Blessed are those who mourn. Oh yeah. That’s a message we all want to hear. Especially when it’s translated as “happy are those who are unhappy”. But remember, this is Jesus. Everything’s either upside down or backwards. After all, Jesus is the one who said, Mt 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” So what else should we expect?
Normally, I’d start off with something on what the word “mourn” actually was in the original text. In this case, Greek. Of course, since Matthew was Jewish, that would be followed up with a look at how a Jewish person would view what Jesus said.
But not yet.
Even the pagans do that – what mourning isn’t
If everyone else is doing it, then it’s not what Jesus is talking about. That might sound odd. But really, it isn’t. Remember what Jesus said about greeting only people we like?
Love for Enemies
Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus says even tax collectors love people who love them. Tax collectors were even more hated at that time than they are today. And even pagans greet their brothers. Therefore, no “reward” was given for doing those things. Why not? Because pretty much everybody did them.
Things like that might lead us to believe that people are inherently “good“. But keep in mind that Jesus also said no one is good, except God.
The Rich Ruler
18:18-30 pp — Mt 19:16-29; Mk 10:17-30
Lk 18:18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Lk 18:19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’’”
Given that, Jesus must be talking about something above and beyond what “everyone else” does.
Let’s look at that “reward” from If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Here’s what the word meant, as far as a definition.
3408 μισθός [misthos /mis·thos/] n m. Apparently a primary word; TDNT 4:695; TDNTA 599; GK 3635; 29 occurrences; AV translates as “reward” 24 times, “hire” three times, and “wages” twice. 1 dues paid for work. 1A wages, hire. 2 reward: used of the fruit naturally resulting from toils and endeavours. 2A in both senses, rewards and punishments. 2B of the rewards which God bestows, or will bestow, upon good deeds and endeavours. 2C of punishments. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
While the full definition fits the reward for things everyone does, when Jesus was talking about “love for enemies”, He was addressing His followers. Today, that’s meant for those of us who call ourselves Christians. So the only portion of the definition that fits us – Jesus’ followers – is 2B of the rewards which God bestows, or will bestow, upon good deeds and endeavours. 2C of punishments.
Think that sounds harsh? Maybe some credit should be given for loving those who love us? Well, consider this.
Do you know the origin of “love your neighbor”? It comes from one of those books we generally don’t like to read. Leviticus. It’s the last verse in a series of verses about how we’re supposed to treat our “neighbor”.
Lev 19:13 “ ‘Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.
“ ‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.
Lev 19:14 “ ‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.
Lev 19:15 “ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
Lev 19:16 “ ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“ ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.
Lev 19:17 “ ‘Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.
Lev 19:18 “ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
You may have noticed – there’s nothing in there about “hate your neighbor“. Absolutely nothing. So when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ – He’s letting people know that the ones saying it were wrong. And who was that? The Jewish leaders.
John Stott’s statement about this sums it up quite nicely:
It was easy enough for ethical casuists (consciously or unconsciously anxious to ease the burden of this command) to twist it to their own convenience. ‘My neighbour’, they argued, ‘is one of my own people, a fellow Jew, my own kith and kin, who belongs to my race and my religion. The law says nothing about strangers or enemies. So, since the command is to love only my neighbour, it must be taken as a permission, even an injunction, to hate my enemy. For he is not my neighbour that I should love him.’
The problem is, that part about the law not saying anything about strangers and enemies is wrong. As Stott points out –
The reasoning is rational enough to convince those who wanted to be convinced, and to confirm them in their own racial prejudice. But it is a rationalization, and a specious one at that. They evidently ignored the instruction earlier in the same chapter to leave the gleanings of field and vineyard ‘for the poor and the sojourner’, who was not a Jew but a resident alien,
Lev 19:9 “ ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.”
and the unequivocal statement against racial discrimination at the end of the chapter: ‘the stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself’. Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 115). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Lev 19:33 “ ‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. 34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
Oops. Looks like even back then, people pulled out individual verses to make the Scriptures say pretty much what they wanted. But that doesn’t mean they’re right. And that’s exactly what Jesus was telling them.
Ultimately, Jesus is telling them straight out that they did nothing more what than a pagan would do. But further, that they were misrepresenting God’s word, their Hebrew Scripture, to make it appear that they were fulfilling God’s Word. But in reality, they were lying about God’s Word and trampling all over it.
Certainly, if there’s any reward for that, it won’t be a good one. If they were rewarded at all, it would be of the 2C variety: of punishments – for twisting God’s commands into something far from was was actually given to them.
In the end then, we see that what the Jewish leaders were putting forth as the “right” thing to do was pretty much what anyone, pagan included, would do. Jesus wanted more. Jesus wants us to Be perfect, therefore, as your (our) heavenly Father is perfect. Not that we’ll succeed. But we should try.
Even the pagans do that – mourning over death
Death is, in a way, part of life. But then it’s also true that pretty much everyone mourns over death. But is mourning over a death part of what Jesus was talking about? From what we’ve seen so far, to the extent that a Christian mourning over the death of a loved one matches up with a non-Christian doing the same thing – I’d have to say the answer is no. Again, Jesus wants more.
We can see an example of mourning over the death of someone who was very much loved – Lazarus. The entire sequence of events can be read in John 11:1-44. For our purposes, we need only this portion:
Jesus Comforts the Sisters
Jn 11:17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
Jn 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jn 11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Jn 11:24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
It seems that Jesus had a reason to ask this question again. There’s a good reason for that. Here’s how the phrase “will rise again”, in its original language form, could be interpreted. Remember, Martha said “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” That means here initial thinking was about Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life – not about his resurrection. So even though the “right” words were there, Jesus seems to be looking for confirmation that Martha really believes in the resurrection. We can see the legitimacy of that concern by looking at the various possible interpretations for “will rise again“.
450 ἀναπηδάω, ἀνίστημι [anistemi /an·is·tay·mee/] v. From 303 and 2476; TDNT 1:368; TDNTA 60; GK 403 and 482; 112 occurrences; AV translates as “arise” 38 times, “rise” 19 times, “rise up” 16 times, “rise again” 13 times, “raise up” 11 times, “stand up” eight times, “raise up again” twice, and translated miscellaneously five times. 1 to cause to rise up, raise up. 1A raise up from laying down. 1B to raise up from the dead. 1C to raise up, cause to be born, to cause to appear, bring forward. 2 to rise, stand up. 2A of persons lying down, of persons lying on the ground. 2B of persons seated. 2C of those who leave a place to go elsewhere. 2C1 of those who prepare themselves for a journey. 2D of the dead. 3 at arise, appear, stand forth. 3A of kings prophets, priests, leaders of insurgents. 3B of those about to enter into conversation or dispute with anyone, or to undertake some business, or attempt something against others. 3C to rise up against any one. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Obviously, some of those – like 3A, B, and C – didn’t fit. But it could have been brought back to life or it could have been about a resurrection after death.
Jn 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Jn 11:27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
So Jesus asks again. And Martha doesn’t have the answer that Jesus was looking for. Not that she was being graded, like on a test or anything. But it’s part of the examination of any person’s heart that goes on with God. Even our own hearts. Yours and mine. As far as we can tell from reading this, Martha is having difficulty tying it all together and really truly understanding / believing what Jesus said in verse 25.
Jn 11:28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
Jn 11:32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jn 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jn 11:35 Jesus wept.
Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Bible. Just a piece of trivia.
But why? Why did Jesus weep? Was it over the death of Lazarus? That doesn’t make sense. Jesus knew full well that He was about to bring Lazarus back to life. There was no question for Him as to whether or not it was going to happen. It was. Period. End of discussion.
So why weep? And why was Jesus deeply moved in spirit and troubled? Why especially was Jesus troubled? What was going on there that would have troubled Jesus so much that He was deeply moved n spirit?
Part of the reason had to do with Jewish oral tradition. Notice – not the actual Law, as given by God. Oral tradition. Something that had been added to God’s law.
According to Jewish oral tradition, the funeral custom indicated that even a poor family must hire at least two flute players and a professional wailing woman to mourn the dead. Because the family may have been well-to-do, a rather large group appears present. He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled. The phrase here does not mean merely that Jesus was deeply touched or moved with sympathy at the sight. The Gr. term “deeply moved” always suggests anger, outrage, or emotional indignation (see v. 38; cf. Mt 9:30; Mk 1:43; 14:5). Most likely Jesus was angered at the emotional grief of the people because it implicitly revealed unbelief in the resurrection and the temporary nature of death. The group was acting like pagans who had no hope (1Th 4:13). While grief is understandable, the group was acting in despair, thus indicating a tacit denial of the resurrection and the Scripture that promised it. MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Jn 11:33). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Yes, this would do it. There were a number of things happening. Things we cannot know or understand, unless we consider the culture of the time. It was required, according to that Jewish oral tradition, that money be spent to hire professional mourners. The more money the family had, the more mourners had to be hired. It was a question of “honor” and “stature”. Something like “keeping up with the Jones-es” today.
There’s also the question of unbelief. That goes back to the repeated question to Martha. It appears the whole group was acting more like pagans than like people who literally knew God! It’s like – if anyone was going to “get it”, it would be those closest to Jesus. People who knew Him well. Based on the way Mary and Martha spoke to Jesus – we must conclude they knew Him very well. And yet – they didn’t really believe.
They did the things that pagans did.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Some amount of sorrow over death is natural. However, at some point and hopefully sooner rather than later, the Christian mind should turn to thoughts of the resurrection for a fellow believer. Since Lazarus was also a believer, and since these people knew Jesus personally and literally, it should have been very soon. But it wasn’t.
Personally, for me, I hope people celebrate my next life a whole lot more than they mourn over my passing from this one.
But you know – there’s one more thing. Something that causes the lack of true belief. Something that causes us to focus on the death in this life rather than the beginning of the next life.
Blessed are those who mourn – because of sin
Let’s go back to that part about Jesus being deeply moved in spirit and troubled. So far, we’ve been looking at the 1984 NIV. Here’s how the New King James Version has that verse:
33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” The New King James Version. (1982). (Jn 11:33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
So they use “groaned” instead of “deeply moved“.
Regardless of the English translation, the Greek word is still:
1690 βριμάομαι, ἐμβριμάομαι [embrimaomai /em·brim·ah·om·ahee/] v. From 1722 and brimaomai (to snort with anger); GK 1102 and 1839; Five occurrences; AV translates as “straitly charge” twice, “groan” twice, and “murmur against” once. 1 to charge with earnest admonition, sternly to charge, threatened to enjoin. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
I bring this up, because the except below uses the NKJV:
The word “groaned” indicates a deep-seated agitation, a snorting sound because of His indignation at sin’s ravaging effects. The word is sometimes used to describe the snorting of a horse. Verse 34 reveals our Lord’s readiness to engage this most powerful enemy of mankind (death) and demonstrates His lordship even over it! Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Jn 11:33). Nashville: Thomas … Continue reading
Yes – it’s about sin. It’s about mourning over sin. The effects of sin.
That’s what Christians have that pagans don’t. Pagans don’t have the Law from God, as the Jewish people did. Pagans don’t have the salvation of Jesus, as Christians do. And from what we’ve already seen, Jesus is asking for even more than the law, as taught by the Jewish leaders.
In fact, Jesus is asking for something beyond even the sacrificial written Law:
The Calling of Matthew
9:9-13 pp — Mk 2:14-17; Lk 5:27-32
Mt 9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
Mt 9:10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
Mt 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Oh. All those sacrifices that were done under the Old Covenant? Turns out that God wanted something other than a “sin means I have to offer a sacrifice” mentality. What God actually wanted was for sacrifices to not have to be made. Of course, that means that God also wanted His people not to sin in the first place.
Not that we’re actually going to be perfect and never sin. God knows full well we’re not capable of that. Jesus is the final sacrifice, offering Himself to cover the cost of our sins.
Blessed are those who mourn – where are we?
Let’s do a quick recap.
We saw that Jesus meant mourning to be something other than the things everyone else did. If our mourning is identical to pagans mourning, then we’re falling short of what Jesus was talking about.
We looked at the Old Testament to see people who were deep in mourning. Their lives ere absolutely miserable. So they called out to God for help.
We looked at death, to see how the pagans mourned and how Jesus friends were mourning over the “death” of Lazarus. Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled because his friends didn’t understand what He had been telling them about death and resurrection. In reality, they weren’t very far from the pagans. Sure, they said the right words, but they were far short of actually believing what they said.
Next, we looked at what happened when Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. The Pharisees asked Matthew why Jesus spent time eating with tax collectors and other sinners. We need to understand the culture of the time to fully understand that question. Having a meal with someone was an intimate experience.
It’s not like two people just popping of to McDonald’s today. It was an important part of their cultural and social order / structure. It was inconceivable to the Pharisees that Jesus would eat with people like that. In reality, Jesus was, in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, ruining His reputation and doing harm to His honor by eating with them.
Finally, we saw the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Or was that an elephant? Can’t remember. Anyway – we found the real problem. Sin. And we saw that while the Old Covenant had a system where sacrificing animals would be accepted as payment for sins, that’s not really what God wanted to have happen.
God really wanted His people to choose not to sin, thereby removing the need to kill so many animals. In effect, it became too easy to commit sin, kill an animal, repeat. And repeat. Then repeat some more. Endlessly repeat. Apparently, little if any thought went into to trying to stop sinning.
In other words, there was no mourning. Not the kind of mourning God was looking for. Even the pagans had sacrificial systems for the gods they worshipped. The worst of them included sacrificing their own children to appease their gods.
In a weird way, those pagans may have actually mourned more over the effects of their “sins” than the Jewish people did. They gave up their own children. On the other hand, God’s Chosen people killed animals. Lot’s of animals. But not their own flesh and blood.
And that brings us back to Jesus. The ultimate, once for all, final sacrifice. God gave up His own “flesh and blood”, when Jesus came to earth as a human – and was killed in order to be that ultimate sacrifice. God did something that His chosen people never did. God gave part of Himself as the sacrifice to rescue His people. It’s explained quite nicely by the author of Hebrews.
The Blood of Christ
Heb 9:11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
The passage starts right off with the blood sacrifice being Jesus, not that of any animal. But further, we see the difference between being sacrificially cleaned on the inside versus the outside.
As we saw earlier, the animal sacrifices were sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean (to) sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. However, it did nothing for “inside”. That was to come with Jesus’ sacrifice. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
We can read an example of this from Jesus Himself. As part of the Seven Woes recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
Mt 23:25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Mt 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
In the first part, maybe they could have taken Jesus’ words literally. Not that they were meant that way. We know this because of the next part. Jesus very clearly let’s them know He talking about them, not about literal cups. You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.
If nothing else, we can be sure the teachers of the law and the Pharisees performed every sacrifice. Very publicly, so everyone would know just how “clean” they were. And here’s Jesus telling them that they did nothing. Inside, they’re full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.
One more time, it’s necessary to understand the culture of the time to know just how much embarrassment was caused by Jesus’ words about whitewashed tombs and dead men’s bones inside of them.
Because of the warm climate of the Near East and the belief that a dead body was ritually impure, burial usually took place as soon after death as possible (Deut. 21:23), usually within twenty-four hours (Acts 5:5–6, 10). To allow a body to decay above ground or to become subject to destruction by vultures or dogs was a great dishonor (1 Kings 14:10–14; 2 Kings 9:34–37). Anyone who discovered a corpse by the roadside was required to bury it (2 Sam. 21:10–14). Davis, J. J., & Powell, M. A. (2011). Burial. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, pp. 109–110). New York: HarperCollins.
That’s not good. But it’s actually worse than that. Jesus isn’t saying the dead men’s bones weren’t properly buried.
No. First of all, Jesus is letting them know that they are responsible for the spiritual state of these “dead men”. That’s as in the first of the Seven Woes we looked at earlier:
Mt 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
OK. That’s worse. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were supposed to be leading the people to God. And here’s Jesus, the Son of God, telling them that they’re leading God’s own chosen people closer to hell than to Heaven.
But there’s more!
During the late Second Temple period, Judean and Galilean Jews built underground shaft tombs designed with secondary burial in mind. Such tombs were room-size chambers that had been cut out of bedrock with a small opening that could be tightly covered to keep out scavenging animals. As the Gospels suggest, it was common to seal such tombs with rolling stones (Matt. 27:60). The Jews would either lay their dead in fingerlike shafts (Heb. kokhim) extending 6 feet into the walls or place them on arch-covered ledges (Lat. arcosolia) that ran along the walls. Corpses were tied together with a few strips of cloth to keep the jaw shut and the arms and legs together (cf. Matt. 27:59; John 11:44). The body might be washed prior to placement in the tomb (Acts 9:37), and there appears to have been some custom of anointing the body with aromatic ointments (John 12:7; 19:39; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1). In any case, the family would return to the chamber about a year later, after the body had decomposed, and gather the bones of the deceased for secondary burial.
Just as a side note, this kind of thing is still done in parts of the U.S. For instance, in New Orleans, cemeteries have walls where dead bodies are placed for one year. After that, due to the high heat and humidity, only bones are left. The bones are then moved to above ground graves, some of which are quite extravagant. This is their final resting place. This method is used because when the “normal” burial process was the burying them in the ground – heavy rain and floods would wash up the bodies out of the graves and they would literally float down neighborhood streets.
By the time of the NT, however, Jews did not simply place the bones of their loved ones in a common pit, but stored those bones in stone boxes called ossuaries. The bones of multiple family members would be placed in a single ossuary, which might be elaborately decorated or inscribed with names and other information. …
Of course, burial conditions would have varied according to a family’s status and means. By the time of the NT, the elite might be placed in elaborate tombs with highly visible monuments, such as those that have been found along the western slope of the Kidron Valley. The tombs of the wealthy were frequently located in gardens (2 Kings 21:18, 26; Matt. 27:57; John 19:41–42). Some tombs were marked by monuments or pillars (2 Kings 23:17) or whitewashed on the outside (Matt. 23:27) to prevent Jews from accidently touching them and being rendered ritually unclean. Davis, J. J., & Powell, M. A. (2011). Burial. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, p. 110). New York: HarperCollins.
So – if you didn’t catch it, here’s what Jesus said about the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees – who had such a high opinion of themselves and their visible adherence to every letter of the law – were in a state of constant uncleanliness. Yes – constant. No matter what they did, no matter how many sacrifices they performed, they were always – repeat always – unclean.
Why? Because, as Jesus told them, they were like whitewashed tombs! Some tombs were marked by monuments or pillars (2 Kings 23:17) or whitewashed on the outside (Matt. 23:27) to prevent Jews from accidently touching them and being rendered ritually unclean. And that means that anyone who touched one of them, however accidentally it might have been, should have immediately began the process to purify themselves!
However – it gets still worse, believe it or not. Remember how they asked Matthew why Jesus ate with sinners? The problem with that was, of course, those sinners were unclean. And here’s Jesus telling these very same teachers of the law and Pharisees – anyone who ate with them was, in fact, eating with someone who was unclean! People who ate with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were actually doing the very same thing that they accused Jesus of doing. Can it get any worse?
Heb 9:15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Obviously, it could get worse. And it did. Because those same teachers of the law and Pharisees also rejected Jesus. And the New Covenant. And the ransom payment that could have set them free.
Heb 9:16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
That’s a nice concise statement of the Old Covenant sacrifices and why they were required. The only thing with such a short passage though, it that it loses the impact of just how many animals were sacrificed. Which gives an idea of just how many sins were committed.
Heb 9:23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Finally, a contrast between the Old and New Covenants.
Blessed are those who mourn – but how to mourn?
How should we mounr. Good question. Here’s another good question – why mourn?
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees – they didn’t seem to mourn. They did the sacrifices. Oh. But wait – they weren’t “cleansed” either though. Oops.
How about Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ other friends? They mourned. But Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Not because of a lack of mourning, but because it wasn’t Godly mourning. It was the kind of mourning the pagans did.
What’s missing? Why does it have to be the right kind of mourning? Godly mourning. And how can we actually “do” that kind of mourning?
You know what? I’m not going to give you a five step program on how to mourn, Not even a twelve step program. The truth is, it’s only one step. Not a program. An experience.
If you haven’t read blessed are the poor in spirit, I invite you to do so now. Because that’s the step. The only step. It’s got multiple parts – like believe in Jesus, the One God sent. Get baptized, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And you can then start to be poor in spirit. That’s poor in our own selfish human spirit – creating room for God’s Holy Spirit, the mind of Christ. Then, and only then, are we even capable of Godly mourning.
Mourning over sin. Our own sin, and what it does to us. But also what it does to others. Also mourning over other people’s sins. What all sin does to all of us. And to every part of God’s creation. Paul writes about that, and much more.
Ro 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Yes, all of creation suffered ever since Adam and Eve’s sin. But not only theirs, but ours as well. The things we do to the earth God left us to care for are unbelievable. Except for the fact that the evidence is all around us. And even then, many refuse to believe it.
For example, over on my other site, you can read about how the EPA is refusing to limit toxic chemicals in our drinking water. That effects both the environment and people who drink that water.
In some manner that we cannot understand, all of creation is waiting for God to bring forth the End Times, so that it – creation – can be freed from the results of our sins.
Tell me – is that not cause for mourning? When Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn, He’s talking about things like this. Not just mourning over the state of God’s creation, but mourning over the sin that caused His creation to be in its current fallen state.
Ro 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
And now Paul writes about us – Christians – who mourn over our own condition. Not just because we’re in this fallen world – but because Jesus paid the price for our sins, and therefore we have hope for a future with Him.
Notice one other thing here as well. Acknowledging our sins is critical. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees did all the sacrifices. But they never acknowledged what amounted to the worst of their sins. Their pride. The fact that they led people astray – towards hell instead of towards God.
Sure – it’s easy to acknowledge the easy ones. But it’s not so easy to admit, even to ourselves, the ones where we had a really negative impact on other people’s spiritual condition. The ones where we claim to be Christian – make it known that we’re “Christian” – and yet act in incredibly un-Christian ways.
But we must. That was part of the lesson Jesus gave with the white-washed tombs. It wasn’t just for the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. It was for us to. Remember – Jesus left us, His followers, to spread His word. You know – the Great Commission.
The Great Commission
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Go and make disciples. Teaching them. Yes, we are today’s teachers of the law and Pharisees. Not just the pastors, ministers, priests, whatever you want to call the “official” church leaders. If we claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, then it’s us. It’s us who are given the command to go out and reach others. And it’s us who are the teachers of the law – and of the New Covenant.
There’s just no escaping from that. And isn’t it cause for mourning when we fail to do this? Isn’t it cause for mourning when sin gets in the way of us being able to perform this basic command from the One we claim to love and follow?
When Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn, He’s talking about things like this. Not just mourning over the Great Commission not being performed. But mourning because it’s sin that keeps us from doing it with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.
Ro 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
Especially when we first experience that “poor in spirit” condition, we don’t know know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. I dare say, part of what the Holy Spirit asks for is for us to recognize sin. Not only that, but to ask for the power to be able to do something about it.
Blessed are those who mourn – because blessed are those who are rich in the Holy Spirit
Again, let’s turn to Paul to see why we are able to mourn because we have the Holy Spirit.
Life Through the Spirit
Ro 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
We’ve kind of been getting close to this, but let’s bring it out in the open now. no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Is that cause for rejoicing, or what? We have eternal life with Jesus because He suffered and died for us. At least we do if we believe in and follow Him. What could possible be better than that?
But let’s also get real here. As we saw, Jesus’ death was the final / ultimate sacrifice. No more animals. It was Jesus – God in human form – who willingly came to this planet and died for us. Awesome. But let’s not forget what His death was necessary. Our sins. Every one of us. Because no one is good – except God alone.
So while it’s cause for great joy, is it not also cause for great mourning every time we sin? We believe this is why Jesus came to earth and died – for our salvation. Because of our sins. And yet, we just can’t stop sinning. Just as Jesus’ death for our salvation is cause for great celebration, is it not also cause for great mourning every time we rack up one more sin? One more debt Jesus had to pay for us?
When Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn, He’s talking about things like this. Not just mourning over something like – “oops, I messed up”. Mourning over yet another penalty He had to pay on our behalf. Mourning over sin. Because it affects not just us – but God Himself when we sin.
3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
This about living according to the Spirit. The more we empty ourselves of our own selfish sinful nature – the more we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. The more we can resist sin. Not because of our own will, but because of God’s power that we have made room for – and allowed to work in us.
This is why – blessed are those who mourn, because blessed are those who are poor in spirit.
Ro 8:5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
Look at what’s tucked away in the middle of this passage. the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Hold that thought. We’ll get to this in a moment.
Ro 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
This is a great way to start finding out if we’re really Christian, a true follower of Jesus – or if we’re just calling ourselves a Christian.
The NIV translation calls this passage in Romans Life Through the Spirit.
In Galatians, there’s a passage they call Life by the Spirit. It shows very clearly how we can tell if we’re filled with The Holy Spirit – not our own selfish sinful spirit. I’m not going to get into it here. That’s a topic for another day. I include it for your own reading and praying.
Life by the Spirit
Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Gal 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
As I said – I leave it between you and God to examine that passage. For now. I’d like to write it up at some point. It is important. Where we are is, as we saw, the determining factor in whether or not we’re even able to understand, let alone experience, Godly mourning.
Ro 8:12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Did you catch what Paul said there? we have an obligation. It’s not a “nice to do”. Or an “if I get around to it” kind of thing. It’s an obligation. After all – Jesus died for us. And we promised, if we’re Christian, to accept His offer of salvation and to love and follow Him. If that’s not creating an obligation – what is it?
Is that also not a cause for Godly mourning – when we fail to meet our obligation to God? If not, then what do we think merits a Godly mourning? Especially with what follows our commitment to Follow Jesus.
We become sons of God. Heirs. And Paul writes – if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Did you get that? Jesus pays the price for all of our sins. And then Jesus turns around and shares His glory with us. It just keeps getting better and better. More rejoicing.
Also more importance on the obligation. More mourning over sin as well. We shouldn’t get to the point where we just chalk it up to “people sin and Jesus paid the price – so why not just sin?” Paul, of course, wrote about that as well.
Ro 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ
Ro 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
So no – we shouldn’t just sin and not care because Jesus will pick up the check. We should continue to mourn over our sin. Not be overwhelmed by grief – because there is also cause for great joy. But not ignore it either. This passage on Life through the Spirit is the conclusion Paul comes to after a lengthy look at sin, grace, and Jesus’ sacrifice.
So we see that the first two beatitudes are linked together. The second cannot exist without the first.
Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
We saw in Blessed are the poor in spirit that the kingdom of Heaven immediately begins to be available to the one who is poor in spirit. It’s not something where we have to die first, and then we get it in the next life. It begins now.
The same is true with those who mourn.
Blessed are those who mourn – because they will be comforted –
because the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace
Yes – a mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace is comfort.
When I write, I often listen to music. Not just Christian music either. Some of you are probably cringing right now. Like – how can he listen to that stuff while writing about God. It’s easy. To me, God should be visible everywhere. The Bible even says so. It’s part of one of my favorite topics – the passage beginning with Romans 1:18. Check it out.
Rom 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
There’s something of God in music as well. Sometimes it seems like His complete absence. But even that is telling. That kind of “music” – I don’t listen to. But there’s a lot of music that screams out for God. Even if it’s not obvious. I invite you to check out The Way Back Home or So in love with two. The last one especially – it’s not about God. And yet – it totally describes the very thing we’ve been looking at – the war between our own selfish spirit and God’s Holy Spirit.
Anyway – the song that’s currently playing (as I’m writing) is Vince Gill’s Never Alone. That’s how we should feel. Never alone. Because God’s always with us. Even if we’re lonely, for lack of human company – God’s Holy Spirit is always with us. And that’s a comfort.
I just added “Never Alone” to my list of things to write about.
because they will be comforted
Anyway – back to because they will be comforted.
Depending on which Bible translation you use – and maybe depending on what Google translate does to my writing – some of you will recognize why I just put in the side note about Never Alone.
In response to a question from one of His disciples, Jesus says (in the 1984 NIV translation)
Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Notice verse 26. It says Counselor, the Holy Spirit. In the 2010 NIV, Counselor is changed to Advocate. In the Darby translation, from 1890, it says Comforter.
What’s the deal here? Am I just shopping around for one that has a word I like? Not really. It’s about context and the original Greek. As usual. Here it is:
3875 παράκλητος [parakletos /par·ak·lay·tos/] n m. A root word; TDNT 5:800; TDNTA 782; GK 4156; Five occurrences; AV translates as “comforter” four times, and “advocate” once. 1 summoned, called to one’s side, esp. called to one’s aid. 1A one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate. 1B one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor. 1B1 of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins. 1C in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant. 1C1 of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
We could even add “teacher” as a possible alternative. In fact, the Holy Spirit does many things for us. And has many names. It’s all about the context. And so, depending on the mindset of the translators – try as they might to avoid it – some decisions must be made that lead us to less than optimum words being chosen.
The Greek, and especially the Hebrew languages have such rich meanings for many of their words. Meanings that cannot be properly translated as a single word in English. It’s likely the same in other modern languages as well. They’re just too specific. So things really do get lost in translation.
One conclusion is unavoidable though. While not at all specific, Comforter is a word that covers the general meaning of every one of the possible meanings of the Greek word parakletos. Every one of the thing listed in that definition is comforting. And it’s all the more comforting when we realize that God is the One doing those things.
So no – being comforted is no more a “next life” thing than being part of the kingdom of Heaven. They both start in this life.
Blessed are those who mourn – Conclusion
Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
The first two of the beatitudes. Inextricably linked. The second absolutely depends on the first. And the first, without question, will lead to the second.
So for us, as Christians, when we are poor in our own spirit, we can be rich in God’s Holy Spirit.
And though we mourn over sin, we are at the same time comforted, by and because we have God’s Holy Spirit.
And maybe the oddest thing yet – becoming more rich in the Holy Spirit will lead to us being ever more aware of our sins. Which leads to us mourning over more things – both our sins and the widening impact of them that we’ll be aware of. And yet, at the same time – we also receive that much more comfort. And, going back to the first – become even stronger citizens of the kingdom of Heaven, right here on this earth – in this life.
Amazing, isn’t it?
The quote I want to close with is out of context, but at the same time really isn’t.
Losing more of ourselves. Mourning more. Being comforted more. And becoming citizens of Heaven while we’re still alive. Impossible?
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
|↑1, ↑3, ↑6, ↑10||Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.|
|↑2||Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 115). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.|
|↑4||MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Jn 11:33). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.|
|↑5||The New King James Version. (1982). (Jn 11:33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.|
|↑7||Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Jn 11:33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.|
|↑8||Davis, J. J., & Powell, M. A. (2011). Burial. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, pp. 109–110). New York: HarperCollins.|
|↑9||Davis, J. J., & Powell, M. A. (2011). Burial. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, p. 110). New York: HarperCollins.|