Before I come to the text we are going to look at this afternoon continuing in our study together of the beatitudes of our Lord Jesus, your pastor asked me to address my opinion of a man who has obviously had influence on many including some within this church, the man and ministry of Witness Lee. Witness Lee was very much influenced by Watchman Nee, who had his own theological issues that I would find to be concerning. His tri[part understanding of our nature and how that plays out in salvation is confusing at best, and troubling if he means what he says. Watchman Nee had some very problematic views on ecclesiology, his understanding of the church. What constitutes a church, how is a church governed, how does the church conduct itself. He made statements that were contradictory. Watchman Nee got the gospel right, at least sometimes in his writing, yet he at other times was confusing in what salvation is, and how one is saved. Watchman Nee wrote some things that were somewhat helpful, yet his leaning on experience, charismatic teachings, and rather poor teachers opinions rather that on the word of God was of concern, and I would in light of this probably not recommend Watchman Nee resource to those under my ministry. I do believe Watchman Nee was a believer however, and I want to make that clear.
Witness Lee, under the influence of Wathcman Nee, took the confusion and error of Nee to a whole new level, so much so, I would have a hard time believing that Lee was a believer in Jesus Christ, at least not in the Jesus of the Bible.
Witness Lee believed his own writings to be even more important that the bible itself, which falls right in line with other cults that lead people astray. He made statements on many occasion, both in his teaching and in his writing that flat out contradict the bible on issues of salvation, ecclesiology, bibliology, hermeneutics, Christian witnessing, and many other topics. He went so far as to say that people do not need the preaching of the word of God in the gospel of Jesus to be saved, all they have to do is say aloud three times “O Lord, O Lord, O Lord” and they would be saved. He said things like “we don’t need doctrine, we need to close our minds and just pray from within”. The bible says just the opposite. Prayer reading the bible with your mind disengaged is not at all what the bible instructs, yet this is exactly what Witness Lee taught. The book of Acts chapter 20 and verse 29-30 says “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves
will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
Witness Lee is a perfect picture of just this. If you want someone’s opinion much more valuable than mine, I would point you to listen to the teaching of Walter Martin, if you don’t know who he is, you should. He wrote the book that is by most considered the gold standard on the cults that claim to be the way to God in his book “the Kingdom and the Cults”. Please just visit YouTube and search for Walter Martin on Witness Lee and give a listen to the first video to appear in the search results called “Witness Lee To the local Church – Dr. Walter Martin. It is excellent showing the multitude of errors taught by Witness Lee and the Church of the Recovery or the Local Church as it is called.
Listen to what Walter Martin has to say about Witness Lee and the Local church, a brief quote. (of course this was all spoken while Witness Lee was still alive). “My opinion is unvaried. We ought to pray for the Local Church. We ought to pray for Witness Lee and for the people that surround him. We ought to love them for Christ’s sake, and we ought to avoid their teachings like the plague that it is. We should not permit ourselves to get involved in argumentation with them, they are look for arguments… Every source they quote which allegedly disproves what an orthodox view of Christianity believes, is quoted from people who disagree with them, all they’ve done is taken them out of context and made it look as if that’s the truth, but it isn’t. The time will come when the truth will be known. In the mean time, Christians should just pray for them, and avoid them, witness Lee’s cult will have to be judged by the Holy Spirit.”
I could not agree more with what Walter Martin says regarding Witness Lee and the teachings of the Church of the Recovery. It is not Christian, it is a cult. Are there Christians in amongst those who follow Witness Lee’s teachings? Yes there are. There are immature Christians who cannot yet discern between truth and error from a lack of biblical foundation, and the Lord will pull them out from that cult as they come to understand the bible. Please do avoid the teaching of Witness Lee. I cannot say this strongly enough. He is not only wrong in many things, he is heretical wrong on issues that define whether one is Christian or not. He is not, His church is not, do not follow them.
If you will recall last I was with you, we began our study of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Let me read the passage together.
Matthew 5:1-4 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
We’ve covered much of this in the past, but as a refresher, Jesus here is preaching a message, this is a sermon, it’s not a lecture, or a talk, it is a sermon. He is preaching and within that definition, He is calling for a response. But this is not an evangelistic message. That doesn’t mean there is no evangelistic content, but we notice to call of this sermon is not “repent and believe”. He is preaching to believers here. These are disciples. They have already responded to Him by repentance and faith, remember in chapter 4 we saw that Jesus was preaching exactly that message; “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Well, some did exactly that. We know that not all in this crowd gathered has believed, some are simply there for the miracles, some are there for the show, they’ve heard about all that Jesus is doing, and they want to see it first hand, but some have truly believed in His message and His person and are there by faith to be taught by Him, and to these He begins to teach.
In these three chapters of Matthew’s gospel, we find the highest teaching that the world has ever heard. No discourse ever given can compare to what we find here.
Poor in spirit as we saw last in our study is actually pointing us to the entryway to peace with God. Remember that the beatitudes are to be taken together, they are a spiritual progression in a persons life, specifically, the life of one who has been born again. Jesus is going to give a heavy teaching of morals in the Sermon on the Mount, but first He begins with how one even enters the gates of the kind of society He is speaking of. It isn’t by works, it isn’t by self-denial, it isn’t by law keeping, it is by new birth which is the catalyst for this kind of otherworldliness that Jesus is
describing here in the beatitudes. On another occasion Jesus said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” On another Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Well, here we are embarking to discover the truths of the Spirit’s works in a man as we study the beatitudes.
The Holy Spirit, as he works new life in a man, begins that work with an exposure of who we really are. He reveals to us the greatness and holiness of God. O man, your sin is not against a flea, nor against even a man, your sin is against God himself. God perfectly holy and righteous, the infinite God. Our sins is an offense against and infinite God, therefore the price we own is infinite. We cannot repay it. No works can equal out the scale, and I assure you that if you think you can, you no not God, because your estimation of yourself is so high, and your estimation of God is so small. Poor in spirit begins here.
Psalm 51 David says Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. That’s it. A right view of God, brings with it a right view of sin and self. I’m not to concerned if I have sinned against an ant, or even against a man ¾ of an inch taller than me. Sadly, for most of the world, including every other religion out there, that is the god they seek to please. But truth is, I’ve sinned against the one to whom there is no equal and He knows it and He will, according to Exodus 34:7 He “will by no means clear the guilty”. Ok, now I know that I am in trouble because I am the guilty.
The man who is poor in spirit is the man who has come to realize that he has absolutely nothing by which to pay the price he owes for sinning against this God. He is spiritually destitute, a pauper, a beggar, knowing that nothing but God’s mercy could ever save him. We saw that picture Jesus offers in Luke 18 in the parable of the two men who prayed. The one, a religious self-disciplined Pharisees who prayed, served, gave, fasted, participated in the right ceremonies, and all the rest. He wasn’t like other men, sinners. But then there was the man who stood broken, with no place to find any hope but to cast himself fully on God’s mercy. That ladies and gentlemen is where the gateway to the Kingdom of God is found, and nowhere else. If a man won’t come through that gate, he will not enter God’s kingdom. So, this is some pretty important teaching.
Every other religion in the world teaches that it is by what you can give, or how you can serve, how well you can live, or how much you can abstain, it is by what you bring to God that determines your fate before him. That’s what man comes up with. Jesus says as you come before Him you need to realize you’ve got nothing. When your life is laid bare, you’ve got nothing, no deeds that are going to help you. Now what do we do when we come up against a doctrine like this in the scriptures? We want to ensure that we are reading this right, so we allow the scriptures to interpret the scriptures. We allow the scripture to interpret the Scripture. I spoke briefly of Witness Lee, and sadly, Witness Lee did not do this. He just read the bible and pulled out hair brained ideas that were totally unbiblical because he didn’t follow this simple hermeneutic principle. The scriptures interpret the scriptures.
So, do we find anything else in the scripture to support this claim of Jesus in our text? After all we could be reading this wrong. So we search God’s word.
I could list so many examples here, but let me just give you one. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, spends the first three chapters of his letter showing that all men are by their unrighteousness suppressors of the truth, deniers of the God they have no excuse for denying, condemned even by their own conscience as the law has been written on the heart, there is none righteous, none who seeks for God, all have turned aside, not even one does good, the law has been given, and we have broken it, and then after three chapters of this he gives a summery: Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. The purpose of God’s law is to speak to those under that law, that’s us, and to shut our mouths as we stand accountable to God, and there is nothing we can do about it. We have nothing to help us, nothing we can do, nothing we can offer, nothing we can achieve or give. We are destitute, and it is not until we reach that point that there is any hope for us because up until this we think we can bring ourselves by our own deeds to a right standing before God. We need to be broken of such thoughts.
I had one man tell me, yes I know I am going to hell, and I know I will have to spend some time there to pay for my sins, but eventually I will get to be in heaven. By the way, Witness Lee taught this same thing. You see, I think
I can pay it myself. I can live as best as I can and minimize the amount I owe and thereby spend less time in hell. I don’t have much but I think what little I do have is enough. Well, good luck with that, “for by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight”, not justified in the least in His sight. Jesus says the only entry way is to come as a beggar with nothing, and the only man that is blessed is the man that sees that truth here and now. To the man who thinks he can make it on his own merits, we say “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
Ok, let’s follow in the progression Jesus gives us here in Matthew 5. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Now you talk about paradoxical statements, what could be more so than these words of our Lord. Blessed, as we saw last time I was with you, is a term from the Greek word makarios /mak·ar·ee·os, happy in condition of life. Joyfully content in life in such a way as to be completely independent of temporal circumstance. It literally means “happy”. So, happy are those who mourn? What??? Well, that is what Jesus said.
If we isolate this from the context, we could come to the understanding that we all must be blessed then right? After all, we all will have occasion in life when we mourn. We will all face the loss of a loved one. We will all face circumstances that are so trying that it breaks us and brings us to our knees. Some even mourn because the desires to fulfill sinful passions in their life aren’t realized. Is that something that Jesus is saying brings blessing? Certainly not. Let me give you an example. In 2 Samuel 13 we something of King David’s family. David’s Son Amnon serves as a great example for us today. He had lustful desires for His half sister Tamar, David’s daughter from a different mother. 2 Samuel 13:2 And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her.
He was in mourning because he wanted to sin and couldn’t find a way to carry it out. Is this where blessing is found? Of course, this is not what our Lord refers to.
There is another kind of mourning that displeases the Lord and is itself sinful. For example, Pastor MacArthur says some “can carry legitimate sorrow to illegitimate extremes. When a person grieves so hard and long over the loss of a loved one that he/she cannot function normally, his grief becomes sinful and destructive. Such depressing sorrow is usually related to guilt, essentially guilt, essentially selfish, and, for a Christian, is a mark of unfaithfulness and lack of trust in God.” That is mourning that is sinful just as much so as mourning over desiring sin without being able to fulfill that desire.
So No, Jesus is not saying that just any kind of mourning is the blessed life. He is also not pointing to a grieving that seeks to mourn enough to atone for one’s sins, or to a general mourning enough in this world to earn blessing in the next. Some, try to make themselves humble enough, that is a very different thing than being humble, they put on humility before others to show themselves adequately sorrowful for sin. They wear the long face, they undertake the fasts before men so everyone will see how spiritual and real they are about their sins and how broken they are, but in reality they think they are being sorry enough is the cost required to pay the price they owe for sin. Not at all where blessing is found.
The text is obviously, in context referring to sin, just as the previous verse and the verse to follow will show. This is a mourning over sin, not mourning to pay for sin, but a mourning over the fact of sin, the reality, the presence of sin in a man’s life and in the world which grieves the believer.
Leon Morris say, “Perhaps we should bear in mind that typically the worldly take a lighthearted attitude to the serious issues of life, a fact that is very evident in our modern pleasure-loving generation. In their seeking after self-gratification and pleasure they do not grieve over sin or evil. Because they do not grieve over what is wrong in themselves, they do not repent; and because they do not grieve over the wrong they share with others in the communities in which they live, they take few steps to set things right.”
Luke’s gospel contains a parallel teaching called the Sermon on the Plain, where similar beatitudes are taught. There we gain insight into Jesus meaning. Luke records the blessing and the curse, the flip side so to speak. Luke 6:21 ““Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:25 “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” This of course referring to the same truth. Those who take sin
lightly here and now are going to face a day when the seriousness of their own sin becomes very real but its too late to do anything about it, but those who see this here and now are those who are blessed.
Like I said last time together, I think the blessing itself is being poor in spirit, and here, I think the blessing itself is “mourning over our sin”, because we know these are not things that we, in and of ourselves, will ever come to, left to our own merits and resources we would never be poor in spirit or mourn over sin, we would be like the rest of the world laughing and enjoying the pleasure we can gain for the moment in our sin. We look at the world freely indulging their sin, and the old adage comes to mind “but not for the grace of God, go I.”
But God, being rich in mercy, God has made us alive, God has opened our eyes to how things really are. The blessing in view in the beatitudes is the blessing of regeneration. That God made us new, gave us new hearts, put a new spirit within us, and as a result of that blessing, we now see ourselves right and we see our sin right. Notice he does not say blessed will be those who mourn, but “blessed are”, those who mourn are those who are already blessed.
The blessing is that we, seeing sin for what it really is, we are broken over the fact of sin within ourselves. Paul writes of this very thing in the second letter to the church in Corinth and chapter 7.
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you
Spiritual poverty leads to godly sorrow. King David, after being confronted on the sin in his life, specifically the sin of taking Bathsheba, another man’s wife and getting her pregnant, and then sending that woman’s husband and intentionally putting him in a position so as to be killed and then taking that man’s wife to be his own bride to cover the fact that he sinned by laying with another man’s wife. David, seeing his sin for what it really was now, writes Psalm 51. Let me just read some of the statements in that Psalm.
Psalm 51:1-2 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3-4 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
7-12 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation,
16-17 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
David saw that he had nothing by which to make himself right before the Lord. He saw correctly that his sin was against God, and it was grievous. His eyes were opened to the fact that he needed a cleansing that only God could work. He needed the sins of his account to be blotted out by the heavenly bookkeeper. David saw that he needed a Savior! His sin had put hm in such a position before God that he needed someone outside himself to rescue him. My sin is ever before me, O God look what I’ve done, I confess it because you already know it, and that sin was against you ultimately.
David is broken over sin, not in a worldly sorrow where he is broken over the consequences of being found out, of getting caught, or of having to admit and what people will think of him, but over the fact of his sin. Godly sorrow like we see here is sorrow that leads to repentance, a sorrow that really hates the fact of sin within us. My sin is ever before me. There is no escaping the fact that I have sinned. I know my transgression. I am acutely aware of the sin I have committed and how serious it is. And growing within this man is produced an earnest desire to rid his life of that sin because it is sin against our God who has so richly blessed us.
Notice again how Paul words this in 2 Cor 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation. There is a progression, just as there is a progression here in the beatitudes. Poor in spirit, seeing our condition correctly, seeing the results of sin and the reality of sin within us, and where sin places us as we stand before God, leads to a mourning over sin.
James 4:8-10 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Humility and mourning over sin, seeing our condition as it actually is, and faith, coming to God in faith, is where the Christian life begins, frankly, this is the Christian life. But here’s the thing, we won’t ever come to the Lord, we will never call out for a Savior, until first we have a seriousness about sin in our life.
Are we sensitive to sin, or do we, like the world around us, excuse sin, laugh at sin, take sin lightly, re-label sin so as to allow for its enjoyment? Do we procrastinate when it comes to putting off our sin? Surely is so we don’t take our sin as seriously as it truly is. Do we presume on the grace of God? Well, Jesus died on the cross for my sins; past, present, and future, and though I know its sin, and I should be rid of it, I know I am forgiven, and thus on goes the sin. No, that’s not it. That’s actually pride. I can have Jesus and have my sin too. Jesus forgives because my sin is really not all that great anyway. That is not brokenness over sin.
Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
MacArthur writes, “No pardon is offered to the unrepentant, presumptuous person who refuses to forsake sin. The gospel that teaches otherwise has always been popular, as it dearly is in our own day; but it is a false gospel, “a different gospel”, a distortion and contradiction of the gospel of scripture.”
So to mourn over sin requires that we see sin from God’s point of view. To see God as He truly is, high, much higher than we think, Holy in every single way, pure, so pure He cannot look on sin, to see God feels indignation every day, not just sin, not just that kind of sin, or those people’s sin, but my sin. That God as Nahum states:
Nahum 1:2–3 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.
Or as the Psalmist declares;
Psalm 5:4-6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
Do we take our sin seriously like that, or do we say, well, I know that’s not me because I believe in Jesus, and on we go in sin? These are not written for unbelievers, they are written for God’s people, that we take sin as seriously as God does, and seeing that God does take sin that seriously, and that we have so much sin, that we have no where to turn, we have nothing with which to pay the price owed, we come to the Lord casting ourselves on His mercy, and mourn over the fact that we have so grievously sinned against Him. That we have profaned His name as men created in His image. To prostrate ourselves before Him in brokenness over our sin.
At the end of each pronouncement of those who are blessed, Jesus gives a promise. It is not a reward, it is not what is earned, it is a consequence of God’s working in that man. The believer, the one God has made new by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, is blessed and that blessing works itself out in a couple of ways, first the blessed on is poor in spirit and mourning over sin, second that blessing works itself out in the fact that the kingdom of heaven is their possession, not because they have taken hold of it, but because it has been given as part of the blessings, and those who mourn will be comforted, not because they deserve comfort, but part of the blessing given is that of comfort.
This comfort promised is multifaceted. The word used here is parakaleo /par·ak·al·eh·o which carries the meaning of, and bear with me here, to address, speak to, (call to, call upon), which may be done in the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, to admonish, exhort, to beg, beseech, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to be comforted. There is much meaning in this word. It is a word used of the Holy Spirit who is the promised Comforter and Helper in John14. He is in this sense the Spirit who comes along side, who instructs, who moves us along by encouragement and exhortation. Well, the comfort of God’s regenerating work as the Spirit of God comes to live within a man is so important.
You see when a man is given a new heart, that new man’s heart has a radically different view of sin. His own heart hates the sin he once loved. God has placed within that man a heart that begs him to forsake sin, a heart that admonishes him when he walks in sin, one that entreats begs him to turn and go another way, and a heart that seeks for the wisdom of the Lord and instructs him what it is that pleases the Lord in the life of His people.
But this comfort is more. As we saw in the parable of the two men that prayed, the one who cast himself on the mercy of God was the one justified. God’s forgiveness is certainly a part of this comfort. God has provided the propitiating sacrifice in the person of His Son, and in Him our sins are paid, and forgiveness is ours. There would be no comfort without such forgives. But there is more.
As our new heart leads us to walk in such a way as to honor the Lord there is the comfort of obedience. Not that our obedience earns us anything, but we do know that as we walk in the manner worthy of the gospel, we find peace in our walk. This is a comfort the Lord provides to those who mourn over sin. There is comfort in peace with God in this present life. It doesn’t come but to those who rightly see sin and turn to the Lord.
There is also the comfort to come. The one-day comfort when every tear will be wiped away, the comfort of never suffering again, of eternal peace and blessing in the presence of the Lord.
Certainly, we all want this comfort spoken of. Luke says blessed are those who weep now, for you shall laugh. God turns our mourning to joy as we
receive His forgiveness and peace with Him. He turns mourning lives into true happiness as we receive his divine comfort. Folks, I’ll tell you this. There is no other faith in the world that can provide this joy. All other faith systems say earn it, work for it, and maybe if you do enough you’ll get some of this in the next life. That is a lie. But the Christian faith holds the promise not only for the life to come but also for the here and now. Comfort is available, but it won’t come apart from a faith that sees God rightly, see sin rightly, and in brokenness turns to Him as the only hope of salvation falling purely on His mercy.
J. C. Ryle “The Lord Jesus calls those blessed, who mourn. He means those who sorrow for sin, and grieve daily over their own short-comings. These are they who trouble themselves more about sin than about anything on earth. The remembrance of it is grievous to them. The burden of it is intolerable. Blessed are all such! “The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit.” One day they shall weep no more. “They shall be comforted.””