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Blessed Are The Persecute...

Momentum: How to Make Progress in Your Christian Life

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11)

 

We come today to the last message in our series on the Beatitudes.  Many of you have spoken of how the Lord has been using these Scriptures in your life.  I also have been stretched and searched by these words of Jesus, and never more so than in this last Beatitude that we come to today.

 

In the Beatitudes, Christ gives us…

A Seven-Fold Description of a Godly Life

  1. To be poor in spirit, recognizing that before God I do not have what it takes, and that all my good is in him.
  2. To mourn over my own sins, seeing their cost so that I move beyond feeling sorry to a place where I actually change.

 

  1. To meekly submit to the will of God, whatever the cost.

 

These are the roots of a godly life.  There is no true Christianity without them.  But out of these roots, comes:

 

  1. A life that hungers and thirsts for righteousness.

This deep longing and commitment is the soul of a godly life.  And where this life grows, it will bear wonderful fruit:

 

  1. Out of this life will come a tenderness of heart—mercy, compassion, forgiveness—beautiful fruit.

 

  1. Out of this life will come purity of heart—to will one thing, to move beyond the spiritual stagnation of double-mindedness that holds half to the world and half to Christ.

 

  1. Out of this life will come a peaceable spirit. Peace in your own heart that makes it possible for you to be a peacemaker in this troubled world.

 

Here are the things I am to cultivate.  Here is the life that God calls me to pursue, the pathway of sanctification.  Here is the path on which God’s blessing is to be found.

 

What comes of such a life?

If I pursue this life to which Christ calls me, what should I expect?  What lies ahead of me?  To that question, Jesus gives two answers: 1. You will be persecuted by the world, and 2. You will be blessed by God.

 

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. (Matthew 5:10-12)

 

Three times Jesus uses the word “persecuted,” which means: Harassed, opposed, or ill-treated.  Jesus says, “If you pursue this life, this is what will happen to you.  You should expect it.”

 

The world will not thank you for being a Christian.  The world will not love the church.  It will tolerate the church with suspicion at best, and will show it open hostility at worst.

 

Jesus says that everyone who does wicked things “hates the light” (John 3:20).  They love darkness because it shrouds evil.  If the light is in you, expect to be hated.

 

If you pursue this life, the light of Christ shines from within you.  A sinner has to suppress his own conscience to sustain what he’s doing.  A godly colleague or neighbor brings the light that sinners are trying to avoid.

 

So, don’t expect to be thanked for living a godly life in business, industry, school or education.  Sinners will be suspicious of you for living a godly life—at best, and hostile towards you for living a godly life—at worst.

 

Today, I want to remind you of the pattern of persecution, the forms in which it comes, and the blessing and reward that come with it.

 

The Pattern of Persecution


Opposition is a normal experience of the Christian, and I should expect it. Let me remind you of this briefly in four ways…

Think about individual people in the Bible

Persecution for righteousness’ sake began in the first family.  Adam and Eve had just two boys: Cain and Abel.  When Cain was born his parents hoped that he’d be the hope of the world!  And, oh, look—he’s going to have a baby brother!  They’ll get along, and be great friends.

 

But Cain persecuted his own brother, and then he murdered him.  Why did Cain kill him?  It wasn’t just a fight that got out of control.  He killed him, the Bible says, because “his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous (1 John 3:12).

 

The second man born into the world was the first martyr to be persecuted and killed for righteousness’ sake.  Abel set the pattern for those who were to come.  This pattern of opposition, harassment and suffering runs throughout human history, to our experience around the world today.

 

  1. W. Pink gives the roll of honor, those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

 

Joseph was persecuted by his brothers and in Egypt he was cast into prison for righteousness sake (Genesis 37, 39).
Moses was reviled again and again (Exodus 5:21; 14:11; 16:2; 17:2; etc.).
Samuel was rejected (1 Sam. 8:5).
Elijah was despised and persecuted (1 Kings 18:17; 19:2).
Nehemiah was oppressed and defamed (Nehemiah 4).

 

Stephen was stoned, Peter and John were cast into prison, James was beheaded, and the entire course of the apostle Paul’s Christian life and ministry was one long series of bitter and relentless persecutions. [1]

 

Think about the churches in the Bible

In Philippi: For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. (Philippians 1:29)
In Thessalonica: We ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:4)
In Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and in Bithynia: Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

(1 Peter 4:12)

 

Paul says to Timothy in a definitive way: All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)

 

Suffering for being a Christian is normal and we should expect it.  Why?  Because the sinful nature is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).

 

Think about our Lord Jesus Christ

Christ personified, incarnated, lived out every one of these Beatitudes, and look what the world did to him.  He says, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

 

The eighth beatitude sets an expectation quite clearly, reflected throughout the whole Bible, for a normal Christian life.  Those who follow Christ will be blessed by God and hated by the world.

 

Two Forms of Persecution

 

Thomas Watson says that there are two forms of persecution—the hand and the tongue.


Persecution of the hand

Persecution with the hand is physical violence, imprisonment, and even martyrdom.  Last week I met an Indian student from Trinity who was visiting the church.  He asked me to pray for his homeland: “A violent mob has come and broken the arms and the legs of the missionaries.”

 

It is very difficult to get accurate numbers of Christians who are killed every year for openly professing faith in Christ.  It is in the range of 100,000 to 150,000 martyrs per year.

 

Let’s take the low end of these estimates: The Church of England newspaper estimated that 105,000 believers were killed for their faith in Christ in 2011.  That’s 288 a day, 12 an hour, and one every 5 minutes. [2] Somewhere in the world, every 5 minutes, one of your brothers, one of your sisters, is not only suffering, but laying down their life.

 

I do not think our church has yet had a missionary martyr, but if we truly press forward with the work of Gospel proclamation, we should not be surprised if that costly honor is given to one of us.

 

Persecution of the tongue

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:11)

 

To “revile” is to insult or to slander.  We might call it today, “verbal abuse.”  It includes mocking, slandering, even intimidating, and tormenting.  It is any kind of persecution with the tongue.

 

I want to speak here, especially to all our high school students and also to our middle school students.  Listen up…

 

If people know you are a Christian, you are going to get some opposition, and it might be a lot.  I wish I could protect you from it, and so do your parents.  But we can’t protect you from all of it.

 

Satan has his eye on you, and he won’t give you a break just because you are a teenager.  There’s nothing in your Bible that says you’ll get a free pass until you’re 21 years old.

 

Different people will have different experiences, but here’s what you should expect: If people know that you are a Christian, expect to be mocked for believing in Christ, expect to be scorned for obeying Christ: “How could you possibly believe in a Creator?” etc.

 

If you are committed to a path of sexual purity, as I hope you are, and you hold back from the sexual experimentation that is becoming a normal part of high school culture, then people will think you are strange and they may make fun of you because of it.

 

When other students know that you are a Christian, they may make your life hard.  They may say things that are really hurtful: “Utter all kinds of evil against you” (Matthew 5:11).  That’s what Jesus says here.

 

They may make you feel like a social outcast, and that will not be easy.

Understand what is happening and why—they see the light in you and they don’t like it.

 

My own experience of this was pretty tame.  There was one teacher who had it in for me at 15 years old.  We called him “death breath.”  I better not get into that…

 

He was a good teacher, but he was a committed atheist, and he had a real axe to grind against Christians.  I usually got on the wrong end of his barbed comments…

 

We had a group that we called the Christian Union in school.  There were about 20 of us who joined the group, and that pretty much nailed our colors to the mast.

 

When I left the school, I met with him to thank him for the help that he’d been to me: “What are you going to do with your life, Smith?”  I told him that I wanted to be a pastor.

 

I’ve never forgotten his comment: “A complete waste of a perfectly good brain.”  Later I found out he had a sister who was a Christian missionary in China.  You never know what God is doing behind the scenes.

 

I have two sons.  One of them went through a period in high school where a particular teacher went way overboard in making barbed comments about his faith and about his commitment to sexual purity.

 

I remember wondering what to do—should we complain?  Should we adjust his schedule?  In the kindness of the Lord, we saw our son grow in spiritual stature over a period of six months like we never had at any other time.  We still talk about it.  Something happened.

 

It was as if he rose to it, gained strength from it, and was determined not to be overcome by it.  This isn’t all bad.  It was better to have him fighting against this teacher, than to have him fighting against me.

 

God put strength into him through the opposition that he faced.  God’s hand was in it, and he meant it for good.  He was ridiculed and he was blessed.  How does that work?

 

That’s what Jesus is telling us here.  There’s a principle for all of us: Opposition helps you grow as a Christian: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

 

Ask any older Christian about their experience and they will tell you the same thing: When times were really tough, their faith in Christ grew!

 

Persecution has a sanctifying effect on the church

A few years ago, Ajith Fernando spoke here in our church about the history of the Christian church in his home country of Sri Lanka.  He told us that during the years of British rule in Sri Lanka, church leaders had influence in high places, a seat at the table of political power.

 

There was little persecution, and there were few conversions.  Then the country changed, and a militant Hindu government that was much more hostile came to power.  Persecution began, and with it a flood of conversions to Christ like the church had never seen before.

 

Persecution has a sanctifying effect on the church.  People who are Christians in name only leave the churches in droves when persecution comes: “It’s going to cost me something?  I’m outta here!”

 

The church gets smaller.  Those who remain find themselves praying as never before, the bonds of fellowship become closer, the spiritual temperature rises, and unconverted people are drawn by the reality of spiritual life as never before.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that the culture in which we live and serve today is becoming more hostile towards Christians and churches.  For two hundred years and more, the country that we love has been very kind and supportive towards Christians, but this is changing fast.

 

80% of people in our country would say that they are Christians, and what is the level of spirituality?  Very low.  If God allows us to suffer for our faith as we have not known before, we should pray that he will use it as a means of reviving his church.

 

The Beatitudes show how this works… when persecution comes you realize that you don’t have what it takes and you are cast back on the Lord, so you go back to the beginning—you are poor in Spirit.

 

You begin to see and to mourn the compromises of your life, so you submit yourself meekly to the will of God.  You find yourself longing to honor Christ through the difficulties you are facing.

 

Out of that comes a kinder, purer and more peaceable heart.  And when the world sees that kind of righteousness in you, it hates you even more, and the spiral of growth goes on.

 

Years ago while I was serving as a pastor in England, I heard John Piper speak at a conference there.  He made an extraordinary statement that I have never forgotten,

 

America is one of the hardest places in the world to be a true Christian.

 

I remember thinking at the time: That cannot be true!

 

Having been here for 16 years, I now understand what he was saying: The blessings of freedom lead us to an expectation of a comfortable life.  A comfortable life produces lethargy of spirit, and that’s why fasting and giving and serving and risking are so important to our spiritual health.

 

Some of you have experienced persecution in far greater ways than I or others have.  We need your stories.  They will strengthen the rest of us who have to overcome the lethargy that so easily comes with a more comfortable life.

 

Share them in your LIFE group or with your campus pastor or with me, so that we can encourage one another.  Every time you stand for Christ under pressure, you put strength into other Christians who are watching you.

 

I draw strength from the example I see in some of you standing up under great pressure.  I won’t give you names, but I say to myself, “If he can stand up under what he is facing right now, I can stand up under what God has laid on me.”  The greatest service you may ever offer to Christ is to stand and to love him still in the face of pressure and opposition.

 

The Outcome of Persecution

 

Persecution produces two outcomes: Great blessing and great reward.

 

Great blessing

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Blessed are you when others revile you. (Matthew 5:11)

 

You say, “How can the blessing be now, if there’s persecution?”  There’s a fellowship with Christ and an anointing of the Spirit that you can experience in the face of suffering.  It’s greater than anything you will experience at any other time.  Samuel Rutherford said,

 

I never knew by my nine years of preaching so much of Christ’s love as He taught me in Aberdeen by six month’s imprisonment. [3]

 

John Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years in Bedford England.  It took him from his wife and his nine children—one of whom was blind.

 

After I had been a Christian for a long time, and had been preaching about five years, I was arrested at a meeting of good people in the country…

 

I have never in all my life had so much of the Word of God opened up so plainly to me before.  Those Scriptures that I saw nothing particular in before have been made, in this place, to shine upon me.

 

Also, Jesus Christ was never more real to me than now; here I have seen and felt him indeed.

 

I never knew before what it really was for God to stand beside me at all times.  As soon as fears have presented themselves, so have supports and encouragements. [4]

 

This promise and experience of blessing in the face of mockery, ridicule, slander, persecution, is all over the Bible.  Peter says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

 

Paul speaks of entering into “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).  There is a fellowship with Christ when you share the cup of his sufferings.

 

We’re given a wonderful picture of that in the book of Daniel.  Three godly men—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, their hands tied, were thrown into a fiery furnace.

 

The king looked into the fire and asked his counselors, “Did we not cast three men into the furnace?  I see four!  They’re not bound.  They’re walking in the furnace, and the fourth one looks like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25 KJV).  That’s Christ with you in the flames of affliction!

 

Great reward

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:12)

 

What does that mean?  Do some people have greater reward in heaven than others?  We’ll look at this next time.

 

Teach me to serve you as you deserve.

To give and not to count the cost.

To fight and not to heed the wounds.

To toil and not to seek for rest.

To labor and not to seek reward

save that of knowing that I do your will, O God. [5]

 

Ignatius of Loyola

 

 

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org

[1] A. W. Pink, “The Beatitudes & the Lord’s Prayer,” p. 58, Baker, 1995.

[2] Church of England newspaper June 17th 2011, cited at: http://geoconger.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/a-christian-martyr-every-5-minutes-the-church-of-england-newspaper-june-17-2011-p-1/.

[3] Cited in Kent Hughes, “The Sermon on the Mount,” p. 70, Crossway, 2001.

[4] John Bunyan, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” p. 109-111, Moody Press, 1959.

[5] Ignatius of Loyola, “Prayer for Generosity,” (1491-1556).