Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins the sermon with a section called The Beatitudes, 8 statements, most of which seem counterintuitive at first glance. But these are much deeper than pithy statements. They point us to the ethics of Jesus.
The final beatitude is in Matthew 5:10, while verses 11 and 12 elaborate on it.
Blessed are the persecuted.
We live in a sinful world. Where we are not insulated from the effects of sin, even if we are walking with Christ.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
“I didn’t sign up for that!” A person might think.
If they’re walking with God, shouldn’t he do something to protect them? To save them from it?
But in living in a world with people who don’t have faith in the gospel, it makes sense that people who have faith and are trying to share the message are going to face pushback. In some places, and at some times in history, some more severe than others.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, right now, in other parts of the world, are being persecuted. There are people who die for their faith.
I was struck by the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi in his book, “No God but one: Allah or Jesus?” Qureshi had been raised a Muslim and later converted to Christianity.
Perhaps you’ve heard people say things like “well all religions are basically the same.”
But what a slap in the face that is to people who come to Christ in hostile parts of the world. And the prices people pay for that faith. To say “oh, well you just went from believing one thing to another that’s biaslfcaly the same message.” It is not.
Qureshi, in his book, makes an interesting point. He had studied Christianity in college. A Christian friend had challenged him to explore the claims of the Christian faith. And Qureshi said that when he came to faith, it was something that he didn’t want to believe.
Because he knew it was going to cause division in his family, in his community. He regularly still gets death threats. He didn’t come to Christianity because he wanted those things to happen, but because it was true. And regardless of the cost, it was worth it.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
Few things authenticate a sincere faith more than suffering for faith.
I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller, he was talking about this same passage. He made the point that: when we live as God’s people, when we share the message of Christ with people who don’t know it, it will resonate with some people.
Not everyone will dislike you or hate you. He makes the point that if everyone dislikes you, that might not be because of your faith, that might just be you!
The text also isn’t saying that any form of persecution of good. It’s blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
It’s those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. It’s those who are following Christ, who are living according to the other beatitudes, who are living according to the values of heaven. Who are showing meekness, who are showing mercy who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
Few things authenticate a sincere faith quite like a person who’s willing to suffer for that faith. That regardless of what we suffer, knowing Jesus also suffered. That in spite of a world that can be hateful towards Christians, that we are never ever justified to be hateful towards otters.
That people are lost and broken. Jesus, when he was being nailed to the cross said “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”
I was reading a story in Christianity Today a few months ago. A woman who had been in the Romanian government under its community regime. She had came to faith in Christ. And she faced lots of pressure and oppression. In the late 1980s, she came into her office and a man was waiting there with a gun.
Not a good situation!
She didn’t respond with hatred. She responded with pity. Realizing how lost and broken this man had to have been.
That day, she led him to Christ. In the article, she talks about how they stayed in touch over the years. The man eventually went to seminary and became a minister.
That’s part of why people are persecuted for the sake of Christ. Sometimes we can lead people who don’t know Christ and who are persecuting Christians, to Christ.
We can’t just wash our hands and think “well it’s someone else’s job to do.”
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
There are trials we face, that regardless of what we face, that that’s not an excuse to sin. That God is good, it’s the world that’s sinful.
And three affirmations that are important to always remember:
First, God is good. He is entirely, fully, eternally, and totally good. His nature and essence are good.
Second, God is powerful. He is sovereign over all creation. God knows all things. God knows your destiny, he knows his plans. In fact, he is working out his plans because he is sovereign. And because God is good and powerful, God is working all things for good. Even the things that seem bad, God is working for good.
And third, God loves you. The greatest example of this is undoubtedly the cross. Jesus took the penalty for your sins. That we were totally separate from God, morally bankrupt, opposed to God. That we try to have it our way, to live our way. But in spite of that, and while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He died for you.
You might think “well wait, I’m not opposed to God?”
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Are you meek to the will of God? Do you mourn sin? And do you do all of these things perfectly all the time?
Like a fish that’s been pulled out of the lake, we thrash and flail.
But God is good, God is powerful, and God loves you.
If you totally believed all of those things with all of your being every single second of your life, without ever having doubt, imagine the life that would be. Imagine the life that would be when the going got tough. If instead of dwelling in a situation, feeling sorry for yourself, wanting to escape, you looked at the situation and had total confidence: God is good, he is powerful, he loves you.
If a friend or relative, or stranger caused harm to you, wronged you somehow, stole from you, lied to you, any other injustice you can face. And seeing the wrong, and knowing that it was wrong, but even in spite of the wrong, of knowing that God is good, he is powerful, and he loves you.
On your worst day, or your worst season, while it might be easy to doubt, while it might be easy to question, when your friends or relatives might question how we can possibly still be trusting in God, while you might be tempted to curse God or to question “where are you” to KNOW that God is good, God is powerful, and God loves you.
We see how that would be a better way to live.
Not saying we should shut off our minds or stop thinking, but imagine a life lived with such a central focus on God, that whatever you faced, he was your rock, that even if you had hardships, or difficulties, or broken relationships. That even if you had struggles in life, that even if you faced injustices, that even in the face of death; that if you could look at all situations and circumstances, and keep beatnig the drum and trusting that God is good, God is powerful, and God loves you.
That is what the kingdom of heaven values.
So why am I describing something impossible? Something we don’t live up to?
Because the more we walk with God, the closer we look to Christ, the more we truly love God with all of our heart, and souls, and minds, the more we put the totality of our being into following God, the more we become these types of people.
I know people can be cynical about faith. People can treat us like we’re cave men who just invented a bunch of stories to try to get through the difficulties of life. Like we just tell ourselves God will make it right so we can feel better. I know people in town, at work, in our families, think that way.
The values of Heaven are different from the values of earth. The commercials we see on TV, the ads we see. They try to sell happiness. People look to things for happiness, to relationships for happiness, to money for happiness. People turn to drugs and alcohol.
Do you have something like that right now? If only I had that, things would be better? True and life giving fulfillment can only come from the Lord.
But if we can have our bedrock be God, if it can be trust in him, and that God is good, God is powerful, and God loves you, to know that that’s all we need when things are difficult. To trust him and to have faith in him.
You might hear the beatitudes, the core of the ethics of Christ and think “well I don’t do all those things.” Maybe you don’t mourn sin, maybe you aren’t always merciful, maybe you don’t really have a hunger and thirst for righteousness.
You can’t do these things on your own. It is only through the gospel, it is only through the power of Christ, that we can do it. It is only through faith that we can begin to walk in God’s ways. You can’t will yourself to mourn your sin. You must first recognize your Spiritual poverty. You can’t will yourself to hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s not our natural state. Our natural state is to want to do things our own way. But the more we see God, the more we desire him. We can’t make ourselves meek. It only comes from an abundant trust in the justice of God that we know that he is in control and that he is good, he is powerful, and he loves you.