Sunday, December 31, 2017

Mourning

Today, we’re going to take a look at something that we don’t talk about much. We’re going to talk about mourning. This can be a dark topic, which is why people don’t like talking about it. But we need to deal with it. And one reason for that is that we need to face life honestly so that we can live well. And if we face life honestly, we will mourn.

Jesus talked with His disciples about mourning during His Sermon on the Mount. It’s one of what we call His Beatitudes. Listen.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5.4
Let’s take a look at this to see what Jesus expects of us.


The first thing that I’d like you to notice is that Jesus assumes that His disciples will mourn. That’s why this is included in the list of expectations that Jesus has of His disciples, things like,
Blessed are the meek…
and
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Matthew 5.5-6
Mourning is just another aspect of being one of Jesus’ disciples. So, trying to avoid mourning is trying to avoid something that Jesus has called us to experience.

However, it’s important to understand that our reluctance when it comes to mourning is not because we have a problem with mourning itself. Our problem actually lies elsewhere. We don’t like dealing with the things that would give us reason to mourn. And this is another way in which our culture affects us.

The world around us does not face life, reality, very well. And it’s not so much that it doesn’t want to as much as it is a matter of not being able to. Just to take one example, consider a current health problem in America, the opioid epidemic. Thousands upon thousands of people are using these drugs, and many are dying as a result. Why? Why take the risk of an overdose? It’s a way to escape from life. It’s a way to avoid reality and its pains. And it’s just one way of avoiding the reality that confronts us all. But we who follow Jesus aren’t to do that. We need to - and can - face reality.

So, Jesus calls us to mourn. And what exactly are we to do to obey Him? All that we need to do is take sin and its dreadful effects - our reality - seriously.

There are some rather noteworthy benefits to getting older. Greater age, as long as it is matched by greater wisdom, will understand that we were created for better than this, much better than this. The older, wiser person will be able to see sin and the awful damage that it causes much more clearly. And when he sees this gap between what is and what is supposed to be, there will be mourning. 

As a person becomes older and wiser, he will be able to see himself more clearly. He will be able to see the foolish choices that he has made and how such choices brought about such great harm. He will be able to see how his own life was stunted and twisted by such foolishness. And more than that, he will be able to see how his own sinful folly affected the people around him and brought harm to them.

So, it is not surprising that David wrote,
Remember not the sins of my youth … O Lord! Psalms 25.7
If you grow old with a measure of wisdom you will see your youthful sinfulness much more clearly, and you will mourn.

But there is something more that you will see as you grow older and wiser. You will see the sin of others around you. You will see them choose poorly, and you will mourn the consequences that will afflict them because of those poor choices.

Listen to Jesus as He mourns in this way.
​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! Luke 13.34
And that helps us to understand what Jesus did as He was entering Jerusalem.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it. Luke 19.41
Sin has invaded our world. And it poisons everything it touches. And those who see that more clearly - both in themselves and in others - will mourn over it. What else makes sense? Faithful living as Jesus’ disciple - the only way to grow in wisdom - will result in mourning.

Now, there are ways in which we can avoid this mourning. But any of these ways will require us to refuse to look life in the face. It will require us to refuse to acknowledge the damage that sin has caused and is still causing. And you don’t need to join the opioid epidemic to do that. You can do it simply by using one of the multitude of seemingly innocent distractions that our culture chases after. But if someone should choose to avoid this mourning, then how can he or she claim to be following Jesus faithfully? Jesus expects us to mourn.

Now, Jesus doesn’t only call us to mourn. He also makes a promise to all who do. These will be blessed.
Blessed are those who mourn…
Now, that may sound weird. Isn’t a blessed life supposed to be a happy life, a pleasant life? How can someone who mourns be happy? It makes no sense, right? It will make no sense if you go along with our culture’s definitions of a good life. According to the world, the goal of life is to be happy. The more happiness the better. That’s the goal, isn’t it? Mourning doesn’t fit with that expectation.

But think about it. Much of the Gospel sounds weird. You gain life by losing it. Living is good, but dying is better. Jesus wins the war with Satan by losing the key battle. From the outside, none of this makes sense. It’s all weird. But from the inside it makes complete sense.

Those who mourn really will be blessed. Jesus will act in their lives to do them good. People can believe it or refuse to believe it, but that’s what Jesus has promised.

So, how are they blessed? We don’t have to guess the answer to this. Jesus has told us.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
But understand Jesus’ point here. These who mourn and only these who mourn will be comforted. There are lots of things that can deaden the pain of living in this world, but only Jesus can provide real comfort. And that, by itself, is a blessing.

Jesus promises comfort. When will He do that? He does that now. He comforts now, even as we face the evil of sin in ourselves and all around us. How?

First, there is forgiveness of the evil of our sin. It’s important here to make a distinction. There is the teaching of the Gospel about forgiveness. And Christians know this. They believe it. Just ask them. It’s an obvious doctrine of the faith. But that’s not the same as experiencing a sense of being forgiven. The blessed person not only knows that his sins are forgiven, he also feels it. His sins - and remember that being older and wiser means that you see your sins much more clearly - have been dealt with, and he knows, really knows, that everything is now okay between him and his God. He feels forgiven. And so, there is a great peace within. Even in the face of seeing more sin, there is still a great peace within because those sins are forgiven. This person knows that and feels it. There is great comfort in that.

I wonder, how many Christians actually feel forgiven? I also wonder if lacking this sense of being forgiven is a reason why some Christians are afraid to look sin squarely in the eye. I wonder if this is why they try to avoid mourning.

But please understand. This sense of forgiveness, this feeling forgiven, isn’t something that you talk yourself into. Now, it’s important to talk to yourself, to remind yourself of what is true and good and right. We can forget those things at times. But that’s not how someone can feel forgiven. Only the Spirit can make that happen. It’s a gift from Jesus. It’s how He comforts those who mourn.

Now, that’s all good, but what about the fact that sin continues to cause such damage to lives, our own and others? Terrible things are still happening. What can Jesus do to bring comfort here? This is where we need to remember the Gospel’s gift of hope. Now, remember. Hope is not closing your eyes and wishing really hard. That’s the hope of a world that wants to avoid seeing the evil of sin. No, we hope with our eyes open. And we can do that because we know that hope is simply waiting for God to keep a promise.

There are many promises that I could choose from here but this one fits well.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good… Romans 8.28
That ‘all things’ includes my sin and your sin and the sins of everyone else as well as the evil that comes from all of that sin. Somehow, the Father will use even our sin to bring about good. That may sound impossible, but consider this. Has there ever been a more sinful and evil act than the crucifixion of Jesus? Has there? And yet, as you well know, the Father has used that evil to bring about much good. If He can bring good out of that evil, then it is obvious that He can bring good out of any evil. There is comfort in that. It does not excuse the sin, but it covers it with a mantle of hope. We wait for God to bring about good from sin.

All of that was about how mourners will be comforted in the here and now. It only highlights what will happen later.
He 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. Revelation 21.4
This is a precious promise. No more mourning. And the reason for that is obvious. There will be no more sin. And praise God for that!

It is as we experience this comfort, as the Spirit makes it real to us, that we will also experience a great sense of joy - and that even in the midst of our mourning. The plan of God for the redemption of the world is on track and will come to its intended goal. We mourn the evil of sin but are comforted by Jesus.

So, what do you do with all of this? Here’s one thing that you might want to consider. Pray for the ability to see the different ways in which you avoid mourning by distracting yourself from the evil of sin. It’s something that I’ve been working at. And at least for me, choosing to be distracted can be quite subtle.

The goal in all of this is not that we would mourn. The goal is for us to live well. But to do that we need to see reality clearly. We need to acknowledge the sin that is all around us and within us. And doing that, we will mourn. What’s important is that we mourn as Christians, people who believe that Jesus will comfort us. When we do that, we will be able to care about and care for the many who are suffering the evils of sin. Mourning over their plight, we will help them to see more and more clearly the Savior who rescues and comforts.