Persecuted for Righteousness

Persecuted for Righteousness

You. If you please stand for the reading of God’s word. Matthew 5, we conclude our series on the beatitude this morning, we end on a note of persecution. As we look to the reading of God’s word, if you please join me in prayer. Christ our God, we ask you to set our hearts on fire with love through your word, that in its flame we would love you with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Lord, so that by keeping Your commandments, we would glorify you who are the giver of every good and perfect gift. And this we pray and ask through Jesus, our Lord. Amen. Beginning in verse one, seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and he talked to them saying, Blessed are the poor and spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteous sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word of the Lord. At 19, I worked with a Christian with many other people around us, and he was a few years older than me. And I really admired his tenacity and fearlessness in presenting the gospel to others. There’s a boldness and an uncompromising spirit to him. He let his light shine before others, and there’s no doubt about his Christian faith. At the same time, there’s also abrasiveness and bravado that would work against him. Sort of a weird mix of part-evangelists and a jerk. When Jesus said that we were to be the salt of the world, I don’t think he meant to be an undiluted mouthful that would make you gag. And he often saw people’s negative response to him as a sign of persecution for the sake of the gospel. I wasn’t so sure. It’s a hard balance, isn’t it? Because the good news of Jesus, it does poke people in the eye, but that’s different than just poking someone in the eye.

Jesus both attracted and repelled people. The gospel can be offputting and compelling at the same time. And when you think about the amazing qualities that Jesus describes here in the Beatitudes, you wonder, why would anyone ever be bothered by this? They described Jesus, after all. Who would dislike a humble, selfgiving person? Well, someone who’s profoundly proud and self-righteous. They don’t want the mirror of pure righteousness standing in front of them. Rather, they like that, haul, the mirror, distorted, self-righteous mirror. To be able to see themselves for how they would like to be. And we all, of course, want others to act with integrity towards us. But integrity can be very inconvenient and costly at times. And we don’t like it when our lack of it is highlighted by someone who is doing the right thing. It’s difficult. But we who follow after Jesus, who take his name and claim Christians, then we are to love Jesus in such a way that we are to follow him in such a way that others see His goodness in us. The challenge is that it has to be His goodness they reject and not our sin. Because that’s what Jesus is talking about.

The rejection of His goodness by others is different than the rejection of us because of our own flaws. A love for God and a love for neighbor, it’s the flow from a pure heart, a pure heart that Jesus has transformed. And following Christ, it will cause friction with other people. It just does. If you are a follower of Jesus, it will create friction in your life. Jesus does not let people hang out in a neutral zone. He forces people to a decision. And the good news, it brings disagreement. And that’s the challenge of it, the challenge of this disagreement. Blessed are those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And then the next two verses are tied with it. Blessed are you and others revile and persecution you and under all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoicing me glad for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Jesus is tying that together with him and his word. And notice how the promise to the kingdom, it also ties together the very first beatitude, blessed are the poor and spirit for theirs to the kingdom of heaven.

And here’s sandwiched, blessed are those who are persecuted for rise and sake for theirs to the kingdom of heaven. This is a package deal. It’s meant to be taken as a whole. It describes what a Christian man or a Christian woman is to look like. Now, this last beatitude differs from the others in that it is done to a person and not something that is done by the person. But all of them, including this one, give us a description, show us the marks of being a Christian. And this last one, it likely follows the one about peacemaking intentionally, because usually the result of someone stepping in to bring peace to a conflict is they get conflict themselves. You step into a disagreement that’s costly. You can get hit from both sides. A good peacemaker will find this to be the case. But if we dig a bit deeper than this, I appreciate the Welsh preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones, what he had to say, particularly on his last beatitude, is put it in your bulletin. He said, All these beatitudes have been searching, but there are ways in which this, this last one is even more searching than the others.

Perhaps there’s no beatitude that is so liable to misconstruction, misunderstanding, so frequently misunderstood and misapplied. Why is this? What is Lloyd Jones getting at? Have you ever looked in one of those mirrors that show you way more than you’re comfortable seeing? That magnification is really high. The glass is really clear and you see everything, every pore and every blemish. And you don’t like that mirror, you get a different one. The gospel is like that. Jesus shows us our hearts, magnified, clear. And here Jesus is telling us that to look like Him will invite persecution. The entire verse, the entire point, it revolves aroundfor righteousness sake. Lloyd Jones goes on to say, There’s a difference between being persecuted for righteousness sake and for being persecuted for a cause. It can be a good cause, but they’re not the same. You can be persecuted for a good cause, but that’s not what Jesus is saying here. People can dislike you for your race, your gender, your social standing, your education, or not like you for just about any reason at all. But when you reflect Jesus to them and they reject that, that’s what Jesus is speaking about here.

Jesus both attracts and repels. However, the hard part, it comes with that sinful mix that we all have. Because that sinful mix in us also can attract and repel. Sometimes they’re attracted to our sin, not repelled by it. And that’s the difficulty. How do I know? What’s taking place here? And it is this part of the mirror that we have to look hard at. There’s a self-examination in all of this. The Apostle Peter in his epistle, 1 Peter 4, and there we read as he’s talking to those who are suffering persecution, he said, beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test you as though something strange were happening. Rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s suffering that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. And in verse 15, we get the but. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, a meddler. If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

For it’s time for judgment to begin in the household of God. If it begins with us, we’ll be the outcome of those who do not obey the gospel. Then he quotes from Proverbs 11, If the righteous are scarily saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will, entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good. That’s the distinction. It’s the suffering for doing good, not suffering for being a jerk. There is a difference. And the hard part is that when we’re for something that we’re doing wrong, we often want to put a label on it, slap a fish over it to make it more tolerable to us. To suffer disdain for being offensive for character flaws is not good. In Acts, Chapter 5, the apostles were arrested for preaching about Jesus in the temple, and the religious leaders told them to stop telling people about Jesus. And Peter boldly stands up and he said, We must obey God rather than men. Then we read in verse 40, it says, When they had called the apostles, they beat them, and they charged them not to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus and let them go.

Then they left the presence of the counsel, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for dishonor, for the name, for the name of Jesus. That’s what he was talking about. For righteousness sake, they suffered on account of their relationship to Christ. For the good news, they were proclaiming, not for being gossips and busy bodies or for wrongdoing. Jesus brought disagreement. He called sinners to repentance. In a sense, he deep pants the self-righteous. We’ve read this before, Matthew 23, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, full of greed and self-indulgence. How would you like to be an outstanding member of your religious community and someone comes up and says, You’re a hypocrite, you’re full of greed and self-indulgence, woe to you, you brood of vipers, that cuts to the heart. Jesus did not refrain at all from saying such hard things to the self-righteous. Hearing that is that crash the bike on a gravel road moment and then get lemon juice poured all over the wounds. It stings, it hurts, it bites. You’re going to be going, Oh, I’d like being called a hypocrite. Jesus said this because He loved them and they hated Him for it.

And yet in John 8, the deltious woman is thrown at Jesus’ feet, and these self-righteous leaders, they wanted to stone her. And Jesus said, The one without sin can cast the first stone. And they all left. And there she was with Jesus alone. And Jesus said to her, Woman, where are they? Is there no one here who condemn you? He says, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no more. That’s attractive, that’s compelling. We read that and go, Yes, that’s the Jesus I want. Jesus shows us our hearts, and we will either love them for it or will hate him for it. Because he shows us our hearts and he shows us the self-righteous parts as well. Jesus will not let you remain neutral. There’s no neutrality in Jesus. He will make demands on you if you are to follow him. Demand number one is a new heart given by Him that there is a change of disposition. Because Jesus came to deal with our sin problem, our lack of righteousness. We were hostile, we were alienated from God, and Jesus took our punishment. He died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous.

That’s the good news. We are new creations in Him. But those who reject the good news, they’re still in their sins. And there is a hatred towards anyone who calls it out, the hatred of the world. In John 15, Jesus said, If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as their own. But because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word I said to you, a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will execute you. They kept my word, they will keep your words. But all these things they will do on account of my name because they do not know him who sent me. In his love and in his kindness, Jesus, he shows us our hearts, our need of him, our need of his righteousness, of his goodness, of His holiness, our need of a change of disposition. And the Beatitudes describe this new disposition, this new character in Christ. Jesus will call you into his light, and you will stand before him when He does.

You will stand before Him naked, ashamed, and exposed. But step in to that light. Be embraced, be clothed in His righteousness. That’s the good news. It’s all there to begin with. You’re not something other than you are, and Jesus knows that, and He calls you to Himself to be embraced by Him, to be given His righteousness. But if you shrink back from that, you will go to dark corners to hide even further. There’s no neutrality. You cannot be left the same with an encounter with Jesus. You will love him for it or you will grow to hate him. But you will not be neutral. He won’t let you. He won’t let you domesticate him to some platitude, some pious teacher. He will call on you to be stripped of everything. To receive His righteousness, His goodness, His holiness. That’s what the attitudes are describing. Sinners hate this for being shown their heart. Paul, he writes to Timothy, and he tells them 2 Timothy 3, he goes, Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Living out this mirror, this reflection of Jesus will draw the ire of other people.

Now, this is the easy part to beat up on people and say, Well, see, you’re not being persecuted very much, so you’re obviously not doing enough for Jesus. There are times and seasons of greater and lesser persecution, to be sure. It ebbs and flows. There are times when it will cost you your life. Probably not now, not here. Might come, I don’t know. But we live with what we live with. And know then that persecution is not just simply being thrown to the lions. Persecution is also a harassment, being troubled by others. Sometimes following Jesus means you don’t get a promotion that you have coming to you. Or you’re left out of that inner circle. You’re not well liked because of your faith in Christ. I mean, it’s this time of year. All the other reins, used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph join in any Reindir games. You’re not called to join in, and you know it. Have you ever felt that way? You’re just not a part of that group because of your faith in Christ. They know that you’re excluded and it hurts. Nobody likes to be excluded like that.

And it doesn’t always mean throw them to the lines or go to jail. It’s a human desire to be liked. It’s not bad in itself. It’s just bad by itself. I mean, most of us, for the most part, don’t really like conflict. We have this internal dialog going like, Hey, I’m really a nice guy. Don’t hate me. And then, I’m not like those other people. Like me, please. Know this. If you are saying the same things that the world is saying, they will leave you alone. In fact, they might even invite you in. They don’t even know. Or they might find you so similar to them and their beliefs that they’re willing to overlook your Christian part. Especially if you drop certain teachings. Definitely get rid of the teaching of hell and eternal punishment. Oh, speak on social issues without mentioning personal morality. Totally avoid talking about abortion as a sin and make no mention of Biblical sexual ethics. Make sure tolerance and acceptance are just vague ideas extended to everyone, regardless of lifestyles. And you will largely be left alone. Might even be included and invited to the Christmas party, where we can celebrate a domesticated Jesus, a baby in a majors and give gifts to one another.

But we’re supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be salt and light in society. And here’s where we circle back then to Lloyd Jones. All the beatitudes are searching, but there are ways in which this is even more searching than the others. Perhaps there’s no beatity that’s so liable to misconstruction and misunderstanding. And this then calls us to an examination of our heart of that mirror. It calls us to understand what side of the donkey do we fall off of? Are you the one who’s always embattled for a cause? There’s no email that you won’t fire off, no fight you won’t engage in. You spent Thanksgiving telling everyone about why the other side is so stupid and misguided. Every conversation ends up being political or your particular hobby horse. You’re likely disliked because you’re offensive and disagreeable. That’s the side you fall off of. But if you’re the more quiet side person, rarely make a ruckus about anything, you’re determined that your lifestyle alone will commend itself. Revelation 21:8, the list of bad things. The first in the list, the cowardly. We’re called to speak up, to step up. The meek, uphold the rights of others.

The poor and spirit confront sin. And typically, if we’re more on the abrasive side, it’s like, I just shoot it straight. I’m just a truth teller. If we’re more on the cowardly side, we’re like, Well, I just speak the truth and love, and I just want to demonstrate my kindness by not saying anything. And it’s easy to look at the other side and to be able to justify our position. And Jesus brings the mirror to us. That’s the point. Is there a persecution that’s taking place because of the words of Jesus for righteousness’s sake? Or is there something else at play there? Or do we never stand in the way at all? Allow the Holy Spirit just to speak His words of truth to your particular proclivity, to your bent. None of us are balanced. There’s somewhere we fall. And I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m just saying it again because it’s a beautiful illustration. Again, it’s from Ernest Gordon in his book to End All Wars. It tells of his three years in Japanese prison camp during World War II. He would have died if it hadn’t been for the help of two committed Christians who nurseed him back to health.

And it was their faith and their support that sparked within him his own renewal. One of them, the name was Dusty Miller, and he was a gardener from London who just wanted to come back and work with his dad and work with his flowers. And Dusty never responded in anger to the cruelty he received from his Japanese captors. He shared his food selflessly and he helped others. He even bore with patience, Ernest Gordon’s own agnosticism. Two weeks left to the end of the war, and one of the guards became so angry with him because of his calm, reposed, and a face of such blatant hostility, they crucified him to a tree. We go, really? Two weeks? Is there a part that says, God, that’s just not fair. Three years of enduring this, of demonstrating Jesus and he gets crucified? That just doesn’t seem right. His life was a mirror for Jesus that others looked into. Our joy comes from shining Jesus out. We know that this is not our home. We know that we were bought with a price. It pleased God to call Dusty Miller to himself in this way, in this time to bring glory to Jesus.

It didn’t matter if he’s in his 20s or in his 80s. That was the life that God gave him to glorify His son. If you’re worried about fairness, it’s not fair when people are repelled because of Jesus in you. It’s not likable. But that’s what happened to Jesus. At the same time, we see that people came to Jesus. They loved this about Him. There’s a savory aroma of Christ, and there’s also the aroma of death, and it’s side by side, depending on who’s in front of you. But that’s the joy. That’s the joy of the Christ-likeness that we reflect that. We’re not rebelling people because we’re disagreeable and contentious people. There should be a warmth and invitation, and they may reject it to be sure, but they’re rejecting Him who is in you. They’re rejecting the name of Jesus, the person of Jesus. And it doesn’t change our position. That we go forth in the midst of that, not complaining about what’s not fair and demanding our rights and firing off the emails to everybody so they know. It’s letting your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

That’s the joyful life that we have been called to. And if Jesus suffered in this way, know that you and I, in His name, will suffer this way, too. And with the apostles, when we go away from the beating and we can rejoice that we were worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. That that was a blessing to us that we were so identified with Jesus and His work that we were being treated like Him. The privilege that that brings. And we also know that as a work of the Holy Spirit in us, because nobody does that in their own strength, that is God at work in us. May it be, may we cause that to shine forth, may the salt that we season our life with not be just a handful stuffed in the mouth, but it’s seasoned in such a way that, again, it’s attractive, it’s compelling, unless the darkness in them rejects it. Pray with me. Father, indeed, we are so thankful that you have given to us a new heart, a new disposition. And Father, in the midst of the friction, the midst of the conflict that inevitably comes for bearing the name of your son, we pray that you would uphold us, that you would strengthen us.

Father, that you would grant us greater resolve. Lord, where we have been cowardly, that you would emboiden us. Or we have been abrasive, Father, that you would soften us. That you would bring us together in the perfect work of your son, Jesus. We pray and ask this in his name. Amen. Amen.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription

Waging Peace
Swept Away