“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”

 Our Lord Jesus spoke seven woes upon the rabbis, scribes and Pharisees of his land. He wished them anguish, pain, misery and despair. God’s judgment will surely come upon them, he said. Why did he wish such distress upon these highly respected people? Why did he pronounce curses upon men the people considered models of godly piety? Because he saw them for what they were, hypocrites and pretenders. Their society blessed them, but in fact, they prevented people from entering the kingdom of the heavens. They were morons, blind guides and fools. They were full of extortion and self-indulgence. They found ways to cheat widows out of their houses. They turned their disciples into sons of hell twice as wicked as they themselves.  They taught people to tithe the tinniest seeds and then neglected the weighty matters of justice, mercy and faith. Outwardly, they appeared pious and religious, but inwardly they were spiritually dead. They were murderers and killers. They will not escape the condemnation of eternal hell, he warned (Matthew 23).
        Jesus spoke the same ‘woes’ upon the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. The people of these towns had personally witnessed many evidences of God’s power working in and through Jesus. In those towns, he had healed sick people, cleansed lepers, raised children from the dead, fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and taught extensively in their synagogues. Yet, they did not change their beliefs. They did not welcome him as their long-awaited Messiah. Consequently, he warned, final judgment worse than that awaiting the people of Sodom will surely come upon them (Matthew 11:20-24). 

Blessed are those who mourn
     Jesus did not only pronounce woes, however. He also wept and mourned for those same people he condemned. As he stood looking over the city of Jerusalem, he said,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39).

        King David used the image of a hen gathering her chicks beneath her wings earlier in his prayers when he fled Israel’s first anointed king, Saul, who was intent on murdering him. “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalm 57:1), he prayed.  In another psalm he said, “hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8). And in Psalm 61 he prayed, “I long…to take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (v.4).  In this way, David taught us the attitude of faith. The believer is like a newborn chick that finds his only hope for protection and safety beneath the wings of his mother bird. The mother in turn is willing to die to defend her chicks.
        Jesus did not see this attitude of humble faith among his people and their leaders and he was deeply grieved. He mourned that they had chosen the path of unbelief and pride. He was deeply troubled, because he knew that such a path leads only to destruction and eternal death. In the Garden of Gethsemane his grief reached its climax as he prayed, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). There he mourned, not over his own impending death, but over his people who would not believe and return to their Savior and God.
        So, what did this mourning one do? He became the mother hen willing to die for her chicks. He made Satan his servant. As Satan led Jesus’ enemies to condemn him to the cross, Jesus used that very cross as the instrument of life. There he offered his precious life as a sacrifice for his people and for all of us children of Adam of all ages. He came not to condemn the world, but to save it. He came as the Suffering Servant, the Anointed One, and the Messiah, filled with the Spirit of the God of the covenant to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. His mourning, his sorrow, his death became the source of our consolation, courage and comfort. Those who mourn over their own sins and over the power of sin in their world are now comforted by the good news this Servant brings (Isaiah 61 and John 3:16-21).

For they shall be comforted
     Jesus mourned for us. His mourning brought us good news. Because of him, we are now safe beneath the wings of our mother hen. We are the ‘chicks’ of God. This gospel comforts and empowers us to view our own mourning as a source of blessing. Trusting in Jesus and in the Gospel, we are empowered by his Spirit to move through the process of grieving and mourning over the power of sin in our personal lives and in the lives of our family and friends.
        Grieving and mourning is indeed a process. For the believer it is more than that; it is a way of life. The Apostles teach us that we are daily to die to sin and arise with Christ to a new life. Our baptism points us to this life.
        In this world we are constantly confronted by sin, sorrow and suffering, both our own and those around us. This is the wilderness journey we all must take. There is no way to the Promised Land except through this desert. We must go through the desert; we must not attempt to bypass it. Any attempts to ignore the path of mourning will only leave us trapped in the power of the law and deter the comfort and renewed strength that Jesus promises. If we reject the process he lays out for us we will remain trapped in our mourning and so we hinder the work of God’s grace. As a result, we are not freed from the power of the sin that brings death and the many losses in our lives.
        Sin brings death in a multitude of disguises. It not only brings the death of our bodies, it brings the death of friendships, the death of marriages, the death of families. It brings the death of communities and even the death of entire nations.
        Consider, for instance, what happens when a believer’s marriage dies. The inevitable process begins for both partners. The wife begins to ask herself how this could possibly have happened. For a time she even pretends that it did not. But then comes the awful realization that her marriage has come to an end. So, she gets angry, angry with her husband. She blames him for what happened. She condemns him for what he did to her, to their children, to their family. Soon, however, the anger turns back upon her. The law of God condemns her actions and thoughts. She accepts that judgment and condemns herself. Now guilt and shame set in as she realizes her own part in the breakup. So she is driven toward depression and may even despair of ever being forgiven. She is afraid she will never be able to trust herself or anyone else again, particularly any man. She cries at the drop of a hat. She loses her appetite. She cannot sleep. She loses her focus. She doesn’t want to look at the future. Her body suffers, because her heart is broken.
        Similar things happen to the believing husband. The process may not look the same for him. He may, for instance, show his grief by resorting to a different form of anger. He may misplace his anger, dump it on others. Nevertheless, he mourns. He must.
        Mourning can go in all kinds of directions. The important thing for the believer is to embrace it and trust that in the process of dying to sin, Jesus is calling us out of death to a renewed life. He is using the very process of mourning to bless us. In the gospel, we find our Lord speaking his eternal word of forgiveness and mercy. In the gospel, we find a place to hide until the storm is past. In the gospel, we find a daily word of love and hope. We walk by faith even when we cannot see what the future holds.
        So strengthened by this good news we are empowered day by day to make our way through the pain and suffering that sin brings into our lives. It may not be a divorce. It may instead be the death of a child or a parent or any of a hundred scenarios. We have no other choice but to face what sin is doing to us. But the Lord Jesus who will not abandon us comforts us. We are strengthened by his promise, “they shall be comforted.”
        This comfort transcends the hopelessness of death. Eventually we realize that the death of a marriage, the death of a career or even the death of a child are irreversible. We cannot undo what has happened, but we can go beyond death. We have hope and hope does not disappoint us. Our hope is based upon the One who has conquered death. We trust in the Risen Savior who speaks to us in the ancient words of the prophet:

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
        I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
        Where, O grave is your destruction?” (Hosea 13:14)

        So, we join with the Apostle to give thanks and praise, because we have the good news ringing in our hearts. And this good news promises life beyond death, both in this present age and in the ages yet to come when our Savior returns to make all things new.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).


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