Psalm 51:1-17
Matthew 5:4

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Bible scholars agree that although the word translated ‘mourn’ could be a word used for the ‘mourning of the dead,’ that to understand this beatitude as such limits what Jesus had in mind.

For example, John Stott writes:

It is plain from the context that those Jesus promised comfort are not primarily those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but those who mourn the loss of their innocence, their righteousness, their self-respect. It is not the sorrow of bereavement to which Christ refers, but the sorrow of repentance. 1

In his commentary on this verse, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, after noting that this beatitude deals with spiritual mourning, has:

As we confront God and His holiness, and contemplate the life we are meant to live, we mourn our utter helplessness and hopelessness.” 2

And the other great British scholar, William Barclay, translates, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted as follows:

Oh the bliss of the man whose heart is broken for out of his sorrow he will find the joy of God.” 3

In other words, blessed are those who first recognize their brokenness and then cast themselves on the mercy of Christ, for they shall find comfort.

From my study of this saying, I conclude that Jesus is promising blessing for people who are broken in one of three ways:

First, a person can be broken by life’s negative circumstances. Job was such a person; he had the world by the tail! He had a large family and much wealth until in one fell swoop, he not only lost everything he had, he also became seriously ill. After the storm blew through, Job was a broken man.

Let the day of my birth be erased, and the night I was conceived. Let that day be turned to darkness. Let it be lost even to God on high, and let no light shine on it. I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.” (Job 3:3-4, 24-26).

Job was broken by the circumstances of life.

Second, a person can also be broken when he or she recognizes his or her sinfulness. The classic Biblical example is Peter who denied with loud swearing for emphasis that he even knew Jesus, let alone was one of His followers. Luke gives us the sad commentary:

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he (that is, Peter) went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62).

Peter, too, was a broken man.

And thirdly, a person can be broken when they realize that life’s negative circumstances ARE the consequences of their sinfulness. King David was such a person. His negative circumstance was the turmoil and treachery within his family and the immediate loss of his infant child. David did not experience brokenness until Nathan the prophet confronted him:

Why have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife” (II Samuel 12:9).

He was broken when he realized that his loss was the consequence of his own sinful behavior. He simply responds to Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord.” (II Samuel 12:13)

Are you, in any of these three ways, broken?

I don’t know; I may have to think about it. On the surface, my life seems to be pretty successful. I don’t think I want to even consider the possibility that I might be, in some sense, broken.

But wait a minute. If Jesus is promising blessing from brokenness, then maybe I should at least take some time to think about this.

Were you aware that when a tree’s life is threatened, stressed by the elements of fire, drought, or other calamity, it twists beneath its bark? On the surface, this twisting is not visible, for the bark often continues to give the same vertical appearance. Only when the exterior is stripped away, or when the tree is felled, are its inner struggles revealed.

I have a feeling that many of us are like those trees. On the outside, we do our best to maintain that vertical bark, that façade, so that everything appears normal. But on the inside, we are twisted by the stresses of life brought on by either circumstances or sin or both.

In a book, simply titled, Veneer, the authors make the case that contemporary American culture almost always values image or appearance over depth of character. They write:

Embarrassed by the scars of our humanity, we try to hide our brokenness. We use a veneer to cover ourselves, hoping others will perceive us as having greater worth, as being more beautiful and perfect than we feel inside.” 4

In Sociologist Brene Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability,” she pushes us to embrace our own brokenness, with the reality that we are not alone in it, that we are, or easily could be, just one step away from those broken people all around us.

We are ‘those people.’ Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug- addicted kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair away from being ‘those people.’ 5

Truth be told, we are broken and we know it and God knows it and if we are going to receive His blessing, we just need to let Him know that we know that He knows! And we need to cast ourselves on His mercy in the confidence that He will forgive and restore us because, after all, He loves us immeasurably; “higher than the sky, deeper than the sea, reaching out to me.”

And because He does, when we are broken, it is not the time to give up and turn away from God. On the contrary, it is the precise time to draw near to God.

David shows us the way in Psalm 51.

In Psalm 51, we see a man truly broken by his sin and its consequences. We witness a man who cries out to the Lord for mercy:

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2).

We see a man whose sin is ever at the forefront of his mind:

For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. (Psalm 51:3-4).

We see a man whose utmost desire is just to be clean again, to be pure, to be forgiven and restored:

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me. Now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit[d] from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, (Psalm 51:7-12a).

We see a man who has rightfully concluded that he is incapable of doing anything to make things right:

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. (Psalm 51:16).

In Psalm 51, we see a man who realizes what it will take to get back in the Lord’s favor:

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. (Psalm 51:17).

The person, like David, who realizes his or her brokenness and who flings themselves upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ will be blessed beyond measure! Those who cast themselves upon the Lord will discover the joy of an acceptance that can no one can question (Ephesians 1:6), a deliverance that can never be exceeded (2 Corinthians l:10), a grace that no one can limit (2 Corinthians 12:9), a hope that can never be disappointed (Hebrews 6:18, 19) an inheritance that can no one can take away (I Peter 1:3-5), a peace that can never be trifled with (John 14:27) and a salvation that can never be lost (Hebrews 5:9).

That’s what Job, Peter and David all delightfully discovered!

With them, that’s what we will discover too as we cry out to God: “Purify me from my sins and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

In the early 1800’s, the finest hospitals lost one out of six young mothers to the scourge of what was then known as “childbed fever.” Today we know it as sepsis. Back then, a doctor’s daily routine began in the autopsy room. From there he made his way to the hospital to examine new mothers without ever pausing to wash his hands.

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis became convinced that “childbed fever” was caused by the transfer of germs from the corpses to the mothers. He began to wash his hands with a chlorine solution, and after eleven years and the delivery of over 8,500 babies, he lost only one in fifty. He spent the rest of his life lecturing and debating with his colleagues imploring them to simply wash their hands. But virtually no one believed that anything good could come from simply washing. Semmelweis died insane at the age of 47, his washbasins discarded, his colleagues laughing in his face.

Before he died, at one of his lectures, he proclaimed:

Childbed fever is caused by decomposed material conveyed to a wound. I have shown how it can be prevented. I have proved all that I have said. But while we talk, talk, talk, gentlemen, women are dying. I am not asking anything world-shaking. I am asking you only to wash. For God’s sake, wash your hands. 6

“Wash me!” was the anguished prayer of David. “Wash me and I will be whiter than snow!”

If you came into this place today broken for any reason, “For your sake and for God’s sake, please wash yourselves in the blood of the lamb!” Come to Jesus by faith, confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, share in His body and blood and leave here a renewed person!

And you too will experience the promise of Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

1 Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, © 1978]. Page 10.

2 Lloyd-Jones, David, Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. M. B. Eerdmans Publishing, © 1959-1960, Reprinted 1984]. Page 58.

3 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew, (Revised Edition from The Daily Bible Study Series) [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, © 1975], Page 95.

4 Willard, Timothy and Locy, Jason. Veneer [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan,
© 2011), pages 56-57.

5 Adapted from Elisa Morgan, The Beauty of Broken [Nashville: Thomas Nelson,
© 2013), page 25.