that this is an activity in which we all must grow. Repentance is not a one-time activity, an abrupt change of life that happens once and not again. But daily repentance, and daily sorrow, are needed.

And this requires us to know our sin. We said that we must know what sin is generally—an offense against the holy God and his law—and we must also know what our sin is, specifically. For you and me, some of our sins are painfully obvious, of course: we deliberately lie to our spouse or we mock someone’s appearance. That’s sin, lit up with lights.

But many more of our sins are subtle and hidden, and require a bit of detection. Do I have proud thoughts lurking in my heart? Am I ungrateful to God? How would I know? And then there’s the sins we commit by failing to do the good that God requires: When I pray, do I always pray with my whole heart? On a given day, do I actively look to the interests of others? Think about all the jobs that God gives us which we’re leaving undone. To mourn our sin, we must know our sin. And to know our sin, we must search out our sin.

The better we come to know Christ, the better we understand how we fall short. It’s like thinking for a while that you’re pretty good at something. Maybe you’ve made a nice piece of furniture at school, a beautiful coffee table. Compared to some of your classmates, yours is really good, and you get a good grade. So you start to think you’re a pro. But then you watch a video of an expert craftsman making something amazing out of wood. He’s fast and skilled, and finished product is a hundred times better than your piece. You realize that you’ve got so much to learn.

So for our walk with God. When we compare ourselves to each other, we might be doing OK. There’s always someone “worse” than us. But when we compare ourselves to Christ—when we watch the “expert”—and when we’re measured against the perfect standard of God’s law, we fall so short. We realize that we’re sinners, thoroughly and completely, and utterly deserving of judgment.

Listen to what Paul acknowledged, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim 1:15). He grieved his sin, felt the weight of everything he had done wrong. And he relied on God’s grace through Christ. Blessed is the child of God who is sensitive to his sin, and who grieves over sin!

And then it’s not only our own sin which we mourn, but the sin of others. A child of God should not be indifferent toward the sin which happens in the church. Rather, it should be distressing when we see our brothers and sisters wandering from the truth and the path of life. It should sadden us when we see unfaithfulness among God’s people. This grieves us, for we know it grieves the Lord.

We grieve too, when we see all the sin and wickedness that lives in this country and that spreads across the world. Any sin is an offense to God. So when a government corrupts God’s good laws, or when there is injustice, or when people are mistreated or babies are murdered, this should cause us to grieve. We long to see righteousness and truth prevail in all the world, for this is God’s will.

When you think about it, in this life and this world there’s a lot to be sad about. This is why James commands us, “Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (4:9). We ought to mourn, saddened by how we and so many walk apart from God. And when we start grieving, God will give rich comfort.


2) God’s comforting: If the first point was all there was, we would despair. Hearing about all our sins and failings, we would ask, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus came to preach good news. “Repent,” He said, but that’s not all He said: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand—your Lord and Saviour is at the door.”

Underline the first word of our text, not “Cursed…” but “Blessed…” This is a resounding statement of something that is already true: “If you repent from your sins, if you truly grieve your guilt before God, then you need not fear his condemnation, but you are forgiven and restored through Christ. The joy of salvation belongs to you!”

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The Greek word behind “comforted” describes when a person comes alongside you as an ally, as a helper, a counsellor. It’s related to the old term for the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. It means that God comes near us, stands right beside us, so that He can reassure and encourage.

We are a sinful people, but God forgives. And for God, his forgiveness is not simply that He no longer counts all our sins against us, as if He simply deletes that column of the spreadsheet and pretends it was never there. Forgiveness is not a transaction for God, but it’s rebuilding a relationship. So to be “comforted” by God is to have God treat you as an honoured friend, a beloved guest, even a precious child. We broke faith with him, yet God takes us back and He renews our love and strength and hope.

Beloved, it is only this gospel which gives true comfort to those who mourn their sins. This is the same gospel announced long ago by the prophet Isaiah, “‘Comfort, O comfort my people,’ says your God” (40:1).

In those days, God was addressing a wicked and rebellious people—they were his people, but they rejected him in the most shameful way. They were bound for exile, due for severe judgment, yet God was going to show mercy. God had this rich comfort for them: “Comfort, O comfort… Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (40:1-2).

Notice how that is the crucial key to Israel’s comfort: her iniquity has been pardoned. Without God’s forgiveness, there was absolutely no hope—they would be exiled forever. But God intervenes, and He shows them grace. He will not hold their sins against them forever, but He will grant pardon.

This is the good news, for them and us: God is willing to forgive. Now, let’s be clear, forgiveness isn’t his “job,” as if God is required to forgive us. Forgiveness is his good pleasure. It’s in his character, like when He reveals himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7, “The LORD, the LORD God, is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion and faithfulness, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.”

In compassion and grace, God forgives. And the basis for his mercy rests on Christ alone. Listen to what Jesus says a bit later in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (11:28-29). He gives rest to the weary and renewal to the burdened. He comforts those who mourn.

Even after we’ve sinned terribly, done things that have caused us and others deep embarrassment and pain—even after we’ve committed sins that have lifelong effects—this comfort is available to us through Christ. This is the true blessedness in our sorrow.

Beloved, this gives us great hope whenever we think about sin. For instance, we said earlier that we should grieve the sins we see in this world. There is a flourishing wickedness and so much outright rebellion against God. It’s sad, because so many people are utterly lost. In our grief, we pray that many more would come to know the peace of Christ and the joy of walking in God’s ways.

We know that not all will turn to Christ. Some will rage tirelessly against the Lord and against his church. Yet there will come day when God vindicates his people, and vindicates his glory, when God sets right everything in this world that has gone wrong. So we are comforted.

When we grieve for the sins of the church too, we have hope. Sometimes we fear for the future of the church, and we worry about how the church will stay faithful. But let us put our trust in God. We know that He’s not done with us yet. He has promised to perfect his church and hold onto us, even when things look bad. So we are comforted.

When we grieve for our own sins too, there is comfort. It is right to be discouraged at times. It is right to feel the weight of your failings—if you never did, that’d be a problem. For if we will be lifted up, we first need to be brought low. This is what Augustine once said about his struggle with sin and guilt, “As I grew more wretched, God drew closer.”

For sorrow is never meant to be the last word. When we have a godly sorrow for sin, that should also lead us to have a new desire for holiness, a firm resolve to live in God’s service. When we see what Christ has done for us, we want to change. We want to do better.

Perhaps we realize that we’ve left a mess behind us—a mess in our relationships, a mess in our family. Then we’ll try to bring healing. We’ll reach out with forgiveness. We’ll show kindness. Those who are forgiven in Christ begin to lead a new life, and it looks different and it has a different focus: we want to glorify God!

We aim not to sin anymore, but to do God’s will. For we cannot just get rid of our evil, and then leave our hearts and minds empty and uncommitted. Rather, when we break our bad habits and try to do away with sin, we have to replace these things with what pleases God. That should be our new longing: “Now I long to keep God’s commands. I want to show Christ my love, and show it to my neighbour, too.”

So pray that the Spirit would produce in you a fresh zeal. Zeal is the living resolve to do better and to stay better. “I don’t want to go that old way anymore. I have grieved it, and been comforted, and now I want to serve my faithful God!” Beloved, pray for that desire. For God will hear your prayer and He will answer it. For Jesus’ sake, God will strengthen the weak, and He will comfort those who mourn.

This gospel gives us a sure hope. It gives us hope not only when we grieve our sins, but also when we grieve the many other things we must experience in this broken world.

For example, this gospel gives us hope when we mourn for those people in our life who have passed away in Christ. Crying at the graveside, crying at their absence, we are comforted. For we know that when a person is joined to Christ by faith, their life is eternally secure in him. Even when a believer dies, they live, for their spirit is with the Lord and one day their body will be raised up. As Paul says, we still grieve, but not as those without hope.

This is the good news of the second beatitude: “Comfort, yes, comfort my people!”

Blessed are those who truly grieve their sins and who come to God in repentance.

Blessed are those who know Christ and receive his life-renewing mercy.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who mourn, for God will soon wipe away every tear and give us eternal joy.  


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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