You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn” Mean (Matt. 5:4)?
While God cares about all legitimate mourning, Jesus is speaking here about godly sorrow, godly mourning, mourning that only those who sincerely desire to belong to Him or who already belong to Him can experience.
Paul speaks of this sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you” (vv. 10-11). Paul says here that godly sorrow actually leads to repentance. If you are sorry for your sin, then you will repent and turn away from it. But repentance is not just a turning away from sin; it is a turning to as well. . . a turning to God. That’s why Paul says that it “leads to salvation without regret” (v. 10). But sorrow because you “couldn’t” sin is the “worldly grief [that leads to] produces death.” If you are experiencing that kind of sorrow, if truths like “Being a believer is not a license to sin” turns you off, then you are having improper mourning.
Now the first Beatitude, makes it clear that entrance into the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3) begins with being “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), that is, you recognize your total spiritual bankruptcy and come to Christ empty-handed, pleading for God’s grace and mercy. Without that recognition of spiritual poverty, you cannot be saved. So if we are “poor in spirit,” then it follows that we would also become “those who mourn.”
It’s important to note, however, that blessedness or happiness does not come in the mourning itself (“Blessed are those who mourn. . .”). But that blessedness comes with what God does in response to it, with the forgiveness that He brings. When you finally recognize your sin and mourn over it and get it confessed to God, you can identify with David in Psalm 32, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (vv. 1-2). But why does David say that those people are blessed? How did they become blessed? He answers that question in vv. 3-5, “For when I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long [he experienced sorrow]. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” God forgives those who confess their sins to Him (1 John 1:9) and brings eternal comfort to them, and that’s where the blessedness of godly mourning comes from: “they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
The troubles and sins of the world are just too heavy to continue carrying. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” But Jesus isn’t telling us to do that. He’s not telling us to fake it. He says, “Confess your sins, and mourn, mourn, mourn.” Because until sin is confessed, forgiven and removed, you cannot experience true happiness.
There is an interesting passage of Scripture about this reality. It’s found in James 4, and it is strange because the same passage that talks about forsaking sins and crying for them is the same passage that talks about being joyful and exalted. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10). James says here that there is a great need in the church to cry instead of laugh. He doesn’t mean that Christians are to be sobbing depressive Eeyores (off Winnie the Pooh). But apparently these believers were treating sin very casually when the proper reaction to sin is “mourning. . . weep[ing]. . and gloom” (v. 9).
God brings eternal comfort to the one who mourns over sin and repents. That’s the meaning of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn