Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - mourners will be comforted

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4)

The beatitudes seem to be a progressive description of those who are blessed by God. They begin with the awful realisation discussed earlier that we sinners can only come empty-handed before a holy God and plead for mercy because of the blood of Christ which was shed for our sins. Having recognised this fact, and approached God in repentance and faith in Christ, the kingdom of heaven is indeed ours, a wonderful gift of grace.

The recognition that we are sinners who have broken God’s holy law will then lead us to mourning over our sins. Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church in which he confronted them with their sinful behaviour. In his follow-up letter he writes “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it...because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended...Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor 7:8,9,10).

I am an expert at worldly sorrow. When I have let myself down by my thoughts, actions or lack of action, my pride has been wounded, and I have beaten myself up over my inability to live the way God wants me to live. And that is as far as I have got. Damaged pride has led to self-condemnation and self-absorption and self-centredness.

Godly sorrow is the recognition that as a sinner with a sinful nature, when I sin I need to bring it before a holy God and repent and ask forgiveness from Him. It is also the recognition that I am not saved by my own righteousness, but instead I am saved by the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. It is the recognition that in Christ I have one who speaks to the Father in my defence, “Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1). It is the looking away from myself towards the author and perfecter of my faith. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, salvation, Christ-absorption and Christ-centredness.

The blessing contained in this beatitude is another great promise, that those who mourn over their sin will indeed be “comforted”. Confession and repentance of our sins leads to forgiveness and peace with God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). This is the awesome good news of the gospel, that the blood of Christ is able to “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14). Praise God!

And yet, one of the great paradoxes of Christianity is that the more we grow in our faith, the more aware we become of our sin. Charles Spurgeon said “I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him” (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons Vol 16 p.221). The more light we receive, the more we see the darkness which remains. This is why it is so important that we never lose sight of the gospel message – we have to walk in repentance on a daily basis, never thinking that we have “arrived”. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). The apostle Peter placed much confidence in his flesh, proudly claiming before Christ “even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”, (Matthew 26:35), yet only a few hours later he denied Christ three times. I believe we are in a much stronger position when we recognise the weakness of our flesh and our inability to live the Christian life, and instead rely upon Christ and the provision of his strength – as the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). The moment we begin to rely upon ourselves and our own righteousness, good works, strength in the faith, whatever it may be, we are moving away from grace. The more closely we follow after grace, the stronger we will become in Him.

Let us mourn over our sin, let us recognise the awfulness of sin and its abomination before a holy God, and let us determine to wage a daily war with our sinful nature, putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit. Let us recognise that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14) and let us seek with all our hearts the holiness of Christ, recognising the truth that if we are found in Him, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all...because by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:10,14). We have been made holy (justified) and He is making us holy (sanctification). It is all of Him, it is all of His grace.

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