Matt 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
There are some things that we will face in this life that are worth suffering for. There are some reactions that will result from our love for Jesus that are worth enduring. There are some truths that we should never deny, that we should never back off from, and never avoid no matter the threat we face. And Jesus wants us to face those threats with the knowledge that He not only has our back, but will reward us for standing for Him.
Study the New Testament and you will be forced to create a category in your mind for persecution. Study the history of the church and you will see the wicked creativity of mankind dream up ways to torture Christians. The persecution and suffering of Christians has often been a demonstration by the kingdom of this world that they won’t tolerate a rival kingdom, especially one so subversive as the Kingdom of Christ.
But the persecution of Christians is not just a thing of the past, it is still happening today at alarming rates. According to Opendoorsusa.org, each month this year 322 Christians will be killed for their faith, 214 church or Christian properties will be destroyed, and 722 forms of violence will be committed against Christians, such as: beatings, abductions, rape, arrest and even forced marriages. North Korea is ranked as the most oppressive place in the world to be a Christian. The country of India, that we have sent missionaries to, is ranked 15th on the list.
But is persecution happening in America today? Compared to the countries at the top of this list, the church in American hasn’t seen a fraction of the persecution that our brothers and sisters worldwide have seen. We aren’t being beheaded. It’s not illegal to be a Christian. It’s not illegal to preach the gospel or to become a convert to Christianity. We should be thankful for all of these things. But there is a cost to being a faithful follower of Christ, even in the U.S.
“Martyrdom is a special category set aside for a select number of Christians (Rev. 6:8-11), persecution is the normal experience of every Christian everywhere. From stiff fines, to family shame, to being kicked off college campuses, to laws against sharing our faith, to unjust trials, to public mockery and scorn, to arrest and brutality, if we faithfully follow Jesus in this world we all will face persecution at some point in our Christian discipleship. Even American Christians--if they are really Christians--will have crosses to carry (Kevin DeYoung).”
This morning, we are going to let Jesus teach us more about the persecution that we will face as we follow Him. We are going to learn 4 things about the persecution that accompanies His Kingdom. We are going to look at the Cause of Persecution, the Response to Persecution, the Reward for the Persecuted, and the Company of the Persecuted.
This is the final Beatitude and notice that Jesus gives us a double dose of it; first in a more general way (blessed are those…) and then in a more specific way (blessed are you…). It is important for us to understand that this final beatitude is as normal to the Christian life as the rest of the beatitudes. Jesus is teaching us that being persecuted, despised, mocked, slandered, and rejected for your faith in Christ is just as much a part of the Christian experience as being a poor in spirit, pure in heart, mercy-filled peacemaker.
Every Christian is broken down and then built back by Christ in the gospel; this is how we enter into the faith. And every Christian is called to live out the gospel in the way we interact with others. And every Christian should expect that when we live our lives for Christ we will experience opposition from the world.
But why? Why does persecution come to those who live for Christ?”
I. The Cause of Persecution or Why the persecution comes
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Jesus uses two phrases here to describe the cause of persecution. It comes on account of righteousness and on account of Jesus (himself), and both of these phrases are referring to the same thing. They are referring to the life that has journeyed through the rest of the beatitudes. This journey begins with our being made to see our unrighteousness.
On our own we are poor and needy before God and we are moved to grieve over our sin. This produces humility because we recognize that we have nothing to boast about, nothing to offer to God. Then, when we come to feel our spiritual emptiness we long to be filled and Jesus satisfies that need. He fills us with His grace and love. He forgives our sin and gives us new life.
Then we begin to live out this new life showing mercy to others. We begin seeking to live honest and pure lives before others and before God. We pursue peace and seek to help others find peace with God through faith in Christ. This is what it means live for righteousness’ sake. This is what it means to live our lives on account of Jesus and this is the cause of the persecution that Jesus is talking about.
Jesus is not talking about a person who is being persecuted because he is a jerk who has a knack for getting on people’s nerves. Jesus is not talking about the type of persecution that you bring on yourself because you love to get in other people business and gossip about it. We are often the cause of our own suffering and it has nothing to do with our seeking to live a godly life in Christ.
1 Pet 4:15 Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
The type of persecution that Jesus is talking about here is caused by our living like Jesus. True righteousness flows only out of a relationship with Christ and it reflects the values of a different world.
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20…If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
Think about this: Jesus did amazing things to help people, to heal people, to love people; and the world responded with two options. They either wanted to use Him to get what they wanted or they were going to have to kill Him to get Him out of their way. If we seek to live like Jesus we can expect the same treatment and I don’t care what the health, wealth, and prosperity folks say.
For us to pursue righteousness means to live our lives repenting from sin, self and Satan’s influence. For us to follow Christ means we are going to stand for things the world hates and we are going to stand against things they love. For us to follow Jesus we are going to speak truth to people who don’t want to hear it in the hopes that they will be saved. We won’t live perfectly, but faithfully as followers of Jesus seeking to honor and obey Him till the very end, no matter what it may cost.
You might think that such a life would be admired by others, but that is not the case. So, we need to ask the question, why is righteousness persecuted? Showing mercy to others doesn’t seem offensive. Seeking to be an honest and transparent person might rub someone the wrong way but why should this bring persecution?
Jesus explains it this way:
John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
Persecution is caused by the clash of light with darkness. Unbelievers will find our hunger for righteousness distasteful. They will find our pursuit of mercy an unwanted path. Persecution is the result of the clash between two irreconcilable kingdoms.
On the one hand, you have a kingdom filled with men and women who love Jesus. They love something that is pure and true and eternal; and their love stands in confident opposition to every other kingdom. On the other hand, you have another kingdom that is filled with men and women who love something that is evil and untrue and they want their love to be justified, accepted and celebrated by all. In order to justify their love, they must oppose the other kingdom so they mock Jesus and all who follow Him. They seek to silence Jesus and all who speak His Word. They seek to destroy Jesus and all who call Him Lord.
Sadly, as we look into the past we see that persecution came from the world and at times even from the church. We see this today as well in that many claim to know Christ and want the blessings He offers, but they want nothing to do with His Word or His narrow path of life. Their ideas about Christianity are at odds with Scripture and they persecute those who stand upon the Word.
John Piper helps to put this in perspective:
• If you cherish chastity, your life will be an attack on people’s love for free and devious sex.
• If you pursue self-control, your life will indict excessive eating, spending, partying, etc.
• If you live simply and happily, you will show the folly of luxury.
• If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
• If you speak with compassion, you will throw callousness into sharp relief.
• If you are earnest, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
• And if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.
In other words, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12).”
If we put our trust in Jesus and seek to live like Jesus we can expect persecution. But, what are we supposed to do about it?
II. The Response to Persecution or What we do about persecution
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…Blessed are those who are reviled…Rejoice and be glad…” This is hardly the type of response you would expect to show to persecution, but once again Jesus is turning our world upside-down. Jesus doesn’t tell us to retaliate. He doesn’t tell us to simply grin and bear it either. He tells us to rejoice, be glad and be happy.
This is the type of response that we read about in Acts 5 when the Apostles were arrested by the High Priest and called to stand before the Jerusalem Council.
Acts 5:40 When they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
This is the type of response that we see in Paul and Silas when they were chained up (wrist to ankles) in the inner part of the prison in Philippi. They had been attacked earlier in the day. Their clothes had been ripped off and they had been beaten with rods in the middle of the city and then they were thrown in prison. But at midnight they began to pray and then started singing hymns to God. Their long and painful day of persecution led them to a night of rejoicing and singing to the Lord.
Now what is going on in these two passages? How can these men be happy to the point of singing while suffering in pain from persecution? On one hand, they counted it an honor to suffer alongside Jesus. It was a validation of their faith, a mark of the genuineness of their walk with Jesus. But even more, it made them rest their hope completely in Christ and not this world. The aim of the Christian life is not a long, care-free existence with only minor hiccups along the way. The aim is to serve the Lord faithfully until the end and then go to be with Jesus.
Let’s remember that the type of blessedness or happiness that Jesus is talking about here in Matthew 5 is not dependent on the circumstances of life. He is not telling us to be happy that we are undergoing persecution; we aren’t masochists who enjoy being mistreated. Our happiness is rooted in the fact that this world may be taken away from us but we are citizens of the world to come. Our rejoicing is rooted in the fact that we may not see our name written in lights but our names are written in the book of life.
But Jesus’ give us even more reasons to be happy and rejoice.
III. The Reward for the Persecuted
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
Suffering for Jesus doesn’t earn us the Kingdom, only the blood of Christ has the power to secure our eternal life. But in a very real way, suffering persecution validates that we are genuine followers of Christ. Many who hear the message of Jesus rejoice when they first hear it and they appear to jump on board, but when persecution arises they fall away. Others hear the message of Jesus and they are ready to sign on the dotted line, but over time the cares of the world choke out their shallow faith.
Still others will hear the message of Jesus and it will take deep root in their soul. They weather the storms of temptation, they endure the heat of persecution and they grow to produce fruit for the kingdom. Their lives and the fruit of their lives show evidence that the gospel is firmly rooted in their hearts. So, in a sense, persecution is a mark of those who are faithfully following Christ and it gives evidence that we are members of the Kingdom.
But notice that Jesus actually uses the term reward here and it means recognition for our faithful action. The picture that this verse paints is that when we stand before God in Heaven, He will recognize/reward us for having endured the persecution of this life. The recognition is itself the reward and this reward is great. The reward will more than make up for the service rendered.
Perhaps, like Stephen, those who receive the sufferers reward will see Jesus stand at God’s right hand in order to acknowledge our sacrifice and to show His proud support of our faithfulness.
And finally, that brings us to the last point in this passage.
IV. The Company of the Persecuted
12 Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When we suffer persecution for our faith and faithfulness to Christ, we join the line of faithful men and women who have gone before us. The prophets who spoke the Word of God were not perfect men but they were faithful and they faced opposition. Some of them were killed by the very people that God sent them to. But their reward was secure and so is ours.
In Hebrews 11 we read,
32 For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
The world was not worthy to stand alongside these men and women, but persecuted believers are. God’s grace sustained them and it will sustain us as well.
1. What does God want us to understand from this passage? Our natural instinct is to see persecution as a bad thing. Normal human beings don’t enjoy suffering, but there is a type of suffering that is right. There is a type of suffering that shows us that we are following Christ. So let’s remember what Jesus told us:
John 15:20 ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…all these things they will do to you on account of my name,
2. What does God want us to believe? The happiness that our faith in Christ brings goes deeper than the wounds of the world. We can find our joy in Christ despite our circumstances. We can even rejoice and praise God when suffering comes our way. “There is no pit so deep but Christ is deeper still.” – Corrie Ten Boom
3. What does God want us to desire? Christ wants us to desire the Kingdom more than personal comfort. He wants us to set our hearts on the truth and be willing to endure hardship to allow its fruit to be borne in our lives. He wants us to desire righteousness more than the praise of men and to seek to glorify God more than to live a life of worldly pleasure and ease.
4. What would God have us do? Be bold and faithful. He would have us live out our faith with passion and sincerity. He would have us stand for truth against the tide of our worldly culture. He would have us speak the gospel into the lives of others. To be faithful evangelists in a world that needs the gospel. He would have us joyful endure the plundering of our property because we know that we have a greater and more lasting inheritance with Him.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven
 Piper, J. (2007). Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.