Saturday, November 27, 2010


“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Matthew 5:4

For the last few weeks, I’ve been teaching a class on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and been meditating on the Beatitudes.  I’ve already published 8 posts (the last time I taught it), but as I continue to study I’ll probably have more.  See: THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.

There are a number of questions raised by this beatitude.

First, does this saying contradict Matthew 8:21, 22:  “And another of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go away and bury my father.’ But Jesus says to him, ‘Follow Me and leave the dead to bury their own dead!’”?

I don’t believe Jesus is forbidding mourning in this pronouncement.  This is simply one more of Jesus’ radical demands for discipleship.  We are told that this man already was a disciple.  Elsewhere throughout the gospels we read of Jesus making demands that would seem to be calculated to drive people away rather than attract them.

To a scribe who said, “Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever You go.”  Jesus replied, “The foxes have their dens and the birds of the sky their nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place He may lay His head” (Matthew 8:19, 20).

“The one who loves father or mother more than Me isn’t worthy of Me.  The one who loves son or daughter more than Me isn’t worthy of Me.  And whoever doesn’t take his cross and follow Me isn’t worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37, 38).

These are only a few of the radical demands Jesus makes on His followers and would-be followers.  He expects total commitment!  This doesn’t contradict His compassion as expressed elsewhere.  “Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened down, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, because I am gentle (praus -- same word as is translated “meek” or “gentle” in the third beatitude) and lowly in heart and you’ll find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is kind and My load is easy” (Matthew 11:28-30).

A second question is who are the mourners?  They are the same persons as are mentioned in all nine beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).  They are those persons who recognize that they have a need and are coming to Jesus to have that need met.  They are “poor in Spirit,” “meek,” “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” and so on.

And they are mourning.  There are four Greek words for mourning used in the Greek New Testament.  Though they are synonyms and often used interchangeably, there are different nuances in their meaning.
Lupeo, which speaks of sorrow, pain, distress or grief.  It speaks to the deep emotion of the griever.
Threneo, which speaks of lamenting, even “sing a dirge.” It brings to mind the loud emotional expression of grief (John 16:20 uses both words).
Kopto, (literally “cut”) expresses the outward signs of mourning or grief, “beat the breast” (cf. Matthew 24:30).
 The word used in Matthew 5:4 is Pentheo.  It is often used in the transitive sense – to mourn over or for something.  The disciples will mourn for Jesus when He is taken (Matthew 9:15).  Paul wonders why the Corinthians haven’t mourned over sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:2).

And what are these persons mourning?  Jesus doesn’t say, so we are forced to interpret.  We mourn that which is lost.
 The loss of a loved one through death: a parent, a child, a friend, a spouse.
 The loss of a loved one through alienation.
 A spiritually lost loved one.
 The loss of our childhood.
 A lost opportunity.
 A material loss
 A sin
 Our own sinfulness.

Whatever the loss it leaves a hole in our heart.

And Jesus doesn’t promise that He will cause us not to mourn.  He doesn’t promise us that we will cease mourning, but that in our mourning we will be comforted.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I wrote in a previous post of the IMITATION OF CHRIST and hope to continue further, but first I feel I need to write on a related topic, especially as it is found in the writings of Paul.

Paul uses a number of words with the root MORPHE (form) which speak of a future (and I believe, present) condition in the life of the believer.

In Philippians 3:20 and 21, Paul says, “For our citizenship is in Heaven, from where we are also eagerly expecting the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will refashion the body of our humiliation, conformed (SUMMORPHOS) to the body of His glory …”  He is speaking of a future change at the second coming of our Lord.  At that time, we will be completely changed over and will be made like Christ.  This is undoubtedly what the Apostle John is speaking of in 1 John 3:2, where he says “… we know that when He appears we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Paul also uses the same word in Romans 8:29, where he says, “Because whom He (God) foreknew, He also predestined conformed (SUMMORPHOS) to the image of His Son.”  It appears that here Paul is also speaking of a future transformation.  The context (Romans 8:28-20) places it within the “purpose” of God.

But Paul says (verse 28), “God is working all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  This seems to imply a present work of God in our daily lives.

When Paul reprimands the Galatian believers for attempting to put themselves under the Old Testament Law, he calls them, “My children for whom I again am suffering birth pains until Christ is formed (MORPHOO) in you …” (Galatians 4:19).  He seems to be expressing a present goal of Christ-likeness in them, which they are slow to attain.  In other words, even though God’s purpose is to make us like Christ at His return,  He is presently working out that change in our lives.  He is working to make us like Jesus right now!

Paul tells the Roman believers that they are to “stop being conformed (different word: (SUSCHEMATIZO) to this age, but be being transformed (METAMORPHOO) by the renewing of the mind, so as to test and approve what the will of God is – the good and well pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).  He says that this transformation process is through the renewing of one’s mind and that it should lead to a testing and approving of God’s will.  In other words, it begins with the mind and is carried out in one’s actions.

Another passage that throws some light on the transformation process is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with face unveiled, contemplating (or reflecting) as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (METAMOPHOO) into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Spirit of the Lord.”

I believe that the way that we renew our minds is by gazing into the mirror of the Scripture.  There we see ourselves in our needy state – not a very pretty sight.  As Paul tells us in Romans 5: helpless, ungodly – sinners – enemies of God.  Or the horrible list of negative qualities in Romans 1.  But it is also in the Scriptures we see Christ.  We see Him as the perfect Man who walked this earth.  We see Him as the incarnate God who gave His life for us.

We see two “images” – ourselves and Jesus Christ.  And those two are extremely out of focus with each other.  But it is only as we see ourselves in comparison with Him that we can begin to bring ourselves into focus with Him.  As John Calvin said, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

It is as we study and meditate on the Scriptures, on their picture of us and their picture of Jesus that we move into the process of transformation, when we are continually becoming more and more like Him.

And our goal is to be “to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings, being conformed (SUMMORPHIZO) to His death” (Philippians 3:10).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Every once in a while when I am teaching or preaching, I hear an “Ouch!” or a “Yikes!” from one of the persons in the class/congregation.  The other day I received an e-mail with a few comments on my last post.  At least one statement I’d made received a “Yikes!”

Of course, being a lover of words, I had to ascertain the precise meanings of these words.  Well, according to my Webster’s, they are defined as follows:
        “Ouch – interjection – used especially to express sudden pain.”
        “Yikes – interjection – used to express fear or astonishment.”

It seemed interesting to me that a quote from, or a comment on a passage of Scripture could arouse pain, fear or astonishment.  Was it something I said, or the way I said it?  I really don’t want to scare people or hurt them.

But the Scriptures do at times frighten us.  They can poke us and pain us.

I have been a reader of and a student of the Bible for over 50 years.  I have read through the book at least once in every one of those years and studied most of it in depth.  It is very easy to fall into a rut of just reading the words or the stories without feeling them, without receiving their painful jabs.

But every so often something will leap from the pages and arouse an “ouch!”  Or “yikes!”  Or perhaps when I’m sitting in church, listening to the preacher go on about a familiar passage and he suddenly opens up something I hadn’t seen before.  Or someone in a Bible study will make a comment or ask a question that had never entered my mind.

Now I’m not talking about some new and interesting interpretation of some familiar text.  I’m talking about a new application – a moment when I’m hit with the fact that this text is making demands on me that I have not been carrying out, or have been unwilling to carry out.

This Sunday I’m beginning a new Sunday school class with a small group of adults.  I plan on taking them through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  When I’ve told people about my topic, some have asked questions like “What are you going to do with it?” or “What are your goals?”

Of course, I could give many standard answers, like “I want the students to learn to live by its principles,” or something like that.  But I’m enough of a realist to recognize that lives don’t change much over a few weeks or months of teaching.

Perhaps I should simply say that I’m looking for a few good “Yikes!” moments, those times when those in the class (myself included) will be hit between the eyes with a demand of Jesus that we’d never been confronted with before – a demand that will change our thinking and actions even if only in some small way.