Sermons

Summary: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of Jesus. Part 8 in the series.

Blessed are the Persecuted

November 23, 2008

Matthew 5:1-12

As we look back on the past weeks that we have been talking about the Beatitudes,

Why does Jesus say the poor in spirit will be blessed?

How can you be considered fortunate in the midst of mourning or being meek, especially in a world that believes only the strong survive?

Why would anyone be blessed for hungering and thirsting for righteousness in a world of different appetites?

Mercy? If valued at all, it is more as an ideal than a practice, and the merciful are thought to be mushy and a pushover.

Making Peace? Real peace? Making peace can be hard, frustrating work. Try being a peacemaker; and you will soon understand what persecution is all about.

Now we come to the final Beatitude ~ Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. How laughable is that? Just like all the other Beatitudes it’s upside-down and inside-out. It would be far more plausible if Jesus said, “Congratulations to those who are living pleasing and gentle lifestyle, that does not result in persecution.”

After all, the Beatitude just before this one says, “Blessed are the peacemakers...” and what kind of peacemaker are you when somehow you’re encouraging people to be less than peaceful toward YOU? It’s not natural. But as we’ve been seeing through all the Beatitudes, none of them are natural. And because they aren’t, we seem to reject these very difficult statements from Jesus.

Nobody wants to be persecuted. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, we don’t want to be persecuted, we don’t want our loved ones, our spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, we don’t want people we care about and love to be persecuted, period, end of statement. Nobody volunteers for persecution. It’s not like a bunch of kids raising their hands to be picked for a special prize, yelling, “PICK ME! PICK ME!” If we were to ask who wants a brownie, lots of hands would shoot up, but how many of us would raise our hands when asked, “who wants to be persecuted?”

I really like the way The Living Bible translates this passage, Matthew 5:10-12 (TLB)

Happy are those who are persecuted because they are good, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. When you are reviled and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers — wonderful! Be happy about it! Be very glad for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted too.

• Be happy because you’re persecuted.

• Be happy because you’re reviled and scorned and abused?

• Be happy because people are telling lies about you?

That’s a bit much. Finding happiness in persecution sounds like a form of masochism, the sort of attitude that leads people to stay away from you. Yet, Jesus calls this behavior . . . wonderful!

Now, before I go farther I must offer a personal caveat. I have very little firsthand experience with persecution. Most of us do not. The only time I remember receiving any persecution, because of my faith in Jesus, was when my father would not talk to me after I became a Christian; and my best friend from growing up did not want to be my friend after I had become a Christian. That’s my experience.

My father’s family suffered persecution for being Jewish. Because they were poor and living in Chicago, they had to move into a new apartment on a number of occasions, and well meaning landlords had signs in their apartment buildings stating ~ NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED! These were supposed Christians. That’s persecution.

When I was growing up in Skokie, I had a neighbor who had a tattoo on his arm. We generally tend to ignore nondescript tattoos, and this one was simply a bunch of numbers; and those numbers represented his former identity . . . in a concentration camp, because he was Jewish. As a Jew and as a Christian, I have never endured that.

Persecution of this magnitude, and other forms of persecution are a disgrace. Let me just say, we should never persecute or discriminate against anyone because of color, sex, finances, religion or for any reason. Yet, this is not what Jesus was talking about. This is an underlying theme of the Bible. . . .the call to love our neighbor, who is everyone and everywhere.

So, what is Jesus getting at with this statement?

The New Testament phrase that is usually translated in the NIV in verse 12, is rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven. I need to tell you this does not really do justice to what Jesus is talking about. This makes being persecuted sound just okay. But Jesus wants us to realize there is a great, great joy in being persecuted because of Him. A very literal translation of this statement by Jesus about rejoicing and being glad would be to say we rejoice exceedingly and leap exceedingly. Simply put, Jesus is talking about the kind of joy that gets a person to a point of jumping up and down, super excited about something. So, when you’re persecuted for His sake, you should jump up and down and shout WOO - WHO!!! It’s reason to leap and jump. That’s the mood of the words Jesus is using.

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