In my small group discussion last Wednesday, we talked about the tension of being Christian in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity. We talked about the tension of loving others while at the same time standing on Scripture. Are we not supposed to love everyone regardless of their lifestyle? How can we love everyone but yet have Christian principles? We are not to judge others but do we compromise the gospel if we do not stand on Scripture? Ours is a ministry of reconciliation is it not? We are to love people to Jesus Christ, are we not? These are the tough questions of our faith. We are called to be lovingly accepting of others so that we can have the opportunity to share Jesus Christ with others. How do we do both, love others as Christ has loved us but also not compromise our beliefs in that effort? I think that is why we move to the next Beatitude in Matthew 5:10. There, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. So, what should we learn from this Beatitude? I think that there are three things that jump out at us.

• First, we should notice that Jesus says “persecuted” and then adds the prepositional phrase, “because of righteousness”. That is something we will explore.
• Then, we will look at when reconciliation stops and standing on principle begins.
• Third, we will look at how far we will go in modern day America in pursuit of a Christ-like lifestyle.

The first point that I think Jesus makes in this Beatitude is that those who honestly believe in his name and live their life in emulation of Him will face persecution because of righteousness. Let’s make a distinction here, people around the world are persecuted but is it persecution because of righteousness? Again, let’s understand terminology. William Tyndale says that righteousness evolved from an earlier word, rihtwis, which would have yielded the modern English word, rightwise or rightways and also, righteousness. He used it to translate the Hebrew root, tzedek, which appears more than five hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, and the Greek word, dikaios, which appears more than two hundred times in the New Testament. Dictionaries define righteousness in theological terms as “living a life that is in accord with divine principles; a life that is pleasing to God.” Jean Vanier, in his book, “Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John” said, “There are two dangers … for the friends of Jesus. The first is the temptation to make compromises with a culture that marginalizes and crushes some people in order to avoid conflict and rejection. … The second danger is the temptation to like to disturb this status quo. When we are rebels at heart and like to shock people, we can create a fight in order to be in the limelight. We can do some of these things unconsciously, experience rejection and then think that we are being persecuted like Jesus was.”

Thus, you find two avenues here that are NOT what Jesus was talking about. Those of us who swallow what the world dishes out to avoid conflict and thus feel we are trying create or make peace. Those of us who believe that cultural acceptance of the church is more important than standing out or standing on the principles of the gospel. On the other hand, those of us who go out and look for ways to get a fight started in the name of Jesus so that they can be publicly rejected and feel that they are being persecuted in the name of Jesus are equally not in alignment with what Jesus is saying here. Persecution for persecution’s sake is not what Jesus is after here when he talks about persecution. He includes the prepositional phrase, “because of righteousness” before he says, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus is saying that if your heart is right with God through your relationship with Jesus, then you will know when to quit offering up reconciliation. Jesus is also saying that to “stir things up” just for the sake of stirring it (meaning to create conflict for the sole purpose of creating conflict) and then claim matrydom when we get the backlash is not righteousness at all. There are those who believe that the leadership and their following at Westboro Baptist Church fall into this category. They seem to seek conflict rather than reconciliation. They seem to revel in their rejection not only by non-believers but by fellow mainstream Christianity as well. There is danger in thinking that you are the only one that really understands the Bible. There is danger in thinking you get it and no one else does. Thus, what Jesus expects of us is to measure everything we do by the Scriptures, by the life that He led. Just like him, there will be times in which we are persecuted for living our lives in a Scripturally-measured manner, for not going along with what everyone else believes, but it will be for righteousness that results in martyrdom not for seeking martyrdom for martyrdom’s sake. I think it is clear that Jesus would not want us to seek conflict simply for conflict’s sake, out of some sense of pride or need to be recognized, but rather only experience conflict when we are being asked to compromise the values of God as laid out in His Word.

True believers do not measure their actions by worldly standards, by what others think of them. True believers will do what is right, fight for what is right even if it means we will be ridiculed, tormented, shunned, or killed or any combination thereof. True believers have that peace that passes all human understanding that gives them fortitude in the midst of the stormy seas. They knowthat Jesus is in the boat with them. They know as the song, “Our God”, by Chris Tomlin, states “And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?” Thus, this peace beyond understanding allows those who believe in Jesus to stand in the line of fire, to say this is wrong when everyone else says it’s right or at least OK. For they know, they have measured their actions by the standards of the Scriptures, they have surrendered their will to that of our God and that whatever the consequences they will still have that one most important relationship in our lives – our relationship with Jesus Christ.

The second point that God has revealed in this Beatitude is its position in the sequence of the Beatitudes. Why did Jesus pronounce this Beatitude where he did in his Sermon on the Mount? It was John R.W. Stott in his book, “The Message of the Sermon on the Mount”, who said, “It may sound strange that Jesus should pass from peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. Yet however hard we may try to make peace with some people, they refuse to live at peace with us. Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed.” The order here to me is important but also then the fact that they both are “in” as Beatitudes is important also. First, the order is important. God first invites us to be peacemakers then he says, ya know, you are pretty much going to get persecuted at some point because of living your life to glorify my name. To me, Jesus is saying that if you live a life filled with the Holy Spirit, you will by your nature seek peace and make peace. This is a peace in the sense that you want to share the peace of a holy life with those that do not have such peace. Being a peacemaker means that you will do what it takes to attempt to share that peace that you have found in Jesus in all your relationships. It also means that you will apply that concept in the face of hatred and meanness directed at us. There will be those that we encounter in life that will misconstrue and misinterpret what we say and hold a grudge against us for that. As John Stott says, in his aforementioned book, “not all attempts at reconciliation (peacemaking) will succeed.” There are those who will simply, and full-on, reject Jesus Christ, reject our ministry of reconciliation, and reject us for believing in this Jesus nonsense. There are going to be those that we encounter that are in full-on, ongoing rebellion against God. They want nothing to do with God’s Word and reject it without the slightest thought. They reject it as old-fashioned. They reject it because it points out sin in their lives that they are unwilling to turn away from.

This is, to me, why Jesus placed “blessed are the persecuted because of righteousness” as the next Beatitude. This means that true Christians will make every attempt to share the gospel with others not because of trying to impose their will upon others, but out of gratitude to God. We are so grateful for his grace that it gives a warm peace in our hearts that we are simply too excited about not to share. In accepting God’s grace, we accept the moral standards for our lives that God lays out in His Word. And through that obedience to God’s Word, we find peace. True believers realize that He is in control and that all things are done according to his plan and that each experience in life good and bad work together to refine us and make us better tools for His kingdom. Having said that, God’s standards by which we gladly accept as the cornerstones of our lives are not often acceptable to this “me, my, get my needs met before yours, look out for number one” world that we live in. Our attempts to be peacemakers in our world may cause situations in which we are threatened with having to compromise our Christian values or denounce them altogether by our actions in an attempt to achieve peace and reconciliation with others.

Here lies the importance of the order of the Beatitudes. Jesus is saying through the placement of these Beatitudes one after the other is that His followers will understand that point at which we are called upon to be Peter and deny Jesus. His followers will understand that point at which we are called upon to throw our Christ-given values under the bus. At this point, a true believer then measures what he is being asked against the Scriptures. In these situations, we as true believers must refuse to participate in that which will compromise what we are taught by the Scriptures. Persecution in whatever form that takes will surely follow when we don’t “go with the flow”. Again, persecution for righteousness is sacred according to Jesus. These are the people who are not martyrs simply because it makes them look good to do so. Persecution for righteousness is when we continue to love in the face of hatred. Persecution for righteousness is when we refuse to act in a non-Scriptural way because we simply believe that God’s way is better than man’s way.

The final point that comes to through the blessing of God that lights fires in my mind and gets translated on to this page is the culmination of the other two points. First, we interpreted that this Beatitude points us to the truth that those who fashion their lives after Christ we have a peace so complete that we see beyond the persecutions that we may suffer to the bigger prize which is our relationship with Jesus and our eternity in His Kingdom. Second, we see that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers first but that we must never compromise our Christ-like values in attempting to make peace in this world. Finally, the question becomes, how are you willing to go to stand firm on your beliefs in Christ. He says and virtually guarantees that if you fully accept the Christ-like way of life, persecutions will come. He says basically, “Pretty much bet on it!” This point leads me to a quote from Clarence Jordon in his book, “Sermon on the Mount” where he says, “One wonders why Christians today get off so easily. Is it because unchristian Americans are that much better than unchristian Romans, or is our light so dim that the tormentor can’t see it? What are the things we do that are worth persecuting?”

Wow, Clarence really puts us in our place with that statement. Are we so comfortable in our existence of cable TV with 500 channels, blazing fast internet speed as with sit on our couch surfing, going back and forth to work, and so on that our light is so dim that we CANNOT be persecuted for our beliefs. It’s like we, including me, say “Lord I will do this much for you but being pointed out as a Christ follower … ummm…. Don’t do that!” How come you and I claim to be Christians in a low-impact sort of way but, as Francis Chan says in the video that goes with his book, Crazy Love, there are people in Islamic countries that will lose their families and their possessions if they are so bold as to be baptized publicly and say that “my relationship with Jesus is so important to me that I will risk everything for it.” People in other countries just in this century have been singled out, tortured and put to death for firmly standing on the promises of Jesus. Can you or I do that? How far will we go in our pursuit of Christ? Will we pursue him with the same fervor as we follow and swear by our favorite sports team? Am I as willing to be pointed out as a Christ follower as I am for being a Clemson or a Carolina fan? How in love with God are we in our two car, two-story house, comfortable little worlds? Are you willing to be ridiculed for saying that you are a Christ follower? Are we willing to lose your job to follow God’s ways of doing things and refusing to participate in something ungodly at work? Are we willing to leave our comfortable life behind to pursue where God is calling you to be? Are we willing to die for being a Christian? Think about it…how far are you and I willing to take this Christ following thing? To the death?

Lord, please help us to examine our lives such that we live our lives by your Word in each and every act that we undertake in life. Lord, please help us to understand that eternity with You is more important that worldly acceptance. Lord, give me the strength and the awesome level of love for you that by sheer nature that the light I shine cannot be hidden. May I live a life that is pleasing and brings honor to you even if it brings ridicule, marginalization, or even death! May my life be such that if I was put on trial for being a Christ follower that there would overwhelming evidence to convict me. Amen and Amen.

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