Sunday, November 27, 2016

Matthew 5:10-12, The Blessed Life, p. 4

Matthew 5:10-12 - The Blessed Life, p. 4

“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.”

How well do you KNOW yourself?  Do you know what sort of person you are? Not what you WANT US to see… not the YOU when circumstances are ideal. Who are you when you are caught off guard or the situation gets hard?  THAT person… is the REAL you.

C. S. Lewis used to teach that surprising-circumstances have a way of revealing the ‘real person.’  He wrote,

“Surely what a man does when he is caught off his guard is the best evidence of what sort of man he is. If there are rats in the cellar, you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly and turn on the lights. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding.

In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me ill-tempered; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I really am.”

We tell ourselves - ‘that CAN’T be true?!?’  In a day devoid of character, we think it is ‘unfair’ to hold ourselves to such a difficult standard.  But who you are when no one is looking - integrity - character… matters.

So, WHAT does THIS have to do with our beatitude about Christian persecution?  ⇒ Everything.

We are called to carry our faith into a world devoid of faith… to be LIGHT where there is only darkness.  Before we came to know Christ, we were of THIS world… comfortable in our sin and content to stay that way… we were “friends of the world.” We belonged.

But SOMEONE cared enough to introduce us to Christ, and our whole world changed.  NOW we can’t imagine going back to the old life.  Though we are FAR from perfect, we ARE clean, our hearts are full of love and hope, and we accept the challenge to live right-side-up in an upside-down world.  We are filled with a new concern for those we know who are OUTSIDE of Christ.  We feel compelled by the Holy Spirit of God to share our faith hoping that SOMEONE might believe our message and be saved.

But when we go out into our world, rather than welcoming our testimonies and embracing our message, we face ridicule and rejection.  People are not interested in what we have to say.  In fact, they say hateful things about our motives and call into question our character.  They marginalize us by calling us ‘bible-loving-hicks’ – homophobes – racists.  

How  will you respond when our message of God’s love seems trumped by worldly hate??  Will we withdraw to our little Christian communities and lick our wounds?  Sunday’s have become therapy sessions for those persecuted by the world… the church, rather than permeating and changing culture, has become a culture unto itself - isolated from the world we are called to reach.

We can get MAD about it.  We might get discouraged and STOP witnessing.  What SHOULD our response BE?  Jesus shows us in today’s ‘beautiful attitude.’  Notice 3 truths:
1. First, The REALITY we see here. - The Lord was a realist.  He knew that the work He had come to do would be unpopular.  He knew it would lead to his own death and to bitter hostility for His followers.  Instead of being surprised by the world’s reaction to the gospel and to us, we are to EXPECT IT.  - - - Persecution - - - Is REAL.

According to a recent CNN article, record numbers of Christians have been tortured and murdered for their faith in Christ.  Last year alone, over 7,000 Christians were killed for simply loving Jesus.  That is up a whopping 3,000 from the previous year.  

I could understand that hostility:
  • If Christians were bad people -
  • if they strapped bombs to their children and put them on buses loaded with innocent people.  
  • I could understand this persecution IF Christians were cutting off the heads of those who refuse to follow Jesus.  

But THAT isn’t the case.  Often We are hated for simply doing right and loving people!

The typical American response is that Christianity receives protected status in this country.  That, if anything, Christians are catered to - NOT ‘persecuted.’

But last year alone, courts fined Christians thousands of dollars for refusing to participate in homosexual marriages… Christian bakers, florists, and venue owners who felt it a violation of their religious convictions were convicted of violating human rights, fined, and in some cases, lost their businesses altogether.

Christian persecution is real.  When the government tells Christian health organizations that they MUST provide the abortion pill to clients. .. you can believe that persecution is happening HERE!

But not every difficulty we face should be labeled ‘persecution.’
  • Just because someone stole your lunch out of the office frig, doesn’t mean that you are being persecuted.  
  • Just because someone beat you to the last sale item on Black Friday,
  • or cut you off in traffic,
doesn’t mean that you are being persecuted.  

Jesus offers a qualifier (actually 2), when he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake…” and “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you FALSELY on my account.”

So, what kind of reaction will this world have to your love for Jesus?  Jesus said you can expect:

  • Insults - that’s what the word “revile” means.  They will question your motives and associate YOU with all that is BAD in the world.  The literal translation of the word is “to show one’s teeth.”  - UHHHHH I HATE YOU!! They will call you intolerant and bigoted.

  • You can expect Persecution - the word used here means “to aggressively chase like a hunter pursues his prey... to hunt down.”  Jesus is telling us that SOME PEOPLE will make it their life’s ambition to discredit and embarrass you.  They will scrutinize your every thought and action - finding fault - exposing you.

  • AND you can expect misrepresentation - they will lie, they will willfully misrepresent your views to discredit you in front of others… others you are trying to reach.

Jesus is not being pessimistic in the general sense of the word.  He is preparing you for the same hostility HE faced in this world.  Serving Jesus isn’t all unicorns and cotton-candy clouds.  Persecution is a reality.

2. Next there is the RESPONSE we see here.  Instead of reacting negatively to the unjust treatment we experience, instead of defending ourselves and setting our opponents straight, Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad.” When people talk about us, when people make us the butt of jokes, when we are shouted down or denied a promotion BECAUSE of our faith - REJOICE and be GLAD!

I know it wasn’t what we signed up for.  The day we met Jesus, everyone in the church seemed so happy for us.  Scriptures even tell us that there is JOY in the presence of ANGELS over one sinner who repents.  We had never felt so relieved, so clean, so happy before.  But almost as soon as we stepped back into our daily routine, we faced hostility for our new commitment to follow Jesus.  

What should our attitude be when we don’t get the response we were looking for??  Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad.”

Is that even possible?  I know it is because we have accounts of it in the Bible.  Possible?  Yes.  Easy?  No.

Take the NT character Stephen, as an example.  By all accounts, he was a man of HIGHEST character.  He was chosen to the position of Deacon because of the obvious presence of the Spirit in his life.  He was a man of particular humility and grace.  But as he preached his first sermon to those who needed Christ, they reacted exactly the way Jesus said they would:
  • they showed their teeth,
  • they stopped their ears,
  • and they stoned him to death.

Not quite the reaction we were looking for when we started sharing this precious… important message.

But as they pummelled him with stones, Stephen looked toward heaven and begged the Lord to forgive them for what they were doing.  Acts 7 explains, “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

  • Grace, you see, makes it possible to love your enemies.  

  • Jesus IN you enables you to pray for and be kind to those who mistreat you.  

And according to Jesus, we should rejoice when these bad things happen because we are in good company.  Jesus said the prophets were persecuted like this too – and we know that JESUS was hated.  He even told us that since the world hated HIM, it would also hate us.  That’s pretty good company, I’d say.  It indicates were are doing something right.  Paul ALSO told us, that those who live godly lives “will be persecuted.”
But WHY??  Why are we rejected?  Why are we mistreated for wanting to help people??  It’s because of who we represent.  When the light of Christ enters the room, people are instantly aware of their sin.  As Jesus said, “light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”  People don’t like US and what we STAND FOR because the Holy Spirit is convicting them.

We can be rejoice and be glad because our stand is in keeping with Jesus and the prophets - and we know it honors Him.

3. And then third… after the reality and the response, we see The REWARD.  Jesus said that our reward is “GREAT.”  It means, “great in AMOUNT… great in QUANTITY.”  And the word “reward” can be understood as “COMPENSATION.”  Any losses you sustain, any sacrifices you have to make for Jesus - WILL BE COMPENSATED.  

I think most Christians know that.  I think we all understand that one day we will see heaven and the things we suffered in THIS life will PALE in comparison to the reward we will receive in heaven.

That’s not the problem.  

The problem is that we place more value on the HERE AND NOW than we do THE SWEET BY AND BY.  We put a higher premium on TODAY - on IMMEDIATE gratification - I mean, just look at our culture - everything is geared toward getting what you want NOW!

But there’s something you need to understand about the NOW.  It is temporary.  It is passing.  And the joy or happiness we receive from this world - the pleasure we get from sin - will soon be gone.  Then what??

For the Christian, our hope must be in something more permanent than this world can offer.  When our hope is fixed on THAT prize, all our sacrifices will seem insignificant.  We need to run this race in such a way as to win the prize at the end!

A world-class runner was invited to compete in a road race in Connecticut. On the morning of the race, she drove from New York City, following the directions -- or so she thought -- given her over the telephone. She got lost, stopped at a gas station, and asked for help. She knew that the race started in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The station attendant also knew of such a race scheduled just up the road and directed her there.

When she arrived she was relieved to see in the parking lot a modest number of runners preparing to compete. Not as many as she'd anticipated; so it would be an easier race than she'd been led to expect. She hurried to the registration desk, announced herself, and was surprised by the race officials' excitement at having so renowned an athlete show up for their race. No, they had no record of her entry, but if she'd hurry and put on this number, she could just make it before the gun goes off. She ran and, naturally, she won easily, some four minutes ahead of the fasted male runner who came in second place.

Only after the race-- when there was no envelope containing her prize money-- did she realize that the event she'd run was not the race to which she'd been invited. THAT RACE was being held several miles farther up the road in another town. She'd gone to the wrong starting line, run the wrong course, and missed her chance to win the prize.

What a sad analogy of those in this world who think they are running for a prize - and that they are running well in comparison to others - only to realize in the end that they are running the wrong race.

What race are YOU running?

  • Jesus prepares us for the REALITY we will face - many of the people you encounter don’t want to hear what you have to say - and worse - they will persecute you for it.

  • But He also tells us what our RESPONSE should be - we should respond in grace, REJOICING, knowing that ultimately God is honored when we do the right thing.

  • AND he tells us that ANY SACRIFICE we make, any opposition we endure, will be REWARDED.  Our hope - isn’t HERE - it’s THERE, with the Lord and it is eternal.

So how about you today?  In a crowd this size, there are probably two or three reactions:
  • You might be suffering hardship right now - whether at home or on the job, BECAUSE of your faith in Christ.  And because of that, you need God’s help to get through it.
  • OR, you might be thinking, I am a Christian, but I haven’t suffered persecution.  And it MIGHT BE that you have kept your faith PRIVATE.  And God is speaking to you about having the necessary courage to be vocal about your faith.  Why don’t YOU come pray for that boldness?
  • OR you might be here, realizing, you have been running the WRONG  race.  That you have been living for self, thinking that all is well, only to realize there is no prize at the end.  In fact, there is only disappointment waiting for you.  Why not give your heart to Christ this morning?  Why not ask Him to forgive you of your sin, to live in your heart and give you new life?

Whatever your need this morning, NOW is your chance to respond...