"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."
To some I feel like this one may be the hardest one.
Because nobody wants to be persecuted. But there are a few things we have to know going into this… first of all, lets begin just focusing on verse 10. Notice the reward.
Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, look back in your bibles to Matthew 5:3. The first beatitude says:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Same reward for being persecuted, as for being poor in spirit. Some would say we have reached the end of the line, but others might say that we have come full circle.
and here is why.
The first four beatitudes, as we have said over and over and over, are salvation.
The last four address the way that our lives look like now that we have been transferred from the Kingdom of darkness, to the kingdom of light.
What happens when you are merciful?
You receive mercy.
What happens when you have a pure heart?
You get to see God.
what happens when you are a peace maker?
People begin calling you a son of God… because they see something in you… and maybe they can’t put their finger on it… maybe they don’t know what God is like, but when they see you bringing order out of chaotic situations, what happens? they start calling you son’s of God.
and other people aren’t going to like that.
No matter how much good you are doing. The word righteousness, its Greek meaning is very similar to the Hebrew word SHALOM that we studied last week.
Shalom means “completeness.” -
the Greek word dikaiosynē (pronounced de-kay-osk-sune-ay) is what we translate as righteousness… and as we learned a few weeks ago, it means “the state of him who is as he ought to be.”
So when people do what is right… when they do what they are supposed to do, they work to restore order to a world that is in chaos… and for that they are persecuted, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
They are right back at the beginning. With the same reward you get for being poor in spirit.
It could be said that, as you have journeyed through this process, making some friends but maybe even more people who would call themselves your enemies…
but after all of that… you have found yourself in the end in the same place that you began. Reminded that in all of the pain that our world may invoke on us, yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.
and that is not the easiest lot in life to accept. That you get this kingdom that Jesus speaks of at the cost of people reviling you in this one.
Matthew chapter 10 is one of those chapters that, if you aren’t careful in the way you apply it to your life, can just be so disheartening. Because Jesus basically tells us that he is throwing us into a den of lions and they are going to tear us apart but to not be afraid because some of us are going to endure them and then in the end we will leave with a bunch of our limbs chewed off but at least some of us will survive.
Okay, that is not exactly what it says.
That is my metaphorical translation. He actually says:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
He says that they are going to drag us until courts, and they are going to come into the synagogues and flog us and they are going to chase us town to town persecuting us and we are all going to want to quit every single day but the ones who are able to endure to the end are the ones who will be saved.
and most people read that, and it sounds just as brutal as my lion analogy, and they know that he actually said that… and if there is any sense in them at all they would say
“Why would anybody want that?”
and you don’t. You don’t want that. But whatever it is that the world may try and do to you, and whatever it is that the world may even succeed in doing to you…
it is worth it.
Sometimes you are going to be trying to help a person and the very person you are trying to help is going to persecute you. Sometimes you are going to try and help a community and that community is going to force you out. It is what happened to Jesus, and it is what he said is going to happen to us.
I remember years ago, it was probably almost seven years ago now because Dawn was pregnant with Milly. And we worked for the LA Dream Center and the LA Dream Center had just moved our pastors, Pastor Brad and Stella, to New York City and as part of sending them their, the LA church agreed to at least for a while, send Dawn and I periodically back and forth to help them with the plant. This was a couple of years before we moved to New York full time.
and I remember, the dream of course, for the NY Dream Center was to have a dream center… an actual building dedicated to turning lives around 24/7… and coming from the largest dream center in the world, all we knew was huge buildings that got restored and what followed was a whole bunch of lives getting restored. and I remember this one day, so clearly.
Dawn and I were with Pastor Brad and a couple of others in Harlem, and we were walking around, dreaming, praying, looking block to block at what was out there…
and there was this amazing theater sitting there that looked like it had been empty for a decade… but it was amazing… and right across the street from the theater was an old, abandoned high school that looked like it had been empty for 30 years. There were huge trees growing out of this building. It was nuts. And yet of course, all we all saw was the potential. And we were just out standing in front of this building dreaming together and talking about what we could do with it…
and for a moment, we felt like our dream for New York was really going to come together. A theater, across from a potential Dream Center… empty… we figured we just had to make a few calls and we would be renovating them within the month.
and as we were just out there dreaming together, this angry, angry lady came out screaming at us. She was really mad, like, it was scary.
And she kept saying “Don’t even think about buying that building.” talking about about the school. She said, “That building is going to be used for the community.”
which of course, you would think would have been an open door to a conversation about a dream center… because that was what we were in the business of… doing things for the community.
But she would have nothing of it. She said that she owned the neighborhood and would make 100% sure that we never got that building.
She said “don’t don’t even bother.” She would make it impossible.
Now, our pastor is an incredibly gracious man, and he handled himself as such in that moment. But the incredible hostility that our totally loving dream was met with that day, left him, and all of us, with some really hard to navigate, discouraging feelings. Being told that it didn’t matter what it was we wanted to do, she would fight and would win, to make sure that we never accomplished it on her street. And though they were just words, it felt, truthfully, as if she had the authority to speak them in that moment.
I know in my heart that she didn’t. But it felt like she did.
That was what made it so hard to hear. I don’t know if that was a spiritual thing, or just because we were told so clearly that she has been there from the beginning and had earned the right to run the block… I can’t describe it.
She wanted to make us feel like we were there to exploit her and the people in her neighborhood and that all we wanted to do was gentrify the area.
and it worked.
And suddenly, a handful of us who in our hearts only wanted to do something good walked away from the scene questioning our own motives.
Dawn and I were willing to give up all of our pay to move to New York and help with that plant… we just wanted to see peoples lives changed… but suddenly we felt like we were the selfish ones, to think we could go in there and try to make a change like that.
Questioning if what we wanted to be done could be done, or if it was even the right thing, after all.
and feeling like there was no way our dreams were going to come true here.
Because not only is there the incredible financial hurdle of what property cost in New York City, but there is also a political, racial, religious tension that exists and we were on the wrong side of all three, as far as New York was concerned.
and I know that compared to what is happening to Christians in the middle east, and other parts of the world, thats a pretty mild view of what it means to be persecuted.
You only have to go on kindle and download a free copy of Foxes book of martyrs to see that persecution for some goes far beyond anything that we can even begin to imagine… and I believe that every Christian has to be ready and willing to face that type of persecution if that be the price necessary to speak the name of Jesus.
But to limit persecution only to people who are crucified upside down and burned at the stake would be a grave mistake…
“persecuted” It is the Greek word diōkō (dē-ō’-kō)…
and the word means a whole slew of things, and one of them is “to drive away.”
That was certainly the way that we felt that day in Harlem.
another is: “to pursue in a hostile manner.”
and another is to “prosecute.”
And its important to remember that we will never reach a point in our Christian walk, when suddenly we no longer will get resistance. And if in fact we do reach that point, then we immediately need to check ourselves and figure out why.
Because if everybody loves you all the time and nobody resists you or anything that you say, then you probably aren’t standing for much. One of the hardest things about being a Christian is that you have to make a hard stand on the side of the red letters of Jesus.
Lukes gospel includes this beatitude and a woe to go along with it and the woe says:
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
So blessed are you when you are persecuted, because the prophets before you were persecuted. The real prophets.
But woe to you when you are never persecuted but instead everyone loves you because all you do is please everyone with your words… because that is what the false prophets did. They tickled ears. They told people what they wanted to hear, and so everyone spoke well of them.
1 Timothy 4:3 puts it this way: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.”
Jesus says, YOU MUST NOT DO THAT. Don’t be one of those teachers. Don’t be the kind of person who never offends anybody because you have set out to not offend anybody.
and I know that some of you may say, “I am not a teacher…” but you are. We are all ministers of the gospel. We are all carriers of hope. and as long as your hope is attached to Jesus, there will be people who will want to shut you down. It has been like that from the beginning.
When you stand for something, anything, you will get resistance. You will get persecution of some sort. And when you stand for Jesus, then blessed are you when it comes.
But let it come to you.
Don’t go looking for trouble.
the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most offensive message on the planet. if you speak it, they will come!
We are talking about a message that is essentially a declaration that the first will be last. It is a declaration that everything that everyone works their whole lives for on this earth essentially will amount to nothing if they climb the ladder of their own life.
It is a declaration that everything we have always known is getting turned upside down.
It is not the way you get ahead in this life.
And that is a big reason why so many reject it.
We are talking about a message that says “blessed are you who you are persecuted… and when you mourn, and when you restrain your strength, and when you are poor and when you don’t chose a side in a battle but instead stand next to Jesus.
Christians should not ever go around looking for trouble… they should try their best to live peaceably with everyone and be a peace maker in all circumstances…
but the reality is that Christians don’t need to go around looking for trouble… it will always find them.
And it is fitting that we are on this beatitude the same week that we are doing retaliation because that is the message we are giving this Sunday… this week is “an eye for an eye” and next week is “love your enemies.”
and those are really hard teachings… and the truth is that when you stand on the side of love… love for your friends and love for your enemies… when you stand in that place… you are going to make enemies.
We know, our battle is not against flesh and blood. A person may persecute us, but it doesn’t mean that they are our enemy.
But we can’t help who sets themselves against us. We can’t help if someone decides that they want to be our enemy or if they view us as their enemy. and when that happens, all we can help, is the way in which we respond to their persecution.
That lady in Harlem was not our enemy. But we can’t change the way that she saw us… everything she spoke to us was built off of a foundation that was built years and years ago and a wall that slowly got put up around her heart. And if we argue, it would just put another brick on that wall. Every word of opposition would just put another brick on that wall.
We can only love her and show her, and show her what is right. We can only go the extra mile for her and turn the other cheek and see if by the grace of God we can slowly find ways to begin to tear down the wall. and unfortunately in that case, we never found that way.
But we never fought. We only loved. We responded to full blasted attacks by merely expressing our desire to love people.
The bible tells us that we must speak the truth to people in love… but truth is not relative, it is concrete.
and the idea that this concrete truth is found in a never changing book written over 2000 years ago tends to repel people these days. Even in America.
But the problem with having a concrete truth at the core of our convictions, is if we are not careful with that, we can find ourselves on the other side of the persecution.
BECAUSE WE KNOW WE ARE RIGHT.
and I want to address this for a couple of minutes. Because one of the worst places you can find yourself is on the wrong side of persecution.
This is an upside down Kingdom. and the wrong side of persecution is the side that is casting it.
Let me first say it like this:
If you persecute someone else for the way that they are, and in turn you get persecuted… that is not what Jesus is talking about when he says “blessed are you when you are persecuted.”
but you see this all of the time with Christians on their soap boxes throwing condemnation around left and right… but the problem with that message is typically it revolves around the sinner rather than the savior.
but the true gospel message says that the man on that box is just as guilty as the man walking down the street.
and when you see it that way, it is a “we” problem, not a “them” problem.
He is not saying “blessed are you when you hound others about the way that they are and then they retaliate and defend themselves, and in turn you feel that your beliefs are being persecuted…”
He is not saying “blessed are you when you post hateful things on Facebook and in turn get 500 comments calling you a bigot and a religious freak.”
He is not saying that!
So even if we aren’t intentionally “persecuting” others, sometimes we at least make people feel as if we are persecuting them. and truthfully, if someone feels like we are persecuting them, whether it is our heart to do so or not, there must be a certain level of truth to their feelings.
Granted, often it can be born out of a misconception.
but misconceptions typically have a level of truth to them.
One of the biggest misconceptions about christianity is that it is a religion that hates those who are different from us, but the problem is that it is a misconception that was brought our ourselves by people who bear the name of Jesus and don’t act like him… and their display of Jesus was hateful.
Often we are accused of prejudice or of "discriminating" against a person or people group.
The word discriminate is one of the worst represented words on the planet. This may surprise you, but The word actually comes from the word discern, and in many cases (well, many, MANY CASES) it has been used for very wrong purposes, singling out people by their race or gender or culture, treating them differently because of a situation or showing partiality for or against someone, but the word does not always represent something bad. and it certainly is not the same as hate though they appear from the outside to go hand in hand.
We must as Christians be able to live lives that are lead by the Holy Spirit and we have this amazing roadmap called the bible, and with these amazing tools we have the ability to discern. To know right from wrong, truth from lies.
But don’t think that just because you discern something to be wrong, that you have every right to obliterate the person either, and then pretend like you are the martyr. You can find yourself on the wrong side of persecution if you begin to believe that you are better than anybody else for any reason.
and that may sound crazy… the reality that the wrong side of persecution is the one who is doing the persecuting… and it will almost certainly bring persecution back upon you and it is not the kind that you will be blessed for.
But I am telling you this for sure… you are much better off being the one who gets persecuted…
but let it be for righteousness.
Let it be for the name of Jesus, and his amazing grace that meets people in the broken places of their hearts and loves them in the middle of their mistakes.
Just love Jesus.
Don’t go looking for trouble.
But know that it will come.
because Jesus says it will come.
You have to have the first seven beatitudes first. If you have those, and the fruit of your life causes people to persecute you because of your righteousness… then don’t fear. Be blessed.
But that is different than you trying to diagnose someone else with a sin problem, just straight up being a jerk, and then having people not like you for it.
Your life should look like Jesus.
but the other thing that we have to be careful of, is developing a martyr complex… and when everything that you think should go one way goes another… or when you do something that probably was stupid you did and then you get in trouble for it, you can’t just say that because you are a Christian that is why you are facing what you are facing or why someone is persecuting you.
There is a guy I know who goes to church here sometimes… I haven’t seen him in a while… but he always tells me these crazy stories of the things that happen to him and he always chalks it up to being persecuted for Jesus. But when I hear what he is saying to people, I just can’t help but think…
you are just being a jerk to them. Of course that is going to happen to you.
of course someone else who doesn’t have Jesus in their life would want to beat you up… part of me wants to beat you up for the way you misrepresent my savior.
You have to have it first.
You have to be poor in spirit and realize that you are just as broken as everyone else. You have to acknowledge that first or else you will find yourself facing a persecution that has no promise or reward.
Remember, it is the same reward as being poor in Spirit. A person who is poor in spirit would never think that they are better than anyone else. So if you are getting persecuted for your ego…
maybe you need to go back to part one.
The first half of this beatitude says that you are blessed WHEN you are persecuted FOR righteousness.
That means that you are persecuted for doing the right thing.
and the second half of it says:
persecuted for MY ACCOUNT. not just for whatever.
Now lastly, I want to focus on the last thing that Jesus says here. Now remember, he is just about to get into the meat of the sermon. He is just about to show us what all of this will look like here on earth as the Kingdom of heaven invades it…
but up until this moment, what has he done?
He has blessed.
He has told people they are blessed, over, and over, and over.
and each time, how does he word it?
Blessed are the.
Blessed are those.
Blessed are the.
Blessed are those…
it is not until after giving eight beatitudes that he even says “blessed are you WHEN YOU” and even when he says that, the “when you” has nothing to do with anything that you yourself do.
Jesus begins the sermon on the mount without a single rule. Without a single law. Without anything more to weigh people down, and instead he tells the people who were already weighed down by the weight of their own sin, and their own guilt, and their own circumstances, of being walked on by Rome and of having everything taken away from them and of being sick and reviled themselves… He tells them… you guys are blessed.
The first time that Jesus actually tells us TO DO anything, is verse 12. and this is what it says:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Rejoice is the Greek word: chairō (Kiro)
it means to be “happy” or well off… it means “to thrive.” and it comes from the word “charis” which means grace.
Unmerited favor. A gift that you don’t deserve. But isn’t that the heart of the beatitudes? A gift. A blessing to those who thought they lived on the bottom.
Then he says: Be Glad.
Be glad is the Greek word:
agalliaō (ä-gäl-lē-ä’-ō) - the King James says “be exceeding glad” and the literal is “to jump for joy.”
So Jesus goes from telling us to be “happy” togo so far as to “jump for joy.” Proclaim your excitement. Put it into action. Let there be a demonstration. Because you get to share in the cross of Jesus Christ and nothing could be a greater reflection of him than loving the world through the pain that it inflicts on you.
No beatitude more closely resembles Jesus.
Jesus was persecuted for righteousness sake. He only did the right thing.
and it cost him everything.
Okay, one last look at verse 12: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
R.T. Kendall pointed out something really interesting in his book about the sermon on the mount… and I am going to expound on it a little.
The observation is this… Jesus ends by saying “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
so He ends by talking about the prophets and how they were persecuted.
Now, we all know that there reward must be very great… they were prophets… Moses lead a million + people out of captivity… Daniel overcame the lions den after standing up for God against the highest of authorities.
These men all had a lot that they had go through, but none of them had a promise like this to get them through it.
Yet they still rejoiced.
Jesus brought us something that the world who followed him before they even knew that they were following him never had…
It is almost as if Jesus knew something going into this whole thing that maybe we don’t know. Its like he sees something that maybe we don’t see.
We see a world that is broken. That hurts each other……….
but he sees a world in which his Father is seated on the throne, and he is seated next him…
He see’s a Kingdom that has no end…
He sees the reality, that when the world we know now here on this earth ends… this Kingdom, HIS KINGDOM, will just keep on going. He sees a world where evil has no authority and it has no future… He came with the good news that we should leap for joy no matter how bad things may seem in this dark world that is only fleeting… because ultimately, we are blessed. We favored. and because ultimately,
and we will be with him when it happens.
Blessed are you when you are persecuted. For yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.