It is a scene that no one wishes to experience. A funeral home, loved ones gathered to remember a friend, a parent, a child, taken from them far too soon. A heavy atmosphere of grief is settled on the room. Tears flow freely as those gathered try to make sense of an unthinkable tragedy.
In His Sermon on the Mount, as He outlined the principles of the Kingdom that He had come to inaugurate, Jesus said that in His Kingdom mourners are blessed (Matthew 5:4). What a strange perspective. The word there for ‘mourn’ is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament when Jacob learned that his favorite son Joseph had been killed by wild animals. So it’s like saying, “If you’ve experienced the worst pain that can be experienced, you’re blessed.”
Jesus said those who mourn are blessed, because they will be comforted. I think there’s at least a couple of ways to look at this. And while either or neither may have been what Jesus intended, I think there’s enough evidence from Scripture to support both understandings.
On one hand, you have the literal interpretation, which would refer to a deep mourning over a loss, like the death of a loved one. In a world to which Christ has not come – a world in which many even today live in ignorance – the pain of loss can be so final, so hopeless.
But the Kingdom of God is upside-down from our fallen world. As Paul so beautifully stated, those who are in Christ do not “grieve as…the rest of mankind do, who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13). And Paul goes on to testify that “the dead in Christ will rise” and “we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (v.16-18). Blessed are the Kingdom people who mourn a great loss, for they will be comforted.
On another hand, perhaps there is a more abstract interpretation of this Kingdom reality. The first message that Matthew records Jesus as preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). And again the Apostle Paul helps us bridge the connection, this time between mourning and repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul acknowledges that his previous letter caused sorrow for the believers in Corinth. But Paul says, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance…For the sorrow that is according to God produces a repentance without regret leading to salvation” (v.9-10).
So in this more abstract understanding of the Beatitude, the mourning is over sin, and the comfort comes through salvation. There is something about a godly sorrow that produces a more sincere repentance. When we see the ugliness of our sin for what it is, in such a way that we feel it like the pain of grief, then we are more prepared to make that 180-degree turn of repentance. And again, Paul says, “Because of this (because of what this godly sorrow has produced in you), we have been comforted” (v.13). Blessed are those whose mourning produces repentance, for they will be comforted.
Whether our mourning is the result of a reckoning with the weight of our sin or of grief over loss, in Christ we find comfort in the joy of salvation and the hope of the resurrection.
“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; You have untied my sackcloth and encircled me with joy.” (Psalm 30:11-12)
~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair