Summary: Today we finish our series on the beatitudes. And in looking at them collectively I can see how they all work together. And I believe having all of these characteristics are important in being able to endure persecution.
The Be-Attitudes (part four)
Today we finish our series on 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. And I can see how being meek and merciful enables me to be a peacemaker. And I believe having all of these characteristics are important in being able to endure persecution, which is what I’ll be talking about today.
1) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (vs. 10). When we choose to live out the virtues that Jesus talks about in Matthew five we will be persecuted. However, it is not designed to be a curse but a blessing. It’s a blessing because of what persecution produces. According to Romans five it produces perseverance, character and hope. James 1 talks about the blessing of becoming mature and complete. As much as we might not like the idea of persecution being the means by which these attributes are accomplished; this is the way it is. 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 [because he has God in mind]. 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. “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 and only in humility can I be willing to endure persecution. In humility I can refrain from retaliation. And those who were humble would 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 is 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. However, 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 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. Paul dealt with persecution. I’m sure that what helped him to endure, what helped to be able to actually bless those who cursed him, was to remember his reward.
2) Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (vs. 11-12). At first glance it seems that Jesus is just reiterating his point about persecution but there’s something different here. Yes, it deals with the same subject matter but look at the change in person. Until now Jesus was using “they” and “theirs” now he’s using “you” and “yours”. Before it was general; now he’s making it personal. Perhaps before he was speaking to the crowd now he speaks directly to his apostles. And Jesus doesn’t say “if” but “when”. Blessed are you when people insult you. If we are going to live for Jesus persecution isn’t an option. 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 remember 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 beat on be in any way a privilege? It is when it’s for Jesus. 1st Pet. 4:12-16. 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!” It’s not enough that I persevere; it’s not enough that I refrain from retaliation; I must rejoice also. 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. Heb. 10:32-36. 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. 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. 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. 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 man stayed together, singing their song of victory: Forty Martyrs for Christ. When morning came, thirty-nine of the men had frozen to death. The one 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 had been 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 the persecuted; for great is their reward in heaven.