Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blessed Are the Persecuted

Part 9 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:10-12

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

Persecution of Christians

According to Open Doors, a ministry that serves persecuted Christians, each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians. [1]  We’ve probably all heard the stories of ISIS executing Christians.

When we think about the horror of Christians being killed for their faith, we might question how the words of the eighth beatitude can be true: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” [2]

Persecution Is Inevitable

Jesus is talking about persecution that is “for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10) and “on [his] account” (v. 11). In other words, it’s persecution for following Jesus.

This persecution can take many forms. Persecution is not limited to physical violence. We are persecuted when “others revile [us]…and utter all kinds of evil against [us] falsely on [Jesus’] account” (v. 11). During the first three centuries of church history, Christians were accused of cannibalism (because of the Lord’s Supper), incest (because husbands and wives were called “brothers” and “sisters”), and atheism (because they didn’t worship a visible God). Today, sincere and loving Christians are called “bigots” and “mentally ill.”

The citizens of God’s kingdom should expect persecution for following Jesus. 

Jesus told his followers to expect persecution:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20). 
D. A. Carson writes that “if the disciple of Jesus never experiences any persecution at all, it may be fairly asked where righteousness is being displayed in his life.” [3] Or maybe the lack of persecu-tion is the result of being too isolated from the world.


The most shocking part of Jesus’ words about persecution is that he says, “Rejoice and be glad” (v. 12). Why should we rejoice when we are persecuted? 

1. To be persecuted for following Christ is a great honour. 

When the risen Jesus appeared to Thomas, he showed the doubting disciple the scars from his crucifixion (John 20:27). In amazement, Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). The first followers of Jesus were willing to endure persecution because Jesus—God in human flesh—had willingly been crucified for their salvation. In Acts 5, Peter and some of the other apostles were arrested and flogged for preaching publicly about Jesus. They went home “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (v. 41). [4]

Peter was probably thinking of the eighth beatitude when he wrote his first epistle:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:13-18). 
Then in 4:12-16, Peter writes,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian , let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. [5]
2. To be persecuted for following Christ brings a great reward. 

Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (v. 12). Jesus compares his persecuted followers to the persecuted prophets (“for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” v. 12). Hebrews 11:37 mentions an unnamed prophet who was “sawn in two” (possibly Isaiah). We can be sure that the prophets were rewarded by God for their faithful service. Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). The false prophets might have been treated better by people (because they often told people what they wanted to hear), but they didn’t receive any heavenly rewards.

Paul writes that he was “persecuted, but not forsaken” (2 Cor. 4:9), and he would “not lose heart” (v. 16). Why? “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (v. 17). There can be no greater joy than to stand before Jesus—the one who died for us—and hear him say, “Well done.”

[1] Are there eight or nine beatitudes? In my opinion there are eight beatitudes. The eighth beatitude is “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 10). Then in verses 11 and 12, Jesus talks more about persecution.
[2] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/
[3] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 29.
[4] The disciples rejoiced, but they didn’t desire persecution. In Acts 22, when the apostle Paul was about to be flogged, he asked, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” (v. 25). By questioning the legality of his flogging, he was able to escape it.
[5] The name “Christian” was originally used as an insult by non-believers.

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