I had the chance to fill the Riverview pulpit this past week and expound upon Matthew 5.4: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." You can catch the sermon audio here.
Coming up on 8 years ago - and it's strange to say that, because it doesn't seem that long ago - my wife's father ended a long battle with various illnesses and infections that had plagued his body for years. He had been in and out of the hospital for years, and had even had several brushes with death, but he was always able to pull through. But not this time. An infection took his life in his mid 50's.
The Mrs. and I had only been married for about two years at the time, and we were living with her parents and helping them to manage the house, so we were especially close to them. I'm not sure if I knew how to handle it at the time, let alone lead my young wife through the grieving process of losing her father. But those are situations that you don't really get practice for, and there are no do-overs after they are over. You're just thrust into those situations. You're not prepared for it, and it's hard.
This is something like what I think Jesus is talking about when he says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." There are all kinds of things that cause people to mourn: death, unexpected and early death, disease, terminal illnesses, accidents, and so on and so forth. All of these things cause us to grieve.
But Jesus says that in our grief is blessedness. That's somewhat of a paradox. We would prefer to have the blessedness without the mourning, but that's not what Jesus says. When we mourn, our mourning can lead to comfort, and in this process we experience blessing.
Jesus would know. He experienced all kinds of suffering in his life that caused him to mourn. In fact, Isaiah 53 describes him as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. When Jesus arrived at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, the Bible says that "Jesus wept." Ecclesiastes 3 says that there is "a time to mourn." Life is hard. Things happen, people die, accidents happen, terminal illnesses are diagnosed; relationships are severed, children rebel, kids have terrible debilitating diseases, etc. All of this is suffering, which causes us grief.
But one thing that we need to remember when we think about suffering and grief is that the Bible links all of the things listed above to the existence of sin in the world. Adam and Eve sinned, thereby transmitting their sin nature to all subsequent generations of human beings. The world is a broken place full of broken people doing sinful things. It's a recipe for someone to get hurt, and people do. Ever since then, all suffering and disease has been either the direct or indirect consequence of sin. People die because of sin, indirectly, because sin brought about death. And some people die as a direct consequence of sin. We sin, and the consequence of the sin is damaging, sometimes even to the point of death.
People die because of sin; accidents happen because of sin; we become discouraged and lonely because of sin; we experience illness and disease because of sin; relationships are severed because of sin; there is unrighteousness in the world that causes suffering and grief because of sin. Sin exists, and the effects of sin are real. Sin is why we mourn.
But Christians do not mourn as the world mourns. No, we do not grieve as those who have no hope because we believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again. This is the comfort that Jesus promises in Matthew 5.4. If sin is the root cause of our suffering and our grief, then the comfort that we must receive must deal with sin. There is a gospel of hope that tempers our mourning, and in this hope is true satisfaction and joy - the blessedness that Jesus says will come to those who mourn.
Why can we have hope in the midst of grief? Not because of a naturally cheerful disposition; not because time heals all wounds; not because someone empathized with me and said some kind words. No, we are comforted because we have a risen Savior who has defeated death and conquered the grave, and the same power that accomplished that is at work in those who believe.
Seriously, read 1 Corinthians 15.55-57 and Romans 6.6-11 for yourself. 2 Corinthians 7.10 says "godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." Why does godly grief lead one to salvation? Because it points you to Jesus! The one who can deal with your sin and eliminate its eternal affect on you.
When we mourn the effects of sin in the world, our grief is tempered by the knowledge that we have a Savior who has overcome the power of sin. Sin can no longer have a permanent effect on us. It can still hurt us in this life and give us reason to be sorrowful and weep. But it cannot damage us eternally. We do not escape the effects of sin in this life when we trust the Savior, but the reach of sin is limited. There will come a day when it will all be done away with and there will be no more suffering, no more tears. There will be no accidents; there will be no disease or terminal illnesses; no one will ever be given a window of time in which to live; people won't get hurt; there will be no pain, no suffering, and no mourning. That knowledge alone should bring comfort to those who mourn.
A family at the church discovered several weeks ago that their youngest child had Leukemia. Understandably, this news rocked their world, and many tears were shed. The young boy's prognosis is good and hopeful, but he has a three year treatment plan ahead of him, much will be unpleasant.
So how does this beatitude speak to them? It is good and right for them to mourn, and they have a hard road ahead of them. They mourn the reality that they live in a fallen and broken world that has sickness and disease in it. They mourn the pain that will be brought about by this disease; they mourn the pain that will be brought about by the remedy for the disease. But they also have faith in a risen Savior who has power over all sickness and disease, because he has the power over the sin that brought the disease into the world in the first place. And the affect that this disease has on their family can only go as far as God lets it. Moreover, God has ordained that there will come a day where all sickness and disease will be wiped out. It will be done away with. There will be no more leukemia, no more cancer. No more tears, no more diagnoses or treatments.
Do you think that knowledge brings this family a measure of hope? Imagine going through something like this without know that Jesus has defeated death and sin, and that he is sovereign over disease. That is hopelessness. But we know that Jesus is who he says he is, and that he can do what he has said he can do, and so we are blessed even when we are grieving.