Blessed are Those Who Mourn
2nd of a Series of 10 messages on the “Beatitudes”. This sermon was delivered by Pastor Eric Chang on Mar 16, 1980.
We continue to expound in the teaching of our Lord Jesus in Mt. 5:4, as we continue systematically to study the wonderful teaching of the Lord. This is what we read in Mt. 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The parallel passage to this is in Lk. 6:21, which is in the second part of the verse. And we read: “Blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh.” For those who weep now, God will fill their mouths with laughter on that day. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again this is exactly the reverse of the world’s thinking. The world regards nothing blessed or joyful about mourning. The Lord Jesus came to bring comfort to those who mourn. So we want to examine this question: what does this mean?
In expository preaching, the purpose is to expound what the Word of God means. This is our task here. Expository preaching answers only one question: what exactly do these words mean? We must get away from the kind of preaching that announces a text and then preaches all around it or uses the text simply as an excuse for saying whatever the preacher wanted to say in the first place. We must be faithful in exposition, i.e., saying, understanding and explaining what the Lord Jesus wanted us to understand.
The Comfort of Salvation
Now here then is the question: first, we need to ask: what is this mourning that is being talked about? Does it mean - does the Lord Jesus mean - anyone who mourns will be comforted regardless of what kind of mourning and mourning for what? What is this comforting that is being spoken of here? Let us come very quickly to the point. What does it mean that “they shall be comforted”? Does it mean that you are just going to have a nice feeling, that the Lord Jesus will make you feel good again because you have had a bad time? Well, we must understand the spiritual depths of meaning of the Lord’s teaching.
Putting it very quickly to the point, comfort in Scripture basically has to do with salvation. To be comforted in Scripture means not just having some kind of good feeling, or being patted on the back. It has to do with the comfort of salvation. This passage of the Lord’s teaching finds its roots in the Old Testament [thereafter referred to as “OT”] as everywhere else in the Lord’s teaching. This is what Jer. 31:13 says at the second part of the verse, “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” Well, when you look at the passage, it has to do with the salvation of the Jews, the salvation of Israel. “I will turn their mourning into joy and their sorrow into gladness.” Ps. 30 says something quite similar to this; Ps. 30:11&12 reads like this: “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou has loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may praise thee and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee forever”. Here is somebody, i.e., the psalmist, who is testifying that God has turned his mourning into dancing, into the gladness of joy.
When we look at all these, and we will look also in the New Testament [thereafter referred to as “NT”], we will see at once that this comforting has to do with salvation. Isa. 40:1 begins with the words, “’Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” says the Lord.” And this comfort as we see from Isa. 40:1 onwards has to do with the coming of the Lord to save His people. In Lk. 2:25 the consolation or comfort of Israel is in fact the salvation of Israel. Or, if you look at 2 Cor. 1:6, comfort and salvation are mentioned together. Or again in 2 Thess. 2:16 salvation is described as eternal comfort. So as soon as you study Scripture, do not try to read our own meaning that comfort means that God makes you feel good. That, of course, is included but it is much deeper than that. The comfort of the Scriptures is a comfort of God’s eternal salvation. Once we are clear about this, this section does not take at all long to expound. Those who mourn are the ones who will be saved. God will comfort them with His eternal comfort - with salvation. This then makes it very important for us to understand what this comfort means.
How Do We Attain Salvation?
What does this mourning mean, now that we have seen what comfort means? Now, first of all, what you need to bear in mind here, to observe, is that salvation is not based on a creed. We are not saved by a creed, not even the right creed as such. It is important to have the right creed. That is fine. But salvation in the Lord’s teaching and in the whole of the NT is not a salvation by creed.
Today we preach a salvation by creed. So long as you believe the right creed and you belong to the right church you are going to be saved. The Lord’s teaching is nothing as superficial as that. Let us clearly understand this point. We are today preaching too often in the churches, as I said, of a salvation by creed. Of course a creed is important, but the creed alone is not going to save us even as we believe in it most heartily. Nor are we saved by works. It is not a salvation by doing good. Now, doing good is very important in the NT, but we are not saved by good works, or doing good even though good works are extremely important. So we are neither saved by creed nor are we saved by works. So what then are we saved by?
We are saved by God’s power in transforming us and making us into new persons. I hope that this one point is perfectly understood, at least in this church. God’s grace is manifested in His transforming power. We are saved not only by His death but by His life. His death secures the pardon of our past sins. His life, Paul tells us in Romans, is that by which we are transformed, we are reconciled through His life because we are made into new beings, new persons. The life that we now have, “The life that I now live,” as Paul says, “is Christ living in me through faith.” [Gal. 2:20 paraphrased] Faith then is the channel by which this resurrection life of Christ comes into us and makes us to be new persons. So we must stress not only the death of Christ but the life of Christ; not only that our past sins are forgiven but that we, right now, are being made new persons through the resurrection life of Christ. This is full salvation.
Everywhere the churches stress only the death of Christ, as though the life of Christ really did not matter for us. But Paul says in Rom. 5:: “Much more if we have been forgiven through His death, justified through His death, much more shall we be saved by His life.” Now that is the scriptural teaching. Paul understood the Lord’s teaching perfectly. I have often said Paul is all commentary. He is simply commenting on the Lord’s teaching. This is not to say that the commentary is unimportant. It is most important for us to correctly understand the Lord’s teaching. In other words, if we come to an understanding of the Lord’s teaching that differs from Paul’s exposition, then we know we are wrong. Paul is the one who will guide us to the right understanding of the Lord’s teaching. Paul certainly said exactly the same thing. We are not saved by a creed; we are not saved by works; but we are saved by being a new creature. This point I have expounded already in full quite recently.
Salvation Comes to ‘New Person’
So what is this new person? The new person is one who mourns. Now what does that mean? Here we need to look more deeply into it because there is something important for us to understand. The word ‘mourning’ here expresses, of course, sorrow. It finds its expression in tears. Mourning expresses the deepest emotions and feelings of the human heart. We have a Christianity today that is far too superficial. The Lord Jesus in these words strikes at the depths of our being. Whether our Christianity is deep or superficial depends on whether we understand anything about mourning, and I suspect we do not understand much about mourning.
I was quite distressed by looking at the recent studies by Professor Eduard Schweizer of Zurich, a noted NT scholar. In his recent work on Matthew, it symbolizes so much of the failure to understand the meaning of mourning. What does he say? He says, “Well, we do not mourn about sin; we simply hate it.” From this he concludes that: “Because we do not mourn for sin, then what do we mourn for? We mourn because we are oppressed; we are persecuted.” Well, there is truth in that but it is wide off the mark. The statement is neither relevant, nor even reasonable, and one does expect better things of NT scholarship in these days than this kind of superficiality. I say this not because I would like to make a punch or a point on someone, but it is so reflective of the thinking of this age, i.e., the lack of understanding of mourning. Why do I say it is irrelevant? I say it is irrelevant simply because the point is not whether we grieve or not over sin as such. The point is: we grieve because we have sinned. I am not grieving about this thing called sin. I am grieving because I am the one who got involved in sin. This is the point of mourning. It is not whether or not we grieve over an abstract thing, or a concrete thing if you like, called sin. We may hate sin but that does not stop us from grieving over our involvement in sin.
Example of Sin to Hate and Grieve Over
Let me give you an example of this. Those of you who have followed the news lately have heard of this sickening, this hateful act, where a laborer, 22 years of age, dropped two children from the Jacques Cartier Bridge into the icy waters of the St. Lawrence below. One of them, a boy of six; one a girl of five. This act is hateful in the extreme. It is disgusting that this man, whatever his motives (and nobody knows what his motives are because when the police questioned him, he declared that he had no particular motive or at least did not say that he had any particular motive), takes other people’s children and drops them over the bridge into the freezing waters below. Of course they are frozen to death.
Now the act is hateful. It is sickening that there should be such sin in the world. Certainly we hate sin but that does not stop me from grieving, from mourning - mourning over these two innocent children who perished through this hateful act. It does not stop me from mourning when I think of the suffering that is imposed needlessly upon these parents whose beloved ones are lost, and lost in such a horrifying manner. As you know, one mother waited for days in stress and in anxiety to hear about her little daughter, in the hope that maybe her little daughter, her only daughter, would return, but only (after so many days of anxiety and waiting) to hear that her beloved child was thrown into the freezing waters of the St. Lawrence. Do we not grieve? Do we not weep with those who weep? To say that sin is a hateful thing and therefore we hate it, but we don’t grieve over it, is irrelevant. It is sheer nonsense.
I do not grieve over sin as such. I grieve over the consequences of sin. I grieve that I have been involved in sin. I find it distressing that a NT scholar speaks such irrelevant nonsense. This is not to make an attack on the scholar but it is to say that it reflects the spirit of the age that we do not understand what mourning is and dismiss it with the statement saying, “Well, it has to do with.... We don’t mourn over sin; we hate sin.” I can still mourn over that which is hateful. It is not one or the other at all. One would think that at least a person knows sufficient of life and of logic not to make such mistakes in thinking.
Deep and Continuing Mourning Needed
What is more is that the statement is not even true scripturally, as I shall demonstrate in a moment, and that is the most serious part of the error. I hope you do not make this kind of mistakes. We here are speaking about a mourning that is not sentimentality. It is a mourning which strikes to the depths of the soul and is the expression of the essence of our being. I suspect, like these kinds of scholars and so many Christians today, we do not understand what mourning is. We dismiss it as being only for those who are oppressed and persecuted, and since they are not oppressed and persecuted, there is nothing to mourn for. This is completely to have mistaken the point.
Here is what the Lord says and He uses the present participle in the original: “...he who is constantly mourning...” or “he who keeps on mourning.” He is describing a constant attitude of heart. And this is what Luke understands so well: that he who weeps now shall be able to laugh in the future. The ‘now’ refers to ‘in the present’ or ‘in this present age of darkness and of sin.’
Now what then does this mourning refer to? First, the Greek word ‘mourning’ (the word that is used here) was described by Archbishop Trench who was once a professor at King’s College, London where I once studied. Professor Trench, in his Synonyms of the New Testament, said that this word ‘mourn’ is to grieve with a grief that takes possession of the whole being so that it cannot be hidden. That is why, he points out, this word in the Scriptures is often joined with the word to ‘weep’, to cry. That is why Luke has ‘weep’ and Matthew has ‘mourn’. ‘Weep’ is the outward expression of that deep inner grief. The Lord Jesus, I remind you again, does not say those who had wept in the past will be comforted; but those who keep on weeping, as Luke puts it, “who weep now”, “who mourn now”. It is a constant attitude of heart. We cannot allow a superficial treatment of the text. You must understand the spirit of the NT.
The Five Stages of Mourning
When I study the NT on this point, I am amazed at the depths and the wealth of teaching that the Lord Jesus sums up and crystallizes into this one sentence: “Blessed are those who mourn.” Why blessed? Why is it blessed to mourn? There are five stages when I study the NT teaching in this and each stage takes us deeper and deeper into the essence of spiritual mourning. Each stage takes us deeper, until at the final stage we arrive very close to the point of Isa. 53:3 which reads of the Savior, of the Christ, like this: “A Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” That is why Jesus could become our Savior.
We have this the superficial Christianity that does not understand the depths of mourning, that does not understand the depths of pain. So we have this floating Christianity, this superficiality. Would that God would teach us to weep! What are these five steps then?
1) The Mourning of Repentance
The first is the mourning of repentance. This we find everywhere in NT, as well as in the OT, and that is why I am completely unable to comprehend what this professor is talking about. Does he not know what repentance is? I have seen a man weep an hour and a half over his sins, as he knelt there before the Lord and wept. He wept over his sins. To say that we do not weep over our sin - we just hate it - what superficial nonsense! Distressing! Clearly, this man has never wept for sin! How can a person say this?! Have you never wept for sin? for the sins that you have committed or the way you have grieved somebody else? You never weep for sin? What kind of Christianity is this? What shallowness of Christianity is this! Let me show you, it is everywhere in the Scriptures wherever you turn.
If you look in the OT you can see it everywhere. Ps. 39:12 (and the psalmist knew this very well) reads: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears! For I am thy passing guest, a sojourner like all my fathers.” “Hear my prayer, O Lord. Please listen to my cry from the depths of my heart. Hold not Thy peace at my tears, O Lord.” Now this is the man who understands repentance. Why do we say it is repentance? Because in v8 he says, “Deliver me from all my transgressions.” “Deliver me from all my transgressions... hold not thy peace at my tears.” No wonder the psalmist was a man of God. He understood what it is to weep over sin and not dismiss it with some theological statement that sin is to be hated. Of course we hate sin; we need to also grieve over it. So we can find this throughout the OT.
Let me read to you another passage in Isa. 22 in that our very calling is a call to repentance, to tears. Let us turn to Isa. 22:12. What does the great prophet Isaiah say here? “In that day the Lord God of Hosts called to weeping and mourning, to baldness and girding with sackcloth.” Baldness: in those days when people mourn they often shave their heads. Even more violently, they pulled their hair out of their head. “...to baldness and girding with sackcloth” - they put sackcloth on when they mourn. Chinese people put on white garments in mourning; or, Western people put on black armbands in mourning. Then what does it go on to say? Much like this age today who understands nothing about mourning (God called to weeping and mourning): “and behold, joy and gladness, slaying of oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.’”
God calls us to mourning, but we say, “We do not want to mourn over sin. Oh no! What we are going to do is to have joy and gladness. We are going to slay oxen and kill sheep and eat flesh and drink wine. We will eat and drink for tomorrow we die. So we might as well enjoy it today. Notice v14: “The Lord of hosts has revealed Himself in my ears,” says Isaiah. “’Surely this iniquity will not be forgiven you till you die,’ says the Lord God of hosts.” A people who do not know what it means to mourn and to weep, but who says, “Well, we will enjoy it while it is still today.” God says this iniquity - your incapacity to weep and to mourn over sin - will not be forgiven you until you die, even until you die. You see the scripture has nothing of the superficiality [mentioned above]. It has the depths: the call to repentance, the call to weep.
We find this in other places such as Joel 2:12 where it is combined with fasting in v15. We find this in so many places. We look at one more place in Eccl. 7:3&4. This is what the wise man of Ecclesiastes has to say, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.” V4 says, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth,” (of enjoyment). I fear that we are today more in the house of the fools, the house of mirth. We have not yet understood what it is to weep, therefore we do not understand what it is to have joy. Those who do not weep do not know gladness. This is what Ecclesiastes says here. “Sorrow is always better than laughter, for by the sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.” Nothing is so cleansing as the tears of repentance: that after the rain there comes forth the sunshine of gladness; after the showers the warmth of God’s joy in the sunshine. Those who do not know how to weep also do not know what joy is. They think that joy is in the house of mirth, in superficial fiddlings about, in superficial gladness. I feel it is so characteristic of the spirit of this age.
That is why in Jam. 4:9 he says, “Wail. Weep.” He calls again, much as Isaiah does, to weep, to mourn, in repentance. In Jam. 4:9, this is what he said: “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourself before the Lord and he will exalt you.” It is a call to wretchedness, to mourn, to weep because again it is a call to repentance. As we see in v8, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.” Mourn, you men of double mind, you sinners. So we see that the weeping has nothing to do merely with oppression. It has to do with repentance, the deep repentance for sin.
The same thing we find in 2 Cor. 7:10 and this is a very important passage. This is what the apostle Paul says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret.” Godly grief, he says, produces repentance and leads to salvation and brings no regret; “but worldly grief...” - notice that there are two kinds of grief - not all grief, not all mourning will save. There is a godly grief and there is a worldly grief. Worldly grief produces nothing but death, because it is based not on faith but on unbelief. In 1 Thes. 4:13 Paul says to the Thessalonians, “[Do] not weep as those who have no hope.” We may weep, but we must not weep as those who have no hope, who have no faith in God. We weep out of repentance for sin.
That is the first stage in the Christian life. We begin by weeping and we do not stop weeping in the Christian life. In a world such as we live in today - a world of sin - how can we stop weeping until the new age comes in, until God’s kingdom is established, until God’s will be done on earth as in heaven? So that we are like Lot, as it says in 2 Pet. 2:7&8 where it is said of Lot that he was grieved by the sins of his generation. “He was vexed...” - the Greek is ‘tormented’, ‘bruised’ - “in his righteous soul” because of the sins of his generation. That is how the Christian will be in this generation: grieved to the heart. God save us from this superficiality! Weeping is going to be our whole lot in this generation until God’s kingdom comes and is established on earth in fullness and power.
We come now to the second stage and it is closely related to the first one. We will not always be mourning over our sins in terms of repentance in the past. That is the first step. When God forgives our sins, we do not keep mourning over those past sins. Even though we remember them with grief, we do not keep asking for forgiveness; God forgives us our sins. So our sorrow is turned to joy over His forgiveness. But then comes the second stage.
2) Mourning Over the Consequences of Sin
Closely associated with sin are the consequences of sin. What are the consequences? There is pain. There is death. And these consequences of sin are all around us. One of the consequences of sin in the world is this fellow throwing these children into the St. Lawrence. Heartless! Brutal! The consequences of sin that bring pain to others and death to others. One of these days, we might be the victims because sin is all around us. So we grieve. We weep over these things.
In Rev. 21:4 - I give you these references so that you see that I am not giving you my opinions. I would like you to check the preaching everywhere to see that is scriptural. You do not take my word for it; you take God’s word for it. If you find that what I say is not scriptural, you reject it. In Rev. 21:4, we find here that “God will wipe away all tears on that day.” Not now. On that day He will wipe away all tears. Up to that time we will still have tears to shed. But on that day, in the day of the new Jerusalem, of the new heaven and the new earth, v4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more...”. But until then there is still death. When our loved ones part from us, or we part from our loved ones, there will be a grief; for who likes to say good-bye to those whom we love? Death on that day shall be no more, but until then death is with us. “Neither shall there be mourning nor crying, nor pain anymore...”. To see others suffer brings pain to our hearts. For us to suffer brings little sorrow to us, but to see those whom we love suffer brings a lot of pain to our hearts. Much rather would we suffer than to see those we love suffer. It brings pain to our heart.
We mourn over the consequences of sin. We grieve that there is still such sorrow. In Jn. 11:35 we find the Lord Jesus weeping over the pitiful state of Lazarus and his family. It says:”Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible is Jn. 11:35; it consists of two words: “Jesus wept.” Why did He weep? He saw the helpless estate of mankind. He saw the pitiful condition of mankind. Does the pitiful condition of mankind not touch your heart? Does the fact that mankind is enslaved in the power of sin - does it say nothing to you? Does it say nothing to me? I see many Christians who do not worry too much. They are so busy trying to save their own skins, they could not worry about anyone else sinking in the quagmire of sin. That others should perish does not disturb them too much. After all, all they want is their own salvation. This kind of Christianity - superficial as it is - do we not grieve? The Lord Jesus looked at these weeping, mourning people (mourning over Lazarus’ death) and He wept. How pitiful is mankind! How helpless in their hopeless estate!
This is the second stage, when we do not just weep for our own sins, but we learn to weep, to feel compassion over the world, over the unbelievers as people who are as sheep without a shepherd, torn apart by wolves, who do not know who is speaking the truth, who is speaking falsely, confused, bewildered, looking one way, looking another, not knowing where to turn. And some are caught in the thorn bushes, some have fallen into the ditches and cannot climb out, bleating pitifully for help, but there is none to help. Too many Christians, like the Levite, just walk by when they see the wounded man by the road, [as if to say:] “Not for me to care.” They do not weep over the injured; it does not disturb them. Their compassion does not exist. But not so the Lord Jesus - He is filled with compassion and pity.
3) Mourning Over Persecution
This takes us on to the third stage. Here we come to the point which Schweitzer talks about. We also mourn over persecution, i.e., oppression: when the righteous are oppressed by the unrighteous. Now we are mourning not just as compassion for sinners, but compassion for the righteous, for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We also find this in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” There are some brothers and sisters in China - it grieves me, it pains me that they must so suffer. As the scripture says, “Weep with those that weep.” Paul exhorts the Christians in Rom. 12:15: “Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice.” In other words, we learn not just to close ourselves off, but we learn to identify with other people in their need, and in their joy. But if we cannot identify with them in their need, then how will we identify with them in their joy? So we must reach the third stage in which we learn to have compassion upon the righteous and care for those who are persecuted. Sometimes, of course, we weep because we also are persecuted. There is nothing shameful about that, for it indicates something wrong with those who persecute us.
Now notice that the scriptural teaching on this point is again very plain. In Ps. 6:6 we find the psalmist knows a great deal about weeping because of persecution. We suffer for His name’s sake. Now whereas we count it a privilege to suffer, it still grieves us that there are those who are thus heartless, thus insensitive to the truth. The psalmist says in Ps. 6:6: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” V7: “My eye wastes away because of grief, it grows weak because of all my foes.” - my enemies. Who likes to be oppressed? Who enjoys it, unless we have a strange makeup and mentality, some kind of persecution mentality, that sort of glories in being persecuted. We weep but others do not understand. We weep that others not only do not understand but go so far as to slander us, to oppress us because we speak or stand for the truth. The psalmist understood this so well and he grieved over this. He says in v8, “Depart from me all you workers of evil; for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.” Leave me alone, you workers of evil. Vv9&10: “The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and sorely troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.”
Now we do not understand these deep sentiments of the psalmist if we do not understand what it is to stand up for righteousness and for truth. If you have never made a stand, of course, nobody is going to oppose you. When you are oppressed, when your parents turn against you, when your loved ones reject you, it cuts to the heart; it is painful.
I know the taste of that. I know what it is because when I went out to serve the Lord, my parents did not want to see me again. And that an only son rejected by his parents! When I would go home and my parents would make it known that I was not welcome by bluntly asking, “When are you going to leave? How long are you going to stay? How soon are you going?” it cut to the heart. Even my parents did not want me anymore. As the psalmist did say, “The father may forsake his child, and a mother may forget her child, but God will not forsake me.” Do you know what it is to stand for the truth? You see this third stage is not arrived at until you make some kind of stand for the truth. Up to that point nobody wants to oppress you. I mean you do not do anything, you do not stand for anything, who wants to oppress you? You do not take up a flag, you do not stand for any cause; who is going to oppose you?
But when you stand for the truth, when you finally arrive at the stage when you say with Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God.” When he was asked to recant, he said, “Here I stand. I cannot do anything else. My conscience will not allow me. So help me God.” He was oppressed. His life was in constant danger. And Luther certainly knew what it was to weep. The same thing in Ps. 42 makes the same point again. Let me read this psalm to you, too, that you may understand how deeply the Lord Jesus crystallizes the whole teaching of Scripture on godliness in these marvelous words of His teaching. The Lord Jesus could do it, as no one else could. No wonder everyone was amazed at His teaching. No one ever spoke like this man. And He could concentrate so much truth in so few words, that just to bring it out, i.e., to expound the riches out of it, we have to analyze it point by point, step by step.
Ps. 42:3 reads, “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” “You are in trouble. You are suffering. Where is your God? Your God forgot you!” they say to me. They mock me; they ridicule me. Our brothers and sisters in China know a lot about this. “Where is your God, huh? You are in hard labor now. You are in jail now. So isn’t your God going to help you? Isn’t He going to send some angels to get you out of jail? Where is your God?”
“My tears have been my food day and night.” Have you understood this kind of suffering as you stood for the truth? Vv9&10 of the same psalm, “I say to God: ‘Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of my enemy? As with a deadly wound on my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” Has He gone to sleep? Look, you are in trouble now. Your God does not do anything, does He? As the Lord Jesus was hanging on the cross they said, “Well, where is your God? Maybe your God will you bring you down from the cross.” Isn’t your Christianity that kind of Christianity which says that God always puts sweets in your mouth; and every time you are in trouble, He bails you out? Every time when you are stuck, He brings you through? Well, so now you are in trouble. “We are giving you trouble - so what is your God going to do about it?”
“My tears are my food day and night.” God has not promised sunshine without rain. He has not promised flowers on our pathways all our lives through. The Lord Jesus called us to take up our cross and follow Him. And taking up our cross means we are going to die. When we are going to be crucified, our enemies will taunt us and say, “If God is true, come down from the cross.” What they did not see was the resurrection to come. God had something much more wonderful to do than to bring Him down from the cross. He would raise Him from the dead. He would not just take Him out from dying, but He would wait till He died and then raise Him up. So will He do with us. So we find this third point: weeping because of the oppression of the enemy. We can go on with Ps. 56:8 and so on and so forth through the psalms - weeping because of oppression.
4) Weeping for the Sins of God’s People
We move on to the fourth stage. Notice the riches of the Lord’s teaching. What is the fourth stage? It is weeping for the sins of God’s people. Do you have any concern for what happens to the church? Oh, this is depth indeed. In this stage we come to the place where we look at God’s people with God’s eyes, when we look at the sins of God’s people and it cuts us to the heart. We thank God for men in the OT who wept over the sins of God’s people: Ezra, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, as we shall see. **
Look at Ezra, that great servant through whom restoration was brought to Israel. Ezra said in Ezra 10:6: “Then Ezra withdrew from the house of God and went to the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night neither eating bread or drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness, the sins of the exiles.”
Where are God’s people today who weep over the faithlessness of God’s exiles in this world: God’s church? The exiles, of course, were the remnant that had been sent into slavery when Jerusalem was destroyed. Yet in spite of that judgment that had come upon them, they had learned no spiritual lessons up to that point. They were still in their sins. They were still faithless. How hardened, how insensitive to sin can God’s people be? They do not weep for sin. They profess that all that is necessary is that you hate it. Now what does that mean: you hate it? If you do not weep over it, why do you find it so hateful? I would like to see hatred of sin. But I do not see it around because those who cannot weep for sin, neither can they hate it. That is the truth of the matter. It is because we see the damage that it does - the grief that it brings - that we find it so hateful. If it does not hurt us, what do we find so hateful about it?
Ezra wept over the sins. He went fasting: he ate neither bread nor drank any water. And he mourned. As a result of that, God brought revival to Israel. God cannot bring revival to the church except we learn to weep over the sins of the church. We find this everywhere in the OT. We find this weeping, this mourning for sin.
Jeremiah is another example. Jer. 9:1, let me read this to you as well. I am giving you these references because I want you to understand that what I am saying is simply God’s words. I have nothing to say of my own. Jer. 9:1 is one of the most profound and most powerful verses in the Bible that really speaks to my heart. Where do we find a man of God like Jeremiah in this generation? What does Jeremiah say? “O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Why? Because Jeremiah foresees that Israel is going to be destroyed. He sees it already in prophetic vision. He sees that Israel does not want to repent. And so he said that: “O that my head were waters, my eyes a fountain that I could weep.” He said, “I have not got enough tears to weep for these people. I have not got enough tears.”
V2 reads, “O that I had in the desert a wayfarer’s lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a company of treacherous men.” ‘Treacherous men’, ‘adulterers’ - spiritual adulterers they are! V3 goes on to say, “’They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil and they do not know me,’ says the Lord.” God’s people, Israel, a chosen people, going what? Jeremiah says, “from evil to evil”. So they are going to be slain; they are going to be destroyed. “O that my head were waters, my eyes a fountain of tears, that I could weep for it”, and he did.
The whole book of Lamentations is weeping. Lamentations - we have a whole book of mourning in the Bible. To lament is to mourn, to weep - weeping over the sins, and finally, the destruction of Israel. Do we care? So we find in the NT the Lord Jesus doing the same. In Lk.19:41 we find Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. And here He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, because you did not know the things which make for your peace, you will be destroyed, i.e., you will be wiped out.” [paraphrase] In Lk. 13:34 it reads: “How often I would have gathered you, (O Jerusalem)... but you would not!” Disaster was waiting for them. When they wept for Him in Lk. 23 when He was carrying His cross (there were some women weeping for Him), He said to those women in Lk. 23:28, “He said, ‘Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves...’.” for the disaster that is coming upon you. He shows compassion for the people of God.
We find that Paul knew this weeping over the sins of the church well. How well he knew this! He exhorts the Christians to weep over the sins of the church. In 1 Cor. 5, he said to the Corinthians, “You should not be happy and rejoicing. You should learn how to weep for the sins that are committed in your midst.” This is what he says in 1 Cor. 5:2: “And you are arrogant!” You think you are so spiritual. You Corinthians, because you speak in some tongues and you have some spiritual gifts in your church, you think you are really something. “Ought you not rather to mourn?” Here we have this word again. “Ought you rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” The man who committed this sin must be removed from the church. Weep for the sins of the church! Sin is nothing to be proud about in this church, in this age, in this generation. Let us learn to weep.
In 2 Cor. 12:21 we find the same thing again, and it reads like this: “I fear when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned before and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness which they have practised.” They have not repented of these sins. “These Christians have not repented and so I am going to mourn. I am afraid I will have to mourn when I discover they have not repented.” But today the church says, “Well, it does not matter. Holiness is not that essential.” God forbid that it is not essential! We do not mourn over sin. We think that it does not matter so much. Would that we learn to mourn!
Paul says in Phil. 3:18: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” He does not just tell them. He tells them with tears. He warns them of the danger of sin in the church. They live as enemies of Christ because “their God is their belly”. (v19) “Their end is destruction..., they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” O would to God we learn to weep for the church! But Ezekiel said to the Israelites, “You do not mourn, so ‘you shall not mourn’. Because you do not mourn, ‘you shall pine away.’” [Ezek. 24:23] You see here the godly grief that Paul had spoken about in 2 Cor. 10:7. Godly grief versus worldly grief - if you do not have godly grief, you are going to have worldly grief. Do not think you are going to escape from grief. The time will come when you will weep with weeping and gnashing of teeth, and on that day, that weeping and gnashing will be too late. Either you have godly grief or you are going to have worldly grief. You are going to take your choice but do not think because you do not want to mourn now, you will not mourn. In fact as we read in Lk. 6, those who weep now they shall rejoice later; and those who laugh now they shall weep later. Everybody is going to mourn; everybody is going to weep. The only question is whether it is now or later; whether it is weeping with godly tears now or weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell. That is the choice. Sin is going to bring grief to everyone. It is only a question of sooner or later.
5) Weeping Out of Love of Jesus and His Church
Let us come to our last point. From this we go on from weeping for the sins of the church to the next stage where we weep out of concern for the church, not necessarily that the church or the brothers and sisters have sinned but out of our concern and love in seeing that they grow spiritually. You see at every stage of the Christian life there is weeping whichever stage you have arrived at. There are some of us who weep in our concern, in our anxiety, in our love to see those who are standing in Christ: that they continue to stand fast and they continue to grow. We water the seeds with our tears. The seeds are growing.
Paul understood it so well. We mourn out of love of Christ and for His people. The Lord Jesus said in Mt. 9:15 that so long as the bridegroom is still here the guests do not weep. But one day the bridegroom will be taken away and then the people will weep. In Mk. 16:10 we read how the disciples wept when Jesus, the bridegroom, was taken away. Why do they weep? They weep not because of sin now. They weep because of their love for Jesus. They wept because He was taken away. But their sorrow was turned to gladness when He rose again. In the same way today we weep not because of the sins of the church - in this stage, the fifth stage that we are talking about - but out of our love for the church as the body of Christ because we love Jesus. We love our Lord. We weep out of our concern for the church. This point Paul understood so deeply, so profoundly, and this is what we see about Paul at this stage. We see in Acts 20:19 the quality of this man. Would that God grant us in this generation some people like this! Acts 20:19 is what Paul said as he said goodbye to the Ephesian church, to the Ephesian elders whom he had taught for three years. It was a painful good-bye because he loved them very much. They also loved him very much, but the time has come to say good-bye. There comes a day in this world where we all must say good-bye, even though we have fought the same battle together; we may have drawn swords together in this spiritual warfare; we advanced together. But there comes a day when it must be in this life, we have to say goodbye. Here it was time for Paul to say good-bye to the Ephesian church that he had loved, that he had served with for three years - building them up - and this is what he said in v19, “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews”. “Serving the Lord with tears!” Oh, the depth of this man! The depth and profoundness of this man! Such was his love for the church. He served the Lord with tears. He watered the seeds with his tears.
Again in the same chapter in v31, in his final words to the Ephesian elders, “Therefore,” he said, “be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” These are tears of love and concern for the church. Where in this generation do we have men like this, men of this quality? Now I do not know at what stage you stand at today, whether at stage one, if you are not yet a Christian, stage two, stage 3, stage 4, stage 5. Would to God that you grow through all these stages and become the man like Paul who weeps not only for the sins of the church but weeps even for the growth of the church!
In Eze. 22:30 we find Ezekiel saying these words (God speaking through Ezekiel), “And I sought for a man...”. God said, “I looked for a man.” “I sought for a man among them,” (that is, among Israel) “who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.” I sought for a man [but found none]. Let us read v29 where it says, “The people of the land,” God’s people, the Israelites, “have practiced extortion,” (extortion, of course, in this sense means to make profit from the poor) “and committed robbery; they had oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without redress.” And I sought for a man but there is none to be found. V31 says, “Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; their way have I requited upon their heads.” What does this mean? God was looking for a man who would stand in the breach, who would build the wall. What breach? The breach between God’s people and God Himself. A breach has opened up today between the church and God. And God looks for a man to stand in the breach to reconcile the two parties. Will he find the man?
Well, in the Early Church, he found Paul. Who will He find today? What kind of a man will He find today? Let me close now as I read one more psalm. Ps. 126 - we read these precious words of the psalmist - vv5&6 (the last two verses of Ps. 126): “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seeds for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Isn’t that beautiful? God looks for people who would sow with tears and they will come back with shouts of joy. So wonderful is the Lord’s teaching. We can see that so much riches are crystallized into these few words. “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” How wonderful that is!
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church