Message: Happily Humiliated | Scripture: Matthew 5:4,5 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
There’s a phenomenon called incongruous emotion, which refers to moments when you experience and exhibit an emotion that is opposite from what others might expect from you. My first time really seeing this came in my 7th grade violin class. In it, there was one kid who really liked to talk about how good he was, and more than that, he liked to show off to us all the time. And because of it, my music teacher hated him and always picked on him.
I remember one class where this student was in a particular mood to show off, and my teacher lambasted him for it in front of all of us. He lost it. Yelling, swearing—this was at a Christian high school by the way. It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen from a teacher. But what made it all the more terrifying was that as this student was being yelled at, we all looked at him, and I imagine all of us were absolutely confused because plastered across his face was a smile. In fact, it seemed on the outside like this guy was enjoying our teacher’s wrath, and the angrier that our teacher got, the more this classmate of mine smiled and sometimes even laughed until, finally, our teacher, being fed up, kicked him out.
After class, as we left the room, we turned the corner only to see this classmate of ours sitting on the floor with his head huddled between his arms and knees. It turns out that he’d been crying and shaking since being sent out, unable to really come to terms with everything that had just happened to him.
Today, I want to draw upon my classmates’ example to outline for you, from the Sermon on the Mount, what it means to have a proper response to our humiliation, and how important that response is. Last week, I began our journey into the Sermon by discussing how only the person who is poor in spirit—the person who has been confronted with Jesus’ majesty and been made spiritually aware of his sinfulness, helpless, and hopelessness—is a person who can be truly happy because he, alone, has done three things: (1) he has grasped the depth of Christ’s condescension in his humanity to die for lowly, wicked, worthless creatures like us, (2) because of Christ’s condescension, he realizes that God has counted him as loveable when he was most unlovable, and (3) he realizes that this love and hope is undeterrable and invincible; it’s not dependent upon any fleeting thing that this world offers or takes away.
Yet, that poverty of spirit—that recognition of our sinfulness and helplessness—isn’t meant to be a mere acknowledgment. True happiness doesn’t come by simply admitting that you’ve fallen short of the glory of God. No, a true poverty of spirit should bring about a proper response. See, if my friend in my violin class had simply shown his remorse from the start, my violin teacher’s reaction would have been very different. But his indignation—his inability to deal properly with his humiliation—triggered my teacher’s further wrath resulting in further punishment. And today, Jesus is telling us to make sure that our humiliation of our sin and our sinfulness affects us properly and entirely.
This is how we might summarize the lesson of our text today: Let the humiliation of your sin affect your whole person—don’t let it be a simple acknowledgment or mental assent. If you want to be happy, you’ve got to let the truth of who you are in light of who God is displayed for us in Jesus Christ dig down deep into the very core of your being in order that all of it might be rooted out. You’ve got to do this regularly—this isn’t only for the unsaved, but it’s even more so for the converted—for the spiritual man. I said last week that our being filled with heavenly, eternal joy cannot precede our being emptied of our fleeting, damning sin—the negative commands must be given before we can receive the positive—and this week’s text is merely a continuation of that idea. It’s the explanation as to the extent and the drastic nature to which we must be emptied—and drastic it is—before we can be filled.
As Christians, we are to fight the natural inclinations of the flesh and put on the new man given to us by grace, and in order to do that, we must regularly let the humiliation of our sin affect us totally—internally and externally. Let’s see how to do that now in our first point:
1) Let It Affect You Internally
Follow along as I read from Matthew 5:4. TWoL: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy and travesty of our day is that we live in a world that says we ought never to apologize for ourselves. Listen to any of our great philosophers, entertainers, and poets of our day—all of them proclaim this message: “be who you want to be,” “care nothing for what others think of you,” give no ear to those who desire to see you change.”
In fact, this hateful and harmful message isn’t only coming from those who are externally influential but also those who are internally influential—people in our own families. Just listen to these lyrics from Lady Gaga, “My mama told me when I was young, “we are all born superstars [. . .] there’s nothing wrong with loving who you are, cause He made you perfect [. . .] I’m beautiful in my way ‘cause God makes no mistakes, I’m on the right track, I was born this way, Don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself, and you’re set [. . .] Rejoice and love yourself today cause you were born this way.”
In other words, the world, and even our own family members, tell us that there is nothing wrong with who you are—that the only one who can stop you from being happy is yourself not because of something that’s actually problematic in or with you but because you just haven’t accepted that you’re already perfect and loveable. They say, “you need not mourn or bemoan anything about you. Just be satisfied as you are.”
But here’s the thing, the kind of true happiness that Christ is speaking about here in Matthew 5 is one that is in complete contrast to the world. Where the world says, you need not mourn for who you are, Jesus tells us that to be happy—in an unshakeable, unalterable way—is to mourn precisely who you are.
And let’s be clear, he’s not talking about the kind of mourning that comes to any normal person—the kind of mourning that the world permits you to have. He’s not referring to the sadness you feel when someone important in your life dies, or when things don’t go your way, and you feel disappointed about missed opportunity. No, that kind of mourning is a human sorrow, and as important as it is, it doesn’t last, which means that over time it will also be unaffecting—it will not truly change you.
But Jesus means for us to have a spiritual sorrow—a spiritual sadness. The kind of mourning that reaches into the core of our convictions—into our identity. It laments the human condition and the poverty of spirit that poisons our veins. It is the kind of mourning that possessed Jesus to weep not once but twice. The first: as he looked upon the grave of his friend, Lazarus, and came face-to-face with the effects of sin and the unbelief of his own people in him as the God who reigns over death.
Then, again, as he comes into Jerusalem, in a passage we just read a few weeks ago in Matthew 23:37-39 as well as in Luke 19:41-44, as he comes into David’s city, what is it he sees? He sees a people who anticipate and know nothing of him. He sees a people who refuse to acknowledge their own blindness, which not only binds them to their sin but assures them of their coming destruction, and he is shaken in the very center of his being because of it. In fact, it’s due to his mourning that he’s driven all the way to the cross
What, then, is mourning that leads to happiness? It is something that results out of necessity as we’re confronted with the fact that we cannot escape both the guilt and the penalty our own wretchedness and helpless. In the first instance, we mourn because sin condemns us. It introduces us to the single inevitability that shall befall us when we, one day, stand face-to-face with a Holy, Righteous God. He, Scripture tells us, is unforgiving towards the unrepentant and is preparing not a simple puddle or pond for us but a lake of fire where we will attempt for all eternity to swim from one end to the other in order to escape it as it tears our flesh from our bones only to find that there is no boundary to its torment—it will surround us and consume us forever and ever. On that day, we will cry out, “who shall deliver me?” And no one will answer! What a terribly mournful thing it is to fall into the hands of an angry God.
But in the second instance, sin not only condemns, but it corrupts. It stops us from being what we’re supposed to be and doing what we’re supposed to do. It tells us on the one hand that happiness is what we are as we’ve defined ourselves to be while hiding the fact that by doing so, we disfigure ourselves. We become an unrecognizable creature that is an abomination in the eyes of our Creator—the glory of creation completely ripped from our frame. And what’s worse is that this corruption cannot be undone by worldly means. There is no plastic surgeon that can fix our ugliness. In fact, the more the world cuts at us—trying to make us look like itself, the further we get from imaging the one we’re supposed to image.
Then, sin not only condemns and corrupts but it also confines because we become addicted to the knife. We become unsatisfied by how the surgery of increased sin didn’t fix all of our problems. It might have offered us a taste of pleasure, but, ultimately, it doesn’t make us feel more content in ourselves or provide us with enough affirmation, so we go back for more and more, and we become slaves to it because it is where our hope is. We hope that one day that last cut will be enough—that it will garner us enough fame and fortune—that it will satisfy in us that hope for glory and acceptance. We hope that we might have found our answer to that thing that keeps us feeling empty and poor.
And we keep going until finally, we stand not only in these rags of ourselves of condemnation, corruption, and confinement—as slaves to sin, but as those who have been cut off. Cut off not only from those things that we thought brought us pleasure but cut off from the only one who could have been that wholeness of pleasure for us all along. And this, brothers and sisters, is the most mournful thing of all. It’s not the lake of fire, it’s not the corruption of our created beauty, and it’s not the confinement of our greatest desires to our worldly lusts, it’s the soul’s affirmation that because of our sin, one day, God will say to us, “I do not know you. I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (To have any of the things God has to give without God and his pleasure is a miserable existence).
Then, let’s add one more grief to it all—because as we ponder our own sorrowful situation—a fate of hell and separation from God that no man can truly endure in our reality—a fate that the world tells us isn’t real, which is why we are so flippant with the idea of hell—we simply think it’s too fanciful to be true—(let’s add one more grief to it all, that is,) for those who are given spiritual eyes to see, we not only see this lamentable fate awaiting ourselves, but we see it awaiting everyone we know and come across.
And as we see it, we’re meant to weep. We’re meant to be concerned for the state of our world and the rampant wickedness that eats it apart. Those of us who can see our own sin are made also able to see the sin that has made our neighbours, our friends, and our families unhealthy and unhappy, and it welcomes a kind of unhappiness in us because in our condemnation, corruption, confinement, and being cut off, we’ve also been given the remedy to all of it, and we think, “if only they knew what was coming! If only they understood the truth of our sin and the wrath that awaits!”
This is why Jesus wept—because he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He wept because he knew the wrath of God that sat in waiting judgment over all of these people, and he beckoned them, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” COME TO ME BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! RUN AND DO NOT DWADDLE! REPENT FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS DRAWN NEAR!
This is the promise of comfort personified as Matthew writes, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Why? Because God in Jesus is waiting! Waiting to embrace you. Waiting to shower you with his affection and comfort. It’s the best promise of an infinitely deep reconciliation with God even for those who have a heart of infinite wickedness. And it is a promise not only for those who need to be saved from sin for the first time, but for those who call themselves Christian because every Christian still sins, which means there isn’t a moment where we don’t have the need to fall on our knees before our Christ. And likewise, there isn’t a moment where, in falling upon our knees, Christ does not come before we’ve even touched the ground, catch us, and clutch us to himself.
This is the Christian life defined, no? That we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, mourning, yet comforted, having nothing, yet possessing everything. It is in the former that we are instantly made aware and unmistakably happy in the latter because in our lament, there we are embraced by Jesus who took on our sin and our sorrow for us. And not only is this true for this life, is it? Because we’re not being prepared in our sorrow for a momentary or light weight of glory—no, it’s an eternal, glorious weight. It is hope unyielding. It is joy unstained. It’s Christ coming to restore his longing children.
And it’s because of his cross that we have comfort in his imminent return and that sin and its effects in our lives and upon this world shall one day be vanquished forever. On that day, our comfort shall be brought to completion—every tear wiped away—no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain, no more death—for these former things shall have passed away. But our Jesus, our comfort, shall remain along with those who flee into his embrace.
So, let the humiliation of your sin affect your whole person, and let it start by looking within and knowing yourself—not so that you might become more self-interested but so that you might realize your own wretchedness and thereby find even greater consolation in his loveliness. It is the mourning man who is blessed because he inevitably resembles and cherishes with increasing measure his own Christ. Let your sin affect you in such a way that you’re brought to your knees in sorrow, so that by it, you might see him more clearly, and thereby possess his heart more dearly. Make it a habit to mourn over your sin in order that you might happily find his everlasting comfort in it.
2) Let it affect you externally
Follow along with me as I read to you Matthew 5:5. TWoL: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
We come now to, perhaps, the most difficult beatitude. What I want you to imagine with these beatitudes is that it is like climbing a mountain where the first three are the most difficult. The fourth is the prize, and the final three are the result of receiving that prize (you may say there’s one or two more—to me there’s one more—but that one isn’t a part of the mountain). And as you climb this mountain, for those of you who do climb, you’ll know that the hardest part before reaching the pinnacle—the part where most people give up and turn back—is where the air becomes the thinnest and the ice becomes the most slippery. That is where we are in the beatitudes as we come to Christ’s mandate that the truly happy person must be a meek person.
Why is that? Well, the answer is in the definition of what a meek person is, namely, a person who sees their poverty of spirit and has mourned over the sin and the dreadfulness of their fate—what does that man look like? It looks like a person who is so underwhelmed and disinterested with himself internally—who thinks so lowly of himself—that his external reaction to the world, even when it wrongs him, is without condemnation or complaint.
He is a man who knows intimately his own darkness and hardness of heart, who has received the comforting grace of God, despite his sinfulness, and, because of this, even in his suffering, he is given over to a disposition of gentleness, teachability, and love towards his humiliators and persecutors. Why? Because he has known love unspeakable in the gift of his Saviour’s blood poured out upon a cross when he was wholly undeserving of it. This is why meekness is the most difficult of beatitudes because it not only says, “I will not strike you when I’m deservedly angry,” but it goes further to say, “I have no desire to strike you because I have no right to it, and I have no right because the ugliness of my sin outweighs my personal need for the justice of yours.”
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way: “the meek man is a person amazed that God and other men might think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.” And this state of meekness is not because you look at the world and esteem it better than yourself, but because you’ve perceived your just reward as the wrath of God, and it has made you low before him and gently bold before men. “The meek man is a person who leaves everything—ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future—in the hands of God, especially in the suffering of injustice.” We leave all this injustice for God to deal with and serve others despite ourselves.
See, it is easy, in some sense, to say I’m spiritually poor—that I’m sinful. And it is easy to mourn your sin—for these things are reactions to your internal state of being—these are things I can be honest about with myself. But meekness has to do with our attitude when someone else says these things about me—when they, instead of my own words and thoughts, condemn me. And the meek person does not resent or retaliate in these situations because he or she knows that whatever someone else says about them does not even come close to the truth—that they are far worse than any accusation that the world can make.
So, do you see why this kind of meekness belongs only to those who are spiritual—to those who are Christian? Because it is only the Christian who can weather these things having found their security, their forgiveness of sin, their happiness, both in this life and the next, in their heavenly citizenship. It is only the Christian who has, both in this life and the next, found comfort from their sinfulness and hellish fate. And it is only the Christian who can boast in his spirit that all things in heaven AND on earth are already his. Why? Because it is only the Christian who has Christ, and it is only Christ who was meek to the extent that he died for those, like us, who hated him, in order that we might be truly happy.
Through Christ, the poor in spirit are admitted into God’s kingdom. Through Christ, those who mourn find rest and peace from their condemnation. And through Christ, those who are meek—those who do not assert their rights against a world that reviles and persecutes them but leaves their deserved justice and vindication to God—they shall be justified. They shall be vindicated. Theirs becomes the right to all things.
This is what it means for the meek to inherit the earth. It’s a phrase that Christ has taken from Psalms 37:10-11. There we’re told that for now we see the wicked upon the land—the land set apart for God’s righteous people—but a day is coming where he will wipe all wickedness from its face, and those who remain—those who are meek—those who have seen their sinfulness, mourned over it, sought in repentance to lay down their rights because of it, and trust in God—theirs shall be the right to possess that land, and not only to have it, but to dwell upon it in peace everlasting.
Don’t you see, the promise isn’t only that the meek shall receive what they do not deserve, but also that they’ll escape and be spared from what they do deserve. And brothers and sisters, when we look at ourselves, we know we deserve nothing—in fact, we know we deserve worse, and yet, by his mercy and grace, we haven’t only received everything, but Christ Jesus, himself, came to give us himself—to show up in our very midst—knowing that unless he did this—if it was up to us to find him, we wouldn’t have even bothered looking, and in our poverty, misery, and arrogance, we’d still be bound for hell.
Yet, for those whom Christ has found and called to himself, that fate is no longer ours and neither is the need to lay claim to that self, those things, or that world that were tied to that fate. No, Jesus is our claim now. Jesus is our fate.
So, dear Christian, run to Jesus in your internal and external humiliation and see in him a cause to rejoice in your sorrow and suffering. For in his cross, in his nail-scarred hands and feet, and in his pierced side, he has borne your stripes, so that in your mourning, you might find everlasting comfort, and in your meekness, he might make you whole. Let the humiliation of your sin, taken on by your Saviour, affect your whole person so that you might never be the same—so that you might be truly, perfectly, and everlastingly happy.