Preached on Mary 2, 2014 at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA
Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 5. Today we are at the end of our journey through the Beatitudes. I hope it has been as beneficial to you as it has been for me. These 8 simple statements are jam packed with truth and grace and challenge, and hopefully it has transformed your thinking and your heart all for the glory of God, and also for your good. Let us began by reading the entire section, then we will pray and ask for God's guidance, and then we will see what God has prepared for us today.
As I have stated over and over again, the beatitudes are supernatural, meaning that these are not qualities that the natural man can produce in his life. It takes the work of the Spirit of God to produce these things. In our Sunday School class, this week we saw the that our book describe the beatitudes as the “ethics of the Kingdom,” for these are the qualities that one should observe when looking at a citizen of Heaven. It is the work of God in our lives that cause us to be poor in spirit, mourn over our sin, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, and have a pure in heart. The unbeliever does not have any of these qualities that Christ is describing in his opening remarks of the Sermon on the Mount.
Last week we unpacked verse nine, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” It is at this point that Jesus makes a switch, for his text begins to turn the focus away from a Christian's character and to the world. For a peacemaker is one who desires to go out into the war of this world and make peace in the hearts of the lost. They desire to be like Paul and go from city to city making peace, by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, an interesting thing happens when a Christian does this. IN the midst of attempting to make peace, a war is declared against him or her. A peacemaker is not welcomed with open arms. Instead verse 10 tells us that a Christian is reviled, lied about, and persecuted. We saw this last week when we examined what it looked like to go and make peace. Paul had proclaimed the Gospel in Lystra and they stoned him until they thought the killed him. Paul in an attempt to make peace between God and man, through the proclamation of the Gospel, created a significantly strong reaction to the point they wanted him dead. Jesus, in Matthew 5:10-12, tell us that this is standard operating procedure. This is just how it works.
In verse 10 Jesus says, “"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.” What does that mean, “righteousness sake?” I think the answer is one verse down? Take a look at verse 11.
Therefore, I believe that for sake of righteousness and for the sake of Christ are synonymous. They are the same. This is crucial for us to understand right up front. The persecution that Jesus is talking about in verse ten that is “blessed” is not any type of persecution. It not persecution because you are rude. It is not persecution because you are insensitive. It is persecution that is due to following Jesus. Meaning when we are truly being His disciples, i.e. acting like, speaking like him, loving like him people will hate you for it. When we start displaying the image of Jesus in our daily lives we will be persecuted.
This still doesn't completely answer the question of why? It just deepens it to an extent. The question is now, why does the world hate the image of Jesus. Why does the world hate the living display of righteousness that is found exclusively in Jesus? Because it reminds them of who they aren't.
The world cannot stand the incarnate display of God's standard. It is too piercing. The judgment is too uncomfortable. So what do they do? The darkness attacks the light. From the moment Jesus was born, there was a hit put on him: Herod, his home town, the scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, Judas, Pontius Pilate, and the crowds who chanted crucify him, crucify him. They all wanted him dead. Why? Because the darkness hates the lights. It wants to extinguish it.
And now as Jesus stands on the side of the mountain, he tells his disciples, that it will also happen to them, and it does. Of the 12 disciples, minus Judas, who were sitting there listening, 100 percent of them were persecuted. Peter, Thomas, Philip, Andrew, Thaddeus, and Simon were crucified. Bartholomew was beaten with rods and then beheaded. James Son of Alpheaeus was clubbed to death. James son of Zebedee was executed by sword. Matthew was killed with a spear. The only one not to be killed was John and he was exiled to an Island so that they wouldn’t have to look at him, and it is believed that John was horribly scarred because they tried to kill him, but couldn’t.
This pattern of persecution was not exclusive to the 12. The first martyr was actually Stephen. His story is laid out in Acts 6 and 7. He was a disciple that was appointed to help the neglected widows. He is described as full of grace and power, and there was something about this grace and this power that enraged the people to the point that they stone him to death. Stephen's Spirit filled words caused such anger in the hearts of these men that they threw rocks as hard as they could so as to stop the heart of Stephen. Why? Because they could not stand seeing the image of Christ in Stephen’s life.
And then there is Paul. We saw a picture of his persecution last week when discussing peacemaking. Listen to Paul’s description of his life:
According to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, since the murder of Jesus, it is estimated that 70 million followers of Christ have been killed because of their faith. It is further estimated that 100,000 Christians die every year directly because of their faith in Christ, and it is believed that this number is on the rise in the world.
As I said, the proof is in the pudding. Jesus said it would happen, and it has played out exactly as he said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Paul put it very bluntly as he wrote to his young apprentice in 2 Timothy 3:12
This leads us to a point of self-examination for all of us. Are you being persecuted? Are people reviling you and uttering all kinds of evil against you falsely on Jesus’ account? If no, then why not? Is it because that God’s word is not true, or is it because of something else.
Let me throw some question out there for us, and I am putting myself right in the front of these questions. I struggle with these things as much as the next person. How many of us refuse to join in the gossip at the coffee shop? How many of us refuse to laugh at the dirty jokes? How many of us chose not to watch R rated movies? How many of us stand up for the unborn? How many of us stand up for a God designed marriage that glorifies Him? How many of us run to the person at work and pray with them when you hear they are going through a divorce? How many of us carry our Bible at all times so that at any moment we can encourage someone with God’s Word? How many of you have shared the gospel with your co-workers, classmates, neighbors, family, and strangers on the bus? How many of us invite people to church? How many of us move to Sudan?
It is no wonder that Satan hasn’t sent lions to devour us, we are no threat! We might as well be working for the enemy. Instead of letting our light shine, we are hiding under a bushel basket where no one can see it. This is why there is no persecution in our lives. We instead sit at home and watch Netflix. Is this what God saved us to do?
No, Jesus ransomed us to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness in his marvelous light.
The problem is that when the world looks at some “Christians,” they are not enraged by the display of their righteous acts, for they do not see an image of Christ. Instead the world looks at “Christians” and sees an image of themselves.