Summary: Who are those who mourn and what will be their reward.
Blessed are those who mourn
Our text is in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” How is it possible for mourners to be blessed and comforted? That is the Good News that only the gospel brings.
“What does the Bible mean by mourning?” Let’s look at some examples of mourning given us in the Bible.
In Genesis, you find a lot of mourning always over death, and that shouldn’t be a surprise because when God told Adam and Eve that they should not partake of the fruit of that forbidden tree , He said that in the day you partake of it, you will surely die. The Book of Genesis is filled with death; we would not then be surprised that it is filled with mourning because of that death. In Genesis 23, we see Abraham mourns for Sarah. Jacob, in a sense, erroneously mourns on account of the death of his son Joseph—he is not dead, but he rightly mourns at least his loss. The Egyptians mourned for Jacob at the time of his death, and David in 2 Samuel 1 mourned greatly over the death of Saul and his beloved friend, Saul’s son, Jonathan.
We see mourning throughout the Bible on the occasion of death, but not only death. For example, when Absalom is responsible for murder and flees from Israel to escape any possible consequences, David mourns his absence. In Numbers 14:39, when the Israelites come to Kadesh-Barnea and fail to go in and possess the land, they are told that that generation will die and will not enter into the land, and the people mourned; they mourned the loss of the benefits of the blessings that were literally within their grasp and were lost. They mourned deeply.
In Psalm 119:136, you find the psalmist mourning over the sins of God’s people. He says, “Tears stream down from my eyes, because they do not keep Your law.” Hosea 4:3 tells us that the land mourned because of Israel’s sin and because of the consequences that have come upon the land as a result of that. There are countless examples, and there is a transition in the Scriptures from the beginning in Genesis, where the mourning is focused on the loss of one who is loved (mourning that comes as a result of death), to mourning that has a more direct relationship to sin.
In the Bible mourning comes from the loss of a loved one, failure to receive the blessings as promised by the Lord and also it is a image used to evoke the deep anguish that we experience when God judges or appears to be angry, distant or silent. It is a quality we are not naturally motivated to seek. Since it is perfectly normal for human nature to seek the cheerful and joyous, we shrink from mourning and sadness.
Thus, it seems a paradox that Jesus calls those who mourn "blessed"! It is as if Jesus is saying, "Happy are the unhappy!" One might ask, "If the Christian is blessed, why does he mourn?" Or, "If he mourns, how can he be considered blessed?"
This beatitude is almost completely contrary to the world's logic. To people in all places and ages, men considered as blessed are the prosperous and happy. But Christ pronounces the poor in spirit and sorrowful as blessed.
Does God confer some benefit upon the character of those who mourn? Could Jesus be speaking of a certain kind of mourning different from the mourning associated with death, catastrophes, frustration of dashed hopes and other tragic events?
Grief over the death of a loved one or the suffering of some other personal tragedy is a highly visible, public, and even professional custom, is a well-attested practice in the Bible. We will not show the procedures here in any detail except to note that the Bible records some of the significant features. Jacob donned sackcloth following the "death" of Joseph (Genesis 37:34). In II Samuel 13:19, Tamar publicly lamented the loss of her virginity through rape by putting ashes on her head, tearing her clothing and crying. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 even directs the Israelites to allow a maiden taken in warfare to shave her head, pare her nails, remove her native clothing, and bewail being wrenched from her father and mother for a month. Other signs of mourning include:
* Covering the lower part of the face (Leviticus 13:45).
*Cutting the flesh and to some extent fasting (Jeremiah 16:6-7).
*Beating the breast (Luke 23:48).
The Bible records many more instances of the established cultural customs of those times.
This does not mean God endorses all of these customs, but He duly records what the people did. He makes vivid use of their practices for our instruction. His non-endorsement of many of these practices is verified by an admonition Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount.