“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
The Greek word for “mourn” in this verse is pentheo, which specifically refers to the strongest, most intensive kind of mourning. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, this word is used to describe Jacob’s grief when he thought his beloved son Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:34).
Still, the question is, how can such mourning equate to blessedness? The typical commentator’s explanation is to make the mourning a mourning over one’s sins. The person who is under extreme conviction over his sinful condition, to the point of gut-wreching mourning over it, will find forgiveness and comfort in Christ.
Certainly this is a doctrinally sound thought, but I can’t help but wonder if we should be so quick to explain away the literalness of Christ’s words. Would His disciples really have understood the mourning to be mourning over one’s sins? I have to question that.
I lean toward thinking that Jesus was emphasizing that He was the answer for death. Mourning has always walked hand in hand with death. Perhaps then Jesus was saying, “There’s now One on the scene who can provide the greatest comfort to those who have lost loved ones.”
In the Luke version of the sermon, Jesus says nothing about those who mourn. Instead, He says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). But just as mourning walks hand in hand with death, weeping walks hand in hand with mourning. Therefore, it isn’t hard to link “Blessed are those who mourn” and “Blessed are you who weep now” together. The fact that Jesus got more individually specific in the Luke version by using the word “you” seems to be a case of tailoring a sermon to fit an audience.
In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and Death.” Since Hades was the general realm of the dead, Jesus was pointing out that He has complete charge over the afterlife. If a person knew Him as Savior in life, that relationship would continue in death. As Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent (body), is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord…We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:1,6,8).
Speaking for myself, it brings me indescribable comfort to know that the souls of my loved ones who died in Christ went to heaven to be with Him. For them, death was a promotion and a call home. Rather than mourn a Christian’s passing, we should celebrate it. After all, as Paul said in another passage, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:21,23).
I’ve preached more funerals than I can remember, and in each one I tried to bring some comfort to the family. I have to say, though, that the greatest comfort I ever gave anybody came from assuring them that the soul of their Christian loved one was with the Lord in heaven. Such funerals preach themselves. And it is because of these experiences that I can say with certainty that Jesus really does provide comfort for the blessed (the saved) who mourn the deaths of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.