I had the privilege of preaching four services at the Downton Campus of The Austin Stone. We have been going through the Gospel of Matthew and this week’s message concluded our study in the Beatitudes. These are my long form notes below. You can find audio and video of the sermon here.
Matthew 5:10-12: Blessed are the Persecuted
25 November 2018
Hope you had a wonderful thanksgiving and I really hope that the after effects of tryptophan and your uncle’s unsolicited political opinions are wearing off. I also hope that you survived Black Friday with your heart intact and that the inevitable post-purchase cognitive dissonance is being gentle and yet helpful with you if you didn’t.
If you are new or visiting with us today, we are working our way – verse by verse – through the Gospel of Matthew, and we have spent the last couple of months in a bit of a series within the series, a study of the Beatitudes.
- These are the opening statements of the sermon on the mount.
- They are a Manifesto of Kingdom happiness. “Your best life now” – if you like – but the Jesus edition.
- Hasn’t looked at all as we would expect and didn’t look at all like anyone listening would have expected.
- Jesus turns the values of the world upside down.
8 statements of happiness or blessing. The first 4 are really about posture and the second four are really about behavior. That isn’t a clean cut, but there is a structure there.
Let’s just read it so we don’t presume…
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
First four – posture necessary for blessing:
- Poor in spirit – happy are those who know their spiritual poverty.
- Those who mourn – comforted are those who mourn their own depravity.
- The meek – happy are those who don’t set themselves up to wield power for their own benefit.
- Hunger and thirst for righteousness – satisfied are those who desperately desire greater righteousness in, for and around them.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Second four – behavior as a result of that posture
- Merciful – blessed by extending mercy as a result of receiving mercy.
- Pure in heart – those who live a life of singularity of affections.
- Peacemakers – those who proactively seek peace with others as a result of the peace they have received themselves.
And then it gets to this week’s text. We expect Jesus to wrap this up by saying, and then blessed are you when you live like this and everyone thinks you’re awesome. When the world treats you and sees you as enlightened and spiritually wise.
And it says…
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 
Again, it’s upside down from what we expect, and it is strange for us to read, especially in our context. We live in a context largely sheltered from persecution.
We have worked hard to create and continue to work hard to create a culture and context of religious liberty. Which is great. But, we have struggled to hold the necessary Christian tension of what it means to be a witness of Christ in the world. We have rightly valued love and contextual savvy as keys to reaching a world from within, but I do feel that we have failed to prepare people for the spiritual reality that the Scriptures promise that the principalities and powers in the world will still hate the gospel and the messengers of the gospel. We haven’t prepped for that.
And so, we don’t experience a lot of persecution and really don’t know what to do with it when we do. So, let’s just examine three statements about what persecutions is supposed to be for the believer, taken straight from this text today. Here is where we are going.
In the Life of a Faithful Follower of Jesus…
- Persecution is supposed to be inevitable
- Persecution is supposed to be for righteousness’ sake
- Persecution is supposed to be cause for rejoicing
Persecution is supposed to be inevitable
We might read this from Jesus and be, no thanks. That is cross cultural missionary stuff and I haven’t signed up for that.
Well, Jesus doesn’t give us that option. He said…
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
That’s a when, and not an if. Following Jesus rightly should result in persecution of some kind.
Look at Matthew 10:24-25
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 
So, you will only be persecuted if you are doing discipleship correctly.
Look at John 15:20
20 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. 
Look at how comprehensive Paul is in 2 Tim 3:12
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 
If you are anything like me, then this is a little discombobulating, because I spend most of my life trying to avoid this, and trying to shelter my kids from it. I have a vision of what a blessed life is and it doesn’t look like being persecuted and mocked and scorned and shunned for my faith. It looks like everyone thinking I am awesome. All the time. In fact, as I have gotten older, I have realized that my number one fear is rejection. Rejection for looking foolish, or backward, or uninformed, or old fashioned. My number one fear. And I live a life where I try to follow Christ and avoid that reality all the time, and it is not the way of blessing. In fact, Christ calls it a way of woe. In the parallel text in Luke, Jesus speaks out some woes that are the opposite of these blessings.
Look at Luke 6:26
26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. 
Okay, so what do we do when our lives aren’t like this? Do we need to leave here and just pick some fights? No, is the short answer, as I will explain in the next point.
Here are a couple of things to consider:
- Assess if our lack of any discernible persecution is as a result of cowardice and compromise.
- As I said earlier, we don’t hold the tension that says that we need to live missional lives of love while knowing that we will be persecuted even (and perhaps especially) if we do that well.
- Some of us are placing acceptance by everyone as our highest goal.
- We are very quick to point out how we don’t want to be jerks for Jesus, but then we just default to being cowards vaguely associated with Christ. Those aren’t our only two options.
- We have to follow our Lord who was the most gracious, loving, kind enlightened and compassionate person who ever lived by far, and was hated and persecuted his whole life.
- Allow the persecution of brothers and sisters around the world impact our posture.
- Christians around the globe continue to be persecuted for their faith. While we meet here in what is an uncomfortable room by the standards of American evangelicalism, our minds should reflect on the 100’s of thousands of our brothers and sisters who are cowered away in caves and dark spaces whispering the scriptures to each other knowing that serious consequences would await them and their families were they to be caught.
- It is tough to know the stats on Christian persecution around the globe today. I spent large parts of last week trying to get to some accurate studies. Gordon Conwell Seminary estimates that in this century there are in the region of 100,000 Christians martyrs a year. In a BBC article debunking that number and putting a number of those deaths down to the civil war in the DRC, the International Society for Human Rights says that there are at least 7,000 to 8,000 Christian martyrs every year.
- If that is the number, that should be enough to awaken us!!
Okay, persecution is supposed to be inevitable. Second…
Persecution is supposed to be for righteousness’ sake
In order to stop us from going out and picking the nearest available fight in Jesus’ name, we need to consider what Jesus says Christian persecution is and what Christian persecution isn’t.
Look at the text again…
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The persecution is for righteousness sake, or as it says in verse 11, on Christ’s account. In establishing what that means, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of what that doesn’t mean. Look at what Michael Glodo says about this text.
The suffering described here is not the thorns and thistles of the fall in general; nor is it persecution due to hypocrisy, judgmentalism, or just general obnoxiousness.It is certainly not the imagined persecution of heightened sensitivity that has more to do with identity politicsthan the cost of discipleship. We dare not trivialize persecution in that way when brothers and sisters are being imprisoned by oppressive regimes and dying at the hands of extremists. The suffering that is blessed here is suffering for righteousness’ sake—being persecuted for doing the will of our Master.
He raises some essential points. Christian persecution is not…
- General suffering
- Some things in the world just go wrong as a result of the fall that we live under.
- Your business deal might just blow up, your kids might rebel, people might be unreasonable. These are all possible.
- Opposition to being unloving or unwise
- Maybe people distanced themselves because you were kind of jerky to be around.
- Maybe you got overlooked for promotion because you were sinfully lazy at work.
- Maybe you lost followers because you are insufferable online.
- Maybe you got a speeding ticket because you were, well, speeding.
- Political paranoia or political power mongering
- We are so set out at identity politics that we hold many of our political views as gospel and then view our pursuit of Christ as the thing under attack when someone holds a contrary view.
So, those are things that aren’t being persecuted for righteousness sake. What is it to be persecuted for righteousness sake, or on Christ’s account? It is essentially to be persecuted for living out the Beatitudes, for following Christ in word and deed in a way that leads to opposition. Now, we might ask, why on earth would living as poor in spirit and meek and desiring righteousness and merciful and pure and as a peacemaker bring persecution? The truth is, it will, because it flies in the face of what the world wants and pursues and protects.
Jesus was the fulfillment of righteousness and everywhere he went, people wanted to kill him.
- If you are poor in spirit it will expose others as full of pride.
- If you mourn your sin, it will expose the self-righteousness of others.
- If you are meek, it will reveal the brutality of those filled with self-seeking power.
- If you are merciful, you will reveal injustice.
- If you are pure in heart, you will come across as a holy roller.
- If you are a peacemaker, you will definitely draw the fire of both peace keepers and aggressors.
He was, and we will be. This is why we would do well to consider and count the cost of following Christ. I haven’t experienced a lot of persecution as a believer, but I have been mocked, I have been reviled, I have lost friendships whenever I have pressed further in to what it looks like to follow Christ faithfully.
Okay, persecution is to be expected, and is for the sake of Christ. Lastly…
Persecution is supposed to be cause for rejoicing
Jesus says, “when this happens, rejoice!” Why? Three quick reasons amongst others.
Persecution Unites us with Christ
We get to experience the nearness and fellowship of Christ in a special way when we are persecuted for our love of Him. Paul said it this way in Philippians 3 when he spoke of his greatest desire…
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 
Persecution Connects us with the saints of old
Jesus ties it back to the prophets of old. He reminds us that it has always been the case for people who follow God boldly. The world won’t get it. Sometimes the people of God won’t get it. The prophets were usually persecuted by the covenant people.
Friend, you might take shots from Christ followers for following Christ more fervently. You will in fact. You should watch “Christian twitter”. There is nothing Christian about it. But, you will see followers of Christ ridiculed by other apparent followers of Christ for living out the Beatitudes.
I love the reminder in Hebrews 11…
36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. 
Persecution Secures reward in heaven
What a thought. Jesus says not only do you get to see the Kingdom of Heaven, but you get reward when you get there.
Get mocked now. Get a crown then.
Get ridiculed now. Rule over cities then.
Lose out now. Win forever then.
Have people turn from you now. Stare in the face of your King then.
It’s worth it. Look at how the Apostles responded to beating and imprisonment in Acts 5:41.
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
Will we be counted worthy?
- Ultimately Jesus IS the beatitudes.
- Since he became poor…yours is the wealth of the kingdom
- Since he mourned…you have the warmth of God’s comfort
- Since he lost everything…you inherit the earth
- Since he cried out “I’m thirsty” … you can be satisfied!
- Since he is merciful…you receive mercy
- Since he is pure of heart… you’re heart can be made new
- Since he is the prince of peace… you don’t have to be overcome with worried
- Since he was persecuted on the cross…you can have life.
And that new life is marked by mercy, enjoys purity, pursues peace and endures persecution with a blessed contentment of being citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Stolen from Matt Blackwell. Stolen. Every last word.