Persecuted for Righteousness

Persecuted for Righteousness [TRANSCRIPT]

In John 15:18-20 Jesus said,
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 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, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they followed My word, they will follow yours also.

1 Timothy 3:12 says,
Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

1 Peter 4:12-17 says,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though something strange were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that at the revelation of His glory you may also rejoice and be overjoyed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, and of God, rests upon you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Revelation 2:9-10 to the Church of Smyrna Jesus said,
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the slander by those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

In Matthew 5:10 Jesus said,
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Persecuted for the sake of righteousness? What does that mean? And why would Jesus say that such persons are Blessed? Why is it important today for a faithful follower of Jesus to understand what Jesus is talking about in this Beatitude?

It’s very interesting in our current culture to bring up the subject of persecution. The reason I say this is because so much attention in the media today is focused on victimhood. Social media and other media forms are filled with individuals and people groups who are declaring to be victims of some form of discrimination or mistreatment. It has almost become a badge of honor to be able to claim a ranking in the hierarchy of victims. The cries of “Woe is me for I am being mistreated because I am …” and then fill in the blank.

In all of these the clear focus is on the individual themselves or group themselves. They are myopic and sadly pitiful while at the same time angry and vindictive in its seeking justification and demands to makes things right. The mistreated want self-satisfying justice that is never truly really satisfied because daily new groups are lining up to grab their spot and get their reprisal.

Now, contrast that with what Jesus said to His followers. He tells them that there is a happiness a Blessedness that will be theirs for being persecuted. Now, it only takes a short glance in the past and even the present to provide examples of persecution of God’s people. Are they persecuted because they are victims of being members of a class or political thought group? I want us to examine what Jesus says in this next of the Beatitudes and see the contrast and discover the reason Jesus provides as to why His followers have and will encounter persecution.

Now, as I mentioned, we live in a climate where being mistreated or better said, seeing oneself as being mistreated or persecuted is almost a participation sport. This kind of thinking can and even does enter into the context of the Christian faith. We live in a world full of conflict. It’s easy to be on opposing sides of countless disputes between groups or causes. The Us versus Them is an old and ancient conflict and more so today.

In that context, I want us to have a clear understanding of what Jesus is declaring in this Beatitude. So, to begin with I want us to understand what He is not saying to His followers. To begin with, He is not saying “Blessed are those who are persecuted…for being difficult or objectional.  Any person can make themselves the object of conflict by being difficult while wrapping themselves in a mantel of Christianity. There is no claim to commendation to a proclaimed believer if they encounter persecution for being a person who causes unnecessary difficulty in their conduct and demeanor.

Jesus also doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because…they are fanatical. Fanaticism doesn’t gain anyone spiritual points. Because someone screams out AMEN, doesn’t mean they are more spiritual. Fanaticism on its own can lead to persecution absent any substance of a true walk seen in the earlier Beatitudes. There’s a reason Jesus said that we are to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” We are to beware of any action which brings attention to ourselves rather than to the presence of God in our lives. When Jesus describes us as the light of the world, He told us that we should “let our light shine in such a way that men would see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.” If we claim any fanaticism in our lives let it be as we hunger and thirst after righteousness. Chase God not attention.

Jesus also doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…for a cause. There is no shortage of causes today. There are humanitarian causes, environmental causes, political causes and on and on. People today have joined themselves to a multitude of causes in order to give themselves a sense of meaning and purpose. It makes people feel good to attach themselves to causes. People are applauded for being a part of causes. People wear colors and symbols and colored wristbands to declare their cause. But righteousness is not a cause.  We’ve looked at that already. It is a condition, a way of life lived in right relation with God. It is being Right with God.

Very closely connected with this is to point out that Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…for being good, noble and self-sacrificing. You see, while each of these can be clearly seen in a follower of Christ, the world views these in a different way than a child of God. Like the other things I’ve pointed to, being good, noble, and self-sacrificing are characteristics that the world applauds and admires. Heroic figures in history have displayed these and are admired and remembered for it. But we have to understand that this is not what Jesus is talking about in this Beatitude.

So, what is Jesus talking about when He talks about being Persecuted for Righteousness? Well, firstly it means Being Like Him. In John 15:18-20 Jesus said,
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 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, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they followed My word, they will follow yours also.

Walking rightly with God is to walk as He walked. It’s Him living His life in us. Therefore, Jesus said that as you do that in the world will hate you because it hated Him. When Jesus came into the world the world rejected and it hated Him. God’s presence has and always will disturb the world. The world is ruled by dark forces and is inhabited by sinful persons, so it has always reacted this way. God’s prophets were resisted, arrested and killed for the same reason. It should not surprise any of us that God’s light upsets the darkness. And so, Jesus tells His followers to not be surprised by it. 1 Timothy 3:12 says it. “Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

The persecution often comes from political authorities as well. Politics is about power, about getting it and keeping it. The more power it gets the more power it desires. The followers of Christ have one Lord that has supreme authority over their lives. Over and over again in history, human authorities have persecuted those who would not yield that supreme authority over to them. You see, no tyrant or tyrannical ruler can abide anyone who has an authority in their life which calls their authority into question. The believer claims that Jesus is Lord over heaven and earth. He alone holds the hearts of His people captive under His rein.

A Christian can live righteously in any governmental or political setting. I’ve seen it. So, it is NOT anti-government. We are told to obey authorities, to live as good citizens. But governments cannot require a loyalty from us greater than that of God. If it seeks to ask what we cannot give, it can and may come against us. We may very well be persecuted for living rightly before our God. We saw this several times in the book of Daniel and also among the Christ’s followers in the book of Acts.

The direction also of this persecution may not be restricted to the world. The religious attacked Jesus and that attack may also come from the religious against us. Religion like politics can become a sphere of power that seeks to protect its interest. We saw this when Jesus came and history testifies that this can sometimes be the case. It is sad but true and should not surprise us.
As followers of Christ we’re part of a different kingdom. We are part of a story written by the hand of God and it is proceeding in a direction determined by God. It is a long story and each of us are to play a part in that story. As we live out our part, we trust completely for the part we are called to play.

1 Peter 4:12-17 says,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though something strange were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that at the revelation of His glory you may also rejoice and be overjoyed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, and of God, rests upon you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

You see, we may be in a part of the story, of history where it really gets bad. If we share in the sufferings of Christ, know that God sees and He knows. Let none of us be surprised or ashamed. He says that the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us at such a time. If we suffer, we are to make sure it is for the right reason.

Jesus tells us that those who suffer for righteousness are blessed and “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We live on this earth, but this is not our final home or the place of our ultimate loyalty. And even though we may face persecution, the Lord promises a kingdom which is not of this world, a better place, a wonderful place.

But our Lord is also truthful. And we see this in the letter He sent to the early church which still speaks to us today. I’m referring to the letter to the Church in Smyrna found in Rev. 2:9-10.
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the slander by those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

I can imagine that the hardest part of being persecuted is a sense that you are alone and forgotten. Jesus writes to the persecuted Church and He tells them, “I know your tribulation.” He sees and He knows all about what’s going on. And He’s honest about telling the saints what is coming. It’s like telling someone, “This is going to hurt, but don’t be afraid. I’m with you.” Not only that, but He tells them that it will end, so be faithful until the end, even if the end is death. And then the Lord makes a promise, “I have something for you. A crown of life.” It makes all the difference to the persecuted saint to know that the Lord sees and knows and is right there.

I have a friend. His name is John. I met him in seminary along with his family. He has been in my home and I’ve had him preach in my church. He and his family were exiled from the then Communist Romania. His father was arrested and killed by the secret police. He told one how once he sat in his kitchen table and looked out the window and the secret police were watching him as they surveilled his home. He said he looked down at his meal and smiled. He remembered the verse in Psalm 23, “He prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies.

I remember him telling me how he was arrested, interrogated, and beaten. He me told how the guards who beat him pleaded with him. They said they didn’t want to do it. If he would just deny the Lord, they wouldn’t have to beat him any longer. Of course, he didn’t. They beat him. They made him wipe his own blood off the walls.

As I listened to him, I trembled and looked at him in amazement. He saw the look on my face and simply said, “I’m a just a man, a simple man.” Just a simple man.

The kingdom of heaven is made up of simple people following an extraordinary Lord. And He takes those simple people who will follow Him, live for Him and takes them on a journey within His providence. And sometimes that journey will put us in harm’s way, even unto death. But we are never alone. Our Master sees, He knows and He is with us.

This is a wonderful truth when we find ourselves in a dark place.
And it’s a Truth that Matters.

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