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Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn (Matt. 5:4)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of July, 2014:

Introduction

People cry. Babies cry because they might be hungry, sleepy, teething, or they might have a gift for you in their diapers. Children sometimes cry because they didn’t get that Barbie toy they wanted, or possibly because they hate doing homework. Teens cry (trust me, I know) because of the stress of becoming an adult, the pressures of high school, and worst of all: acne. From childhood to adulthood, people cry for different reasons, it could be tears of sorrow or tears of joy. Sometimes experiencing sorrow is referred to as mourning. That’s where the second Beatitude comes in.

The Text

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

The Meaning of Mourning

Certain kinds of sorrow are common to all mankind, experienced by believer and unbeliever alike: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Some sorrows are appropriate and legitimate and God knows our need. Others are illegitimate and brought about because of sinful passions and objectives. We need to discover what the Bible says about proper mourning so that we can find out what Jesus means by saying “Blessed are those who mourn.” The word mourn has different definitions attached to it. In order to determine what proper mourning is, it is helpful to define what proper mourning is not. 

Improper Mourning

The kind of mourning that is illegitimate is the sorrow of those who are frustrated in fulfilling evil plans and lusts, or those who have misguided loyalties, desires, and affections.

David’s son Amnon is a good example of improper mourning: “And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). Amnon thought that his sister was “beautiful” (2 Sam. 13:1) and wanted to have incestuous sex with her. It frustrated him to the point where he made himself ill the text says. He had grief because he couldn’t fulfill his lusts.

None of us will probably ever try to commit sin like Amnon here, but we are sometimes like him when we try to pursue sin. He wanted to commit sin, but he knew that as the son of David it would be a dishonor (and that the Bible commanded against it), and sex with his sister was therefore something he was restricted from doing. Sometimes we think that God has put restriction on certain sins to kill our joy and make us obedient soldiers with no choice. But the commands and exhortations in Scripture are for our own good! The psalmist writes, “I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!” (Psalm 119:19). We are all travelers in this earth and we absolutely need the Word of God to point out places where we shouldn’t go and to show us where the path to true righteousness is.

For the moment of temptation, the sin may look very attractive. To Eve, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which God commanded against) was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). It was very attractive to her. But with sin, the grass is never greener on the other side. Sin is very deceptive (in fact, one of sin’s delusions is that it keeps us unaware of sin!), and we must always rely on the wisdom and power of God to fight against it.

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. 

Proper Mourning

The mourning about which Jesus is talking in the second Beatitude, is very much unlike mourning because you are “restricted” from sinning. And 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.”

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.

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).

The Result of Mourning

So if indeed we are experiencing true godly sorrow, then what is the result? Jesus tells us: “they shall be comforted.” Again, it is not the mourning that blesses or makes one happy, but the comfort that God gives to those who mourn in a godly way. Jesus says that they shall be comforted. This does not refer only to the end of our lives or when we spend eternity with God. Like all other blessings, it will be ultimately fulfilled when we see our Lord face-to-face, and when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). But the comfort Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:4 is also very present. This comfort comes after the mourning. As we continually mourn over our sin, we shall be continually comforted by God Himself, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16).

How to Mourn (Godly)

If we are to mourn godly, and those who mourn godly “shall be comforted,” then what does true mourning over sin involve? How can we become godly mourners?

1. Eliminate Hindrances. The first step in becoming a godly mourner is removing the hindrances that may keep us from mourning over sin. What are some of these hindrances that need trashing?

Love of sin. This is without question, the primary hindrance to mourning over sin. If you love sin, you certainly will not be sorry because of it. Holding onto sin is like standing in the Arctic cold snow. Standing in the below zero winds, being beat in the face by ice pellets, all the while standing still and doing nothing. Just taking it. The longer you do nothing about it, you will freeze and die. The same applies to sin. The longer you let sin have it’s way, the greater the consequences; eventually the more you do something, the more you get used to it. Don’t let that happen with sin in your life. Let it go and confess it to God and ask Him to help you love Him more and love the things of God more.

Despair. This also hinders mourning because despair is giving up on God. You think that because you have sinned so much that God will not forgive you. You think that you are too far from grace. Stop letting Satan whisper in your ear. God will not turn anyone away who comes to Him in repentance and faith. God wants to forgive you and cleanse you. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Conceit. This hinders mourning over sin, because it keeps it hidden. You choose to believe that there is nothing over which to mourn. You try to hide your sin from God, but He sees (Psalm 10:11). But that is like treating a cold the same way you would cancer. Don’t hide your sin from God or even yourself.

Presumption. This hinders mourning over sin because it is really a form of pride. You think that there is a need for grace, but not much grace. You think that sins are bad, they need to be repented of, but that they aren’t really that serious. You presume that you can continue sinning because God will forgive you. Be careful with that type of thinking, because God says “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

Procrastination. This also hinders godly mourning simply by putting it off. You say, “One of these days, when things are just right, I’ll take a hard look at my sins, confess them, and ask God’s forgiveness and cleansing.” But that thinking is dangerous. Why would we ever consider putting off God’s forgiveness and mercy when we can experience it right now? The sooner your sin is dealt with, the sooner you “shall be comforted.”

2. Study God’s Word. I believe this too, is an important step in becoming a godly mourner. How will you know what is detestable to God, and what a damning thing sin is? By opening the Word of God. Paul writes that because of the commandment in the Word of God, sin was shown to be what it really was: “in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Rom. 7:13). God’s Word sheds light on our sin and through the Bible, the Holy Spirit makes us more and more aware of our sin.

3. Pray. A very simple step to mourning godly is by spending time in prayer. Sometimes we just need to shut everything off, open our Bibles, and spend some time pouring our hearts out to God. We have so many distractions today and we need to get away from those things and pray, really pray. If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.

How to Know if We Are Mourning as Christ Commands

Knowing whether or not we have godly mourning is not difficult to determine. First, we need to ask ourselves if we are sensitive to sin. If you take sin lightly, if when you are tempted, you think more of the consequences if you did sin, than God’s provided way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), then you need to be more sensitive to sin. Second, you will have true sorrow over your sins. You have a realization that “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Third, we will grieve for the sins of fellow believers and for the sins of the world. We will not judge them and think that we are better than they are, but experience a genuine sorrow for their sin like the psalmist, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136). Finally, we will check our sense of God’s forgiveness. Have we experienced the release and freedom and joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven? Do we have divine comfort that God promises to those who have been forgiven, cleansed and purified?

God brings eternal comfort to the one who mourns over sin and repents. 

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Ephesians: He Himself is Our Peace (2:14-18)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 24th day of November 2013:

The Design of the Death of Christ

If you care about the Son of God, if you care about the blood of Christ, if you care about the death of the greatest person who ever was, you have to care about the design of the death. (1) That’s where Ephesians 2:14-18 comes in. These verses form the centerpiece of this entire section (2:11-22) because they explain how the Gentile readers’ coming near to God was made possible through Christ’s death. The Gentiles, who were completely separated from Israel and her God (2:11-12) have now been brought near to Him (2:13). God’s Word to us tonight explains how.

The Text

“14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

He Himself Is Our Peace

“For he himself is our peace. . .” (v. 14a). This is an important, but strange affirmation about Jesus. If you’re like me, you’re used to seeing Jesus as making peace (“We have peace with God. . . through Jesus” Romans 5:1.) or as proclaiming and commanding peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers. .” Matt. 5:9). But here Paul says, “He himself is our peace.” The reason Paul says this is because Jesus is the central figure in establishing peace (as you will see in this passage) between both Jew and Gentile. Christ is the central figure who effects reconciliation and removes hostility in its various forms. If you notice in 2:14-18, every time Jesus in named, He is followed by the word or phrase peace. 1) v. 14 “He himself is our peace.” 2) He established peace (v. 15) 3) He came and preached peace (v. 17). And once you take a good long look at Christ’s reconciling work through the cross, you will have no wonder why Paul states, “He himself is our peace.”

Made Us Both One

“. . who has made us both one” (v. 14b). This refers to the resulting unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. Christ has made both Jew and Gentile one. You may say, “Okay. Great.” But do you understand what a great accomplishment this was? The Jews hated the Gentiles. A. T. Lincoln rightly says, “In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world” (2). And that’s what makes this verse so amazing. He has made both one. They have been brought into a mutual relationship and a unity which surpasses what they once were (vv. 15, 16, 18).

How did Christ make the two one? “[He has] broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (v. 14c-15a). This is a rather strange metaphor from the apostle Paul, mainly because no such parallel exists in the entire New Testament. But by simply stating this, Paul indicates that there was a real dividing wall that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. There was an inscription on the wall of the outer courtyard of the Jerusalem temple warning Gentiles that they would only have themselves to blame for their death if they passed beyond it into the inner courts. This was segregation for them. If you grew up during that time, then you can best grasp what life was like for Jews and Gentiles. Though this serves as a great picture of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, this isn’t what Paul is referring to here. The “dividing wall of hostility” was, in fact, the Mosaic law itself with its detailed holiness code. It separated Jews from Gentiles both religiously and sociologically, and caused deep-seated hostility. “The enmity which was caused by the Jews’ separateness was often accompanied by a sense of superiority on their part,” says Peter O’Brien (3). Paul isn’t ‘downing’ the Law here. Why would he count the Law as worthless when he says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” over in Romans 7? Paul is saying here that what has been abolished is the ‘law-covenant,’ that is, the law as a whole conceived as a covenant. In addition, Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). It is not the Law as revealing the will and character of God that Christ has abolished, it is the ‘law-covenant.’ It is then replaced by a new covenant for Jews and Gentiles.

Barriers

If the Law in some way was the dividing wall in the ancient world, for us it is racial difference. The hostility between races, especially between blacks and whites, in virtually all countries continues as an embarrassment. Did Christ’s death abolish all the barriers? The barrier between Jew and Gentile was one of the most obvious in history. If this barrier has been “broken down,” what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11), if all are created in His image, if God’s purpose is unity, if we are to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), if Christ took the hostility into Himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify keeping any barriers in place? If this hostility was so deep, large, and wide that God desired it be broken down through the crucifixion of the most important person who ever was, then who do we think we are to hold prejudices and hostility against a brother or sister in Christ? “He has made us both one!”

If you belong to the family of God, “He has made us both one!” You will have differences with one another. But our differences shouldn’t create hostility because the cross is at ground level. No one has higher value than someone else in the church of God. If you are male and she’s female, if you’re rich and he’s poor, if you’re black and she’s white, if you’re Calvinist and he’s Arminian, if you wear Blue Jeans and he wears a suit, if you’re older and she’s younger, if you like Contemporary and he likes Bluegrass, if you’re country as cornbread and she’s a city-girl, and if any of those things create hostility between you, remember this: None of our barriers, none of our ways of devaluing, limiting, and taking advantage of others, has any basis. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Abolishing the Law

The purpose of Christ’s removing this hostility was twofold: (1) to create in Himself one new man in place of the two (v. 15b), and (2) in this one body to reconcile both of them to God (v. 16a). If Christ has broken down, crushed, and shattered the “dividing wall of hostility,” then how did He do it? The first part of verse 15 tells us. Christ brought them together in a sovereign act that was nothing less than a new creation. Paul has already spoken of God’s salvation in terms of a new creation (2:10). Believers are his workmanship who have already been created in Christ Jesus for good works, and these are part of God’s intention for that new creation. If God had in mind to create a new humanity, His church, it could not take place by transforming a Gentile into a Jew and it could not take place by transforming a Jew into a Gentile, the only way it could take place was by transforming sinners into new persons through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile takes place through the death of Christ by the one similarity that they actually shared: they were sinners in need of salvation.

Reconcile Us Both to God

If Christ has removed the hostility between Jew and Gentile and has reconciled the two into one body, then it follows that we must both be “reconciled to God.” Do you hear the vivid language in verse 16? “And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” What an oxymoron! While “creating in himself one new man” (v. 15), Christ also kills the hostility. Christ has abolished the law as a divisive instrument separating humanity from God and Jews from Gentiles. He has created a single new humanity that transcends the former deep divisions and made peace between them. He has reconciled both Jew and Gentile in this one body to God, killing the hostility. This does not mean, however, that the whole human race has been united and reconciled.

Is God Distant?

Sometimes, as believers, we can think of God as distant or unapproachable. This lack of a sense of the nearness to God lies at the root of much of human failure. But the Bible tells us here that we have been “reconciled to God.” In Christ, we have been brought to God, and the barriers blocking access to Him, such as sin, hostility, and the weakness of the flesh have been removed. But when we feel distant from God, it isn’t He who has moved. It is us. God asks Israel in Jeremiah 8:4-5, “When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?” Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it. And while we need to fall on our face in repentance and return to God, we are no longer separated from God. J.D. Greear captures this truth by means of prayer, “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.” (4)

Christ the Preacher

Having dwelt at length on Christ’s work of reconciliation, Paul now turns to his proclamation of peace to both Gentile and Jew. “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17). The One who is ‘our peace’ and who made peace through His cross now announces that peace to those who were far off and those who were near. Christ Himself is the evangelist, the herald of good tidings from Isaiah, and His announcement, which is based on His death on the cross, is a royal proclamation that hostilities are at an end. You see, the Jews were near to God because they already knew of Him through the Scriptures and worshiped Him in their religious ceremonies (the outward expression of the Law). The Gentiles were “far off” because they knew little or nothing about God. Because neither group could ever be saved by good works or sincerity, both needed to hear about salvation available through Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles are now free to come to God through Christ (v. 18).

Commanded and Commissioned

If preaching peace to all was good enough for the Man who died on the cross, then it ought to bee good enough for us. And while Christ is our example in everything, what’s more is we have been commanded and commissioned by Christ Himself to take this message of peace to our communities, our nation, and to the nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). Did you know that are 2,925 unreached people groups and 6,578 people groups where evangelical Christians make up 2% of the population? (5) We must “Go and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). You see, you may know a great deal about God and the teachings of Scripture, but do not forget that you were once without Christ and in need of a Savior, just like everyone else on the face of this planet. Do not forget your plight before Jesus stepped in (Eph. 2:11).

Access in One Spirit to the Father

To draw near to God and to enjoy Him forever in a new creation is both mankind’s greatest good and the ultimate accomplishment of Christ’s earthly work of redemption. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v. 18). What an appropriate conclusion to this section of Scripture! Through Him, we of different races, different interest, different social status, different economical status, different looks, have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul’s focus here is on their (Jew and Gentile) continuing relationship with the Father which is the result of Christ’s act of reconciliation. This is important because if Christ has in fact “created in himself one new man (v. 15), then this verse tells us how this new creation will continue to grow. The Holy Spirit will continue to apply the work of redemption to people’s lives and the Holy Spirit will continue to give new spiritual life to the undeserving. And it is the Holy Spirit who will empower us to carry this message of peace to the lost, to the dying, and to those in need of salvation.

Through this reconciliation work of Christ on the cross, we have access to the Father in a relationship with Him. It isn’t the Law that is the expression of our covenant with the Father, the sacrificial death of Jesus is the expression of our covenant with the Father. Indeed, He Himself is our peace.