Archive for the 'NT Bible Studies' Category

The Happy Mourner

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The first clause is a classic biblical paradox. Exceedingly happy (according to Kittle, that is what the word μακάριοι means; here translated blessed) is the person who is full of sorrow.

Here are a few others, just to sample Scripture’s Great Paradoxes:

  1. To save a life it must be lost, and vice versa. (Matthew 16:25)
  2. Rejoicing is manifest in suffering (Colossians 1:24)
  3. A believer is the fragrance of life, and of death (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

That last is one of my favorites, and deserves a post of its own; which it will get here later this week. How is a believer the fragrance of both death and life at the same time? Post forthcoming.

Now, two questions to keep the grey matter occupied. Why are they mourning? And why are they exceedingly happy?

Piper’s answer to the first question is that they are mourning their spiritual poverty and their sinful condition before God (from verse 3). That is probably true, but I can think of a few other reasons for their mourning. They might be lamenting their personal loss (e.g. most of the LXX uses of the Greek word πενθέω – to mourn), or mourning the world’s spiritual condition and the desperate multitudes without Christ; maybe they are suffering for Christ. Maybe it is because they are persecuted and hated. The text does not say exactly, just that they are filled with sorrow.

But the text does say why they are exceedingly happy: because they will be comforted. God, in all his glory, awaits them and will replace the sorrow with the oil of gladness. Isaiah sheds more light on the lot of the happy mourner:

…the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified… (Isaiah 61:1b-3 ESV)

Let’s not miss the grammatical time frames of the beatitude. His comforting awaits us, it will come; but the mourner is exceedingly happy now (blessed are they). Hope has been set before us and allows us to be happy through mourning. Perhaps, that is why Paul could say with such confidence:

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… (2 Cor 4:17 ESV)

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the Paupers

For my own spiritual nourishment, I just opened a study on The Sermon on the Mount and began today with the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

‘Blessed’ (μακάριος) means ‘exceedingly happy’. My aunt used to tell me that God was not concerned with our happiness, but only with our obedience. That sounds piously deep, but it hardly jives with Scripture.

I probably should have asked her to define what she meant by ‘happy’. If she was thinking of a life free of pain and rich in comfort and good fortune, or being without problems, etc., then yes, she had something going there. Gerhard Kittle, in his giant TDNT, defines the root μακάρ as a transcendent happiness. That means a happiness that is richer than the nice feeling that comes from having an easy life or by being spared hardship and suffering. It is a true, out-of-this-world kind of happiness: the sort that can only come from God – happiness that can endure cares, trials and even death. This is the exceeding happiness of someone ‘poor in spirit’.

In a lecture, Oswald Chambers said that one who is poor in spirit is literally a pauper. According to Webster’s 3rd, a pauper is “a person destitute of means except such as derived from charity”. Ah, thank you Ozzy (what are some nicknames for Oswald?) and you too, Webby! I like where this is going. The Greek word for poor (πτωχός), by the way, supports Chambers on this one (he can sometimes be a little less than hermeneutically exact in his interpretation). The word refers to spiritual destitution.

So, the spiritual pauper is exceedingly happy because ‘his is the kingdom of Heaven’. He is happy because by grace (charity) he has Heaven. As I was pondering this, I remembered something from a sermon that I preached at a conference in Asia last year:

I used to defend Christianity in all the wrong ways. When some intellectual would condescendingly attack my faith by calling Christianity things like: simple and for the simple; or whip out the Freudian, “a crutch for the weak and for those who cannot deal with reality”, I would point to the strong Christian thinkers who greatly contributed to society. I would mention geniuses like Augustine, whose thought influenced the development of Western civilization. I do not do that anymore because now I see that the Christian faith is indeed a crutch… and even more than that. It is for the weak, for the simple and for the destitute. It is for the person who has come to understand that he has neither the intellect nor the moral sense (i.e. meritorious ability) to help him deal with the reality of a holy God. He has nothing, save the precious gift of Jesus! Jesus came to heal the sick, the destitute… and to rescue the spiritual pauper…

…The one who has nothing to offer God, the spiritually poor, comes to Jesus in his helpless state, with empty hands and by faith. And in his spiritual poverty he is indeed blessed.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

(Note on source: My change of attitude towards the Christianity crutch was surely influenced by a sermon that I read a few years ago on the same text [Matthew 5:3] by John Piper [1986]. That excellent sermon can be found here.)