“Sowing In Tears” (Matthew 5:4 sermon)

I remember very well, listening to the young man in my church office a few years ago. He was burdened with some temptations to sin that he was experiencing. He couldn’t understand why he would have such feelings and temptations; and at one point he said, “It makes me wonder if I am even a Christian.”

Those feelings are very common — some of you here today, if you were honest, would admit that you have those same feelings as well. But what that young man needed to know — and what some of YOU need to realize today, is that genuine Christians DO experience temptations to sin — and those “bad feelings” you have, grieving over your tendency to sin, are actually GOOD. They are actually signs of a genuine Christian life!

— Jonathan Edwards, a pastor from the 1700’s, considered by many to be THE greatest American theologian, wrote that since he became a Christian, “I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness and the badness of my heart than ever I had before my conversion.”

— Donald Whitney, professor of spiritual growth at our Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, in his book 10 Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, wrote “the fact that there is a struggle with sin, and a sense of grief because of sin, is good. Unbelievers have no such struggles or griefs.”

That’s true. I’ve seen Christian guys who’ve just mourned over the fact that they had used pornography — but then I’ve also heard lost guys just laugh and boast about it! What’s the difference? The Christian person MOURNS over their sin. So, understand Christian person: feeling bad about your sin doesn’t mean you’re NOT a Christian — in fact, it may be the very best sign that you really ARE a Christian — or that you are about to become one!

This morning we are continuing our study on God’s goal for each of us, which is to build the character of Jesus Christ into our lives. We’ve seen that these qualities are spelled out for us in Matthew 5:3-12, in the passage we often call “The Beatitudes.” But the qualities we find here are not just 8 random qualities God blesses, but together they form a picture of the character of Jesus Himself, that God is causing “all things” to work together for good (Rom. 8:28-29) to build into our lives.

Last Sunday we saw that the first quality was “poor in spirit”, which means depending on God, first of all, for our salvation, but then also for everything in our Christian lives, and that we show how much we depend on Him, by the way we pray. If you missed that message, I hope you will go to our website at www.fbcangleton.com and listen to it, or go to my website at shawnethomas.com and read the text. It’s SO foundational to all that we are talking about here. You MUST learn to depend upon God to even enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, or to grow in it. But today we are moving on to the 2nd quality Jesus gives us in this passage: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I. This mourning is over SIN.

The first thing we need to understand here is that this is not addressing mourning in general, like “God will comfort those who have lost loved ones” or something like that. Now, of course there IS comfort from God for loved ones who have passed away — especially if you know that loved one was a Christian. And yet that kind of mourning, and that kind of comfort, is NOT really what Jesus is addressing here.

We saw in the Introductory message that these Beatitudes are SPIRITUAL qualities. It’s not just “poor” who are blessed, but “poor in SPIRIT.” And it’s not just mourning over ANYTHING that is blessed, it is “spiritual” mourning — mourning over sin. If you’ll look, you’ll see that the Bible speaks a lot about the importance of mourning over our sins, and the sins of others:

— James 4:9 commands us to “be miserable, MOURN and weep” because of our sins

— In I Corinthians 5:2 Paul says the church should MOURN the sins of a man in their church who was living immorally.

This is what Jesus is talking about here in Matthew 5:4. He is referring to mourning over SIN.

Now this may sound odd to us today. We’ve been taught by the world that if we want to be happy, we shouldn’t dwell on our sins. Just “sweep it under the rug”; “put it behind you and go on,” etc. And the world would tell you never to call anyone a “sinner” – that would damage their “self-esteem”! Mourning over sin is the exact opposite of what popular opinion would encourage us to do.

But Jesus “turns the world upside down” in this Sermon on the Mount. Or as someone said, He really puts the world “right side up”! He says you must NOT minimize your sin, or lightly pass over it. Instead, you need to confront your sin, and mourn over it, and let that mourning cause you to take it to the Lord so He can deal with it for you.

One of the very best examples of this in scripture is found in Isaiah Chapter 6. Isaiah has a vision God in the temple, with the angels calling out, “holy, holy, holy”, and his first response to that vision of God was to mourn: “Woe is me, for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” As soon as Isaiah saw the vision of the thrice-holy God, he was immediately convicted, and mourned over his own sin.

One important lesson from Isaiah 6 is that a genuine encounter with God will convict a person of sin. I would go so far as to say that if you thought you had an encounter with God, but you were not made conscious of your sin, you did not meet God. God is a HOLY God. Even those who knew Him well – Isaiah, Moses, Abraham, John – fell as dead in His presence when they met Him. If you say that you have had an encounter with God, and were not convicted of your sin, you may have had a good feeling; you may have a vivid imagination, but if you have truly encountered God, you WILL be convicted of your sin. I think this is true even in our personal prayer times. One of the ways I know that I haven’t had the quality time with God that I should have had in my prayer time is if I can look back and see that I wasn’t convicted of my sin at any time during the prayer. For us to really meet God, as sinful human beings, is to be convicted of sin.

That’s what we see in Isaiah. As soon as he encountered God, he was aware of his sin: “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips …” He mourned over his sin when he saw God. But his mourning led to his cleansing. When Isaiah had mourned his sin, the Bible says one of the angels came to him with a coal from the altar, touched his lips with it, and said “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.” And it was then that the Lord gave Isaiah his call to the ministry, and some of the greatest revelations in all of the Bible were given to him in the Book of Isaiah. But before he could have the comfort and the revelation and the ministry, he had to have the mourning over his sin first.

That’s why Jesus says here that the one who mourns his sin is blessed — because their mourning will drive them to take it to the Lord to get it forgiven. So, if you’re feeling badly about your sins, be grateful! God is working in you! And be careful in your dealing with other people not to glibly tell them not to feel badly about their sins. That deep sense of conviction they have may be a God-sent mourning in their life! Let them mourn their sins; but be sure you point them in the right direction with their mourning — help them take it to Jesus, who will give them the forgiveness and peace they are looking for. But we must first mourn our sins to be able to find that forgiveness and peace. That’s why Jesus says, “Blessed” – truly, spiritually happy – is the one who mourns over his sin.

II. Mourning and Salvation

Just like last week, we find that this this second Beatitude applies first of all to our salvation. Blessed is the person who mourns over their sinful condition before God, because this is the one who will find salvation, and be comforted with forgiveness, and with a home in heaven.

Here we see some of the “connectedness” of these Beatitudes: how they “flow” from one to the next. When you realize, first of all, that you are “poor in spirit” before God, then it leads naturally to this second one, mourning before God over your sin. The one feeds right into the next.

And this mourning over sin is a vital step in salvation. You must realize that you are a sinner, and mourn your sin, before you can turn to Jesus and find the comfort of His salvation. We saw last week that the publican realized his “poverty in spirit”, so he mourned his sin and beat his chest – but Jesus said “this man went to his house justified”! The “mourner was comforted” with salvation!

This happens all the time. The first step to anyone’s salvation is a conviction of sin. Someone once told me of how when they were a child, they committed a particular sin, and they felt so badly about it; but that burden – what Jesus calls here “mourning” over their sin – ended up bringing him to hear about Jesus: that He died for him on the cross and paid for that sin he was so grieved about. So they found the comfort of forgiveness through Jesus, but the mourning had to come first – and then the comfort of salvation.

This is how we knew when our son David was ready to be saved. One Sunday morning while we were serving in Tulsa, we gave the invitation, and David came down to the front and said he wanted to be baptized. As I always do when I counsel children, I asked him first of all if he knew what sin was. He said he did, so I asked him to name some sins, and he did. Then I asked him, “Have YOU done some of these sins?” He shook his head emphatically, “NO!”, he hadn’t done any of that!! So I knew by that, that he was not really ready to be saved. You aren’t ready for a Savior until you first know that you are a sinner! It was a year or more later then, that David came down during an invitation, and this time when I asked him if he had sinned, tears fell from his eyes — in fact, some people from our congregation told me later that they could see David’s big tears falling from his eyes down onto the Bible I was holding in my hand. So David trusted Jesus as his Savior that day, and ever since that time, He has had the comfort of knowing that he was forgiven and right with God. But his mourning over sin had to come first, before he would know the comfort of real salvation.

Maybe today you are feeling bad about the sins in your life. And maybe someone’s telling you to just “put it behind you” and forget it. Or maybe you have tried to “cover up” your guilt with alcohol, or drugs, or entertainment. But God is showing you today that your mourning is actually GOOD – it shows that you know you have sinned and you need God’s salvation. That mourning over sin you are experiencing is a BLESSING, the Bible says, because it is leading you today to Jesus. If you will take your sin to Jesus, He will forgive you, and He will save you — no matter how badly you feel, or what you have done. Jesus said “The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.” Come to Jesus today, and your mourning over sin will be turned to comfort in Him.

But see, the point is, if you have a bad feeling about your sin, that’s GOOD! God is using the guilt of your sin to bring you back to Himself: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

III. Mourning in the Christian Life.

Just like being poor in spirit doesn’t stop when you depend upon God for salvation, so mourning over sin does not stop when you find forgiveness, either. Mourning over your sins is something that God will continue to use in your life to mold you into the image of Christ. He will continue convict you of sin throughout your life, so you will continue bringing it to Him, to be cleansed and changed.

The Apostle Paul had been Christian ever since he met Jesus on the Damascus road, but he continued to mourn the sin in his life. In Romans 7 Paul was so frustrated with the ongoing sin in his life, and he cried out: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (:19) And he cried out in :24 “Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death?” You can tell Paul was just mourning his sin. But his mourning led him to forgiveness in Christ! In the next verse (:25) he calls out: “Thanks be to God, through Christ Jesus our Lord!” His mourning over sin, even as a Christian, led him to be comforted through daily forgiveness in Christ.

This should be our continual experience as Christians. God commands us in James 4:9 to take our sins seriously, and mourn over them: it says: “Be miserable, mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you.”

Unfortunately, this kind of mourning our sins is too often missing from our lives as Christians. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, probably THE foremost British preacher of the late 1900’s, wrote, “I cannot help feeling that the final explanation of the state of the Church today is a defective sense of sin.” He went on to say that the flip side of that is that neither do we experience the true heights of Christian joy. And he says, don’t you see, these 2 things are RELATED! Because we don’t mourn deeply over our sins, we also don’t soar greatly in joy when we’re forgiven. Only the one who greatly mourns his sin, will be greatly comforted with joy.

Now we need to notice that this quality of mourning is not just “feeling” badly about our sin. It is an inward conviction of sin that leads you to DO something to change it. A lot of people don’t understand this. They think if they just “feel bad” about their sin, that is what God wants. It’s not. Real repentance is not just a feeling but involves action; it involves change.

Paul makes this clear in II Corinthians 7:9, where he says: “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God … for the sorrow that is according to God produces a repentance … but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Paul was saying there that there is a kind of “worldly sorrow” for sin – “feeling bad” for what you’ve done, but it never really changes anything. But he said, there is a “godly sorrow” – the kind of “mourning over sin” that Jesus is talking about here, that brings you to “repentance” – and that word “repentance” means a “u-turn” – a change in direction. So Biblical mourning is not just a feeling, it causes you to take ACTION to DO things differently!

It is one thing to feel badly about your sin; it is another to DO something about it. It is like the character Caleb in the Christian movie “Fireproof” that came out a few years back. Caleb had been involved in internet pornography, and he was mourning over the damage it had done to his marriage. So at one point in the movie, he takes his computer outside and just starts hammering it with a baseball bat! Now, I am not recommending this as your “action plan” for pornography — just get some screening software and save your computer! But the point is, when you really “mourn” over your sin in a biblical way, you don’t just feel badly about it; you don’t just say you are “sorry” for it — you DO SOMETHING about it!

Some of you may say: “I feel really bad about a sin in my life today.” Well, feeling bad can be a good first step. But if you are really “mourning” over your sin like Jesus talks about here, you will not only feel badly about it, your mourning will lead you to DO something about it. God may be speaking to you right now about some specific steps of action you need to take about a particular sin in your life:

— Write down what God is leading you to do;

— tell somebody about it who will pray with you and hold you accountable,

— and then TAKE those steps with God’s help (remember “poor in spirit”; depend on Him to help you!)

But Godly mourning doesn’t just “feel sorry”; it DOES something about your sin.

IV. Mourning for OTHERS.

We’ve seen how mourning applies to our own sin, both before and after we are saved. But this also applies to mourning over the sins of OTHER people as well. In fact, this is where we find this as a character quality of Christ. Jesus had no sins of His own to mourn! The Bible makes that clear. Hebrews 4:15 says “He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” So Jesus didn’t mourn over His OWN sins, but He did mourn over the sins of OTHERS. We see this throughout the Gospels:

— Jesus wept outside of Lazarus’ tomb in John 11 – not because Lazarus had died; He was about to raise him from the dead! He was weeping over the sin-hardened hearts of the people who were standing there, about to see a man come back to life, and yet who still would not believe! and He mourned their sins!

— Jesus repeatedly mourned the sins of His disciples, saying things like: “oh, ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”

— One of my favorite examples of Jesus mourning sin is found in Matthew 23:37, when He cries out: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.” Looking over this city that was the apple of His eye, and knowing what their sins were going to cost them, He mourned.

Dane Ortlund writes in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “Twice in the Gospels we are told that Jesus broke down and wept. And in neither case is it sorrow for Himself or his own pains. In both cases it is sorrow over another—in one case, Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and in the other, his deceased friend, Lazarus (John 11:35). What was his deepest anguish? The anguish of others. What drew his heart out to the point of tears? The tears of others.” (Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, loc 333)

Jesus was mourned over the sins and sorrows of other people, and God wants to form that same quality in us as His disciples.

The Apostle Paul had this heart:

— In Romans 9:1 He said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” – it was for his brother Israelites, who had rejected God’s plan for them in Christ.

— In II Cor. 12:21 he says when he comes back to Corinth he may have to “mourn” over the sins the people there had not repented of.

Paul mourned over the sins of others.

All through scripture we see that godly people mourn the sins of others:

— In Psalm 119:136, David says: “My eyes shed streams of water, because THEY do not keep Your Law.”

— Nehemiah was so smitten over the desolation of Jerusalem that he couldn’t hide his mournful countenance from the king.

And on and on; godly people mourn the sins of others.

So if we are becoming like Christ, we should mourn the sin we see around us. This week, President Joe Biden announced that he had selected a transgender “woman” to be the Assistant Secretary of Health for the United States. Our “one nation under God” is starting to more like Sodom and Gomorrah every day! So what’s our response to this going to be? Just ignore it, or say “oh well, it’s just changing times”? No, we should MOURN over this; it should bring us to our knees before God for our country!

Mourning over sin is a mark of Christlikeness. NOT mourning over sin is a mark of spiritual immaturity. In I Cor. 5, the Apostle Paul reprimands the church at Corinth, because they boasted about how “tolerant” they were by allowing a man to remain a member of their church while he was living in immorality with his father’s wife! Paul reprimanded them in :2,”You have become arrogant and have not MOURNED instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.” Paul said, you should mourn this, and take action over it, not ignore it. He told them to remove the member who was so blatantly sinning from their membership, to preserve the purity and witness of the church. Their mourning was to lead them to action.

— We saw how in Romans 9 how Paul mourned for his unsaved countrymen – and then in Romans 10:1 he writes: “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Paul’s mourning heart led him to action: to be a fervent intercessor for their salvation.

And it will be the same with us. As we become more “conformed to the image of Christ”, we will mourn over the sins of others in such a way that motivates us to action. And one of the best actions we can take is to pray. The best Christian mourning turns into intercession: PRAY for the people you are mourning over. PRAY for our country. We saw last week that the depth of your dependence upon God is measured by your prayers; in the same way, the depth of your mourning for others can be measured by your prayers too: if you are really mourning, you will be praying. So ask yourself then: how much is your mourning over your loved ones leading you to pray? If you were to put a clock to it, how much time do you actually spend praying for the people you say that you care about? If you are really mourning what is going on in their lives, you will be constantly praying for them! And when we turn to God in Biblical, mournful, intercession, He does hear our prayers.

Most of you have probably heard the name of St. Augustine, who lived over 1000 years ago. But He was not always “Saint” Augustine! Despite having a very godly mother, Monica, he rebelled against the teaching he grew up with, drank to excess, and lived immorally. But his mother never gave up on him. She “mourned” the sins of her son. In fact, Augustine would write later that his mother Monica mourned his spiritual death more than most parents mourn their children’s physical deaths. She was often found weeping and praying to God for Augustine’s salvation. One day, she was at her church, crying out again at the altar for her son’s soul. The pastor came up to her and said, “Fear not; a son of such tears shall never perish.” Monica took that as a sign from God, and she walked away from the church that day with a peace that her son would be saved. Sure enough, not long afterwards, Augustine came under conviction while listening to a sermon, and he was saved, and grew to become the “St. Augustine” who has influenced so many throughout history.

CONCLUSION

Psalm 126:5 says: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” This Old Testament verse foreshadows just what Jesus is teaching here in the New Testament: sow in tears and mournful prayers for those who are on your heart – and one day, you will “reap with joy”! God will comfort you as He answers your prayers for those who are on your heart.

But we’ve got to be willing to have that mourning heart. I’ve had people come to me with a broken heart for someone, as if that was somehow a “bad” thing that they need to get rid of. NO! Don’t get rid of that! Jesus wept and mourned for those He loved, and God wants YOU to be like that too. DON’T try to cover it up; DON’T try to forget it or brush it away. Care deeply for people, even when it hurts. Let it drive you to weep and seek God in powerful, tearful prayer. Those are the prayers He hears, and answers.

See, the problem many of us have is that we are trying to circumvent the process. We want the comfort, but we don’t want the mourning first:

— We want the joy of salvation, but do not want to mourn our sins first.

— We want the joy of the Christian life, without daily conviction of sin.

— We want to “reap” with joy the answered prayers in the lives of our loved ones, but we do not want to “sow in tears” in intercessory prayer first.

— We want the joy of an “Easter Sunday” – but we don’t want the pain of a “Good Friday” first. The truth is, there can be no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday first. There can be no resurrection without death first. And there can be no real joy and answer to prayer, where there has not been mourning and godly sorrow first. You can experience all the joy and answered prayer that God has for you — but you have to be willing to feel it in your heart first. If you’re feeling it deeply, that’s GOOD! That means you’re headed in the right direction! That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for THEY (and they alone) shall be comforted.”

INVITATION:

— Perhaps you came into this room today feeling badly about your sin. Maybe you’ve thought, or people have told you, that you just needed to “get over it” – but God’s showing you today that your mourning is actually a GOOD thing, that it’s leading you to Him. Bring your sin to Jesus today; ask His forgiveness …

— Or if you are a Christian, and you are feeling guilty over your sins, God is convicting you to bring that sin to Him to be forgiven. When you do, ask him what specific steps He wants you to take to turn away from that sin in the future. Tell somebody about it, so you can be accountable to them, and they can pray for you — and then ask God to give you the strength to take the steps you need to.

— Others of us have children, or grandchildren, or other loved ones who are not saved, who are on our hearts today. DON’T just become “resigned” to it; DON’T just “accept” it. MOURN where they are. Let what Jesus says in this verse cause you to call out to God for them in a new way today. And may God grant that it be said of you and your loved one, like it was of Monica and Augustine, that “a son of such tears shall never perish”! Let’s make this altar a place of prayer this morning for our loved ones, and for our country, and others who are on our hearts …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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