In Matthew 5:3, Jesus speaks a blessing over those who are poor in spirit. In Luke 4:18-21, He announces that He has fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of proclaiming good news to the poor and freedom to the captives. Before we came to faith, we were prisoners, in bondage to sin, and utterly helpless and bankrupt before a Holy God. Sadly, we often lose sight of this fact once we’re saved. To avoid what some call cheap grace, we should remember how miserably we fail to live up to God’s perfect standard every day of our lives. Our spiritual poverty is an ongoing reality. Just as the OT economic poor had no resources or hope except to rely on God’s provision, so too we are utterly dependent on Jesus—His birth, death, and resurrection.
Once we acknowledge the extent of our unworthiness and the depth of Christ’s love, our response can only be to mourn over our sin and the sins of others—especially if we adopt the “these and these only” interpretation of the Beatitudes we looked at last week. After all, if the cruelty and Evil which sent Jesus to the cross doesn’t generate a deep emotional response within us, can our hearts truly be right with God?
Although it may seem odd to discuss mourning on December 25, remember that without Easter, Christmas has no eternal value and that, thanks be to God, Matthew 5:4 promises “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The Christmas season is meant to be a time of great happiness and love, but for some, it can mean days filled with stress, loneliness, or depression.
Can we trust in the truth of this Beatitude in the midst of inconsolable grief—when comfort feels elusive? Is it helpful—or even possible—to seek relief in a someday promise of eternal joy when mired in loss and heartbreak now? Confronted with this seeming paradox, it might help to consider a concept that theologians call the “already/not yet” aspect of the Kingdom of God.
For example, John the Baptist said the Kingdom of heaven was near (Matthew 3:2) in reference to Jesus. Consider that if the afterlife is a place of communion and fellowship with God and His saints, Jesus provides us with the opportunity to experience that here and now—through the Holy Spirit and His church. As NT believers, we live in the interim period between Jesus’ first appearing and His Second Coming. Through faith, we’ve already obtained many of the gifts and promises described in Scripture, and yet they will not be fully experienced until the end of this age when He fully restores all things to their original glory. The already, not yet.
In the same way, I think the Beatitudes speak of the blessing we can experience now as well as those we will have in the life to come. As humans, it’s impossible to live very long in this world without experiencing grief—even Jesus wept. But the Bible teaches that while weeping might last for a night, joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). Even the terrible heartache of divorce, the death of a loved one, or the anguish of unbelieving children can be—and is—soothed by faith. “For we do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (I Thess 4:13).
How is this supernatural peace possible and where does it come from? In John 4:16, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter. As Christians, we are indwelt with the Spirit of God which makes available a peace that passes all understanding (Eph 4:7).
And the promise only gets better for the future. Not only are we the only people with a God, our God loves us. By coming to earth as a man, Jesus experienced pain and sorrow just as we do, so He knows our heartache—and how to heal it. As we might treasure a keepsake or lock of hair from a beloved parent or child, Psalm 56:8 says God stores our tears in a bottle. What an incredibly tender and loving Father we have.
Finally, Revelation 21:4 promises: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” May the peace of God, the forgiveness of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit comfort all who mourn—individually and collectively—this Christmas.