The Gladness of Sadness

Matthew 5:4

January 18, 2004 | Brian Bill

I like to begin my messages with something that makes us laugh when I can (though some of you probably wouldn’t necessarily call it humor).  As we approach the second Beatitude however, I realize that frivolity isn’t called for today.  In fact, this character quality is no laughing matter.  In Luke’s reporting on the Messiah’s message from the mount in Luke 6:25, Jesus says: “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”  

Have you noticed that our culture embraces entertainment and pursues pleasure at all costs?  Most of life is spent avoiding sorrow and pain.  Even when we get bad news on TV, the newscasts often conclude with a funny story or something designed to make us smile.  The mantra of many today is something like this: “Blessed are those who laugh their way through life.”  Some of us will do almost anything to stifle our sadness and turn away from tears.  And yet, if we were honest we’d have to admit that we sometimes feel like Proverbs 14:13: “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.”

I walked a mile with Pleasure, she chatted all the way

But left me none the wiser for all she had to say

I walked a mile with Sorrow and not a word said she

But oh, the things I learned when sorrow walked with me

In one of the most profound, and paradoxical texts in the Bible, Jesus declares in Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted.”  This startling paradox could be put this way: “Happy are the unhappy” or “The gladness of sadness” or “God applauds you when you’re in agony.”  

As we’ve been learning, God is much more concerned with our character than He is with our temporary conditions.  This Beatitude flows from the first one: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” because spiritual bankruptcy should always lead to spiritual brokenness.  

As John Stott says, “It is one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it; it is another to grieve and to mourn over it…confession is one thing, contrition is another” (“The Message of the Sermon on the Mount,” Inter Varsity Press, Page 41). The haughty heart and the tearless eye should be foreign to the Christ follower.

Of the different words that can be translated, “mourn,” Jesus is using the strongest one available.  It means, “to grieve or wail” as when a loved one dies.  It is deep sorrow that causes the soul to ache and the heart to break.  Jesus is not talking about complainers or moaners, but about those who are gripped by grief as seen in Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

I’d like to suggest that there are four arenas in which this Beatitude can be lived out.

1. Lament the losses in your life. 

This first area might be the easiest in the sense that we all have experienced excruciating pain at some point in our lives, and if we haven’t, we know it’s coming.  1 Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”  Some of you have gone through, or are going through right now, some health issues that make you afraid about the future.  Perhaps you’ve experienced a relational rupture with someone and it’s eating your heart out.  Can you relate with the words in Psalm 6:6“I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”

Maybe you’ve lost a loved one through death and you still cry yourself to sleep at night.  You can relate to how David felt when his son Absalom died in 2 Samuel 18:33: “The king was shaken.  He went up to the room over the gateway and wept…’” When Abraham’s wife Sarah died, we read in Genesis 23:2 that he “came to mourn…and to weep for her.” 

Remember, that since Jesus wept when His friend Lazarus died, its OK for you to cry as well.  Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.”  It’s better to go to a funeral than to a party because sadness is actually good for us, especially if it helps get us ready for our own death and enables us to live like we should now.

Or, maybe you’re weeping because you want to have a child and you’re still waiting.  Your heart is breaking just like Hannah’s was in 1 Samuel 1:10, 16: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD…I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”  

Friend, did you know that God collects every tear you shed?  Listen to Psalm 56:8 in the New King James Version: “You number my wanderings; Put my tears into your bottle;

Christianity is the only religion that allows you to be real

Are they not in your book?” Christianity is the only religion that allows you to be real. When you’re hurting, let it out.  When you feel like crying, let the tears fall.  God understands.  He cares.  And He will provide you with comfort.  

Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses and Isaiah 53:3-4 characterizes Christ as one “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.”

2. Be sorrowful about your sins.  

While we should lament our various losses, the primary emphasis of this Beatitude is that you and I are to be sorrowful about our sinfulness.  We would do well to echo Paul’s agony when he summed up his struggle against sin by crying out in Romans 7:24: “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  

Over 250 years ago, David Brainerd, a missionary to the American Indians, wrote this in his journal: “In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted, and I bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.”

My guess is that most of us today don’t use language like that to describe the state of our souls.  But sorrow we must if we want to truly turn from our exceeding sinfulness.  We must weep over what we have become, and we will, when we recognize that our sin is not just unfortunate, but horrendous before a holy God.  James 4:9: “Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.”

One pastor suggests we need to understand three words in this process.

  • Regret.  This is when we remember stuff that we’re sorry about.  I certainly have some regret about some things I did growing up, especially when my parents found out about it.
  • Remorse.  While regret is primarily in the mind, remorse comes from the heart.  Instead of trying to make things right, a remorseful person often just stays stuck.  A person with remorse focuses on sin and its consequences, he may even love the sin but hate himself for doing it.
  • Repentance.  When someone repents, they are serious about changing what they’ve been doing.  The word literally mans to change one’s mind, and is often accompanied with tears. 

When Peter recognized what he had done by denying Jesus three times, Matthew 26:75 says, “he wept bitterly.”  This is what Paul means when he writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”  As someone has said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go and keep you longer than you want to stay…and its going to cost you more than you want to pay.”  

In Luke 15, the prodigal son experienced godly sorrow.  When he finally looked at what he was doing, and how he was living, he regretted ever leaving his father.  Then he felt guilt and remorse as he tried to panhandle food from the pigs.  When he recognized that he had sinned against both his heavenly Father and his earthly father, he repented and went home in search of forgiveness.  He was met with love and grace even before he could make it up the driveway.

David committed adultery and murder.  It wasn’t until he saw his sins as an affront to the Almighty that he could be restored.  Listen to what he writes in Psalm 51:3-4: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…”  Jesus is really saying something like this: “Blessed is the one who mourns over his sin like one mourning for the dead.”  We see this kind of grief in Ezra 10:1: “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites-men, women and children-gathered around him.  They too wept bitterly.”

Are you sorry for your sins?  Or, do you have deep sorrow about your sinfulness?  There’s a difference between the two.  Until we understand “our exceeding sinfulness and vileness,” we won’t mourn like we should.  And if we don’t grieve over our guilt, we won’t really understand grace and fully appreciate forgiveness.  

Let’s just pause right here and allow the Holy Spirit to prod us to see our sins as God does. 

3. Cry over the condition of others. 

After looking at our losses, and then looking within, Jesus also wants us to look around and cry about the condition of Christians, and the state of those who don’t yet know Christ.

  • Christians.  Do you know that you and I are responsible to help other believers and to look for ways to keep them encouraged?  Hebrews 3:13 challenges us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  If we’re not encouraging others, we may actually be causing them to become hardened.  We also need to be teaching with tears and exhorting our brothers and sisters with emotion to become what God wants them to be.  Paul demonstrated his passion for people to live out their purpose when we read in Acts 20:31: “So be on your guard!  Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”  
  • Non-Christians.   In Luke 19, on what we know as Palm Sunday, Jesus sees the entire city of Jerusalem in a panoramic view.  It was stunning in its beauty with shiny white buildings and the gleaming gold of Herod’s temple.  But Jesus saw something different.  Everyone was thrilled and happy, with the exception of Him.  Look at verse 41: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.”  

The word “wept” means “to burst into tears, to weep out loud, to sob deeply.”  This was more than just a tear streaming down His cheek.  This same word is used in Mark 5:38 to describe how family members were crying over the death of a young daughter when it says they were “crying and wailing loudly.”  While everyone else was shouting joyfully, Jesus was crying because of the hard hearts of people.  Jesus was not weeping because He was going to suffer and die.  No, He was wailing loudly for the lost.

John Knox constantly carried the burden of the lost people in Scotland.  Night after night, he prayed on the wooden floor of his house.  When his wife pleaded with him to get some sleep, he answered, “How can I sleep when my land is not saved?”  He also would say repeatedly, “Give me Scotland or I die!”   David Brainerd wrote another entry in his journal: “I set apart this day for fasting and prayer to prepare me for ministry.  In the forenoon, I felt a power of intercession for immortal souls.  In the afternoon, God enabled me so to agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade and cool wind.  My soul was drawn out very much for the world: I gasped for multitudes of souls.   I think I had more enlargement for sinners than for the children of God, though I felt as if I could spend my life in cries for both.”

What about you?  Do the things that break the heart of Jesus break your heart?  When’s the last time you cried for Christians and wailed for the wayward?

4. Weep over our world. 

There’s one last arena in which we should grieve.  As we look at our culture, and the world at large, we have ample reason to be in agony.  On September 11th, 2001 terrorists extinguished over 3500 lives.  On September 12th, 4000 lives were wiped out.  On September 13th, another 4000 people were killed.  On September 14th, and every day since then, and actually since 1973, over 4000 babies a day have been aborted.  

Today, along with thousands of churches in America, we are honoring the sanctity and beauty of God’s greatest creative act.  We affirm that every individual, from conception on, is an image bearer of God, stamped with divine dignity and worthy of protection.  Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them.”  Much can be said on this topic, but let me just make a few summary points this morning.

  • God is the creator of life.  David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is allowed to take a peek into God’s prenatal care unit, and writes in Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The “you” is emphatic – You created.  God is the creator and He is intimately involved with us because He made us.  It’s that simple.  His constant interest in us is simply the natural interest that a maker would have in a very special product.  He is the owner of the preborn – they belong to Him.

I want you to notice how David uses personal pronouns in this verse – my inmost being…knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  There is no doubt that David believed that he was a real person long before he was born.  When David says that God “created his inmost being,” he is recognizing God’s creative power and personal involvement in those things that are truly personal.  In other words, he acknowledges the fact that God created his spiritual personhood.  In addition to this, David declares that God created his physical personhood.  We see this in the phrase, “you knit me together.”  The picture here is that our bones, arteries, muscles, and everything else is all woven together into a beautiful tapestry.  This word in Hebrew carries with it the idea of protection, which shows how precious the preborn is to God.

In verse 15 and the first part of verse 16, we see that God was there when we were being formed in utter seclusion: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body…” Nothing is hidden from God.  He personally creates all the delicate parts of our bodies, weaving them together to form His living masterpiece.  The word “woven” here is the word for “embroider.”  God makes us according to a plan.  He makes all the parts fit together just right so they support one another.  The word for “unformed body” in verse 16 is the Hebrew word for embryo.  

David then recounts the fact that God created him with purpose: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  God didn’t just ordain our DNA; he ordained our days.  It’s as if He has a divine Daytimer, into which He pre-recorded each day of our life – before we began to breathe!  

  • We must protect the preborn.  Since God is the Creator of life, and life begins at conception, we’re called to be advocates for those voices that can’t be heard.  Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  As we remember Martin Luther King’s impact on human rights tomorrow, let’s also recognize that we still have a long way to go to protect the greatest of all human rights – the right to life for the preborn.  At its heart, this issue is not political; it’s moral because abortion stops a beating heart.
  • Attitudes on abortion are changing.  A recent Gallup survey shows that teenagers today are more pro-life than the general adult population.  72% of teens said they believe abortion is “morally wrong” while just 26% of adults agree with this statement.  Focus on the Family reports that there is a clear trend among both men and women toward restricting abortion.  In an article in this month’s issue of their magazine, the author suggests that there are a number of reasons that abortion rates are declining (January 2004, Page 20):

Now, since God is the creator of life, how can we not weep about what is happening in our world today? As evangelicals, we’re pretty good at taking aim at those who sin differently than we do.  We speak up and sometimes we shout, but I wonder how many times we cry.  In Ezekiel 9:4, God sets apart “those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done” in Israel.  I pray that I would become more like those described in Psalm 119:136: “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.”  We can protest, and sometimes we should.  Or we can weep because God’s laws are not followed.  Friends, when we think about the over 40 million people that have been aborted in the last 31 years, we should sorrow like the prophet in Jeremiah 9:1: “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” 

It’s time for us to wake up and weep, church. 

Do you want to be blessed?  Then get ready to weep.  Do you want to experience the comfort that only Christ can give?  Then move toward mourning.  Some of you may be grieving because the topic of abortion brings about feelings of guilt and shame.  I want you to know that when you confess your sins, you are completely forgiven.  

Comfort is coming!

No matter if you’re weeping over the state of our world, crying over the condition of others, sorrowing about your own sins, or lamenting a loss, remember this: Comfort is coming!  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  This means, “to come alongside” as an “advocate” and is used of the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 when Jesus says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” 

Here are four truths to remember when you’re filled with grief (adapted from a sermon by Ray Pritchard):

  1. God draws near to those who cry. Psalm 34:18 says that God is close to us when we cry.  Even when things seem overwhelming and impossible to you, comfort is coming.  
  2. God uses suffering and sorrow to draw us to himself.  In Psalm 34:4, we read that David’s fears caused him to seek the Lord.  Someone put it this way: “You’ll never know if Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” Comfort is coming.
  3. We grow faster in hard times than we do in good times.  Romans 5 reminds us that suffering leads to perseverance, which leads to character growth, which produces hope.  Comfort is coming.
  4. Our pain helps us minister to others.  When we’re at a loss because of our losses, when we cry over the condition of others, when our own sins give us exceeding sorrow, and when we weep over the condition of our world, according to 2 Corinthians 1:4, God will comfort us “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” This is the same word that is used in Matthew 5:4. Comfort is coming.

Hold on to the promises of Scripture.  Here are a few passages that provide hope and comfort.  Close your eyes as I read them and allow God’s Word to go down deep into your soul.

Job 16:19-20: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.  My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.” 

Isaiah 25:8: “The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.  The LORD has spoken.” 

Psalm 10:14: “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.  The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” 

Psalm 30:5: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Lamentations 3:32-33: “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.  For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” 

Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

Larry Libby, whose wife of 25 years died recently, explains what he hears in the words of Jesus: “If you are filled with grief today, don’t give in to black despair.  Cling to my promise: It will be better.  The worst is here now, having its day.  But the better is coming.  Comfort is coming.  I tell you, it’s almost here” (Discipleship Journal, January 2004).

Comfort is coming, fellow Christian.  If you aren’t sure whether you’re a Christian or not, put your faith and trust in the One who died as your substitute and offers eternal life to you today.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?