Sermon: Life on Wings
Scripture: Matthew 5:4
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to mourn for our sin, and the comfort that Jesus promises.
Theme: Caring for Others
Now, it is evident that in this, as in the other Beatitudes, Jesus is dealing with a spiritual principle, a spiritual mourning, and not merely with things as seen from a purely human standpoint.
The verse could mean three things. It could refer only to a human sorrow, such as the sorrow we know when faced by death or disappointments. It would be correct when it says that such sorrow can lead to comfort. In his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel William Barclay reminds his readers of an Arab proverb that says, “All sunshine makes a desert.” It is true that a life of unmixed happiness would be unbearable and withering to the soul. Sorrow gives spice to life. It teaches us really to appreciate good things. It increases our sensitivity, particularly to the needs and sorrows of others. And such sorrow will sometimes drive a man to God. John Stott, the minister of All Souls Church in London, once conducted a poll of his congregation to find out what actually caused the members of it to become Christians. He was surprised to find that a majority listed as the greatest single human factor a feeling of personal desperation, a sense of being at the end of their resources. The second beatitude could refer to such sorrow. And yet, it is hard to feel that this sense of sorrow lies at the heart of Christ’s teaching.
Second, the beatitude could also refer to a mourning for the evil of this world, to what we would call today a social conscience. It seems to me that this comes a great deal closer to Christ’s meaning, particularly if we link it to a sorrow for the world’s sin. The English social reformer Lord Shaftesbury probably did more to improve the life of normal men and women in England in the last century than any other person. Yet, his career as a social reformer began quite simply. One day as a boy, when he was going along the streets of Harrow, he met a pauper’s funeral. The body of the poor man had been placed in a hand-made coffin, shabby and unembellished, and it was being pushed through the street on a hand-drawn cart. The men who accompanied it were apparently drunk. As they wove their way along the streets they sang their risqué drinking songs and told lewd stories. Their way led up a hill to the graveyard, and as they went up the hill the coffin slid off the cart and burst open. The scene that followed was hilarious to the drunken companions. It was disgusting to some onlookers. But to Shaftesbury it seemed an evil that called for the deepest sorrow. He said to himself, “When I grow up, I am going to use my life to see that such things will not happen.” And he did.
Now the second beatitude can refer to such sorrow, and it does refer to it in part. Christianity is partly caring for other people. It should produce a sound social conscience. In fact, if it does not, we have some reason to doubt our Christianity. For John said, “By this we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3, 4). What were Christ’s commandments? Well, there were lots of them. But among them were these: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44); “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12); “Give to every man that asketh of thee” (Luke 6:30); “Be, therefore, merciful, Even as your Father, also is merciful” (Luke 6:36); “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). An awareness of the sin of the world should produce a mourning for its evils in Christ’s followers. Now it follows from this that the Christian Church should never stand aloof from the great social needs of the day or, worse yet, be critical of them. Christians should be in the vanguard of social reform.
Describe the first meaning this verse could have.
What is a second possible understanding of what it means for Christians to mourn?
Application: What are some ways you, as well as your Christian friends, could get involved in helping to meet the needs of others in your community?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Jason Helopoulos’ message, “The Christian’s Comfort in a Challenging World.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)