THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (part four)
Today we finish up the beatitudes. And in looking at them I can see how they all work together-Being poor in spirit causes me to mourn (have godly sorrow). Being meek (kind, gentle and humble) allows me to be merciful. If I hunger and thirst for righteousness I will be pure in heart. I can see how being meek and merciful enables me to be a peacemaker. And having all of these characteristics are important in being able to endure persecution.
1) Blessed are those who are persecuted.
Matt. 5:10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
When we choose to live out the virtues that Jesus talks about in Matthew five we are going to be persecuted. When we are meek we'll be made fun of. People will try to convince us we're doing something wrong by being merciful. We'll be laughed at for living a pure life.
If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, some people will ridicule us for it. 'You're reading your bible again? You're going to church again? How can you do all that church stuff?' Wear a Christian t-shirt and see if you don't get some weird looks. Start talking about Jesus at your next get together and see what responses you get. Christianity offends certain people. Some people think we're weird; others get upset.
However, all that persecution is not designed to be a curse but a blessing. It doesn't seem like a blessing, though. Blessed are you when people look at you funny or laugh at you or say mean things to you because of your faith. That doesn't sound very blessed.
It’s not that God is on the side of the persecutors. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are the persecutors; for they are doing my will.” However, Jesus knows persecution will come and he knows God will use it for good-for the shaping of his people and the spread of his gospel.
“Because of righteousness”. The blessing doesn’t come in just being persecuted but persecuted because of righteousness. We may be mistreated for reasons other than faith. We may suffer injustice in other areas of life but Jesus is specific here with the promised blessing for those who are suffering for righteous reasons.
1st Pet. 2:19-21, “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
If we are dealing with the difficult consequences of our actions there’s no blessing in that unless we learn from it and repent. However, there is a blessing when we’re suffering for good; when we’re suffering because we’re living for Jesus. When God's glory is behind our willingness to suffer for doing the right thing then God will bless it.
“For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. The same reward offered to those who are poor in spirit. Both have to do with humility. Only in humility can I be poor in spirit; only in humility can I be willing to endure persecution. In humility I refrain from retaliating. And those who are humble will have the privilege of being able to recognize the reality of the kingdom of heaven.
The Jews thought that the kingdom would be reestablished by force. But Jesus wasn’t the earthly deliverer they were expecting. He was the spiritual deliverer they needed. His warriors would not be fighting with literal weapons but with spiritual ones. The kingdom would be advanced through spiritual means.
It's important that I understand that the kingdom of heaven is mine when I’m facing persecution. This can be a motivator for me-that my willingness to suffer is not in vain. But the kingdom of heaven is not only a future reward but also a current blessing.
Luke 17:20-21, “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
The kingdom of heaven is inside me; it’s the presence of the king, it’s the title of royalty that has already been bestowed upon me; it’s the spiritual treasures of heaven at my disposal. This is important to be reminded of when I get treated like the scum of the earth by those who reject the love of Christ.
1st Cor. 4:11-13, "To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world."
Paul dealt with persecution. and he had the right response to it. To be willing to bless others when you are hungry, thirsty, homeless and brutally treated is impressive enough. But to be a blessing to those who curse you and treat you like you're the scum of the earth is amazing. I’m sure that what helped Paul to do that, and to endure through all his hardships was to remember his reward. Blessed are the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
2) Blessed are you when people insult you.
Matt. 5:11-12, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Again, we have something that sounds absurd. Blessed are you when people insult you or say all kinds of evil against you. I don't know about you, but whenever I've been insulted my response isn't, "Oh, thank you; I feel so blessed to have you insult me like that. And thanks for all the evil things you said about me. You just made my day." Unless we're being sarcastic we wouldn't say that.
But Jesus doesn't mean it like that. We're not blessed by the insult or evil words but because of them. How? Why are we getting insulted? Because of Christ. When Jesus was healing people the Pharisees said he had a demon. In Acts 25 when Paul was sharing his testimony with King Agrippa, Festus interrupted and told Paul he was out of his mind; insane.
People might insult us for the faith. "You believe the bible? What an idiot." "You go to church? You're being brainwashed." If we do things with the motive of love we'll be accused of kissing up. If we're nice to someone we're accused of having an ulterior motive.
And notice that Jesus says blessed are you when you are insulted. He doesn’t say “if” but “when”. If we're going to live for Jesus persecution will happen. Paul said in 2nd Tim. 3:12 that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
The question is-‘are you being persecuted’? If not, why not? Are you blending in too much? Are you silent about your faith? I’m not saying you need to walk around with a bullhorn in order to be legit but the point is if you’ve been a Christian for a while and can’t recall ever dealing with any harassment because of your faith then I suggest you may not be living out your faith as publicly as you should.
Here we see Jesus going into some of the specifics of being persecuted. Insults, slander, etc. We see that persecution isn’t just physical torture or martyrdom; that’s the most severe form. Persecution comes in many different ways-a dirty look, getting laughed at, being ostracized from your family or friends, being fired from a job, getting verbally abused, physically abused the list goes on and on.
No matter how it comes Jesus says we are blessed when it happens. How could any of these things be a blessing; how could being insulted or getting attacked be a privilege? It is when it’s for Jesus.
1st Pet. 4:12-16, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."
First Peter says we shouldn’t be surprised when we are persecuted. Jesus told us that in John 15 when he said if they persecute me they will persecute you too. Peter goes on to say that we should rejoice because we are participants in the sufferings of Jesus. We are specifically connected to Jesus in a unique way through suffering for righteousness.
Peter said we are blessed because it is confirmation that the Holy Spirit is in us. When we are going to be displaying the attributes of Jesus some will ridicule us for it. Being meek brings insults of being weak. Being pure will bring out insults of being called a prude. Being merciful will bring insults of being a pushover. Being a peacemaker will bring accusations of meddling. The list goes on.
People are going to misunderstand our motives and actions like they misunderstood Jesus’. Jesus had nothing but love in his heart yet people still hated him and called him evil. Why would we think it would be any different for us?
"Rejoice and be glad!” One of the reasons I can rejoice is because it’s for the name of Jesus. When the apostles were beaten for preaching the gospel Acts 5:41 says that they left rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. Jesus was so precious to them that their association to him through suffering was an honor.
“Because great is your reward.” Another reason I can rejoice and be glad is that it brings reward from God. We will no doubt get pretty sick of the unfair treatment after a while. What can help us is the reason Jesus told us we can be glad-because it is storing up for us treasures in heaven. All this persecution is not without its reward. We endure because we know it's amounting to something; it's not in vain.
Heb. 10:32-36, "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."
In the face of suffering we can get discouraged, we can begin to lose our confidence. God understands that and therefore he wants us to understand that our pain and suffering for the faith now will soon be over. And not only will it be over, but it will pay great dividends in heaven. Paul said in 2nd Cor. 4:17 that the troubles we deal with today are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. And he said in Rom. 8:18 that our present sufferings aren’t even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
“For in the same way they persecuted the prophets”. Heb. 11:36-38, "Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground."
We can endure because we have the examples of those who have went before us and have endured great persecutions. The prophets suffered greatly for the faith. The Apostles endured much for the spread of the gospel. We can be inspired by that and follow suit. What motivation it provides that by persevering through all this that we have the opportunity to be numbered among the great men and women of faith we read about in the scriptures.
Not that we go around comparing ourselves to them per se but maybe in some ways we can come to relate to some of what they went through. When we suffer for the faith we can know, even if it's on a small scale, the sufferings they went through. Then we are connected to the people of the bible in ways we weren't before.
So, although it's not fun to be insulted, persecuted or spoken of in an evil way, we can rejoice and be glad for what it produces and for who it connects us with. We can rejoice because we are counted among good company. To be listed among the greats would be a reward for anyone in their respective fields. Being persecuted for the faith puts us in an elite group that has plenty of battle scars of their own.
Isaiah is said to have been sawed in two; Jeremiah was thrown into a dungeon and threatened with death; Elijah was hunted by Ahab and Jezebel. Then there was Stephen, the first martyr for Christ. Christians are persecuted all over the world. Just pick up a copy of Voice of the Martyrs to learn about it.
But what about here in the states? Remember Columbine? A year before the shootings, Rachel Scott wrote these words in her diary: "I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything, I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best friend Jesus, then that’s fine with me." Rachel wrote these words exactly one year before she was killed for confessing her faith at Columbine High School.” Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness.
"History knows them as the forty martyrs of Sebaste. They were soldiers in the famed Twelfth Legion of Rome’s imperial army, around 320 A.D. One day the captain informed his troops that Emperor Licinius had sent down an edict commanding all soldiers to offer a sacrifice to his pagan god. Forty of the soldiers were followers of Christ, and they refused. 'You can have our armor and even our bodies, but our hearts' allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ,' they said.
"The emperor decided to make an example of the soldiers, so in the middle of winter he marched them onto a frozen lake and stripped them of their clothes. “Renounce your God and you will be spared from death,” he told them. Not one man came forward. So he left them there, huddled together to contemplate his offer. Throughout the night the men stayed together, singing their song of victory: Forty Martyrs for Christ.
When morning came, thirty-nine of the men had frozen to death. The lone survivor finally relented and crawled to safety, recanting his confession of faith in order to live. But wait? If only 39 died for their faith how can they be called the frozen 40?
The officer in charge that night was so moved by the scene that during his watch he put his faith in Jesus. He then broke rank and walked out onto the ice. Stripping his clothes he openly confessed his faith in Christ. The furious emperor demanded that he renounce Jesus, but he refused. When the ordeal was over, the Roman soldiers carried forty frozen men off the ice."
Blessed are those who are persecuted, insulted, slandered, falsely accused for righteousness, for great is their reward.