Friday, September 5, 2008

Matthew 5:10 Joy in spite of persecution

When we do something wrong, we shouldn’t act surprised or wounded when we are punished. That is a lesson I am trying to teach my children—actions have consequences. However, when a person tries to punish us for something that we didn’t do wrong, when we’ve been falsely accused, it is easy to become defensive. The worst kind of situation, however, is when we’ve actually done the right thing and someone tries to give us grief about it. As we try to live the Christian life, we may in fact have to endure persecution. Depending on where we live in this world, we can not only guarantee persecution will happen but that it will often times be violent. Jesus, knowing this, gives this last pronouncement of blessing upon those who would prove themselves to be true by enduring persecution for standing up for the truth.

It is important to observe here that the other beatitudes that have been listed are the result of the believer being changed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Because Christ now dwells in our heart, we recognize our spiritual poverty, mourn over our sin, and desire to be God controlled rather than self controlled. We have a new spiritual appetite and forgive others because we have been forgiven of so much by our gracious God. Because of the Holy Sprit, we now are clean in the deepest part of ourselves. We also seek not only to live in peace with others but more importantly we seek to share with them how they can have peace with God. These changes in our character, due to the Holy Spirit, are positive and noble. We should be esteemed by the world as great citizens and neighbors because we are a blessing to others. We should be welcomed because we have been made into new creatures of the most pleasant kind who exhibit such admirable qualities.

This, as you and I know, is not the case. In fact, becoming a Christian and being conformed more to the likeness of our Savior is more likely to cause us to lose friends rather than gain them. Jesus foreshadows this when He says that those who are spiritually happy (Blessed) are “persecuted”. The word “persecuted” translates a Greek word “dioko” (1377) which means literally “to pursue”. The idea is that of being chased. As Paul says in Philippians 3:14 “I press on (dioko) toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” However, the persecution does not come for having done anything wrong but rather is the result of exhibiting godly character and actions. Jesus says this persecution comes “for the sake of righteousness”. Why would the world do this, we might ask. I mean, if we truly are living peacefully in this world and showing the love Jesus by sharing the gospel why would the world responds with such hate? I believe our answer is in John 3:19-20 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” The world hates us and will persecute us, then, because the truth that we speak and live is a testimony against the evil that is in their hearts. Our presence makes them uncomfortable because of the truth that we reflect.

How can we have hope in the midst of this persecution? When our lives, homes, families, or freedoms are threatened, what can we cling to that will give us peace? Jesus says here that the blessing for those who are persecuted, not for doing wrong but for righteousness, is that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Again, Matthew takes care not to offend his Jewish audience by referring to the kingdom of God although that is certainly what he means. Those whose rights are disregarded and are pursued by those who with to do them harm will find rest. While they are strangers in this world, they will have a permanent home in heaven where they will no longer be persecuted. It is all too easy for us to become discouraged when we hear about or experience persecution due to the name of Christ. However, as the apostle John says in Revelation, our example is “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (1:5) The rulers of this world might imagine that they have power over us and can torment us because of our faith in Christ, but in the end the jokes on them because He is the one really in control. We may be persecuted here but our home in heaven is forever. We will notice more specifically in the next two verses how we are persecuted and how we will be truly blessed when we get to heaven. Until then, I pray God will use this truth to encourage you to remain faithful as you serve Him where you are.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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