David was a man who knew the depths of pain experienced by humanity. We see this clearly in the psalms he wrote, such as in this cry from Psalm 55:
Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
Behold, I would wander far away,
I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah.
I would hasten to my place of refuge
From the stormy wind and tempest. (verses 6-8)
That’s the cry of a man who wants to escape the torment and sorrow of life. David, in that psalm, echoes the desire of fallen humanity: a cry for freedom, for a life on wings, for comfort in a life of pain, for rest in a life of sorrow, disappointment and bitterness.
People long to get away, to find a place where sorrow doesn’t exist and where pain is not present. People long for a place of perfect calm and peace and comfort. And Jesus, speaking into this pain, says,
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Jesus tells us that the sad become the happy. It is the mourners who enjoy comfort.
Now, that counters the whole structure of human expectation. In fact, it counters the whole effort of human life. We are overtaken by a madness for pleasure, a drive for amusement and entertainment and thrills. We are always seeking the next high and the next dollar we can spend on living it up. And these things are an expression of the world’s quest to avoid mourning. But Jesus says, “Happy are those who mourn.” And He also says, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25).
This is a totally new approach to life. It condemns the shallow, superficial laughter of life, the frivolous happiness of the world, and it pronounces true blessing and true happiness and true joy and true comfort and true peace on those who mourn.
The first paradox of happiness is that until you come to the point of recognizing your utter bankruptcy, you will never enter the blessedness of the kingdom. And now this second paradox is that the only truly happy people are those who mourn.
So what kind of sorrow brings blessedness and comfort? We know from Scripture that not all mourning is the same. First of all, there is a common and appropriate sorrow over the sufferings of life. Weeping, mourning and grieving are normal parts of human experience. In fact, they are a gift from God.
When something tragic occurs in your life or in your family, when something profoundly painful occurs, God has designed tears and sadness and grief to release that pain as part of the healing process. When pain is bottled up and kept inside, it can poison the emotional system, but mourning releases that poison. We give vent through grief, and that’s a God-gifted way of seeking relief from ongoing pain. Mourning is natural, and it is good.
Jesus Himself wept over the city of Jerusalem. Jesus shed tears when He came to the grave of Lazarus and saw the agonizing effect of death on the people that He loved. Tears are a part of human life.
Some people have looked at Matthew 5:4 and thought that this sorrow over suffering is what Jesus is talking about. They believe that Jesus is referencing general sorrow over the sufferings of life. But there’s far more to this verse than that. I believe that Jesus is speaking about the sort of grief that Paul referred to as godly sorrow.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
This sorrow is not the sorrow of the world. It is a sorrow that produces repentance. And repentance brings blessing and comfort.
The issue here is not mourning over human circumstances, but mourning over sin. In this way, the first and second Beatitudes are directly connected. The spiritually bankrupt person looks at their life, finds nothing of value, and mourns over their sinful situation. This is the only kind of person who enters the kingdom and enjoys its comforts.
And, friends, that never changes. You never mature beyond godly sorrow. In fact, the longer you are a Christian, the more deeply you feel this sorrow.
As a person who’s been a Christian a long time, I don’t look at my life now and say, “Well, when I became a Christian I really had nothing to offer the Lord. But since then I have certainly achieved a great deal.” Not so. In the intervening years I have achieved nothing by which to save myself. And I have a better understanding now of my spiritual bankruptcy and my inability in the flesh to please God than I did when I was converted.
There is, then, an ongoing sadness in the Christian life, isn’t there? And the longer you’re a Christian, the sadder you are over your sin. There is a place in life for fun and there is a place in life for joy; the Lord wants us to rejoice always. But at the same time there is always that nagging reality in the life of a true Christian, that deeply felt grief over sin until it is repented of.
So how on earth does this bring blessing? Well, when you stop mourning over your sin, you stop repenting. When you stop repenting, you stop confessing. And when you stop confessing, barriers come up between you and God, and you forfeit His blessing.
If you want to be happy, repent. Repentance washes the soul clean and sets blessing loose.
It is an immensely comforting thing to come out of the presence of the Lord, having confessed your sin, and to know that you have received full and complete forgiveness. Only those who mourn over sin know the comfort of this forgiveness. Only mourners enjoy the reality of having nothing separating them from God and from the fullness of His blessing.
There is no comfort for the world. There is no one to dry their tears because their tears are not ones of penitence. But we who mourn, weeping tears of penitence, are comforted because of forgiveness.
And this comfort is available to us now, not just later in glory. God is a God of comfort now, and He provides comfort now to everyone who penitently mourns over sin and cries out for the provision of forgiveness, which God has provided in Jesus Christ. And one day we will know full, complete, and uninterrupted comfort, as Revelation 21 describes:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (verses 3-4)
There will be that final experience when all tears are wiped away. But until then, even now, God provides for us ongoing comfort. The same Jesus who requires mourning is also the Jesus who promises this:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Next time we will look at how someone can become a mourner over sin in order to enjoy this promised comfort.
This blog post is based on Dr. MacArthur’s sermon “The Only Way to Happiness: Mourn Over Sin,” originally preached in 1998.
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