The world loves to laugh. Comedians will always have an audience. People don’t like kill-joys who ruin the party. Yet Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4). He doesn’t mean that God’s people are always to be gloomy or morose.

Still less is he saying they are to wallow in self-pity.

He has in mind the grief we experience when we become aware of the purity of God, and the reality of the dark side of our nature. Isaiah the prophet was keenly aware of this when he saw a vision of the glory of God in the temple. ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ the angels sang. He despaired: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips’ (6:5).

It is the cry of someone who, thinking they are good enough for God, discovers they are not. None of us is. Malcolm Muggeridge, a former editor of the British Punch magazine, wrote: ‘The depravity of men and women is at once the most unpopular of all dogmas, but the most empirically verifiable.’ Paul the Apostle writes: Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)

The crie de couer of one of the criminals crucified with Jesus echoes the grief Jesus is talking about in his Beatitude. “Don’t you fear God?” the dying criminal said to his colleague. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve….”  Turning to Jesus he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

This man was no saint, yet something about Jesus stirred hope within him. Perhaps it was the contrast between Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness for his tormentors, and the anger of his friend. He knew Jesus was innocent: “This man has done nothing wrong,” he said. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus promised (Luke 23:43).

There is another aspect of grief: Grief for the world’s sin. Are there not times when we are grieve over the injustices, the human trafficking, the looting and destruction that has accompanied the current protests? The influence of marxism with its anti-God philosophy in schools, universities and the media? Increasingly we see around us a world that has lost sight of the reality of God, and we weep.

Down through the ages God’s people have wept at the plight of men and women trapped in the darkness of their own ego. Calvin did. So too did George Whitfield and John Wesley, John Newton, William Wilberforce, and the Earl of Shaftesbury.

God’s people are realists. We understand that death is a reality to be faced. We know that sin is unspeakably ugly in the light of God’s purity. We also know that eternity exists and that we are all rushing towards it. We understand that God not only exists but has spoken, revealing the alternatives that will come to pass — life or death, pardon or condemnation, heaven or hell.

‘My followers,’ Jesus says, ‘mourn because of the sins and blasphemies of the nation; mourn because of the erosion of the very concept of truth. They mourn over the greed, the cynicism, the lack of compassion evident everywhere. They even mourn that there are so few who mourn’.

Where then is there comfort in this troubled world? “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says, “for they shall be comforted.”

In grieving over our own sin, we are comforted with the knowledge of Jesus’ pardon and absolution when we turn to him with an honest and repentant heart. Paul the Apostle tells us in his Letter to the Colossians (2:13f), that the charges which stand against us have been nailed to the cross of Christ. The future tense, …shall be comforted that Jesus promises, stands behind Paul’s words. The comfort we long for from God could only happen once his perfect sacrifice had been made. The cross of Christ holds out to us a true comfort and joy, because through Christ we now have peace with God.

John Newton, who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, said: I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I hope to be – but by the grace of God I am not what I was.

And there is more. Insofar that we mourn the lost-ness of people around us, there is the comfort that comes when they respond to God’s gospel. In Colossians 1:5-6 Paul writes that the gospel, the word of the truth, has come to you,… In the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing. Too often we don’t experience this aspect of God’s comfort today because, silenced by or fearful of the voices around us, we have ceased to promote God’s good news.

Which brings us to another layer of comfort: the comfort that history is moving to an end point. A day will come when Christ will be revealed in all his might, majesty, dominion and power. Our own relationship with God, now hidden in Christ, will be revealed in all its glory.

Before you go to bed this evening why not read Jesus’ words afresh: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. You may want to kneel beside your bed and open your heart to God. As you pour out your heart to him, ask him for his full and free forgiveness. Pray also for your family, friends, colleagues and the nation.

When we put our lives in the hands of the Lord Jesus his promise of comfort rings true. His plan is to turn this troubled world, this vale of tears, into a dawn of lasting comfort and joy. His death has made it possible. His resurrection assures us of it.

© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com

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