I’ve been watching a TV cooking series in which twelve to eighteen people compete for a monetary prize and the title of winner for the season. You wouldn’t think there would be much crying among people who are determined to fight their way through the intense, timed “heats,” but there is, and not usually from the stress of having to get an expert dish out on time. Surprisingly, most tears come from having to say goodbye to eliminated contestants. This aspect of the show is particularly appealing to me since those who begin as adversaries end up as friends, despite competing against each other. The sorrow of saying goodbye is relatable for everyone. We part from family and friends leaving for college, graduating, when changing schools, moving to another location or neighborhood, leaving jobs, leaving someone after a visit, and ultimately saying goodbye to our loved ones when they die. Recently our missions committee met a new RUF pastor who is beginning a new season with his family in a new city, at a new university, and attending a new church, while his children start at a new school. I was touched when he said, close to tears, that the most challenging part of his work is not all the change but saying goodbye to students who graduate, or recently, to those he left in his former RUF university. (*) We will have many partings in this life and cry because we are sad since that’s the way God designed us. While Jesus encourages us to remember that he will never leave us (Heb. 13:5), he also assures us that he will comfort us when we are sad. Instead of trying to be “happy Christians” who only acknowledge good things and deny the effects of sin in the world, in others, and ourselves, we see and weep over sin.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). “Because mourning for sin lies at the heart of Christ’s message, it is natural to expect this theme in the first of his great sermons. When Jesus entered the synagogue at Nazareth on the day that he began his formal ministry, he read from the scroll of Isaiah. He [proclaimed freedom for prisoners] (Luke 4:18–19). What was the deliverance Christ preached? It was not a proclamation against slavery, although that rightly followed in the history of the Christian church. Jesus did not set about to overthrow the slavery of the Roman Empire; he never preached against it. The deliverance he proclaimed was a deliverance from the tyranny of sin…The Gospels tell us that Jesus wept twice in his ministry, once for the unbelief of the Jews at the grave of Lazarus and once over the sin and hardness of heart of Jerusalem. Sin was the great problem. And, thus, he asked men to weep for it.” (1) Jesus promises to bless and comfort us when we mourn for sin in the world, in others, and ourselves, willing to see it for what it is—the worst offense against him. “It is only possible for human beings to develop relationships in three dimensions: upward toward God; inward in relating to self; outward toward others. Christ speaks powerfully to these three dimensions in the Beatitudes…The first four describe the self-emptying process that always leads to an intense hungering and thirsting after righteousness that results in fulness. [The first] deals with the upward realm…When God’s revelation of Himself crushes and breaks you, you will begin to feel the poverty of spirit that Christ blesses. [The second], ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (v. 4)’ deals with the inward realm. When one is truly sick of his sin, he will mourn and weep over it. If you will not humble yourself before God and grieve over your poverty of spirit, you will never see and feel the horror of your own sin sufficiently to mourn over it. Those who do not mourn over sin do not find true comfort. When sin and self become sufficiently obnoxious that you flee from them to Christ, you will know that emptiness in the inward realm that leads to the fullness of Christ.” (2) Is sin truly “obnoxious” to us? Are we willing to let it become so repulsive that we cannot bear it and run to Christ for repentance? One of the things I noticed over the seasons of the cooking show is that those who are most self-confident at the beginning of the competition never win—their view of themselves prevents them from hearing and applying the chef’s corrections and instructions. Instead of acknowledging their failures and areas needing correction, they justify and hold tightly to their pride—something we do unconsciously when it comes to sin—the opposite of what God desires of us.
“Confession is one thing, contrition is another. One might almost translate the second beatitude “Happy are the unhappy” in order to draw attention to the startling paradox it contains. It is plain from the context that those Jesus promised comfort are not primarily those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but those who mourn the loss of their innocence, their righteousness, their self-respect. It is not the sorrow of bereavement to which Christ refers, but the sorrow of repentance…Jesus wept over the sins of others, over their bitter consequences in judgment and death, and over the impenitent city which would not receive him. We too should weep more over the evil in the world, as did the godly people of biblical times. It is not only the sins of others, however, which should cause us tears; for we have our own sins to weep over as well.” (3) “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus’s reverence is directly connected to his mournful weeping over sin’s consequences. We make ourselves out to be pridefully superior to him if we refuse to be brought low because of sin, which itself calls for our sincere repentance.
Weep Now, Laugh Later!
Luke offers us another viewpoint: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) “In Luke’s setting…the emphasis is on the difference between now and later…Jesus is distinguishing between the way things are now and the way they will be when the kingdom of God is manifested and God’s justice reigns supreme. [God] is telling us to be wise, to think in eternal categories, and not to be slaves to the present. What happens right now, counts eternally, and this is the essence of the message that Jesus is giving here.” (4) When we put all this together, we should be highly motivated to confess quickly for repentance, knowing that Christ will comfort us now and through his perfect peace in the next life. Jesus blesses and comforts us when we mourn for sin. “Repentance is the inlet to spiritual blessings. It helps to enrich us with grace. It causes the desert to blossom as the rose. It makes the soul as the Egyptian fields after the overflowing of the Nile, flourishing and fruitful. Never do the flowers of grace grow more than after a shower of repentant tears. Repentance causes knowledge: ‘When their heart shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away’ (2 Cor. 3:16)…Repentance inflames love…Repentance ushers in temporal blessings…The happy and glorious reward that follows repentance: Being made free from sin, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life’ (Rom. 6:22). The leaves and root of the fig tree are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. Repentance to the fleshy part seems bitter, but behold sweet fruit.” (5) We can rightly be motivated to mourn for sin by Jesus’s promise of his comfort.
Jesus came into this world; the Word became flesh to free us from our enslavement to sin. He will return to liberate the world, but until then, we have his power, presence, and love to spur us on as the Spirit does his deep work within our hearts—if we yield to him. When he read from the scroll of Isaiah in the temple, “he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:21) What was fulfilled? “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3) Having received his righteousness, repentance is our path to gladness.
Related Scripture: Psalm 145:18-19; 147:3; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18.
* RUF—Reformed University Fellowship, a “Community for Hope” for college students, https://ruf.org
- Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Matthew 5:4, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
- Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” pp. 183-4, Crossway, 2002
- Stott, John, “The Beatitudes” (Bible Study), pages 17-18, InterVarsity Press, England, 1988.
- Sproul, R. C., “A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel,” Luke 6:21, Electronic Book, 2016.
- Watson, Thomas, “The Doctrine of Repentance,” pp. 79-83, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668)
August 12, 2021