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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Blessed are those Who are Persecuted for Righteousness' Sake
Text:Matthew 5:10-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Persecution
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-08-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 55:1,2,3                                                                            

Ps 119:32,33                                                                                                  

Reading – Jeremiah 20:7-18; Matthew 5:1-12

Ps 35:1,7,9 

Sermon – Matthew 5:10-12

Ps 54:1,2,3

Hy 52:1,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, there are believers all around this world who are going to church today with a measure of uncertainty, anxiety, and perhaps fear. Who is watching them? Will their worship be interrupted? Will the pastor be arrested? Many Christians live under this constant pressure. They can’t assemble with too many people at a time. They must be careful about they say and where they go. There is the threat of fines and imprisonment, and much worse. For them, persecution is very real. For them, following Christ comes at a high cost.

Jesus said this would happen—He promised that his believers would meet with trouble and opposition for his name. In fact, this is the striking way in which Christ ends the Beatitudes; He concludes with the reality of persecution: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v 10). Blessed are those… Amazingly, few things are better than being hated and mocked for Jesus’ sake.

It’s not just in these three verses, either. More than one New Testament book was written to encourage believers who were being persecuted; think of the letter to the Hebrews, or Peter’s first letter. For it’s been a reality from Day One. Jesus himself was oppressed, and He makes clear that any enemy of his will be an enemy of the church; He says in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” It’s a sure thing for his people.

So what about us? If a blessing is pronounced on those who suffer for Christ, must we look for such suffering? Or should we be concerned if we’re not suffering for him? Let us consider the Beatitude in Matthew 5:10-12 under this theme,

 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:

  1. if you resolutely stand up for Christ
  2. and are willingly opposed for Christ
  3. you will joyfully receive His kingdom

 

1) resolutely standing up for Christ: The Beatitudes are short and compact, so every word counts. And a key word in our text is “righteousness,” as in, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v 10). If we back up a few verses, we see the same key word in verse 6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” This righteousness is about living in a proper relationship with God, pleasing God through right faith in him and obedience to his will. This is what we must long for, “hungering and thirsting,” that in all things we might live in communion with God according to his Word. Such a life is blessed—such a life is truly rewarding!

Those who desire a living fellowship with God can only get this through his Son. It is only through Christ’s perfect life and death that sinners can become righteous. In Matthew 5, this is the gospel that Jesus is just beginning to teach. By his saving work, our status before God changes, so that we become God’s friends, even God’s children.

And when you know God and his Son, you’ll seek to serve them in all things. It won’t be enough to say that you know him, but you’ll show it by doing his will. Think of what Jesus teaches later in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (v 21). Words are proven through our deeds.

Doing the will of the Father isn’t easy. Jesus says that doing the Father’s will requires purity of heart, and self-denial, and love for your enemies, generous giving, faithful praying, an attitude of meekness and a spirit of humble trust. The gate is narrow, and the way is difficult, says Christ.

So if you’ll follow the path of righteousness, it takes great dedication—for it will surely attract persecution. Beloved, we should count on a struggle, and harassment, discrimination, even painful suffering. To stand firm through all this, a person must be faithful to Christ.

That’s how Jesus expands this Beatitude in verse 11. He speaks in verse 10 of being persecuted for the sake of righteousness, but in verse 11, He speaks of being reviled “for my sake.” Notice how the two are placed in parallel: the righteous path of life is the same path which is walked with Christ. “You will suffer because you are attached to me,” Jesus says. Trouble isn’t good for its own sake, but because it is for Christ.

If you think about it, this was a very strange message for Jesus to bring in Matthew 5. Consider when He says this: He is right at the beginning of his ministry; He is just starting to train his disciples and preach to the crowds. So far everything looks promising: “great multitudes followed him,” we heard in the last chapter (4:25).

But now this: no sooner has Jesus built some forward momentum than He hits his disciples and the crowds with a cold splash of reality. “You will be reviled for my sake. Don’t join me if you’re looking for easy street.” He wasn’t marketing himself very well, but it was true. Jesus would soon face hostility. Satan would raise up enemies to harass not just him, but his followers. And it wasn’t long before being a disciple of Christ meant there could be a severing of family ties, being kicked out of the synagogue, physical pain and even death.

And how do you react when you meet with conflict or opposition? I suspect that most of us prefer the strategy of avoidance. If our words or actions are going to bring trouble, then the solution is simple: stop talking, or quit offending.

There’s an example of this in the prophet Jeremiah. We’ll hear more about Jeremiah a bit later, but in chapter 20, he is tired of being mocked for his ministry. People hounded him endlessly, even jailed him, so the solution was tempting: Hold your tongue. “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of him, nor speak anymore in his name’” (v 9). Stop speaking about righteousness, and all the pain goes away. Hasn’t that always been the escape route for God’s people? Stay silent, and you survive. Recant, deny, surrender—and your life gets better. It’d be easy for us to lay low, to avoid causing offense, to agree with the opinions of the day.

Jeremiah, of course, knew that he could not be silent. For this is a mark of a true believer: when we have an absolute and unwavering dedication to God’s truth. He might’ve wanted to keep it to himself, but Jeremiah says, “His Word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding is back, and I could not” (v 9). The truth is so powerful and necessary that he’ll resolutely stand up for God’s message.

This remains Christ’s call to those who would follow him: “Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:32). When we follow Christ, we might get questions. We might get ignored or laughed at. But regardless, we’re called to stand fast. For Christ demands a whole-hearted commitment.

I remember once that at a youth conference I attended many years ago, the organizers wanted to have the theme, “It’s cool to be a Christian” or something to that effect. But someone older and wiser had pointed out that it’s actually not cool. Being a Christian generally isn’t going to gain you approval and popularity. Rather, to follow Christ in this world means you’ll face ridicule and oppression!

As you get older, you’re a little less concerned about being cool. Yet we still want to be acceptable. You’d like to fit with this world, and not be singled out for being weird or politically incorrect. Jesus declares a rich and everlasting blessing on those who stand with him. But if we stand with him, we shall be opposed.

 

2) willingly being opposed for Christ: We said earlier that Jesus often mentioned persecution. It’s actually striking how often it comes up in his teaching. As one example, in Matthew 16:24 He speaks about the need to “take up our cross.” And if any image suggests suffering for a Christian, it is this one, for the cross wasn’t a pretty piece of jewellery, it was an instrument of torture and death. “Take up your burden for my sake,” Jesus says, “Accept the painful price of obedience. They put a cross on me, and I will put one on you.”

 When our text says “persecute,” it’s a word which literally means to pursue, to follow after in order to oppress. And Jesus gives some colour to that idea of persecution in the next verse: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake” (v 11).

Notice how Jesus puts the emphasis on the words that get thrown at his believers. They will revile you, or scorn you. They will say all kinds of evil about you. This is so often where persecution begins: with insults, with public ridicule, and a mockery. For sometimes those who lack courage to do anything else will resort to name-calling.

We might say that words don’t hurt us, that we don’t really mind a bit of verbal abuse. But anyone who has faced sharp words knows how much they can hurt. And so for a Christian being reviled, this can be a real test. If you are willing to put your faith in the open at university or in the workplace, you might be laughed out. If you speak up for Christ, you might be ignored. Jesus is right: people will speak evil against the children of God.

Sometimes these things reach us directly, like if someone throws an insult right at your face, or leaves a nasty comment for you to read. But often it is indirect, when there is regular mockery of Christians in the culture around us. If you follow the news today, you’ll know that Biblical truth is widely rejected. Christians are said to be on the wrong side of practically every current issue today: marriage, abortion, gender identity, assisted dying, race relations, homosexuality, and more.

There is a relentless pressure to subscribe to this unbelieving agenda—and very little room for discussion. And if you don’t agree, you can be quickly thrust out, either online, in the real world, or both. You’re a bigot, a homophobe, a brainwashed Bible-thumper.

Once more, we should remember how reviling and mocking is something that was inflicted on our Saviour. They said He was a Samaritan, that He had a devil, that He was crazy. Even when dying on the cross, people mocked him. And in being abused, Christ set us an example of meekness: He did not retaliate, but accepted suffering as God’s will.

We should underline an important phrase in our text. Jesus says that we are blessed when people say kinds of evil against us falsely. A child of God shouldn’t give hostile people a reason to be nasty, or provoke others to react against us because of our pride, or our lack of love. It’s not a blessed thing to have evil spoken of us if we deserve it. As Peter says, there is no honour if we suffer for disobedience, but only if we suffer for doing good. “Blessed are you when people say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake.”

So what is it that always causes Christ’s people to be opposed like this, whether by words or by deeds? Let us acknowledge that Christians are different—at the Lord’s command, we are holy, set apart from sin and for the Lord. You could call the church the original non-conformists. And people will often try to get rid of that which silently condemns them. If a child of God is leading a holy life, an obedient life—even with great weakness on our part—it is like a rebuke to those around us.

A Christian is opposed too, for being exclusive in his beliefs. Already in the earliest years of the church, this was near the heart of persecutions. A Christian would not honour the gods of the culture, and he would not revere Caesar over all. The Romans said all you had to do was confess “Caesar is Lord.” You can worship whatever god you like, as long as you still burned your incense to the emperor. But Christians refused, and they died for it. Christ’s call for total devotion was uncomfortable—it was unacceptable.

So it has always been. The absolute demand of Christ, the only name by which people may be saved, and the stark good-and-evil of Scriptural ethics—this is hard for an unbelieving world to accept. For if you accept Christ and his Word, that means every other god and every other life of faith is wrong. And that is an intolerable intolerance!

Instead, we are expected to keep our beliefs to ourselves. Religion must be a private matter, something that is kept separate from your politics or your work or your public conversation—and if it’s kept separate, then you won’t cause any offense. And here arises that temptation to withdraw and stay silent.

Jesus speaks of this in Luke 6. In that chapter, Jesus actually gives another set of Beatitudes. And there He presents the flip-side to this Beatitude on persecution, for He declares, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (v 26). Christ condemns those who opt for the easy way. He pronounces judgment on those who are always agreeable to others. If everyone speaks well of you, there may be a problem.

It puts the question to us: Do we avoid being challenged for Jesus’ sake? Do we live differently—do we adopt a style of life that goes against the culture? True disciples aren’t meant to be agreeable in every case. Christ’s followers will not be unfailingly inoffensive. Indeed, no one notices a person who keeps his faith to himself. No, a disciple will stand out, and she will even be hated for standing out.

There will be times when our loyalty to Christ means we will not have peace. Jesus says in Matthew 10: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (vv 34-35).

This doesn’t mean that we delight in conflict and strife. We don’t rush happily into arguments because we think every argument means we’re suffering for Christ. But loyalty to Christ can certainly mean that we’ll be opposed. It’s an opportunity to show that we’re not ashamed of the gospel but dedicated to Christ above all. Are we actually willing to be opposed for his sake?

God in his providence has used persecution to refine and build his church. For instance, Christians who have suffered patiently and gently have led many to accept the Christian faith. Seeing a believer’s strength, her peace, her conviction, even the cruellest opponents have become convinced of the gospel’s power and truth. As has been said for many years, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Again, it puts us in good company when we suffer for the Lord, “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 6:12). Consider how many of the greatest Old Testament heroes of the faith were troubled for the LORD’s sake. This was the struggle described by Jeremiah, “I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me” (20:7-8). It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah, because he spoke the truth to Israel, and the truth can hurt. He confronted people with a painful truth, and they tried to get rid of him.

If that is what men like Jeremiah went through in order to be faithful to the LORD and his Word, will it be any different for us today? If this is what Christians have been suffering for 2000 years, should we expect a different reality? The way of suffering is a well-travelled road, and it’s the road Jesus sets before us if we are willing to serve him with wholehearted devotion.

And it’s not a road that we have to travel alone. The prophets received sufficient grace, and so will we. Listen to what Jeremiah says, even as he suffers, “But the LORD is with me as a mighty, awesome One. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail. They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper” (v 11). Those willing to suffer for Christ have a mighty, awesome Helper. Persecutors will not prevail, while God’s people will receive a glorious kingdom.

 

3) joyfully receiving Christ’s kingdom: If you were mocked and insulted for your faith six days per week, wouldn’t you hate it? Wouldn’t it be demoralizing to always be pushed to one side? From a human point of view, this is what you’d think. No one likes suffering or welcomes hostility.

But are persecuted Christians miserable? Does oppression make them fearful of tomorrow? What Jesus says here is startling. To the persecuted believer He says, “You are blessed!” (v 10) And again He says, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad!” (v 12). Each of the seven previous Beatitudes turns human values right upside down, but this one maybe even more than the others. Jesus says that it’s not enough to be patient and content under sufferings for his sake, but we can actually rejoice and take pleasure in them.

How can this be? How could Paul and Silas sing in prison, even as they awaited their execution? How can Jesus tell a suffering church to be happy? If our vision was limited to this life, it would make no sense. But like He is doing throughout the Beatitudes, Jesus is teaching us to have a deeper and truer vision. It’s with the eyes of faith that we see where things are going. With the eyes of faith we see the certainty of the final victory.

For in Christ we have conquered! The one who himself was reviled and mocked and persecuted—the one who was even killed—He was able to gain the victory, for him and for us and for everyone in his kingdom. Persecution did not wipe him out. The powers of darkness did not destroy him, but instead He secured the gift of salvation for those who believe. And so through Christ, our reward is sure.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christ wants us to know that if we suffer with him, if we suffer for him, we shall also reign with him in his kingdom (2 Tim 2:12). He’ll receive us into glory!

By accepting trouble for Jesus’ sake, we show how unified we are to him. Scripture calls this “participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Because we love Christ, we rejoice to follow him and to walk in his steps. Because we love Christ, we accept the honour of suffering for Christ. In this world, while we live and serve and work, Christ gives us an opportunity to glorify him, even in our trouble and shame.

If I can repeat just once more, Scripture tells us to expect it. We find it in the last book of the Bible too. In Revelation, there is this amazing scene where the dragon seeks to destroy the woman, the church, because she is going to give birth to Christ. But God preserves his Son, for after his ministry, He is taken up to heaven. And this is what we read, “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 12:17).

The dragon is enraged, and he makes war. He is making war at this very moment. But the same book of the Bible is full of the assurance that our victory is sure. For instance, this is what Jesus says to the persecuted believers, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). The crown of life—the kingdom of heaven—the everlasting inheritance—the gift of seeing our Saviour, face to face—this is his promise!

Living in a hostile world, we joyfully hold onto these blessings, for we know the Lord who has given them. Our Saviour is gracious to all who depend on him alone. Our God always provides for those who are willing to lose things for him. So in these days, let us pray for courage and strength and vision: courage to be faithful, strength to endure suffering, and vision to see the glorious reward of Christ’s kingdom!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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