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Author:Rev. John van Popta
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Congregation:Fellowship Canadian Reformed Church
 Burlington, Ontario
Preached At:
Title:Mourners Get Comfort
Text:Matthew 5:4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading - Eccl 7:1-8; Lamentations 3:1-33; James 4:1-10

Hymn 2:1,5
Psalm 25:8,9
Psalm 42:3,5
Hymn 49:1,2
Psalm 30:3,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ

Often our lives are full of sorrow and sadness. We are sad when we experience failure. We mourn at the graveside of our friends and family. We weep at the news of illness and death. And we mourn. But the Lord Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Last week we heard about the first verse of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:3. There the Lord Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We saw then, that the Lord Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, turns things around. The reality of his kingdom is not what we would, at first, expect. The way things work in the kingdom, under the rule, of our Lord Jesus Christ is different from the way things work in the kingdoms of the world.

The Lord said that the poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven. He says that the meek not the go-getters, but the meek are going to inherit the earth. And so he goes on, turning things around. He turned things around in the second beatitude as well - Matthew 5:4 our text this morning. "Blessed are those who mourn." "Blessed are those who grieve, who cry, who lament, who weep." Whoever heard of that? Whoever heard of unhappy people being the blessed ones? Once again, the Lord Jesus says the unexpected.

This morning I proclaim the Word of God to you as we find it in our text with this theme

The Lord Jesus teaches his disciples that mourners get comfort.

1. Mourning because of sorrow
2. Mourning because of sin

In Luke 4, we can read how the Lord Jesus in his ministry fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 61. In those verses in Isaiah 61, we can read that the Messiah, anointed by the Holy Spirit, came to bind up the brokenhearted - and later in vs 2 - to comfort all who mourn.

To comfort those who mourn. This is one of the primary roles of the Messiah. To comfort those who mourn. And now we have it right here at the top of the Sermon on the mount. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. And the word here for comforted is that word that describes the Holy Spirit: the comforter. The Paraclete and old word not used much these days. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. They shall experience the presence of the Comforter.

The first question that comes to mind is this: Who are these people who mourn? And what are they mourning about? What is the Lord Jesus Christ talking about? What kind of mourning is this about? Who are these people who are sad, who cry and lament? What could he mean by these words? Will all sad people be happy? Will all those who grieve, who mourn, be comforted? And what are they mourning about? And then we know that many are sad. Sad in this congregation. There are those who struggle with depression. Others have lives marked with sorrow. But is that what the Lord means here? The Lord's words are cryptic. Hidden. A mystery! Even. But we will listen with the ears of faith.

We also read from Ecclesiastes 7. There we are struck by the fact that these words are of similar nature to the Lord's words. Unexpected. Upside down. The day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. Sorrow is better than laughter Because a sad face is good for the heart. In Eccl 7 the preacher is pointing to personal sorrow. The sorrow and grief brought by illness and death. But this sorrow is not a curse of God.

And so the Lord Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn." But he is not suggesting that we should all be going around moping. With long faces. In fact in the Sermon on the Mount the Lord says that we should not do that. In Matthew 6:16. He does not counsel the long face. But rather real sadness.

It is precisely for those who are sad and mourning, that presence of God is real. Mourning and grief, sadness and sorrow are part of our lives. When our loved ones die. When we bury our friends. There is grief and sorrow. When illness strikes. Or depression. So often in our lives, there is so much sorrow. The burdens we carry cause us to lament. But yet the preacher in Eccl 7 says, this is good. The house of mourning is better than the house of feasting. The funeral better than the wedding banquet.

Suffering is not always evil. It is not meaningless. Jesus understood suffering. He would suffer. For the son of man must suffer many things. That is what he told his disciples. He did not turn from it or run from it. He faced the suffering he would endure. And the scripture calls him "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Nowhere in the gospels do we read that Jesus every laughed. A man who mourned. Who wept at Lazarus' grave. Who lamented over Jerusalem. If he had been unwilling to suffer, none would be saved. Moreover, there is a calling to suffering in the scripture for all of us.

So often, we want to escape suffering at all costs. We do not want any sadness in our lives. But, yet, there are times of sadness that come upon us. Seasons of sorrow, of grief and mourning. And so Solomon shocks us in Eccl 7. The day of death better than the day of birth. The shock value is set up by the proverb just before. A good name is better than fine perfume. Fine perfume you can buy, and moreover you use it for days of celebration. Precious ointments might be used on the day of birth. It is precious, but not as precious as a good name. That, no one can buy, for any price.

It is clear that there are some things better than others. Even better than the best things money can buy. A good name is the better thing. And what else is then among the better things?   The day of death. But how can that be better than the day of birth? Now we must realize that Solomon is not talking about your own deaththat you should go to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not his meaning. He means the day of say, your child's birth. The day of a loved one's death. The day of the death of a loved one is better than the day a child is born.

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting. For death is the destiny of every man. The living should take this to heart.

We learn more through death than through birth. There is more to learn visiting the funeral home than the maternity ward. The day of a child's birth is a happy day. It is a day of rejoicing. A happy time, but we learn little of ultimate value. But there is so much to learn at the time of death. The living should take this to heart. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting. A perfect illustration of this might be the experience of many preachers of the gospel. It is at a funeral service that the listeners are attentive. Much more so than at a wedding. At a wedding hearts are light, and "look at that dress" and "are not the little people cute" and few focus on the message. But at a funeral, there is where people mourn. They hang on the words of the preacher, for they want to be comforted. They mourn and want to be comforted. They need the Lord. At the funeral, we reflect more deeply upon the reality of life - sin, salvation service. It is in the face of grief that we understand more clearly the grace of God. Sorrow is better than laughter, because sorrow brings us closer to God. And there we have blessing and peace. With God. But the fool, it is the fool who is in the house of pleasure. The fool wants to repress all sense of sorrow and the inevitability of death.

The Christian' he does not seek sorrow. No, he just says with Solomon that more is learned about the ultimate things when we mourn. for Solomon also says in Proverbs 17:22, "A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."   Solomon does not speak against laughter or joy or happiness. Blessed are those who mourn. God approves of them. He brings more grace to them. They will be comforted.

Here is a paraphrase of James 1:2-4.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd in on your lives, my brothers and sisters, do not resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men and women of mature character, of integrity, with no weak spots.

God does not waste sorrow on his people, or adversity. He knows the purpose for which we go through tragedy and sorrow. For there we learn of God's grace And we will be comforted. For there are new mercies every morning.

2. And there is yet another kind of mourning. Not just mourning due to the situation of our own lives. But because of sin. We are reminded of what the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Paul too speaks of grief. Of mourning and sadness. Paul spoke of two kinds of grief. He called them godly grief and worldly grief. By godly grief, Paul meant grief over sin. Being sad about being a sinner. When we look into our own lives, we see our sin and sinfulness and that causes sorrow. Grief. Godly grief. "Godly grief," said Paul, "produces a repentance that leads to salvation." Grief over your sin is the first step towards repenting of your sin. And it is repentance that leads to salvation. And so, repentance leads to true happiness, comfort and blessedness. The apostle is not commending grief and repentance as the ground of salvation. Paul is not speaking of the ground of salvation, which is the pure grace of God in Christ. Rather he commends repentance as sign of God's grace in action.

But besides godly sorrow, there is also a worldly grief. Worldly grief does not produce repentance. It does not lead to salvation. Rather, it produces death.

The grief of Esau was worldly grief. Do you remember the Old Testament story? Esau sold his birthright to his younger twin brother Jacob for a single meal. Jacob was preparing some food. Brother Esau came in from the field completely famished from hunger. He begged Jacob for some food. Jacob said: "Sure, but it will cost you the birthright that falls to the eldest son." "The double portion of inheritance." Esau said: "You can have it. What good does the birthright do when I'm dying of hunger?" But later Esau was sorry that he had sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a plate of food. It drove him to tears. But he found no way out of the grief. He did not find a way out because he did not repent for playing fast and loose with his inheritance. The inheritance he would have received from God. His sadness was worldly sadness. He was sad and angry about the state of affairs. About the consequences of his own sin. But none of this drove him to repent of his sin before the Lord. And so he received no comfort.

Cain too had worldly grief. He said that his punishment for killing his brother was too much to bear. But he did not repent of his hatred, his anger, his murder. He had sorrow over consequence, not over action.

There is also a place of eternal grief and mourning. Those who refuse to repent of their sin will be thrown into the furnace of fire. There they will weep and gnash their teeth forever. There will be no comfort, no blessedness. So we must understand that there are two kinds of grief, two kinds of mourning. There is a godly mourning and there is a worldly mourning. The Lord Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, spoke about godly grief. He was speaking about a godly mourning. Christ will bless those who mourn in a godly way. He will comfort them.

We can think of the apostle Paul's experience as he himself described it in Rom 7. He compared his life to the law of God. He looked into the mirror of the law. He examined himself. What did he find? He found sin. When he examined his life, he discovered that he was a sinner. This made him cry out: "Wretched man that I am!" A man so grief stricken about sin and sinfulness that it made him cry out in anguish. It made him cry. It made him weep. It made him mourn. He bemoaned his sinfulness. The Word of God convicts each of us. When we hear the Word of God, then we discover that we are sinners. The Law of God exposes our sin. It is like a bright light. A searchlight.

The Law of God convicts us of sin. It is like a mirror. We look into it and we see ourselves for what we are. It accuses us individually. It convicts us as a congregation: the new people of God. It convinces us that we are wretched sinners. We deserve the wrath and curse of God. God's anger against sin was so great that he could not leave it unpunished. He had to punish it. And he has punished sin in Jesus Christ by his bitter and shameful death on the cross. Do we truly understand that? Do we understand the depths, the horror, the wretchedness of our sins?

Of our own personal, sinful, existence? In 4:9 of his letter, the apostle James urges us to be wretched, to mourn and to weep. He said: "Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord." That is what James calls all sinners to do. To be wretched. To cry. To be dejected and humble.

Well, how is it with you?

Do you mourn because of your sin? Does the knowledge of your sin make you humble before the Lord? Does it make you weep and moan? Do you cry out with the apostle Paul: "Wretched man, wretched woman that I am?" As you consider your sins, does your laughter turn to mourning? Does your joy turn to dejection? Do you humble yourself before the Lord?

In the secret places of your heart, humble yourself before the Lord. Mourn for your sins. Have that godly grief that leads to repentance. Paul does not say this because he wants us to get all depressed. The gospel is not a bad news message, which should cause us to walk around with low self-esteem. No, we are to grieve for our sins, to humble ourselves before God on account of our sinfulness, so that God will exalt us.

For the promise is this: the Lord will exalt you when you humble yourself before him. James said more in the fourth chapter of his letter. Not only did he tell us to be wretched, to mourn and to weep. Not only did he tell us to quit laughing and to start mourning and to trade joy for dejection. He also wrote, in James 4:10, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." He will lift you up.

God will embarrass the proud and self-righteous. But He will exalt the one who falls before him in humility, ashamed of his sin. It is the one who, with Paul, cries out, "Sinful wretch that I am!" whom God comforts by the gospel of free grace.

It is the one who asks, "Who will deliver me?" who can truly say, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Only such a person can say, "There is no condemnation for me, because I belong to Christ Jesus. That's my comfort."

What kind of man is this then who mourns and is blessed with comfort? What sort of woman? This person mourns, but is not morose. He is sorrowful, but not miserable. He is serious, but not solemn. He is sober minded but not sullen. He is grave, but not cold or distant.

The Christian who mourns understands the seriousness of sin, who groans within himself. And then has that joy that passes understanding that joy in Christ that comes with repentance from sin. The joy of a Christian is a holy joy found in the cross of Jesus. We must then be like Christ himself, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despised the shame.

A deep doctrine of sin, an understanding of true holy joy, when these are preached and learned by the church, then these produce a congregation that is truly blessed, upon whom God shines his favour. To whom he turns his face and grants his grace again. These are the people who mourn and get comfort. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," said our Lord Jesus.

Brother, sister, let me ask you this. To those who mourn with godly grief. Do your sins and sinfulness make you sad? Do they make you feel wretched? Well, then, let me also tell you this. "Comfort, comfort my people," says your God. "For you sins are covered."

Godly grief produces repentance which leads to salvation. God does comfort us He will and does raise us up. Blessed are those who mourn. God will change your mourning into joy. He will bless you. He does bless us! Even today, with his grace. Remember Isaiah 61? He will give you gladness for sorrow. To those who mourn, God will give a garland of flowers, instead of ashes, the oil of gladness, instead of mourning. God will change the dark of sorrow to song and laughter. Gone will be the grief that silenced you. Already in this age, God will begin to wipe your eyes of all tears. He will comfort you with the knowledge that you belong to Jesus Christ, body and soul, in life and in death.

The Reformed church teaches a very deep doctrine of sin. We cannot gloss over sin. That is why the Ten Commandments are read here every Sunday. Sin offends God. We understand that. And it makes us weep. "Wretched man that I am!" But the Reformed faith also teaches a very high doctrine of joy. God reaches down into the depths of our sadness. He sets us on our feet and wipes away our tears. He does it for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ. The man of sorrows. Who more than any person who ever walked this earth understood the depths of sin and its consequence. Believe in Jesus Christ. Turn to him anew. All of us. Let us seek the Lord, while he may be found.

And then you too can and will know true comfort. You will have the comfort that comes with knowing that Jesus Christ has fully paid for all your sins with his precious blood. Then you will be blessed. You will have that true joy. True joy and comfort in Jesus Christ. Comforted that you are not you own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ. For you can confess: He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood He has set me free from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things that come my way in this vale of tears must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

This is my comfort.

This is my joy.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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