Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 5:4, for Lent 2, Beatitude 2, "Blessed are those who mourn"

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today we continue our series on the Beatitudes, as a Christ-colored lens through which we see our Christian life. The second beatitude is, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This beatitude helps make it clear that the Beatitudes are not commanding goals to achieve or attitudes to develop, per se, but are rather descriptions of Christians in the kingdom of God. Mourning isn’t something we aim or strive for, as though we should manufacture circumstances in our life in order to mourn, but rather it is our condition or state before God, in this sinful world. This is partly why the Beatitudes don’t make sense as commands to obey in order to get a certain reward.
            But before we consider what causes us to mourn in this world, let’s first consider what causes God to mourn, or how Jesus mourned in His life. As the Christian life takes shape in Him, what moved Jesus to sadness in this life? Isaiah 53:3-5 describes Him this way: “3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” A man of sorrows and familiar with grief. We can learn some of the causes of Jesus’ grief from this passage: one was the rejection He faced from the world, as they did not know or understand Him; another was the guilt of our sin and its punishment that He bore, as well as simply carrying our griefs upon Himself. We have no truer friend than Jesus, who carries all that weighs us down in life. In His wounds on the cross, we are healed.
            When Jesus came to the town of Bethany, home of His dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, He wept at the death of Lazarus (and also perhaps at the unbelief of the people?). Since Jesus is the Author of Life (Acts 3:15), it should be no surprise that death grieves the One who made us and gave us life. How can the God who notices every sparrow that falls to the ground, and numbers every hair on your head (Matt. 10:29-30), not also be intimately concerned when death strikes His children? Death is alien to God’s good creation, and a malicious invader, not something natural and good, or even neutral. So Jesus mourned for His friend Lazarus, even though He was even then preparing to raise him from the grave.
            On another occasion, Jesus mourned over the people of Jerusalem in this way: Matthew 23:37 (ESV) 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” He mourned the spiritual blindness that kept them from seeking the shelter and protection of the Almighty God, and moved them instead to stone and kill God’s prophets and messengers.
            As Christians, do we mourn the things Jesus’ mourned? Do we mourn the blindness of our sin and the ways we turn away from God? Do we mourn the sins that we laid on Jesus? In other words, do we repent of our sins, and confess them before Him? Do we regret the evil that we have done? 2 Corinthians 7 compares two kinds of grief or sorrow—one being a world grief that produces death and is full of regrets, and another is the godly grief that leads to salvation without regret. It is that godly grief that we desire, so that we’re not attached to our sins, to defend them, but reject them as the bad fruit of our sinful nature. Then in God’s saving work we can be cleansed completely and be left with no regrets. Such mourning should cut us off from self-centered pleasure in sinning, so that we surrender completely to Jesus, without trying to keep Him out of some protected corner of our life.
            Like Jesus, we undoubtedly also mourn death—both of our loved ones, and also more generally its effects in our world—disease, starvation, war, crime, abortion, suicide. In every case we see a world that’s not operating according to the goodness, love, value for life, and design that God intended for this world. Instead we see a world distorted and suffering through sin. We see the chains still holding the world fast in sin, death, fear, and delusion, and we also long for those chains to be broken through the preaching of the Good News about Jesus Christ, that the Truth would set them free. Yet as we mourn those who have died in the Lord, as we part here on earth, Paul urges us to remember that we don’t mourn as those who have no hope, because we know of the resurrection to eternal life for all who believe in Jesus (1 Thess. 4:13ff). Christians have hope even in the midst of their mourning, because they know that Jesus has conquered the grave, and therefore death isn’t the last word for those who have hoped in Jesus.
            So what’s the blessing and comfort for those who mourn? As great as our sin and the ills and griefs that it brings, the comfort that heals us from that mourning must be that much greater. You have heard in medicine of “placebos” or sugar pills that have the effect of making some people feel better, even though they have no true medical effect. You may have heard the term “panacea” or supposed “cure-alls” that fix all ills or difficulties, but are sold by con men. The Gospel cannot be something so hollow or easy as either of those. The comfort cannot simply be a matter of “healing the wound lightly” and saying “peace, peace, where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). The guilt of sin is real, and every conscience knows it, despite the best efforts to deny the knowledge. The pain of suffering and death is real, and no one needs special convincing that it’s the reality that faces us all. These tangible, objective, and real causes of suffering require a cure that is every bit as tangible, objective, and real. No waving of magic wands and no easy solutions are of any use, unless we are to completely deny sin and death exist. The comfort and cure must take full account of the weight and the nature of sin, and the greatness of its guilt (LSB 451:3).
            So thanks be to God that we have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is no myth, no work of fiction, but a real flesh and blood man, who came and walked this earth 2,000 years ago, who suffered, taught, and proclaimed the nearer reign of God. One who not only walked in our shoes and knew our griefs firsthand, but as the man of sorrows, He bore them to His cross. His death atoned for the full guilt and weight of sin, so that so deep as our sins ran, so much deeper is the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God that His death was not one more victory for death, but that Jesus’ death marked the unraveling of death’s power and Christ’s victory. No phantom, no ghost, but the risen and tangible Lord, still bearing the scars of His crucifixion, but every bit as objective and real as the disciples’ need for comfort demanded.
The comfort and the assurance for those who mourn is not the promise of an easy and carefree life. It’s not the promise that we won’t wrestle mightily with sin or temptation, but it’s the promise that as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:5). For whenever causes for mourning strike us in life, whether it be our repentance for sins, or loneliness or losses or death—the Christian is moved to throw their reliance all the more on God who raises the dead—and not on ourselves (2 Cor. 1:9). For if God can deliver us even from death, what do we need fear in this life? God’s comfort for us in Christ Jesus is truly stronger than both sin and death.

And God has placed the tangible and objective promises of His comfort very close to us as well, in the waters of Baptism and the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper. In baptism, for example, God has joined us to Jesus Christ, so that we can confidently know that the salvation won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross has personally been applied to us as well. As one hymn puts it: “Sin disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ! I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice. Should a guilty conscience seize me since my baptism did release me, in a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood” (LSB 594:2).  And not only has God made objective promises to us in Jesus, from which we can take comfort, but as Romans 15:4 reminds us, 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The Scripture itself is given for our encouragement and hope, as it also points again and again to God’s salvation and life in Christ Jesus. For all these blessings we can praise God without reservation, knowing that Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted! In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

No comments: