Happy Are the Harassed, Part 2
I think it is very fitting tonight that we've had an especially good time in fellowship. I think that is something we really need as Christians. We have shared and laughed together, we've had a great time, and that is as it should be.
Someone was saying to me earlier tonight at our prayer time that since she has become a Christian, she finds that she loves to be with Christians so much. She is so enriched by the fellowship of the believers, she so longs for that fellowship that she had never known in her life. When she goes back to fellowshipping with the world, there is something terribly missing. She expressed the fact that she was afraid when she was in certain situations with unbelievers, and she never thought she'd have such a fear.
She really articulated some of the things that are on my heart to say to you tonight. We rejoice in our fellowship; there is no question about that. It's fantastic, rewarding, enriching, thrilling. We so need this, but there is another side of it. There is that side that is right outside these great stone walls. We have to go home to families where moms, dads, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons, or daughters don't know Jesus Christ. We've got to go to schools where we meet people who don't know Jesus Christ, or go to jobs that have the same problem, or go back to our neighborhood where we face the reality of unsaved people all around us. That is the other side.
This should never be a retreat for us, it should be a fuel stop so that we can go out and boldly see God work through us in the midst of the world. I think that's really what the Lord wants to say to us tonight. Let's go back to Matthew 5 and look again at the Beatitudes. This will be our last lesson, Lord willing, on the Beatitudes, and I want to just read them to you again, and then move right into what I have to say tonight.
"Seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set, his disciples came unto him, and he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."
Let's pray together. Father, we come tonight to a very needful passage. It is very hard for us to understand, very difficult for us to fit into such an affluent, materialistic, comfortable culture. God, somehow help us to see. By Your Spirit, penetrate our hearts and minds; change our lives. We give You the glory in Jesus' name, Amen.
When we started studying the Beatitudes months and months ago, we learned that the word 'blessed' really is 'happy,' and the first thing Jesus ever said was that He wanted people to be happy. He didn't come into the world to make people miserable; He came to make them happy. That's why His first utterance ever recorded for us, the first sermon He ever gave, in the book of Matthew, the beginning of the New Testament, the first gospel begins with the word 'happy.'
In February 1978, CosmopolitanMagazinepresented a test to determine how happy people really are. They surveyed all kinds of people, they asked all kinds of questions (I'll not take the time to go through all the questions), and as a result of the testing, they drew a profile of the truly happy person. These are some of the principles they came up with from their survey.
Really happy people enjoy other people but are not self-sacrificing; happy people they refuse to participate in negative feelings or emotions; happy people have a sense of accomplishment based on their own self-sufficiency. How fascinating! The world says, "The really happy person is: self-sufficient, positive about himself, confident in his ability, not self-sacrificing in regard to anyone else." That sounds exactly like the definition of a Pharisee to me.
It is certainly the opposite of Jesus' definition of a happy person. Jesus said, "A really happy person is not self-sufficient but cowering like a beggar, realizing he has no resources in himself. He is meek rather than proud. A really happy person is not at all positive about himself, but he mourns over his sinfulness and his isolation from a holy God. A really happy person is not confident in his own ability but very aware of his own inability, and in meekness, reaches out. A really happy person, rather than being non-self-sacrificing, is the very opposite. He's merciful, a peacemaker, and will be merciful and peacemaking if it costs him persecution for the sake of that for which he makes peace and gives mercy." You see, the world's definition of happiness is not God's definition. Not at all.
Nothing could give a more clear picture of the difference between the world's philosophy and divine truth than comparing a test on happiness in our day with God's standards revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ in the Beatitudes. The world is pursuing happiness on its own terms. You see in the mad rush of happiness on the world's terms, when it runs into Christianity, there will inevitably be a conflict. There will inevitably be conviction, guilt, resentment, which results in persecution.
Our text for tonight is Matthew 5:10-12. What our Lord Jesus is saying is this: "I'll give you a gilt-edge guarantee that if you live according to the first seven Beatitudes, you'll get the eighth one automatically. If you function according to those first seven principles, inevitably, you will be persecuted for righteousness' sake." You will inevitably be persecuted for His name's sake. It's inevitable! In the first part of our study, we began to look at verses 10-12. Let's look at them again.
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you."
Listen, if you want to be truly happy, you have to be happy Jesus' way. If you seek to be happy on His terms, if you seek to live according to His principles, if you seek to enter His Kingdom in His way, if you're going to go through the narrow gate onto the narrow way, if you're going to build your house on the Rock, if you're going to wind up in the Judgment and hear Him say, "I do know you," not, "I don't know you," then you're going to find that the result of that kind of lifestyle, confronting a hostile, godless world, is inevitably to be a negative reaction. It's always been that way.
In Italy, in the 15thcentury, a man named Savonarola came on the scene. He was one of the greatest reformers and preachers the world has ever known. His denunciation of the sins of the people and the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church of this time literally prepared the way for the Reformation. One biographer says his preaching, "Was a voice of thunder, and his denunciation of sin was so terrible that the people who listened to him went about the streets half-dazed, bewildered, and speechless. His congregations were so often in tears that the whole building resounded with their sobs and their weeping." Obviously, the people couldn't handle that kind of preaching, so they burned him at the stake. It would never be any different.
I believe that if Christians today were more confrontive about what we believe to be true, and if we really lived the fullness of the Beatitudes in our lives, we would find there would be hostility in the world toward us, if there isn't already, for most of us. It happens everywhere and at all times.
I've recently been reading a book that Don Richardson gave me after our watchnight service. Don Richardson was here, a wonderful, God-blessed missionary to Irian Jaya who wrote the classic of mission stories, Peace Child. He has written a sequel called The Lords of the Earth. It is not a story of his mission work, as Peace Childwas, but the story of a friend of his by the name of Stan Dale.
Stan Dale had gone to the Yali tribe in Irian Jaya, whereas Don was down in the lowlands working with the Sawi. Stan was way up in what are called the Snow Mountains working with the Yali. The Snow Mountains are very high and very precarious, and the villages are on the side of the slopes. In that area is the Heluk River, which crashes down through the mountains; a thunderous, rapid river. The constant rains keep it moving at that pace all the time.
The Yali were steeped in an incredible kind of religion and had all kinds of pieces of sacred ground. As an illustration, if a little child happened to crawl onto one of those sacred pieces of ground, they felt that the little child was desecrated and cursed, and would curse the whole village. So they would go to a cliff and throw the baby into the rapids, and it would drown, and it's body would be washed into the lowlands. If anyone ever said a word against the religious system, the religion dictated that they be slaughtered on the spot. So there could be no rebellion, there could be no change, there could be no possible way of altering anything.
It tells in the book of one tribesman who decided he wanted to change things. He tried to point out some of the things that seemed so foolish to him, and they shot him so full of arrows that he looked like a reed swamp. It was hopeless.
Hopeless, that is, until a little bandy-legged Australian, about 5'7", undaunted, tramped into the Yali villages. In an incredible way, this amazing little man opened up his heart, the heart of his wife, and the hearts of his five children to these savage people who were not only headhunters, but also cannibals. He came to save them from the impenetrable darkness and death of the terrible beliefs and practices that they had in their culture. Do you want to know what happened to him? I'll read it to you.
"The native, holding his breath, eased his arrow over the rock and aimed at Stan's side. For a moment, firelight gleamed on his shiny bamboo blade, especially chosen for killing. Then he drew his bow to full strength, as other warriors behind him waited their turn. As if to oblige the warrior, Stan moved across the doorway for something in his pack. In the next instant, he recoiled, grasping and pulling the five-foot arrow out of his right side. Chortling over his success, the first warrior leaped from behind the rock blind and promptly shot another arrow into Stan's right thigh. 'We're in a death trap,' Stan gasped, 'They can shoot at us from every direction. The fire, I've got to put it out.'
Stan lunged at the fire, trying to scatter its burning brands, and as he did so, another arrow struck his left thigh, burying itself deeply into his muscle. He flung himself to the far side of the hut, seeking shelter, but there was none. Two more arrows struck him; one pierced through his right forearm and another penetrated his diaphragm and his intestines. Stan yanked each arrow out in turn, and then cried back at his tormentors in Yali, 'Run away home, all of you, you've done enough.' Pain from his five wounds stabbed through him; the floor of the yagwa was now crisscrossed with many arrows, five of them reddened with blood. Stan pressed against the wall of the yagwa waiting for the next arrow; he saw it coming."
I'm not going to finish the rest of it - you'll have to get the book! Amazingly, he lived. They took him out and he was spared. He was given surgery and turned right around and went back, right back into the same village, back into the same area. He literally gave years of his life, and then this story.
"Beyond Yendoal the river grew shallow, flowing over a wide, stony bed. They waded through it for 300 yards and reached a gravel beach. Beyond the beach, the trail left the river and climbed directly upward to the pass. Just another 2,000 feet of climbing and they would be over and on their way down to safety. But the war cry resounded again, much closer now. Suddenly, they came floundering through the river, bows held high. Others, streaming down through the forest, their floppy rattan coils rattling. Stan and Yemu stood at the lower end of the gravel beach, facing them. Phil [Masters] was alone at the other end, 50 yards away.
"The three donis waded another 30 yards beyond Phil. As they all looked back in horror, they saw Stan raise his staff, grimly facing the wickbooned hoard. 'Yemu, leave me,' he shouted over his shoulder. He kept his staff raised, not to strike, but to form a barrier against the advancing tide of warriors. 'All of you, turn around and go home,' he commanded. A priest of Kimbu named Barroway slipped around behind Stan and, at point-blank range, shot an arrow in under his upraised right arm. Another priest, Bunu, shot a bamboo shaft into his back, just below his right shoulder. Yemu was crying now, and shouting at them to stop.
"As the arrows entered his flesh, Stan pulled them out one by one, broke them, and threw them away. Dozens of them were coming at him from all directions. He kept pulling them out, breaking them, and dropping them at his feet until he couldn't keep ahead of them. Naleemo reached the scene.
"After some 30 arrows had found their mark in Stan's body, 'How can he stand there so long?' Naleemo gasped, 'Why doesn't he fall? Any one of us would have fallen long ago.' A different kind of shaft pierced Naleemo's flesh - fear. 'Perhaps he is immortal.' Naleemo's normally impassive face melted with sudden emotion. Because of that emotion, Naleemo said later [by the way, Naleemo was baptized later as a believer in Christ] that because of his fear, he didn't shoot an arrow into Stan's body, though all of his people did. Stan faced his enemies, steady and unwavering, except for the jolt of each new arrow.
"Yemu ran to where Phil stood alone. Together they watched in anguish at Stan's agony. As some 50 or more warriors detached from the main force and came toward them, Phil pushed Yemu behind him and gestured speechlessly, 'Run.' Phil seemed hardly to notice the warriors encircling him; his eyes were fixed on Stan. 50 arrows, 60 arrows. Red ribbons of blood trailed from the many wounds, but still Stan stood his ground. Naleemo saw that he was not alone in his fear. The attack had begun with hilarity, but now the warriors shot their arrows with desperation bordering on panic, because Stan refused to fall. Perhaps Kusaho was right; perhaps they were committing a monstrous crime against the supernatural world instead of defending it as they intended.
"'Fall,' they screamed at Stan. 'Die!' It was a plea; 'please die!' Yemu did not hear Phil say anything to the warriors as they aimed their arrows at him. Phil made no attempt to flee or struggle. He had faced danger many times, but never certain death. But Stan had shown him how to face it. If he needed an example, it was there. The example could hardly have been followed with greater courage. Once again, it was Barroway who shot the first arrow, and it took almost as many arrows to down Phil as it had Stan. Yemu and the three donis waited until they knew Phil was too badly wounded to survive.
"At the sight of the killings, after both missionaries had fallen on the stony beach, the Yali dragged their battered bodies away from the stones and placed them in separate forest alcoves overhung with bows. Although the Yali were not headhunters, Bunu, moved by fear, beheaded both Stan and Phil. Still not satisfied, the killers stripped both bodies naked, systematically cut them to pieces, and scattered bits of bone into the forest to make resurrection more difficult.
"From the beginning, Naleemo and his friend planned a cannibalistic feast after they killed Phil and Stan."
There is a price to pay, isn't there? The wonderful end of the story is that the Yali village and that whole territory has now come to Jesus Christ and they don't gather around to eat missionaries; they gather around the Lord's Table. But the price was very high.
One of the most wonderful things that I know about in regard to this story is that Stan's fifth child, who was a baby when he died, was saved reading this book about his father. That's the price. If you're going to confront the world, there is a price to pay. That's the way it has always been. It was with Savonarola. It was with Stan Dale in the late 1960's when this happened; it will be in the future because we look ahead in Revelation and what do we find in chapter 9? A group of people under the altar crying out, people who were slain, martyred for the cause of Christ. It will always be this way.
Let's look again at Matthew 5:10-12 and see the three points we introduced in our last study: the persecution, the promise, and the posture. The persecution is in verses 10-11, and we'll just quickly review it. "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And then it's personalized. I think it's one in the same Beatitude, not two, it's just that people who endure this are double-blessed. There is a general statement in verse 10, and we saw this last time, this is a review. Then it's personalized in verse 11. "Blessed are you when men shall revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake."
Let's ask some simple questions: who are persecuted? I'll tell you who, the ones who live a Beatitude kind of life. The ones who come to know God through Jesus Christ, the ones who are Kingdom people, who live life on God's terms. Beloved, I want you to understand that godliness generates antagonism. You've got to expect this. I'm not trying to tell you this so you'll go out and be ugly in the world. I'm not telling you this so you'll go out and make enemies, I'm telling you this so you won't be shocked!
In Philippians 1:29, it says, "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake." Unto you it is given; this is to be expected, it is not abnormal. Paul said to the Thessalonians in I Thessalonians 3:3, "No man should be moved by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to these things." Persecution shouldn't be shocking or make you wonder if you've made the right commitment. This shouldn't knock you off your pins or surprise you! We were called to these things.
II Timothy 3:12 has the same thought, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." We are called to persecution. It's very basic. A godless, angry, hostile, sinful world, confronted by Christianity, must react. The 'who?' Everybody who lives the Beatitude life, everyone who comes into the Kingdom, everyone who is a son of the Kingdom, who lives this way. You just go into the world and try to bring mercy to the world. Go in and try to purify men's hearts by bringing them the consciousness of sin; you go in and try to make peace through the only peacemaker, Jesus Christ. If you're bold and confrontive in the way that God wants you to be, you'll find that there is a reaction.
How? We saw the who, what about the how? Well, we're going to be persecuted. How are they going to show their anger? 'Persecution' is from a Greek word that means 'to harass, to treat evilly, to pursue.' They're going to come after us.
I believe America is on the threshold of an era that will be much different from what it we have known in the past. I think that we have been lollygagging around in the post-American Awakening Era, living off the revivals of the past and the benefits that America had from its heritage of those days. That is fast coming to an end. Not only is government acting against religion, but religion is acting against itself by proliferating all of the cults and -isms and schisms and spasms and everything else.
We're seeing the government crack down on religious groups, we're seeing changes in attitudes, we're seeing the IRS and other agencies making laws that are going to directly impact those of use who are in the church of Jesus Christ. We're seeing reactions to things that once were held to be sacred; the whole idea of church and those kinds of things have all gone the way of mom and apple pie. "They're going to come after us," He says.
How? Verse 11. Remember what we said? 'Revile' is abuse to the face; 'say all manner against you falsely,' that's slander behind the back. They're going to come at those who are God's people right on the nose and behind the back. They're going to talk about us when we're gone and react to us when we're there. There will be open confrontations and private slander.
I received a letter this week, and I thought I had to share it with you. "Recently you preached on the last Beatitude, 'blessed are you when men revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely on account of Me.' In that sermon, you pointed out that if a Christian was never persecuted, there might be something wrong with his Christianity.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to a friend who I had not seen for several years. She at one time professed Christianity, but is now in the process of divorcing her husband with no just cause. I knew I had to confront her on what God has to say about divorce; it would mean putting our friendship on the line. Because of the possibility of her becoming hostile toward me, I was scared and wished I didn't have to confront her. But having the knowledge of God within me, I knew I had to obey God! Briefly, this is what happened.
"I reminded her of God's love and grace and how He wanted her family to be happy and to live together harmoniously according to His perfect standard. I shared with her what God thought of divorce and His guidelines for marriage and divorce, and the more we talked, the more angry and defensive she became. She said she didn't believe the Bible was God's Word but man's interpretation of what God said. She further stated that anyone had the right to form their own interpretation of what Scripture meant; the Bible was nice to have around for its guidelines, but it was up to the reader to decide which one applied to them.
"I explained to her how private interpretation could only lead to theological chaos. When I started to get my Bible to read her some specific passages, she wouldn't allow me to read from it, saying she did not come over to argue the Bible. In short, there was no reasoning with her. As she prepared to leave, she became venomous, and with hate in her eyes, she accused me of luring her into my home and having no concern for her. On that note, she let herself out, slamming the door behind her.
I can say that I now know what it is like to be hated and falsely accused because I took a stand for Christ. I know that I could be living with this for a long time, as she is divorcing her husband in an effort to get something going with someone in my family. I love her, and it is with a heavy heart that I realize the extent of her rejection of Christ. As painful as this has been, I thank God that for the first time in my life, I know what it is to be separate from the world."
Which is worse - to be shot with a Yali arrow or to be hated by someone that you love? One is over in a short time, one lasts a long time. But that's how it is, you see. It's never easy for the committed people. If it's easy for you, then it is one of two things. One, you're not a Christian; or two, you're a Christian but you're not manifesting the attitudes that our Lord talked about here. It's never easy for the Christian.
Look at I Corinthians 4:9. Let me show you something. Here, Paul draws one of the most vivid pictures with words that you'll find in I Corinthians. He says, "I think that God has set forth us, the apostles, last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." Paul says, "You know, I think that when it comes down to where we fit, God has put us last, appointed to death, and made a spectacle." You know what he has in his mind?
When a Roman general won a great victory, he was given the privilege of parading his victorious army through the streets of Rome. As the army came through the streets of the city, they would carry with them booty, spoils, and the trophies of war. That allowed the general to demonstrate to everyone the tremendous triumph he had achieved. Always, at the end of the long procession, there came a small group of captives. They were tokens of the conquered people, doomed to die in the arena. They were men taken in captive, and men who now were to be led to the arena to fight the beasts and so to die.
So Paul says, "I think God has set forth us, the apostles, last; as it were, appointed to death. We are a spectacle unto the world, unto angels and unto men." Paul uses terms here from that scene. He sees the apostles, and who are they? They are like emblems of all truly committed disciples. They are a group of captives appointed to death.
I Corinthians 4:9 in James Moffatt's A New Translationreads, "God means us apostles to come in at the very end, like the doomed gladiators in the arena." The Greek term 'appointed to death' was a rare term referring to sentenced criminals paraded as objects of mockery as they were marched to their execution. Thus Paul likened the apostles to a group of doomed captives brought along at the end as spectacles to be seen, mocked, and killed like condemned criminals.
Then he says, "We endure anyway. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honorable, but we are despised." Paul was being very sarcastic there. Then he says, "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure it."
Paul knew what Christians are called to. We're not called to ride white chargers into town and be hot shots. We're not called to be superstars, sanctified celebrities. We're called to be appointed to death. "We suffer through this thing; we are the fools and you're the wise! You look at us as fools," he says. "And we are weak, but you are strong. You look down on us. You're honorable, but we're despised. To this present hour we hunger and thirst, and are naked, and buffeted, and never have a place to stay. We have to work with our hands so hard, and we're reviled all the time, and persecuted, but we have to endure it."
How does he react to all of that? In verse 12, he says, "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure it. Being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." The Greek word translated 'filth' simply means 'dirt.' It is used of something that is wiped off of something when you clean it. It could be garbage left on a pot or pan, it could be dust left on a table. It's any dirt that you want to eliminate.
The Greek word translated 'offscouring' refers to something that is scrubbed off something else; refuse. That's how Paul said the apostles viewed themselves. You say, "Paul! You're one of the apostles! We have statues of you! We have St. Paul Cathedrals!" But he says they are filth and offscouring. They accepted this; this was the world's estimate. They counted the cost, they were willing to pay the price, and as far as we know, 10 or 11 of 12 died as martyrs. The only one we know who didn't was John, and he was exiled and died there.
I don't know what has happened to the kind of Christianity that we have today, but it isn't this. I mean, can we say, in human society in America today, that Christians are the filth and offscouring of society? Are we? Why, we are the stars! People who call themselves Christians get the biggest lights in Las Vegas and have their own television shows. We go back and forth; we live in two worlds. We dance in Vegas, then change clothes and give our testimonies in church. We're the stars! We're the presidents and congressmen, athletes, actors, and singers. I'm thankful for those who are true believers, but I sometimes wonder if we have the picture right. We're trying to waltz with the world instead of confronting it. I don't know how it happened, but Christianity has become the religion of the elite, the acceptable, and the rich. Paul didn't see it like that.
I often get letters asking if I would like to have a particular famous person visit our church. The letters state a fee and include long lists of credentials with pictures of the person shaking hands with all kinds of people. They like to have stars! Listen, I'm not interested in stars.
Paul didn't say, "I graduated from the University of Gamaliel magna cum laude. I'm a world man; I speak many languages and am a personal friend of several kings, rulers, and famous men. I died once and came back from the dead; I ascended into the third heaven." Wow, would he have made it on the circuit today! "I spoke in tongues more than you all." There is no end to what this guy could have done! He had an unbelievable testimony and could have kept people listening to him for hours. But that's not the way he was. We see Paul's list of credentials in II Corinthians 11:23-27. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce to you the Apostle Paul.
"Are they ministers of Christ?" Here is the greatest minister of Christ. "I am more; in labors, more abundant, in stripes, above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. Of the Jews, five times received I forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." There he is, folks.
Then he says in II Corinthians 12:5, "Of myself I will not glory," and I can understand that, can't you? An ex-con, beaten up, kicked around, stoned, shipwrecked, abused. "Yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth. But now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he sees me to be, or that he hears of me."
He says, "I don't want to say anything about myself. I don't want to glory, or give anyone the wrong impressions." He continued, "Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me."
Paul had a problem. Some people think it was possibly an eye problem; some think he may have had an oozing eye disease that was always ugly and made him distasteful to be around. I don't know what it was. But whatever it was, it was something undesirable. But instead of taking it away, God said, "My grace is sufficient for you; I've got to keep you humble, Paul. For my strength is made perfect in weakness." Paul responded, "Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong."
"As long as you think you can make it on your press clippings, you don't have the power of God," that's what he's saying. As long as you can cut it on your own; you're good, you've been proven, and you've got the PR to make it. You're functioning on the wrong principle. He says, "I will glory in my weakness, in my infirmity, in persecution, in reproach, in necessity. Everything that breaks me, crushes me, humbles me, I'll glory in that because that's what makes me depend on God. I know I have no resource of my own, and that's when God moves through me to confront the world."
We live in a day when Christianity, like never before, is engaged in an act of self-glorification that must be repulsive to God. We are manufacturing celebrities faster than the world is. That's not the way it's supposed to be. Our Lord said in Acts 1:8, "You shall be my witnesses," He said, "You are to be moumartus, my martyrs." There is a price to pay.
Who? This Beatitude is directed to anyone who is a Kingdom child. How are we to be persecuted? We'll be confronted face to face and reviled; and behind our backs, we'll be slandered. Why does the world do this to us? We're such nice folks! And I agree. Christians are the nicest people in the world; we're nice people because God lives in us, and He is goodness, and He takes our badness and gives us His goodness. So it's there, but why would the world do this?
The answer is simple; verse 10 says that those who follow Christ will suffer "for righteousness' sake," and verse 11 says we will suffer for Christ's sake. There are two things that the world doesn't want: righteousness and Christ.
When we confront a sinful world that loves darkness rather than light, a sinful world that loves it's sin, it is going to react. If we bring up Jesus Christ, it will do again what it did before. It will want Him dead; that's the way it's always been and that's the way it will always be.
Look at John 15:18. Jesus said it as clearly as He could, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." Verse 17 says, "I command you, love one another." That's wonderful, and we need that, and we've enjoyed it and been enriched by it tonight. Here we are, gathered, this tremendous family of Christ here at Grace. We love one another, but when we turn the corner, the world doesn't love us. The world hates us. The evil system hates us. Why do they do that? Because we're not of the world. If we were of the world, it would accept us, but we confront the world.
If you don't confront the world, they'll never know. But if the world knows we're not a part of the system, they'll hate us. In verse 20, He says, "Remember the word that I said unto you, 'the servant is not greater than his lord.' If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." In other words, when you identify with Christ, they will treat you the same way they treated Him. Those who love Christ love Christians; those who hate Him hate those who follow Him. Those who love righteousness will love you, and those who hate righteousness and love sin will hate you.
The crux of the matter is that they just don't know God. Verse 21. Jesus then said, "All these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me." You see, they just don't know God. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father."
When Jesus came into the world, He exposed people's sin. Then they had sin; they saw sin in their lives and were confronted with the reality of sin. If Christ hadn't come, they could have glossed it over. They were doing a great job of salving their consciences. Their religion had literally closed their eyes to the truth and in their blindness, they were blissfully marching toward Hell. Christ ripped off the blinders and said, "Look at yourselves!" and they saw their sin and hated Him for it. So they hated Him. It all comes to pass exactly as the Scripture had said.
Psalm 35:19 says people would hate Christ without a cause. So you ask, "Why would they hate us?" Oh, there is nothing wrong with you. You're really wonderful! There is nothing wrong with me either; I'm not so wonderful as I wish I were, but I'm not all bad. But it isn't me, it's righteousness and it's Christ. You just live a righteous life; just be salt and watch what happens.
Have you ever put salt in a wound? Whew! It stings. Just be salt. Don't even say anything, just be salt. Just be righteous in a corrupt society and watch what happens. That's the way it's going to be. You say, "Woah, then we should just get out of this world, just bail out! Monasticism - let's all get a habit and become monks; retreat, build cloisters, study the Scriptures." No.
Christ said, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me; and you also shall bear witness." He's saying, "Don't go anywhere! Don't bail out; don't retreat, pack up your tent, steal away into the dark night to study the Bible until the Rapture! Get out there and be a martyr." We need to confront it, people.
The coming of Jesus not only brought salvation but it brought the manifestation of hate from those who loved their sins. This doesn't mean that we turn our backs on the world, it means that we go right out there, face the world, and confront the world. What's going to happen? I'll tell you.
In John 16:2, Christ said to His disciples, "They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time is coming that whosoever kills you will think that he does God's service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me." It isn't you, it's that they don't know God! Because they don't know God, they don't know Christ. Because they don't know Christ, they don't understand righteousness. Because they aren't willing to accept righteousness, they want their sin and will not tolerate a confrontation at that point.
That's exactly what the Beatitudes are saying. Look at Matthew 5; the Lord says over and over, "You're going to be persecuted." Verse 10, 11, 12. You say, "Let's be monastic; let's retreat." No. Verse 13, "You're the salt of the earth." Verse 14, "You're the light of the world." Don't go anywhere. Men don't light a lamp and put it under a bushel, they put it on a lampstand. Let your light so shine where? Before me. You see, even though there is a price to pay, we can't bail out.
It is incredible - the first time Stan Dale was attacked, just prior to the first attack, they were all gathered with their bows and arrows at the top of the hill, and he said, "I'm going up there to tell them that they can't do that." And he just walked right up that hill, and they shot at him, but he just kept walking. The arrows were missing him, and he kept right on walking. Man, there is something exciting about that! He was going to be salt and light no matter what, and it took nearly 60 arrows before he even fell over! He was going to salt the situation as long as he could. Don't bail out; be faithful.
Sure the world doesn't like you. In Colossians 1:24, Paul says, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh." Paul was saying, "Every time someone beats me up, they're really going after Christ." Stan Dale could have said the same thing; every one of those Yali that shot an arrow were shooting at Jesus Christ. It isn't us they resent, it's the truth we represent that they resent. It's Christ that the world is after, that the world is still trying to kill. But they can't get Him because He's not here, so they get whoever stands in His place and speaks the same truth. Just as the world pounded nails into Christ's hands because they hated His message, it continues to drive nails into the lives of believers who confront the system with the same message.
You know me, I'm not trying to make war. I'm not trying to make enemies. However I do believe in saying what's right, whenever, wherever, and to whomever it ought to be said and not worrying about the consequences, for His sake. I hear the Apostle Paul, "Oh, that I may know him and the fellowship of His sufferings." He said, "I'm willing, I'll take those blows."
Matthew 10:22 and 24:9 talk about the fact that we will be hated for His sake. Who? Kingdom people. How? Persecution. Why? For His sake. When? When are we going to be persecuted? Look at Matthew 5:11. "Blessed are you when." The Greek word translated 'when' is hotanand means 'whenever.' It does not mean, "Blessed are you who are always being persecuted." No. "Whenever it happens, blessed are you." It is not the idea that we are going to be incessantly, unmitigatedly persecuted with an unceasing stream of persecution. That wasn't true in Paul's time. That wasn't true in Christ's time. There were times when Christ enjoyed the respite of family time with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; there were times when Jesus retreated to the Mount of Olives; there were wonderful times with the Twelve in Galilee.
Persecution won't be incessant, unending, unceasing. But whenever it happens, God will be there to bring His blessedness to bear upon that willing soul. He always makes suffering for His sake bearable. "There is no trial taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful. He will never allow you to be tried above that you are able, but will, in that trial, make a way of escape." It will always be there. We aren't to seek persecution, we're not to have a martyr complex, yet we're also not to run from it. And when in the midst of it, we are not to compromise.
Persecution is followed by promise, aren't you glad for that? What is the promise? "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men shall revile you," and so forth. Blessed, blessed, blessed, because theirs is the Kingdom. Whatever we forfeit in this world for righteousness' sake will be compensated for many times over in God's kingdom. Whatever physical thing we lose, that eternal reward will infinitely compensate. The Apostle Paul could have, with his mind and his capability, made it big in this world. Instead, he had absolutely nothing and one day put his head on a block so that an axe could sever his head from his body. What did he say? "I count that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us." Right? Whatever loss here could never be compared with what gain we'll receive in God's Kingdom.
Blessed is repeated, emphatically repeated, "Blessed, and blessed again," because those who willingly stand up for Jesus Christ now will know the bliss of obedience and the blessedness of being a part of God's eternal kingdom.
Joseph found this to be true. He was persecuted by his brothers for righteousness' sake. He was hated and imprisoned in a dry well in the desert. God picked him up and made him the prime minister of Egypt. All it took was a little patience. Jeremiah was thrown into a slimy dungeon because of his righteous life and quicksand was all around, engulfing him. But God lifted him up and made his name as honorable as any man who ever lived as a prophet of God.
If you are willing to pay the price now, God says the glory which shall be revealed is incomparable. Those who are persecuted are doubly blessed, for theirs is the kingdom and all that it can possibly contain. You ask, "What Kingdom is He talking about?" I think He's talking about all the concepts involved in the Kingdom, here and now. The living King dwelling within us reveals and gives to us the fullness of Kingdom life spiritually. I think He's talking about a millennial element; there is coming a time when the physical fulfillment of Kingdom life will belong to us in that wonderful, renewed earth. I think He is talking about the eternal Kingdom, when we will be face-to-face with the Son of God in glory forever. I think it's all here. I think He is saying that all the Kingdom can possibly convey, all that there could possibly be of God's great and glorious gift ton compensate for our struggles, will be ours.
In Mark 10, Peter said, "We have left all and followed You. We've done it, Lord. We've stripped ourselves naked, we've come after You and are like beggars in the world." Jesus answered and said, "No man has left a house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land for my sake and the Gospel's but he shall received a hundred-fold, now in this time." Do you see the present fulfillment? "And houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land, with persecutions," footnote, "And, in the age to come, eternal life." Do you see? Here and now, then and there. It's all ours; what a fulfillment!
We are so shortsighted! We want to protect the moment, instead of giving the moment to God and secure forever the eternal weight of glory. The Kingdom is the gift of the Beatitudes. Did you notice that the first Beatitude began with the promise that, "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven," and the last Beatitude ends with the promise, "Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven?" What it's really saying to us is that the major promise of the Beatitudes is that Christians are Kingdom citizens now and forever, and the ones in between are just elements of kingdom life. No matter what the world does, my friends, it can never affect the possession of Christ's kingdom; that is ours, now and forever.
So the persecution is going to be there. When it's endured willingly, the promise is ours. We are a part of the Kingdom and all that the Kingdom could possibly give will be ours. You know something, I don't have a great big mansion here and now, but I will someday, in the Father's house. I don't have houses, and lands, and everything it talks about, here and now. But there is a sense in which I do, because some of you are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and some of you are my mothers and fathers in Christ, and some of you have nicer houses than I've got, and I get to go over and enjoy all that.
You see, that's what it means in the here and now - we all share. You may give up your family to come to Christ, they may isolate you. But look around; here is your family. You may have no place to stay because you've been thrown out of your home; look around, here we are. We've got homes, and they are yours too. We don't own anything; we just manage it for God, and it belongs to all of us. So the persecution bears with it a promise, and that means there ought to be a posture we take in persecution.
This is the final point. What should be our posture in persecution? If this is true, what should be our posture? Verse 12. "Rejoice." You say, "Rejoice?" Rejoice while they're shooting the arrows into you. Rejoice while your friends are screaming venomously at you; rejoice while they whisper behind your back. Rejoice while they undermine you. He says, "Rejoice! Chairo!" It means 'be glad, really glad.' And if that isn't enough, He adds, "Be exceedingly glad," which is agalliasqeand means 'jump, skip, and shout for joy.' We are to be happy when faced with persecution. You say, "You must be kidding! Jump, skip, and shout for joy? I'm being persecuted!" You should be happy about that. Why?
There are two reasons you should be happy about that. Reason number one, verse 12, "Great is your reward in heaven." Listen, Heaven will last how long? Forever. How long will we be here? Life is, "Even a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away," says James 4:14. How long is Heaven? Forever! How long is here? Not very long, and getting shorter all the time! What are you investing in? No wonder Jesus said, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." Don't lay it up here; this is here and now and gone, but Heaven is forever. "Great is your reward in heaven."
You say, "Do you think we're going to get crowns in Heaven?" Sure I do. I mean, the Bible talks about them. I don't know what that means, but I think I believe in my heart that it has to do with our capacity to glorify God forever. I think the more faithful we are here, the more able we'll be to glorify God forever. I think God will give us a greater capacity for Him, a greater capacity for service forever, a greater fulfillment, if we're faithful here. But I'll tell you one thing, if I'm going to be there forever and only going to be here another 20 or so years, man, I'm going to invest in forever, not here! I've just got one snitch of time and I want to pile all of it that I can into God's bank account so it will pay me eternal dividends. Not for me, but so that I can take them and place them at His blessed feet in praise.
I love the word 'great' because the word really means what it says, like a lot of those words in the Bible. When God says 'great,' He means, 'great!' Polus, abundant; it is used in Ephesians 2:4 to talk about abundance. It's the fullness of reward.
Some people think it's crass to look forward to future rewards. They say we're to serve the Lord out of love, not for rewards. I didn't make up the system! If we serve God out of love and He chooses to reward us, that's His wonderful pleasure, and I'm not going to argue about it! By the time we get to Heaven, we won't be proud anyway, so we'll take it all and give it right back in humility. There won't be any proud people in Heaven; we'll all be perfect then, so we can handle rewards. The Lord doesn't give us our rewards now because we would mess them up something awful! If the Lord chooses to do that, it's His own choice and it's a wonderful motive.
Paul said, "I've been doing what I've been doing all my life, serving the Lord." With that in mind, at the end of II Timothy, when he gives a kind of swan song, he says, "There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing". He said, "There is nothing wrong with me longing to see that day and that crown, if that's the Lord's gift of love to me. I took the gift of salvation, I'll take that one too."
I just have to give you this second thought; it's absolutely fabulous. The second reason you ought to be glad is because they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You say, "So what? How does that relate? You mean I'm supposed to be happy because they had the same problems that I have? Misery loves company? I'm glad I'm not the only one who had this, I'm glad the rest of you had it too." Is that the idea? No.
The ideas is this: you are in pretty classy company! Get it? They persecuted the prophets of God. This, to me, is the climax of the Beatitudes. Jesus is saying, "If you have any doubts about your salvation, if you have any questions about whether you're in the Kingdom. If there is persecution in your life from unbelievers, you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you belong to God, because they'll be doing to you exactly what they did to God's called prophets." It's a fantastic truth.
I'm telling you, when persecution comes to me, I just say, "Lord, I know I'm Your child and I know I stand in the ranks of the prophets." The world doesn't persecute people who aren't the prophets of God, who don't speak the message of God.
Later on in Matthew 21:33-39, we find a great text. It's a parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, built a tower, leased everything to tenant farmers, and went into a far country. This, of course, is God. When it was time for him obtain fruit from his vineyard, he sent his servants (the prophets) to the tenant farmers (Israel). The farmers beat one servant, killed one, and stoned another. So he sent other servants, but they did the same to them. So here they are, persecuting and killing the prophets. This is what they did. But they were, every one, the messenger of God.
In Matthew 23:31, we find a similar situation. Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them who killed the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?" He says, "Go ahead and kill Me. You're doing no differently than your fathers did." They killed the prophets all through the history of Israel. That's fast company, folks.
In Hebrews 11:32-40, it is a catalogue of people who suffered all kinds of things, "Of whom the world was not worthy." Then Jesus, wonder of wonders, says to the crowd that day, and to us down through history, "If you follow Me and preach My truth and live My truth and the world persecutes you, rejoice! You can be confident that you belong to the righteous line that is descended to you from the prophets themselves." Persecution, then, is a verification that you belong to a righteous line. Here is the believer's security, here is the climax of the Beatitudes - He offers them salvation and then tells them how they can know when they have it.
Your security in Christ doesn't come from some theological prescription. Your security doesn't come from knowing you made a decision way back when; it comes from knowing you are living a confrontive life in the midst of an ungodly world. When you are persecuted for righteousness' sake, you know not only that you will be rewarded in Heaven, but you stand in the line of the prophets of God who, throughout history, have received the same reaction.
In Luke 21:12-13, Christ says, "Before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony." In other words, the whole ordeal will become a testimony to you that you belong to God. Isn't that great? It will be a great security to you.
The world can't handle our kind of life, our kind of living; they can't stomach it, they can't handle it. It's not acceptable to them; they don't even understand it. Poverty of spirit runs counter to the pride of an unbelieving heart. The repentant, contrite disposition that mourns over sin is never appreciated by the callous, indifferent, unsympathetic world. The meek and quiet spirit that takes wrong and is not quick to strike back is regarded as pusillanimous and rasps against the proud, militant, resentful spirit characteristic of our world. The craving after deeper spiritual blessing from the Lord is a rebuke to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, as is a merciful spirit to the hardness and cruelty of our world. Purity of heart contrasts sharply and painfully with hypocrisy and corruption. And a peacemaker cannot be tolerated by a contentious, antagonistic world age, and that's exactly why they react the way they react.
Let me close with these thoughts. A great tribute was once paid to John Knox, the great Scottish preacher. This is what he said of Knox: "He feared God so much that he never dared to fear any man." Chrysostom, a great Christian of ancient times, summoned before the Roman Emperor Arcadius and threatened with banishment if he didn't cease to proclaim Jesus is said to have replied, "Sire, you cannot banish me, for the world is My Father's house."
"Then I will slay you!" exclaimed the angered emperor.
"Nay, but you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God." "Your treasures will be confiscated!" came the fiery retort.
"Sire, that cannot be; my treasures are in Heaven, where none can break through and steal."
"But I will drive you from men and you will have no friends left."
"That you cannot do either, for I have a Friend in Heaven who has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.'"
Ultimately, he was banished to Cucusus, on the edge of Armenia, but he so continued to influence his friends by letters that his enemies determined to banish him further away, and he died on the journey.
What about you? What are your priorities? Listen to you; what do you say to yourself? What rings true about you in your mind and heart? Do you understand what the Beatitudes are saying? It isn't the rich, the proud, the frivolous, the fierce, the full, the cunning, the warlike, the favorites of the earthly kings that enter the Kingdom. It is the poor, the meek, the sorrowing, the hungry, the sin-seared, the peacemaking, the persecuted. They enter and the proof of their citizenship is that they are hated by the world. Do you belong? Let's pray.
Thank You, Father, for tonight; for giving us such an incredibly rich and rewarding study of these incomparable truths, in this the first sermon of our dear Lord Jesus Christ recorded in Scripture. Oh God, may we be Kingdom people; may we live the way You want us to live. May we come and enter on Your terms the narrow way, and may we walk that narrow way, difficult as it is, in Your strength. May we know there is a price to pay, and be willing to pay it for Jesus' sake, Amen.