Luke 6:21 “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
Are you poor? Are you hungry? Are you sad? Are you hated? Then in the eyes of God you are a blessed person. Jesus is giving us the four basic building blocks of blessedness, and today we are examining the third. Let us remind ourselves where Christ started.
i] Are you poor? Do you know that you have absolutely nothing to bring to God that can make him own you as his child? You put your hand in your pocket and there’s nothing there. You put your credit card into the cash dispensing machine and it thrusts it right back to you without a single banknote. You have no credit in the courts of heaven. Your very righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the holy God’s sight. You have nothing with which to purchase God’s mercy because you are bankrupt. You’ve lost everything by the fall of your father Adam and your own debts. All you can do is cast yourself on God’s grace; “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and to persist in praying that prayer until you know God has heard you. Jesus says that you are a blessed man if you know you are poor before God. ‘Nothing in my hand I bring,’ we have to acknowledge. ‘For Jesus’ sake let me in.’ Blessed are the people who recognize that in the judgment of heaven they are poverty-stricken and so have trusted in Jesus’ riches only.
ii] Are you hungry? You are a blessed person if you’re hungry for reality, hungry for truth, hungry for righteousness, hungry for the living God. Emmylou Harris sings,
“Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple,
Don’t you eat of bitter fruit,
Hunger only for a world of truth.”
Nothing in all this world around you can fully satisfy a heart that has been made by God and made for God, hence the world’s restlessness. The blessed man is hungry to know God for himself, not second hand, not vicariously through someone else, not through a priest or a charismatic evangelist, but to know him intimately and hungering for more, to run into his presence and see his great smiling face and cry to him, “Abba Father.” I must have God. I must be accepted by him. I must have a growing knowledge of the one who is my Lord. What’s going to become of my life, watching it whizz by, and never knowing my Creator and Judge? If I am hungry for him then I am a blessed man.
iii] Are you sad? That is the next building block of blessedness. What does this third beatitude mean?
THERE ARE MANY MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT THE BLESSEDNESS OF SORROW.
i] These words are not some broad general encouragement assuring us that in time we’ll get over our tears. Jesus is not saying, “Keep going. Time is a great healer. It will soon pass. You are weeping now but soon you will be laughing.”
ii] The beatitude does not mean that it is blessed to be perpetually in a state of melancholy, to be morose, and downhearted, and depressed. It is not referring to being full of self-pity, sniffling and despondent. That is not what the Lord Jesus was talking about. It is not cheerlessness. Blessedness is not being boring, dull, and morbid men and women. I needn’t linger on this point; every preacher under heaven seems to think that seriousness is the worst of sins. How worship has been dumbed down through this scare. Choruses mock Christians who have faces like coffee pots. Preachers tell the story about a little girl who pointed at a horse and said to her mother, “He must be a Christian. Look at his long face.” Ha ha . . . O.K., enough is enough. Point taken. This beatitude is not comending being permanently miserable. Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”.
iii] Again, this building block, saying blessedness is weeping now, is not referring to those who are weeping under the judgment of God. Isaiah describes the nation of Moab weeping and howling for its condition, but their tears would do them no good because it is God who has brought destruction upon the nation for its idolatry and wickedness. We live in a moral universe, and what men sow that will they also reap, and if they’ve sown wickedness they are bound to reap grief. Tears because their sin has found them out are not a mark of blessedness. Judas despaired because of his sin, but Judas did not repent.
iv] What Jesus is saying does not mean that we are blessed if we respond to life’s disappointments by grieving. I am thinking of Ahab lying on his bed with his face to the wall depressed because he couldn’t have his own way. He wanted the beautiful vineyard of Naboth, but it was a family farm and Naboth kept it in trust for his sons and their sons after him and he was not prepared to sell. Ahab responded by weeping in frustration. Those are not the tears that Jesus is commending. God saw Cain looking so unhappy when he was condemned to a perpetual wandering life for murdering his brother. Again you remember Amnon, David’s son, who lusted after Tamar his half-sister, and when he could not have her he wept. Such a liason was against the law; it was against the law of nature; it was against the law of God, but Amnon had the longest face because he wanted forbidden fruit. That is not the blessedness Jesus is speaking of here.
v] Jesus is not referring to a time of mourning that follows the death of one of our family. That is perfectly natural and proper. We weep because we love. It is certainly wrong for a Christian to sorrow despairingly as if they weren’t Christians at all. People who lack any hope when death enters the home display abject uncontrollable grief, and that is a mark of their unbelief, but the children of God are not urged to be stoical at bereavement. When Joseph’s cruel brothers told their father that his son Joseph was dead, then Jacob’s heart was broken, and he mourned the death of his son. The mothers of Bethlehem grieved over the murder of their little children, refusing to be comforted. When the women returned from the empty tomb on resurrection morning and went to the apostles with the news that the stone was rolled away they found them weeping because of the death of Jesus. When Stephen was stoned to death his friends made great lamentation over him as they buried him. Sometimes Christians need to be encouraged to cry when a friend dies, but Jesus is not referring to bereavement when he said, “Blessed are you who weep now.” It is not the sorrow of loss but the sorrow of repentance that Jesus is speaking about.
vi] Jesus is not saying here that the school of sorrow is a great place to learn about life. That is true. Sometimes we can learn more from failing an exam, or from a broken engagement, or from losing our jobs than from life being one long success story. As the old proverb says, “All sunshine makes a desert.” Elgar was listening to a young woman singing one of his songs. She had a beautiful voice, good breath control, faultless technique, but something was missing. Elgar said, “She will be great when something happens that breaks her heart.” The familiar poem says it like this;
I walked a mile with pleasure
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow
And ne’er a word said she.
But, Oh the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me!
That may well be true, but that is not what Jesus is talking about here. So I have begun by clearing away six mistaken attitudes to Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you who weep now.”
SPIRITUAL SORROW COMES FROM A GROWING AWARENESS OF SIN.
The word of God takes sin very seriously. It summaries sin in the ten commandments;
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol and bow down to it or worship it. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honour your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour. You shall not covet. The apostle John says that sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). We know that to drive at 50 miles per hour when the speed limit is 40 is a transgression of the law. The word ‘transgression’ means to go beyond a mark, and every single life has gone beyond it. We have all violated God’s commandments.
Then the Word of God extends our knowledge of sin in the following ways; it tells us . . .
i] “The schemes (or thoughts) of folly are sin” (Provs. 24:9). Those thoughts may never have registered themselves by the expression on your face, or a word, but to entertain the thoughts of folly are sin.
ii] In 1 John 5:17 we read, “All unrighteousness is sin.” All kinds of unrighteousness is sinful. There shouldn’t be any confusion as to what is wrong. Exaggerating, cheating, seducing, fortune telling, greed, failing to fill in your tax forms, abortion, time-wasting, pride – all are sins. All unrighteousness is sin.
iii] In Romans 14:23 we read, “Whatsoever if not of faith is sin.” In other words, we have to believe that what we’re doing is right, and that it conforms to the principles of God’s Word. Hypocrisy and pretence and posing is sin. Withholding the truth is sin. Martin Luther once said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.”
iv] Again, James declares, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). What could you be doing that you’re not doing now, but are being convicted of its value by the Holy Spirit? Could it be reading your Bible more, having family devotions, praying more, visiting the sick and house-bound, witnessing to the lost, giving to the ministries in need of your help? Sin is not only doing the ‘wrong things’, but it is also failing to do the right things.
3. WHY WE SHOULD WEEP OVER SIN.
Let me suggest three reasons;
A] First of all, because sin defiles us. It is a pollutant. It does to the soul what lead ore does to a sparkling river – it brings sterility; or what a razor slash does to a beautiful face; or what a stain is to white silk cloth. It is ugliness across the face of beauty. Its defilement is defined in scripture in very graphic terms, like oozing sores from the crown of the head to the soles of your feet. Sin is a “filthy garment” covering a person. When you walk through some parts of London in the evening you pass street people. They’ve lived in the same clothes and slept in the same clothes for months. They are filthy garments, and our souls are covered in them. It ruins the image of God in man. It degrades a man’s nobility. God says he grows weary of sin.
When a sinner begins to see what sin really is, that it’s not exciting and not satisfying but defiling then it grieves him. Sin pollutes. Sin corrupts. Sin compromises, and it contaminates; Paul says to the Corinthians, “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit.” Thomas Goodwin, the Puritan wrote: “Sin is called poison, sinners are called serpents; sin is called vomit, sinners are called dogs; sin is called the stench of graves, sinners rotten sepulchers; sin is called mire, sinners pigs. It is defiling, degrading. It stamps the devil’s image on the human soul.”
B] Sin turns us into rebels against what’s good and lovely. It is not only defilement, it is rebellion. It establishes not only a life of sterility and pollution and corruption, but it shapes a life of rebellious attitudes. It is, by its own nature, walking contrary to God. It’s just going along year by year constantly defying him. The sinner tramples on God’s law, treads upon God’s character, willfully crosses God’s will, affronts God, spites God, mocks God. One of the Hebrew words for sin, payshah, signifies rebellion – Absalom defying his own father David and beginning a civil war in the land. Sin, at its core, is rebellion. That’s what it was for Lucifer; that’s what it was for Eve; that’s what it was for the prodigal son; that’s what it was for Judas. It’s what it is for every sinner who insists on living a life of estrangement from God. We are told from heaven, “This is the way you should go. Be this kind of husband, and this kind of daughter,” and the Bible tells us how we should live, but we defy him. As the people said at the time of Jeremiah, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD!” (Jer. 44:16). That’s it. “We’ll do exactly what we want to do whatever God says.” Sin is God’s would-be murderer. Sin wouldn’t only de-throne God, but ungod God, and replace him with man. If the sinner had his way, God would cease to be God, and the sinner be left as the only god in his world. So sin is defiling, and sin is open, incessant rebellion. Let me give you another definition;
C] Sin makes us ungrateful. You know that everything you have, everything you are, is because of God’s love for you. We “live and move and have our being” in God as Paul tells the Athenians, adding, “It’s God who makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, sends rain on the just and the unjust.” We’re indebted to God for everything. Your wife is your most precious gift? God gave her to you. Your health? It’s a donation of God. At the beginning of his letter to the church in Rome Paul says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, because: “When they knew God, they didn’t glorify Him as God, neither were thankful,” (Roms 1:21). Sin is basically ingratitude. All the food you sinners have ever eaten, God gave it to you, every plateful and every mouthful. All the air you sinners ever breathed, God gave it to you . . . inhale . . . exhale . . . inhale . . . exhale . . . All the true joy that sinners ever experienced has been provided by God. All the love they ever experienced in this world, everything they’ve sensed in the affection and kindness of someone else to them, ultimately has come from God. All of the pleasures you encounter of life in your sight and hearing and taste and smell and touch come from God. All the beauty of life and creation and relationships is from God.
God is the one who’s given wisdom to us. He has given us sound minds so that we can think straight, and work and rest and sleep so that life becomes full and useful. It’s God who’s made us love and laugh and weep. It’s God who gave us special skills and abilities to excel in certain areas, and to know some measure of self-respect and value. It’s God who made us with a capacity to care for each other and to have relationships – God has said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” It’s God who providentially preserves us from getting every disease, and dying every death. God constantly kills cancer cells as they appear in our bodies. God surrounds sinners with mercy. Yet how we abuse him! Like Absalom, as soon as David, his father, had kissed him and embraced him, he went out and plotted treason against his father. So the sinner eagerly takes the kiss of God, everything that God provides in the created world, grasping God’s graces and God’s mercy, and then man betrays him by becoming the friend of God’s enemy, Satan. Sin is serious ingratitude; it’s damnable ingratitude, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against that ingratitude. Sin is defiling. It is rebellion. It is ingratitude. That is why we don’t take it in our stride. We have to weep before God over our sin.
WHAT GODLY GRIEF IS.
In Scripture you are presented with inspired examples and definitions of what a Christian is and how a Christian behaves. You see how sin really gets through to God’s people; its gets under their skin; they are really put out by their own sin. In the Old Testament, David is a good example: “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4); “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin” (Psalm 38:18); “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). Others were equally distraught as they realized their spiritual condition. Abraham confessed, “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). When Isaiah had a vision of “the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted”, with such dazzling glory that even even the angels covered their faces as they worshipped him, he cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). Job had a splendid reputation as someone who was “blameless and upright” and who “feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1), but when driven to his knees he confessed, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6). The Lord Jesus is saying that that is blessedness.
We see the same sorrow for sin in the New Testament. Amazed at the realization who was in the boat with him – it was Jehovah Jesus – Peter cried out, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Later, under some pressure, he denied at a fireside that he even knew Jesus, but when he came to his senses “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Paul gives us a clear testimony as to what it means to be a spiritual mourner: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature… For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature … For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do -this I keep on doing … What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:15,18,19,24). It is vitally important to notice that Paul was writing about his ongoing experience as a mature Christian. This is not morbid, self-pitying introspection. Paul is being ruthlessly honest with himself and wants us to know this.
You can’t find any comfort by saying, “ . . . everybody sins.” Jesus is speaking about taking your own life very seriously, and being sorry for what you’ve thought, and said, and done, considering the people you’ve hurt and betrayed, the lies you’ve told, the objects you’ve stolen, and so on. Jesus is saying that it’s a bad idea to hide behind the fact of other people behaving as badly as you, or making any excuse for your life. Jesus is speaking about the blessedness that comes to us only through spiritual sorrow, in other words, when we cease rationalizing our sin, when we call our behaviour ‘sin’, and we let its horrors, and desolation, and degradation penetrate into our souls until it makes us grieve.
I’m saying that God is honouring you by taking your behaviour very seriously and telling you that you must answer to him for your life. It was that that made Archbishop Cranmer write in the prayer book in 1662 these words. He put them on the lips of people in the Church of England these words to say at the Lord’s Supper as they broke bread; “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” That is the wailing that Jesus is talking about in our text. John Bradford was burned at the stake by the papists in 1555, and it is said of him that scarcely a day passed in which he did not shed some tears for his sin. David Brainerd was the great missionary to the American Indians, and one evening as he walked in the forest he was convicted of his sins and depravity before God. He wrote in his diary that he felt that the very ground of the forest would open up and swallow him into hell. He walked home feeling shame was written across his face. Spurgeon said: “The best of men are men at best, and apart from the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of divine grace, hell itself does not contain greater monsters than you and I might become.”
What preacher wouldn’t say from the pulpit to his congregation, “As I stand here today I am capable of committing any sin under the sun”? McCheyne acknowledged that the seeds of every sin were in his heart. That awareness is the first step on your journey into reality, by realising how big a sinner you are. All such convictions are rooted in the Bible, in the convictions of Psalm 51 and also Psalm 32. The apostle Paul in his most mature years was thinking aloud about his life and he considered himself to be the chief of sinners. Do you see that? Have you seen yourself as you really are? An old puritan called sin “The devil’s excrement.” Do we see our sins like that? Not beautiful. Not understandable at all, but dung. That is the way of blessedness. Of course it’s not wrong to make much of the amazing grace of God, but not at the price of making light of our own sinfulness before God.
5. GODLY GRIEF IS ESSENTIAL FOR A HEALTHY GROWING LIFE.
One of the advantages of preaching through the Sermon on the Mount in Luke is that I have to read Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. What a magnificent book it is. Hear these beautiful wise words of Dr. Lloyd-Jones about godly grief. “It is quite inevitable. As I confront God and His holiness, and contemplate the life that I am meant to live, I see myself, my utter helplessness and hopelessness. I discover my quality of spirit and immediately that makes me mourn. I must mourn about the fact that I am like that. But obviously it does not stop there. A man who truly faces himself, and examines himself and his life, is a man who must of necessity mourn for his sins also, for the things he does. Now the great experts in the life of the spirit have always recommended self-examination. They all recommend and practise it themselves. They say it is a good thing for every man to pause at the end of the day and meditate upon himself, to run quickly over his life, and ask, ‘What have I done, what have I said, what have I thought, how have I behaved with respect to others?’ Now if you do that any night of your life, you will find that you have done things which you should not have done, you will be conscious of having harboured thoughts and ideas and feelings which are quite unworthy. And, as he realizes these things, any man who is at all Christian is smitten with a sense of grief and sorrow that he was ever capable of such things in action or in thought, and that makes him mourn.
“But he does not stop merely at things he has done, he meditates upon and contemplates his actions and his state and condition of sinfulness, and as he thus examines himself he must go through that experience of Romans chapter seven. He must become aware of these evil principles that are within him. He must ask himself, ‘What is it in me that makes me behave like that? Why should I be irritable? Why should I be bad tempered? Why am I not able to control myself? Why do I harbour that unkind, jealous and envious thought? What is it in me?’ And he discovers this war in his members, and he hates it and mourns because of it. It is quite inevitable. Now this is not imagination; it is actual experience and true to fact. It is a very thorough-going test. If I object to this kind of teaching, it just means that I do not mourn and therefore I am not one of the people who, our Lord says, are blessed. If I regard this as nothing but morbidity, something a man should not do, then I am simply proclaiming the fact that I am not spiritual, and that I am unlike the apostle Paul and all the saints, and I am contradicting the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But if I bemoan these things in myself, I am truly mourning.
“Yet the Christian does not stop even at that. The man who is truly Christian is a man who mourns also because of the sins of others. He does not stop at himself. He sees the same thing in others. He is concerned about the state of society, and the state of the world, and as he reads his newspaper he does not stop at what he sees or simply express disgust at it. He mourns because of it, because men can so spend their life in this world. He mourns because of the sins of others. Indeed, he goes beyond that and mourns over the state of the whole world as he sees the moral muddle and unhappiness and suffering of mankind, and reads of wars and rumours of wars. He sees that the whole world is in an unhealthy and unhappy condition. He knows that it is all due to sin; and he mourns because of it.
“That is why our Lord Himself mourned, that is why He was ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’; that is why He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He saw this horrid, ugly, foul thing called sin which had come into life and introduced death into life, and had upset life and made life unhappy. He wept because of that; He groaned in His spirit. And as He saw the city of Jerusalem rejecting Him and bringing upon itself its own damnation, He wept because of it. He mourned over it and so does His true follower, the one who has received His nature. In other words, he must mourn because of the very nature of sin itself, because it has ever entered into the world and has led to these terrible results. Indeed he mourns because he has some understanding of what sin means to God, of God’s utter abhorrence and hatred of it, this terrible thing that would stab, as it were, into the heart of God, if it could, this rebelliousness and arrogance of man, the result of listening to Satan. It grieves him and he mourns because of it” (D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, IVP, 1959, pp.58&59).
THE DEFINITION OF A CHRISTIAN.
A Christian is poor, a Christian is hungry and a Christian weeps. Dr Lloyd-Jones concludes thus; “Let us, then, try to define this man who mourns. What sort of a man is he? He is a sorrowful man, but he is not morose. He is a sorrowful man, but he is not a miserable man. He is a serious man, but he is not a solemn man. He is a sober-minded man, but he is not a sullen man. He is a grave man, but he is never cold or prohibitive. There is with his gravity a warmth and attraction. This man, in other words, is always serious; but he does not have to affect the seriousness. The true Christian is never a man who has to put on an appearance of either sadness or joviality. No, no; he is a man who looks at life seriously; he contemplates it spiritually, and he sees in it sin and its effects. He is a serious, sober-minded man. His outlook is always serious, but because of these views which he has, and his understanding of truth, he also has ‘a joy unspeakable and full of glory’. So he is like the apostle Paul, ‘groaning within himself, and yet happy because of his experience of Christ and the glory that is to come. The Christian is not superficial in any sense, but is fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy. You see, the joy of the Christian is a holy joy, the happiness of the Christian is a serious happiness. None of that superficial appearance of happiness and joy! No, no; it is a solemn joy, it is a holy joy, it is a serious happiness; so that, though he is grave and sober-minded and serious, he is never cold and prohibitive. Indeed, he is like our Lord Himself, groaning, weeping, and yet, ‘for the joy that was set before him’ enduring the cross, despising the shame.
“That is the man who mourns; that is the Christian. That is the type of Christian seen in the Church in ages past, when the doctrine of sin was preached and emphasized, and men were not merely urged to take a sudden decision. A deep doctrine of sin, a high doctrine of joy, and the two together produce this blessed, happy man who mourns, and who at the same time is comforted. The way to experience that, obviously, is to read the Scriptures, to study and meditate upon them, to pray to God for His Spirit to reveal sin in us to ourselves, and then to reveal to us the Lord Jesus Christ in all His fullness. ‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted’” (D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, IVP, 1959, p.62).
8th June 2008 GEOFF THOMAS