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Sep 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 17, 2017 – Matthew 5:10-12

The Ultimate Disciple

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12

Intro: You deserve to know that I feel incompetent to teach this passage

It is not because there is no information for research
– from the earliest period of recorded history,
• human ingenuity has invented ways for us to torment each other
◦ and to guarantee that a person died in misery and terror
• we might assume the world has become more civilized, so there’s less persecution today
◦ but more Christians were persecuted and martyred in 20th century Russia and China
◦ than in any other century
– so my difficulty in taking on these words of Jesus is not for lack of examples,
• but because it is so foreign to me personally–i.e., to my experience

That’s the first reason I would like to skip these verses – there are 2 more:
2. The nature of the horrible and degrading tortures to which Christians have been subjected
• the acts of brutality and barbarity are too disturbing to mention
• in Hebrews 11, the writer provides examples of how faith worked in the lives of saints
◦ in verse 32, he says he would run out of time to list all the heroic victories of faith
◦ but then the tone changes mid-sentence in verse 35

others were tortured … experienced mockings and scourgings … chains and imprisonment … they were stoned … sawn in two … put to death with the sword … afflicted, ill-treated … wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground (Heb. 11:35-39)

3. That Jesus would include persecution in his list of beatitudes
• aren’t beatitudes supposed to be bright, cheery and inspiring platitudes?
◦ the previous beatitudes may be challenging, but they’re palatable
• I cannot think of a worse advertisement for Christianity than, Blessed are those who have been persecuted

How I intend to handle this: First, to enter slowly

The safest way to approach scripture is through Bible study
– coming at it with our rational minds is less risky than reading with an open heart
– what do we learn by simply digging into the text?

First, we notice that Jesus says same thing twice with small variations

Verse 10, Blessed are those ———————— Verse 11, Blessed are you
Verse 10, who have been ————————— Verse 11, when
Verse 10, persecuted ——————————— Verse 11, insulted, persecuted, slandered
Verse 10, for the sake of righteousness —— Verse 11, because of Me

Secondly, we have to ask, Are there two beatitudes here or only one?
– if the criterion is the word Blessed, then there are two
• the second one is a reiteration of the first

Third, Bible scholars indentified an “ancient literary custom” in this arrangement
– by placing an item last on a list and then elaborating on it, gives it pride of place
• also, it was a practice of rabbinic tradition and the Hebrew Scriptures
◦ to add force to a word or phrase by repeating it exactly
◦ e.g., Awake, awake (see Isa. 51:9, 17; 52:1, 11; etc.)

Fourth, two key terms recur here
– the kingdom of heaven (exactly as in v. 3) and righteousness (v. 6)
• persecution, like poverty of spirit, is a participation in God’s kingdom
• although righteousness is relational, it can draw hostile reactions

These observations point to what Jesus wanted to stress
– all of the beatitudes go together, building to this inevitable climax
– the state of perfect spiritual health (blessedness) contradicts worldy values

Imagine the outcome had Jesus not said these things

When Jesus sent the disciples on their first mission, he explained:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves . . . . beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues . . . . Brother will betray brother to death . . . . You will be hated by all because of My name . . . . (Mt. 10:16-22)

– if he had not warned them, then when opposition came,
• they would assume it was because they had messed up
• the pains of persecution are hard enough by themselves
◦ but thinking it was because you did something wrong makes it ten times worse
– his words assure us that persecution is not failure
• like he said, a slave is not greater than his master (Jn. 15:20)
• Peter, eventually, got this message and shared it with others:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing . . . (1 Pe. 4:12)

People have survived years of persecution without being destroyed

Viktor Frankl, a Jewish neurologist, observed this in Nazi prison camps
– survivors were people who believed their lives had meaning
• his observations have been confirmed in recent research
• having a purpose or meaning results in longer, healthier lives
– it isn’t necessarily illness or pain that breaks the soul, but meaningless

The spirit of a man can endure his sickness,
But as for a broken spirit, who can bear it? (Pr. 18:14)

• this may be the reason we cannot help asking Why? when tragedy occurs
◦ even when no answer would be sufficient to compensate for the loss or injury
◦ we assume we could handle it better if only we understood its meaning

Helmut Thielicke explained that this is why the disciples lost heart over Jesus’ crucifixion and that is “why they fled from Golgotha; it was not the threat of suffering; it was the paralyzing threat of meaningless suffering.”

• we do not need to find a meaning for everything that happens
◦ we need an important overarching meaning for the whole of our lives
◦ that enables us to survive separate meaningless events

So I have to wonder, is there anything in my life big enough to be worth dying for?
– and not only die for, but to suffer and die for?
• if so, then my life has a meaning and that adds to its value
– I worry about whether I could face persecution
• if dragged into cellars where brutes waited with their their pliers and needles
◦ or if a gun were shoved in my face
• challenged in this way, when excruciating pain is not merely hypothetical,
◦ even the big and important ideals can turn to dust and unreality

What many Christians have found in those times,
– whether they were able to hold onto their Lord was irrelevant
• they prevailed because they discovered their Lord was holding onto them

Some of you know one of my favorite movies

“Joe Versus the Volcano”

Joe had been a firefighter until he was sidelined by a traumatic event that turned him into a spineless, insecure hypochondriac. He accepted the depressing environment of his job in a basement where the flourescent light over his desk constantly flickered. His eyes were constantly irritated and he was convinced that there was something wrong with his throat. His doctor, who was bribed by the wealthy owner of a soda company, informed Joe that he had a terminal illness known as a “brain cloud.” It is after being told by his doctor that he was dying, Joe began to live.
Assuming that he had no more than six months to live, he started taking more risks, letting go of worries, traveling, making a huge sacrifice for others, and as he did these things he began to feel healthier and he actually became healthier.

Jesus sets before us the challenge of persecution and death
– knowing that these realities will make us give more thought to living
• and possibly inspire us to throw ourselves more fully into life
• into his life and the life to which he has called us

The promise of these last two beatitudes is heaven

The kingdom of heaven now as we exprience it in God’s Spirit
– and also a great heavenly reward in the future
• of course, we may not find that so compelling
◦ uncertainty about resurrection and heaven can undermine our Christian commitments
◦ can cause us to live a divided life or throw everything into this earthly life (cf. Mt. 6:19-21)
– however, we ought to know by now how life works
• some of us regret not giving more thought to our future,
◦ which has become our present life
◦ but when you’re sixteen years old, you are convinced there’s plenty of time
• now we know how quickly the sands in the hourglass descend
◦ given that we do have the hope of heaven, even though we do not choose persecution,
◦ we won’t let it stand in our way

Conclusion: Not everyone will relate to what I am about to say

Not everyone needs to or should – I am just providing an illustration
– recently a handful of Christians have been injured or ruined
• ruined personally, career-wise, in popularity, book sales, speaking engagements
• why? what happened?
◦ they stood with a gay believer and said, “This is my brother”
◦ or they befriended a lesbian Christian and said, “This is my sister”
– there are people who have hated them for doing this
• and those hateful people have done everything in their power to ruin them
• and those hateful people are Bible-believing Christians

I look into eyes of Todd or Mark, of Marsha or Sandra,
– I listen to their stories and hear them talk about their lives in God
• no one can convince me that Jesus is not living in their hearts
◦ they are people, not labels or tags
• they are men and women for whom Christ died
◦ and for whom I am willing to be ruined
– I don’t see anything heroic about my attitude
• I have gained a lot more than I could lose through these friendships
• nor could I turn my back on them now

This is my path – make sure you know your own path
And as you walk it, do not fear the repercussions
And “do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul”
Never regret the troubles that come to you
for loving someone you’re not supposed to love

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? (Mt. 5:46)

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