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: Mourning for Sin
Christians should be concerned about social ills because of a heartfelt love of humanity and from an acute awareness of the horror and destructiveness of man’s sin. I believe that this has often been true in past periods of Church history. Lord Shaftesbury was one of the great Christian social reformers, but there were others: Calvin, Oberlin, Wilberforce, Moorehouse. And it would be proper to include in this list most of the pioneers of the modern missionary movement—William Carey, Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, John Paton, and others—all of whom combined an evangelistic zeal with social action. Unfortunately, however, much of the force of their social concern has been lost to the believing church today.
There are reasons for the present dullness of the evangelical church on social issues. For one thing, much of its time, money, and effort has gone into the missionary movement, and not without striking results. There is a natural limit both in time and resources to what one body of Christians can do. For another thing, confronted with the rising tide of liberalism at the start of this century, conservatives found much of their efforts taken up quite properly with a defense of Scripture and basic biblical doctrines. Third, major efforts were also made in the area of evangelism. None of these programs was wrong. All were essential. But the involvement of believers in the social ills of this and other nations was important too. The neglect of these crying ills inevitably gave the impression that the Christians were unaware of them and, in fact, did not mourn for others. To each of us, therefore, the second beatitude is a call to involvement in the social arena—the plight of underpaid workers, pollution of our natural resources, education, racism, ethical problems in politics, medicine, and business, and other contemporary problems—just as Christians were formerly active in the war against slavery, child labor, freedom of the press, and immorality. We should mourn for such things, and we should mourn deeply enough to do something about them.
Now there is no doubt that these thoughts are wrapped up in the second beatitude. It speaks to these issues. Yet, I cannot feel that even this point gets quite to the heart of Christ’s statements. Jesus was speaking of an individual mourning, but he also spoke of an individual comforting. The combination seems to suggest that the primary mourning should be for the individual himself and for his own spiritual condition. What is this but a mourning for sin? And if this is the primary interpretation of the verse, then it is a promise that God himself will comfort the one who sees his own unworthiness before him.
This sense of the promise is substantiated by several factors. We have already seen in these studies that the promise of happiness to the poor in spirit is actually a promise to the one who knows himself to be spiritually bankrupt. It is a statement of the first qualification for a man’s justification before God. As a mourning for sin, the next one of Christ’s Beatitudes would naturally flow from it.
Why is the evangelical church less interested in social problems than earlier in church history?
What is the third meaning of this text, and why is it preferred as the primary understanding?
Reflection: Do you mourn over your sin, and ask the Lord for grace to withstand it?