Blessed Are They That Mourn

by Tom Wacaster

This is the second of nine wonderful beatitudes that came from the lips of our Lord. Like so many of the other beatitudes, this one seems to run contrary to the thinking of men, for who in their right mind would even suggest that one can be genuinely happy while at the same time mourning? The Greek is ‘pentheo,’ and means “to mourn for, lament, to wail over, sorrow for something.” The word for mourn is a form of the same word that describes mourning for the dead. It is bereavement, the utter grief and sorrow which accompanies the loss of someone dear. Trench remarks that the Greek word means to grieve with a grief which so takes possession of the whole being that it cannot be hid. The word is used to express the over whelming grief of Jacob when he believed the false report of Joseph’s death (LXX). There is no stronger word for mourning in the Greek language than ‘pentheo.’ “What a generous and merciful arrangement of Almighty God that even life’s sorrows shall bless and reward his servants!” (Coffman). Oh yes, what a paradox! To the man attuned to the world this beatitude may seem ridiculous, a bit out of sorts with the thinking of his peers. If there is one thing the world agrees on it is this: sorrow should be avoided and mourning shunned. “Forget your troubles; drown your sorrows; forget reality!” The grief here is not a one-time grief, but it is a continuous mourning. “Blessed are the ones who keep on mourning.”

But to what kind of sorrow does this refer? What kind of sorrow must the child of God feel every single day? Should we take it literally and conclude that Jesus was saying, “Blessed is the man who has endured the most bitter sorrow that life can bring”? This kind of sorrow might compel others to have compassion on us thereby giving us the experience what it is like to be on the receiving end of the love and care of our fellow human beings. If this is the sorrow to which Jesus referred, then perhaps the words of the poet might take on a much richer meaning:

“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!”

As important such mourning is, I do not think it is this kind of sorrow that Jesus had in mind. The sorrow of which Jesus speaks is the sorrow resulting from one’s personal sins. Not only must the true servant of God feel bankrupt because of his sin (“poor in spirit”), but he must have sorrow as a result of it. Here is the soul who, feeling his spiritual poverty, laments that such sins have separated him from his God. The value of this “mourning” is the resultant change in life. Paul tells us that “Godly sorrow worketh repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10). In his book, ‘The Trial of Jesus,’ Walter Chandler devotes a small section to the different means of Roman capital punishment. Never has so wicked a means of death been devised as that of death by crucifixion. The agony and pain that our Savior went through was of the greatest degree possible. The cause for that suffering? Our sins! Yours and mine. Because of His great love for us, He suffered on the cross. How does that make us feel about sin? Do we take it lightly? If so, then we need to learn the lesson of this beatitude. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who mourn for their own sins. Blessed are those who mourn because of the sorrow brought upon the whole human race because of sin. Yes, blessed are those who mourn.

Unfortunately, extremes tend to beget extremes. There is a need to manifest joy in our lives. We are to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). We are not suggesting that the child of God should not be among the most joyful, if not THE most joyful, in all the world. But every time we read this passage we are reminded that this quality of spiritual mourning is something that is rather rare in the church today. There are some who refuse to preach on anything that is “negative,” or that might be perceived as “negative preaching.” We have reacted to the “puritanism” of two centuries ago by putting on a mask of piety. Some seem to think that you cannot convert a world lost in sin unless we radiate brightness, joviality and pure optimism. When is the last time we shed tears over sin, any sin, all sin, and especially OUR sin? Eldred Stevens took a close look at the life of Jesus and wrote: “We have no record anywhere that He ever laughed. He was angry (John 2:13-17, Mark 3:5). He was hungry (Luke 4:2). He was thirsty (John 4:7). But there is no record that He laughed” (Eldred Stevens, Sermon on the Mount, page 21). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be a “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:2-5, 7). Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35), and He wept at the lost condition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:35-36). I would caution, however, lest we draw the conclusion that Jesus walked around with a somber look, never smiling, or expressing any sense of happiness whatsoever. Quite the contrary. The very fact that He drew men to Himself suggests that He manifested joy and happiness to the greatest degree possible. But never a man wept to the degree which our Lord wept. Truly the Son of Man struck the perfect balance between mourning and joy.

Now notice the blessing promised to those who so weep. “They Shall Be Comforted” (5:4b). “Shall be comforted” translates ‘parakaleo.’ The noun form of this word appears in John 14:26 where Jesus promised the apostles the coming of the Comforter. The root word literally means, “a calling to one’s side; hence, either an exhortation of consolation, encouragement” (W.E. Vine). The comfort promised here can only come through a study of, and compliance to, the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon men; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). In connection notice Luke 4:18. Other sources of consolation do not reach the deep sorrows of the soul brought on by a realization of one’s sins as that promised here. Some human solutions may temporarily blunt the spiritual senses, but they do not provide the true comfort promised by our Lord. Only through the realization of the hope given through the gospel can one be genuinely comforted. Those who mourn over their sins, who sorrow because they have committed sin, who are deeply touched because they have offended God, shall receive the comfort here promised. The wonderful invitation of our Lord to lost humanity touches on this very point: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). It would seem that the immediate comfort comes when one obeys his Lord and receives the forgiveness of sins. The burden of sin is lifted at that point and soul enjoys the comforting realization that he now stands before God with continual access to the blood of Christ that keeps us clean as we walk in the light (1 John 1:6-8). But the ultimate comfort will come when we are ushered into heaven, where all tears will be wiped away, and we will rejoice with immeasurable joy for endless ages. Indeed, heaven will be worth it all.

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

by Tom Wacaster

Being truly happy is related in some way to a certain kind of poverty. The word “poor” is from ‘ptochos,’ an adjective describing one who crouches and cowers, and is used as a noun, a beggar; while ‘prosaites’ is descriptive of a beggar, and stresses his begging, ‘ptochos’ stresses his poverty stricken condition” (W.E.Vine). There is another word that deserves attention as well. It is the Greek word ‘penes,’ and describes a person who lives day to day, month to month, with nothing extra; only that which is able to keep him from being classified as “poor” or “destitute.” While the man described as ‘penes’ has nothing extra, the other described by the word ‘ptochos’ has nothing at all! To be “poor in spirit” is not the suppression of one’s personality, as if to claim, “Woe is me, I’m not worth anything to the church. I can’t do anything,” and so on. Nor does poverty of spirit have anything to do with the amount of material possessions a man might or might not have. Those who are “poor in spirit” recognize their need with regard to the inner man. While those lacking poverty of spirit decry religion, Bible study, prayer, etc., those who are poor in spirit recognize their complete destitution inwardly. The proud say, “Who needs this religious stuff? I’m my own man. Nobody is going to tell me I need religion.” The poor in spirit recognize their need spiritually; they NEED God, they NEED spiritual nourishment; they NEED forgiveness. They KNOW this, and they KNOW that they KNOW it. Consequently, those who are poor in spirit have a deep awareness of the horrible nature of sin in their lives and the need for forgiveness. The need arises from man’s fallen condition. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). All we like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). The true servant of God acknowledges that he, like all men, is spiritually undone, inadequate, and desperate for help. Here is a man who realizes the horrible nature of sin and the consequences attached to his spiritual treason before God. “The unsaved man must recognize the fact that he needs God; he needs the Savior; he needs faith; he needs cleansing; he needs righteousness; he needs hope; and without these things, he is destitute” (V.P. Black). Here is “one who is deeply sensible of his spiritual poverty and wretchedness” (Adam Clarke). Here is the man who is destitute of the proud, haughty, arrogant spirit of the world. In contrast, modern man perceives of his “sin problem” as a social problem. Given enough money, education, time and self-determination and there is nothing that he cannot solve, so he claims. Such is the opposite of one who is “poor in spirit.” Perhaps the words of a popular hymn express the sentiments of this first beatitude, with which I will close:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

The Beatitudes

by Tom Wacaster

“And he opened his mouth and taught them saying…” Jesus was the Master Teacher; of that there can be no doubt. When compared with the writings of some men, the number of words from the lips of our Lord and contained in the gospels may seem insignificant. It is not the number of words our Lord spoke (and that were recorded), but the intensity and depth of meaning contained in those words that astound us. The sheer beauty of the beatitudes contained in Matthew 5:3-12 surpasses the writings of Tennyson, Shakespeare and Browning combined. Our English words, “and he opened his mouth and taught them saying,” translates a Greek phrase that was used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. I once read of a preacher who said he would, on the following Sunday, present the best sermon that any man had, or would ever, hear. On the given occasion, the preacher simply stood, and read the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety, and then sat down. The Beatitudes contain a sampling of the majesty and beauty of the words of Jesus Christ. These few verses that make up what we call the beatitudes’ contain the distinctive character traits which mark the lives of God’s true servants. That is what God wants - servants - men and women who will serve Him and their fellowman. This is a beautiful section of scripture, rich in spiritual truths, and is deserving of our time and study. What must it have been like to actually sit at the feet of Jesus and hear these words for the first time? The inflection in our Lord’s voice, His gestures as He sought to emphasize a certain point, and the tone of voice with which He spoke must have dazzled those who listened. Consider some things about these beatitudes:

First, each one starts with the word ‘blessed,’ which in turn translates the Greek word ‘makarios.’  The word was used to describe a state of deep contentment that is derived from a knowledge and application of the word of God to one’s life. It is more than mere happiness, for men often find happiness in any given moment, only to watch it flee away when the circumstances of life change. The late Foy E. Wallace commented on this word ‘makarios’: “The word beatify means to make happy, and Beatitude means consummate bliss or blessedness. The eight codified declarations which introduce the discourse of Christ, which have been named the Beatitudes, describe realm of the kingdom of heaven as a state of spiritual blessedness which produces the highest happiness of the soul. (Foy E. Wallace, The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State).

Second, the joy and happiness that comes from the incorporation of these things into one’s life is something that is beyond human description, and which in turn produces a joy that cannot be taken from us (John 16:22). Think of Paul in the closing years of his life. No doubt he discovered, and “learned” the secret of being happy (Phil. 4:4), so much so that he could express confidence in the eternal home that awaited him, even while staring death square in the face. One author expressed it this way: “The Beatitudes speak of a joy which comes in spite of sickness, pain, sorrow, loss of a loved one, or grief” (David Padfield). Jesus is telling His audience, “I want to give you a happiness that is so deep, so lasting, so complete, that you will be a truly blessed person” (Charles Allen). In view of the fact that our Lord wants us to be a genuinely happy people, it becomes apparent that a truly meaningful life does come by possessing something, or even doing something, but in being something.

Third, most of the Beatitudes are paradoxical—they express the exact opposite of the world’s view regarding life and happiness. Consider, as an example, the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Try to convince the worldly, materialistic minded individual of the truth of those words. In the eyes of the godless the only way to make any kind of headway in this world is to do it unto others before they do it unto you. Every single one of these beatitudes run against the grain to the thinking of modern man. Yet those who have diligently sought to acquire these character traits have learned from practical experience that Jesus spoke the truth, regardless of how contrary to human thinking they might seem to be.

Fourth, there is an interesting order to the Beatitudes, of which I have no doubt that it was intentional on the part of Jesus. Seeing that so many (if not all) of the beatitudes focus on one’s attitude, we note the following. There are attitudes necessary for becoming a Christian: Submission (“poor in spirit”), Contrition (“they that mourn”), Subjection (“the meek”). Then, there are attitudes essential to growing stronger as a Christian: Instruction (“hunger and thirst after righteousness”), Compassion (“merciful”), Sanctification (“pure in heart”), and Cooperation (“peacemakers”). Finally, there is one attitude necessary for remaining in the faith, namely Conviction (“when men shall persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely”). A close examination of the order suggests that the beatitudes set forth a man who is coming to God and then doing all he can possibly do to maintain that close walk with his Creator. 

Fifth, the structure of each of the beatitudes follows a similar grammatical pattern, containing three parts: an initial pronouncement of blessing (“Blessed are....”), a descriptive term of the character under consideration (“Pure in heart,” “poor in spirit”, etc.), and reward associated with each (starting with the statements “for they shall” or “for theirs is”).

I’ll close this week’s article with a quote from William Barclay regarding the beatitudes: “The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give. But the Christian has the serene and untouchable joy which comes from walking for ever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ” (Daily Bible Studies, Matthew, ESword Module).

(In subsequent articles we will take a closer look at each of the beatitudes given by our Lord. TW)

The Sermon On The Mount

by Tom Wacaster

Matthew chapter five begins the longest single recorded discourse of our Lord.  Multiple tributes have been paid to this wonderful sermon, but any attempt to add to the beauty or grandeur of the words of our Lord would be like holding a burning candle next to the sun. R.L. Whiteside had this note regarding the Sermon on the Mount: “It seems certain that no other speech ever delivered has so influenced man as has this sermon on the mount. Its contents, so superior to any production of man, proved the Deity of its author. Its teaching is out of harmony with any school of religion or philosophy of that day; hence, their brightest lights could not have produced it.   Its teaching is distinct, revolutionary, challenging every school of religious thought of the times, both Jewish and heathen. It is not a product of the times, but of Deity.” (R. L. Whiteside, Bible Studies, Vol. 4, p. 117). Eldred Stevens quoted John T. Fisher’s beautiful tribute concerning the Sermon On The Mount:

If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene - if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably by comparison” (Stevens, The Sermon On The Mount, page 1).

This sermon has been called the “Manifesto of the King,” “The Constitution of the Kingdom,” and “The Magna Charta of Christianity.” It has been described as a “forecast and an epitome of the entire oral ministry of Christ.” It is, indeed, “the masterpiece of the Master Preacher.” There is perhaps no other selection in the New Testament that, as a block of teaching, reaches so deeply into the human heart and holds up the mirror to show a man what he is when compared to the Christ Who spoke these words. As we bring this year to a close, and begin a new year, I think it would be profitable to spend some time examining some select portions of these three chapters. No, it won’t be an exhaustive study, for how could it be in the short space allotted in this bulletin? I will, however, provide you with some seeds for thought, and challenges from the words of our Lord that will enrich your soul.

It might be good first to think about our approach to a study of the Sermon on the Mount. First, why should we study the Sermon on the Mount? There are a number of good reasons why we should spend time drinking deeply from these chapters. (1) First, the Sermon on the Mount can be regarded as a summary of what it means to live the Christian life. In it we see (1) The PERSONS of the kingdom, 5:1-16, (2) The POWER of the kingdom, 5:17-20, (3) The PRINCIPLES of the kingdom, 5:21-48, and (4) The PRECEPTS of the kingdom, 6:1-7:27. (2) Second, we should study this sermon because of the superficiality of Christianity in the lives of so many people, both IN the church and OUT of the church. Again from the pen of the late Eldred Stevens: 

How we have thrilled at reading of ages when the Lord and the church of the Lord meant everything to disciples: of ages when Christians were burning with a passion to share their faith with others - to convert others to Christ;  of ages when saints of God would rather die at a stake than compromise one truth of God’s revelation, or allow their lives to be tarnished with worldliness;  of ages when the line between the church and the world was clearly and firmly drawn; of ages when Christians would not give the snap of their fingers for extra dollars, for luxuries, for titillating sensual pleasures. This is not the case now (Stevens, S9.1-2).

(3) Third, we should study these chapters carefully because they provide us with the answers for today’s spiritual deficiencies and present day superficiality. Herein are some of the most pointed and poignant words ever spoken and/or written. Those who love the light will come to the light that their lives may be conducted in the paths of righteousness. Will we bow at the feet of Jesus and learn, and then having learned will we apply these things to our lives? If not, then we will never learn the answer to life’s questions, nor will we ever experience growth as God would have it.

Second, for what PURPOSE was this sermon spoken and recorded? First, it was NOT an elaboration upon the Jewish law. There are things contained within the Sermon on the Mount that do not appear in the Law of Moses. But beyond that, the various “contrasts” that appear suggest that what Jesus was giving was to supersede that old Law. Second, these are not admonitions for some premillennial kingdom that will appear at the end of the Christian dispensation. You will note as we proceed through these chapters that these precepts and principles address the spiritual man. The Kingdom of Christ is “not of this world.” Third, we cannot turn this wonderful sermon into a modern version of the Ten Commandments. Though many of the principles of the Old Law are apparent in this sermon, our Lord goes far beyond that Old Law and presses a deeper application of those truths that will truly make men holy in the sight of God. The Sermon On The Mount provides us with rich spiritual truths that will improve the inner man. For certain those internal changes will be reflected in the outward man. An application of these things to one’s life will provide spiritual growth and maturity. 

Third, Why should we apply these things to our lives?  First, because our Lord promised that those who practiced the things listed herein would be “blessed.” Second, because the Sermon on the Mount provides us with the key to evangelism. If we would live, truly live, the truths contained herein, people would see our lives, observe our “light” and be moved to embrace the things exemplified in our lives. 

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the social and historical background of the Sermon on the Mount. David Padfield provides us with the following information:

The land of Judea was filled with many problems. The country was occupied by a tyrannical military government. It was a world of absolute rulers, the very antithesis of democracy; all power was in one man’s hands. It was a world of persecution. Taxes consumed a third of one’s income. Racial prejudice was prevalent (Luke 10:25-36). Slavery was rampant - approximately three slaves to every free man. The zealots, the terrorists of their day, said, ‘Don’t worry about your inner life. Our holy hope is military might.’ The Sadducees said, ‘Survive by compromise. Make personal gain and the best bargain you can negotiate.’ The Pharisees saw things differently and said, ‘Live a clean, pure life and trust in God and He will do the rest.’  The Pharisees became very strict and relied upon human tradition to put a ‘hedge’ around the Torrah. It has been said that the Sadducees bargained with Rome, while the Pharisees bargained with God (Padfield, The Beautitudes, page 1). 

A study of the Sermon On The Mount will change the lives of those who are  willing to study it with the determination of applying the principles therein to their lives. I’ll close this week’s article with the words of R.C. Foster:

In this sermon Jesus offered the clearest and most powerful declaration the world has ever heard concerning the problem of human conduct. The advance over the revelation offered in the Old Testament is most startling. The range of man’s responsibility is immeasurably extended by the profound emphasis upon the thought-life as the active source of speech and action. The full gospel was not proclaimed by Jesus on this occasion, because this gospel was to be based upon His death, burial, and resurrection, and hence could not be set forth until Pentecost. But the Sermon on the Mount carries the most complete analysis of human conduct — its sources, its motives, its qualities, and results. All the combined wisdom of the centuries has not been able to add anything to the fundamental principles laid down in this sermon. Individual problems have changed with the changing scenery of the generations that have come and gone, but these problems still must be taken to the feet of Jesus for their proper solution on the basis of the principles of life He enunciated (R.C.Foster, Studies In The Life of Christ, 424).