Grief can be an uncomfortable thing. Sometimes the grief that we see in another person is so raw and intense, it is hard to know how to react. Sometimes our own grief is like that, leaving us completely numb. Grief is difficult and at times overwhelming.
Which makes this second beatitude so jarring. Matthew 5:4 speaks of the joy of sorrow, as Jesus 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. This grief is not like saying you’re “sad” when the clothing store doesn’t have your size, or you’re “upset” when you don’t get the exam mark you hoped for. This sadness is far more intense.
Perhaps you’ve seen a funeral in the Middle East, loud and noisy affairs. There is wailing and shouting and people doubled over in grief. That is the word for ‘mourning’ which Jesus uses, the word for loud crying at a funeral. This is a sorrow that pieces the heart, a sorrow distressingly visible.
So what should we be so upset about? Is Jesus saying that any grief is good grief? Scripture does say there is value in mourning, for there are some things only sorrow can teach.
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.
Jesus’s lesson is even more pointed than this, for He speaks about a particular kind of grief. It is one of the main themes of his ministry, a theme we hear as soon as Jesus begins preaching in Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say:
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Repent! Christ came to preach repentance, to call everyone to turn away from their sins and toward God through the only available avenue—the way that is Jesus. Repent: know your sins, and grieve your sins, 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 mourn what we have done wrong, and mourn them seriously, with the kind of broken spirit that pleases God? It is impossible to grieve our sins like Jesus says if we don’t realize what sin actually 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 wander to an impure place. Or we should’ve prayed more yesterday, but we didn’t. Mistakes happen, right? To err is human. Nobody’s perfect.
But we must think about what sin is. First, consider our position before God: we are creatures in rebellion against our Creator. That’s bad. Yet you and I aren’t just anybody, for we have been blessed and welcomed into the Father’s family, all for the sake of Christ. So for a child of God to sin against our loving Father 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 using foul language, or being greedy for money, or neglecting worship—it hurts our God deeply. For we sin against God, the infinitely holy One. Sin is personal! Our sins offend him deeply because it is his law, reflecting his perfect wisdom.
And when we sin, who gets the glory? Often ourselves. Most sins do something to serve our cause. Sin promotes our own pleasure, honour, or ambition in some twisted way. As just one example, when you share gossip, 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 is focused on that one purpose of opposing God and his good will.
So there should be sadness for sin among those who love the Lord. This too is a truth that Jesus draws from the Old Testament. Like the Psalmist says in Psalm 119:136,
Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.
We mourn, saddened by how we persist in walking apart from God.
And when we start truly grieving, God will give sure comfort. Underline the first word of this beatitude, not “Cursed…” but “Blessed…” If you repent from sins, if you truly grieve your guilt before God, then you need not fear his condemnation, but you are forgiven and restored through Christ. Through sorrow, the joy of salvation is yours!
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, a helper, a counsellor. It is related to the old term for the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. It means that God comes near us, stands beside us, so He can reassure and encourage.
We are a sinful people, but God forgives. And forgiveness is not a transaction for God, it is rebuilding a relationship. So to be ‘comforted’ by God is to have him treat you as an honoured friend, a beloved guest, even a precious child. We broke trust, yet God takes us back and He renews us.
God is willing to forgive because forgiveness is his good pleasure and holy character. And the basis for his mercy rests on Christ alone. As Jesus says 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).
Jesus promises to give rest to the weary and renewal to the burdened.
Christ comforts those who mourn.