Blessed are the Persecuted
Okay, friends. Well, it’s great to be with you this morning! We’re going to be opening our Bible’s to Matthew, chapter 5. So, if you’ve got yours, let’s open it up together. We’re going to be continuing our series. If you remember, we used to go to this building and have church together. [Ken chuckles] We’re going to be continuing our series called “At the Feet of Jesus”, as we go through the Sermon on the Mount. This is really fun. I’d rather be with you, but I love just sort of envisioning you sitting there, getting your Bible’s out, and getting ready to discover God’s word together. I can imagine many of you sitting in your family rooms, your living rooms, some with your kids around you as we do this.
I actually wanted to start by talking to the young people in our church. Maybe kind of targeting at the middle-schoolers, or so. You know what I liked about middle school? P.E.! Yes? That’s right! [Ken laughs] Yes, I loved P.E.! You know what else I loved about middle school? I liked being liked. I liked being part of the “in” crowd. I liked being thought of as normal, as being accepted, as being part of the group. Can you relate to that? I bet some of you can relate. Actually, I bet all of you can relate. And the thing is, I’m not just talking to middle-schoolers, am I? We all experience it at that age in life, but we experience the temptation to want to be liked by the world around us through our whole life long. It’s very tempting for us to think that we're blessed when the world likes us. But what Jesus says in His word is that we're blessed when the world doesn't like us. What? How can this be? We're going to need to give attention to God's word this morning because it's counterintuitive to the way that are our worldly minds tend to think; that we're blessed when those around us don't like us, we're blessed when we're persecuted.
What I want to do is read the section we're going to be looking at this morning. We’re in the last of the Beatitudes, verse 10, and verse 11 and 12 go right with that. I'm going to read those three verses together, then we’ll pray, and then we'll get into our study. Matthew 5:10-12: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Let us pray: Father, I ask right now that you would help us block out the other things going on in our lives, in our rooms… [BREAK IN AUDIO]
…all of God's disciples will face persecution. Everyone who follows Jesus will be persecuted. It just simply says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake”, and then He repeats it; “Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Now, persecution is more than just not being liked, right? It’s more than that, but it's not less than that. It always starts with that. It starts with not being liked by the world, not being accepted, not being in the “in” crowd; being excluded. And Jesus is predicting that that will happen to every believer who follows after Him. Young people: there is a cost to following Jesus, and He lets you know what it is up front. if you want to follow Him, you decide to put at risk your reputation, your place in the “in” crowd, your spot in the group, and you say, “Following Jesus is more important to me than all of that.” And all of that is—so to speak—on the chopping block. It is put at risk and hazard for the sake of following Him. That’s part of the cost. Now, I'm here to tell you, the cost is worth it. He is worth our lives. He is worth all that it would cost us to follow Him, but we are called to count the cost as we begin to follow Him.
Now, we should notice that what He's talking about here is persecution for righteousness' sake, persecution for His sake; for the sake of following Jesus, of being like Jesus, of loving Jesus, and letting Him transform our lives. That’s the kind of persecution He’s talking about. He’s not just talking about worldly sorrow—which everybody goes through, or worldly difficulty—which everybody goes through. He's not talking about being teased by your friends. Everybody's teased. He's not talking about being persecuted because you’re a nerd or because you’re a little strange. As soon as I say, “…being a nerd,” you all are thinking about me. I know, I know. Right? [Ken laughs] I've been teased for being a nerd. I've been teased for being bald. I’ve been teased for any number of things. Right now you're thinking through several them, aren't you? [Ken laughs] See, that is just part of life for everybody on the planet. And even when it's not kindly intended, that's part of life, but that's not the persecution Jesus is talking about. What He's talking about here is persecution for righteousness’ sake because you're trying to live differently than the world, and the world hates the spotlight. They hate the fact that your righteousness exposes their on unrighteousness. Persecution is having things done against you or said against you because you're following Jesus. And all who live that way following Him should expect to be persecuted.
Okay, so, number one: persecution predicted. Number two: persecution pictured. Now, we’re not all going to face the same kind of persecution. Jesus is not saying that. There are going to be differing degrees, differing kinds, and this is in accordance with the goodness and the mercy and the wisdom and the sovereign control of God, which we leave in his hands. But there are some aspects in here that we can see.
Persecution begins with words. “Blessed are you when they revile you and they utter all kinds of evil against you.” How did the enemies of Christ attack those who love Christ? They attack, first, with words, with slander, with defamation, with lies, and deceit. With exaggerating truth to make the story look worse. Poisonous words. Spurgeon talked about this; he said it was like throwing mud. He said, “The rule seems to be ‘throw plenty of mud and some of it will stick’.” It doesn’t have to be true, just enough to tarnish the reputation. You see, persecuting words hurt. They destroy reputation. They sow suspicion amongst people. They can turn others against you. They can part friends. And they can leave you feeling, humanly speaking, alone. And words are only part of it. Words are a part of it, but they're not the only part. Those who hate Jesus don't limit their activity to words alone. Persecution can encompass aggression and violence. It’s been that way throughout the history of the church, throughout the history of the Scriptures. When that happens, when folks are ganging up on you, and they're saying they're doing this because of how bad you are—essentially—it’s easy to start feeling alone. How easy must it be when everybody's saying that you're a failure, to begin to feel like a failure? “God, how have I failed that I'm right here? Where did I go wrong that I am right here?” It makes us wonder, if we've messed up, if perhaps God has even left us. And if all we had was worldly eyes to see persecution, well, then that would make sense. “They're probably right. There's so many of them. There’s just little ol’ me here.” Being persecuted. If all we had was worldly eyes. But Christ offers us a different perspective on persecution.
So we’ve looked at persecution predicted and pictured, but now let's look at the third and final Point: persecution pre-empted. To pre-empt something means to get in front of it. It means that something was intended and heading towards a certain outcome, and that outcome is changed and altered. And that’s what Christ promises. God does with persecution. Not that He stops it; He’s clearly not saying that. Persecution is part of the wise, good plan of God for His people. He doesn't stop it, but He does pre-empt the harm of it. He pre-empts it from harm and directs it to our good. To our good? Yes! Isn't this what Jesus is saying? He doesn't say, “Cursed are those who are persecuted.” Blessed are those who are persecuted. He knows how incredible those words sound to us. Who ever heard of this teaching where those who are persecuted are blessed? And so, he doesn't just say it once, he says it twice. First, “Blessed are those who are persecuted,” and then he gets right up with us, “Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” See, Jesus is offering us a new perspective. He's giving hope for us. Hope for the persecuted. He gives hope in that verse, in verse 12, from the past. He said, “for so they persecuted the prophets who came before you.” You might feel like you're failing. The prophets probably felt like they were failing, but friends, you are joining a company of believers, down through the ages, who have succeeded in the eyes of God. You might feel like you're alone at that time, but you are, in fact, joining this group at that time. You are numbered among the very prophets of God. Think about the history of this. Go way, way, way back. Was not Abel persecuted by Kane for living righteously? Which of the prophets was not persecuted by the people around them? Which of the Apostles was not martyred? Is not Jesus, Himself, pleased to be numbered in this company; the company of those who have decided that following God is worth more to them than all that the world has to offer; than all that it promises and all that it threatens? That He's worth more to them than that. And church, history, from the time of Christ, proclaims the same thing over and over and over. When you are persecuted, you may feel alone, but you will not be alone. When you're persecuted, you may feel like a failure. You will not be a failure. When you're persecuted, you’re going to feel like you're kicked out of the only group that matters, but friends, you're being welcomed into the only group that matters. Those who are the inheritors of the Kingdom of God. This company of saints, down through the ages, Jesus draws our attention to them. You’re part of this group. You're with the prophets of God.
He gives hope from the past, and then He gives hope in the present. He says, “Rejoice and be glad.” Notice He doesn't say, “Now, friends, try not to get too discouraged. Try not to be overly downcast. Just be a little sad.” No! He doesn't. He sweeps all that aside with the word “rejoice”. He says, “Rejoice,” and not only rejoice, but rejoice and be glad. You're not failing now, you’re succeeding now. You’re not failing to honor me, you're honoring me, you’re glorifying the name of Christ. When you live before the world and declare that Jesus is worth more to you than all the world combined in the face of suffering, in the face of persecution, God is greatly honored. And for this, we can rejoice.
Hope from the past, hope in the present, and hope for the future. See, what it says, “Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.” Those who are persecuted have much to look forward to. He doesn’t just say, “Because you're going to get to go to heaven,” though that’s amazing and that’s wonderful. He says, “Not even just that you're going to have a reward.” Think of this, friends: we are sinners before a Holy God. We’re going to get to heaven because of the grace of Jesus Christ, alone. And yet, He promises reward to His people when they follow Him through persecution. Now, what kind of reward is He promising? He promises a great reward. What kind of reward will it be? What kind of reward will be given to us in heaven? How do I know what it will be like? How do I know if it will be worth it? Friends, is it not enough to hear the precious word from your Savior? Your reward is great in heaven. Did he say great? Then great it is! Our reward will be great in heaven. Has He not said to anticipate it and rejoice over it, even in advance, and be exceedingly glad about it? Even in advance! Would we be exceedingly glad about a vacation? Would we be exceedingly glad about an inheritance on earth where moth and rust destroy? And will we not be exceedingly glad when the Lord of the church and the Maker of all things says that our reward is great in heaven? He has said it is, and so it is.
So, how do we apply these words? There's a sense for us—for many, I think—that we're not facing severe persecution right now. So, how do we apply these. Two thoughts. First one: live for Jesus now. Live for Jesus now. Whether you are young person who desires the approval of your peer group, or whether you’re an older person who would desire the approval of my peer group, live for Jesus now. [BREAK IN AUDIO] Love Him. To love others because of Him. To live our lives for His sake. So, living for Him. Number two: let’s trust His promises. Let’s trust His promises. Listen, it’s easy when you look at passages like this to think, maybe, “How am I going to do this? How am I going to get through persecution? I'm so weak. I’d be scared.” Friends, the call of this passage is not to worry about persecution. It's not to imagine a future without God, in which I'm trying to do this on my own. Isn’t that where worry often comes from? Imagining the future without God? Let's not imagine a future persecution without God, oh Heaven, help us. And heaven will help us, because the saints who are persecuted are not without their God. Never once, never at all. So the call to us is not to lean on ourselves as we think about persecution, but to lean upon the precious promises that Jesus has put here. Has He not called the persecuted, blessed? Does this not mean that he will be with us on that day? That we can anticipate grace to meet us on that day? Does it not mean that He who said He would never leave us or forsake us would be right there with us on that day? Friends, let’s expect grace. Let's expect that these promises are true. Let's the take these promises with us as we walk the road. You know, it would be easy—when we’re done with this sermon—to take this, promises of God, and set it up here on the shelf and come back to life. Friends, these are not promises we should leave on the Shelf. We’ve got to take these promises with us and walk with them as we go. We need these. These are precious and good. Let us treasure the promises of God and lean upon what he has said.
Friends, the bad news—if you will—is that persecution is part of following Jesus. But friends, the good news is that persecution is part following Jesus. We never face it alone. We face it with the one who faced it before us. With the one who, indeed, faced it for us. We are walking with the Savior. That’s what is means to be a disciple. We’re with Him. His presence, more importantly, is with us, and He's the one who was persecuted on our behalf. When we deserve persecution for our sins, when we would deserve wrath for our sins, He absorbs that upon Himself so that we would never have to face the wrath of God. Friends, any persecutions that you endure is short. It’s temporary. When compared to what He endured for us, is even minor. Friend, walk with the one who suffered for us, and if necessary—when necessary—let's suffer for the one who suffered for us, and let’s suffer with the one who suffered for us. We will not suffer alone. We will not endure persecution alone. But He will be with us, because He has said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” Has He not said that He will be with us until the end of the age? May He be so. May He be so in your middle school. May He be so in your peer groups. May He be so in your office environment. May He be so when you're making a stand for Christ, which is costly. Oh, may He be with you, and may He be glorified by you. Church, let us glorify God in this world by declaring to a watching world that he is worth more to us than all the threats and all the promises that the world has to offer. Amen.
Let’s pray. Father, meet us, we pray. Engrave your words upon our heart that we would not forget these precious and very great promises. Guide us by your Spirit. Fill us with your Spirit, that on the day when we have choices to make and how we're going to live and how we're going to stand, that on that day we would receive Grace from you and walk the path that you’ve called us to walk; knowing that it is short and it is temporary. But the glory that accrues to you is forever. May you be glorified, we pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen.