The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10)
Part Five

. THE PERSECUTED (Matt. 5:10-12)

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

"The kingdom of heaven belongs only to those who suffer for the sake of goodness, not who are guilty of wrong" (RWP 1:42). "That is, their loyalty to God and his call upon their lives become in turn the cause of their further suffering. To be identified with Jesus and the kingdom is to be in 'the way of righteousness' (cf. 21:32); hence . . . 'on account of righteousness,'"(WBC: 94).

Too often people who have done wrong act as if they have done something meritorious whenever they endure patiently the punishment they have received for their wrong-doing. What is Peter’s response to this attitude (1 Pet. 2:20)?

In that same verse (2:20) what kind of person does Peter praise?

Unfortunately, many Christians compare themselves to Job whenever they are being punished for something they did wrong. I had a close friend who committed a felony. He did wrong. He was so repentant for what he had done. Getting caught changed his life forever. Because of his wrong-doing he suffered humiliation and pretty severe financial loss. I really hurt for the guy. He just couldn’t get a job. Eventually things turned out well for him, but in the meantime he suffered terribly.

During the times of his suffering, though, he continually compared himself to Job. He implied that just as righteous Job had suffered, so he too suffered. There was a major difference, though, between his and Job’s sufferings. Job was suffering because he was a righteous man; my friend was suffering for the precise reason he had committed an unrighteous act, a felony. As much as I loved and even respected that man, he was wrong in his comparison. He was not Job. Moreover, nobody believed his claim that he was like Job. He not only cheapened Job’s story, he made himself look even worse in the eyes of those who knew the truth. Jesus here is referring to righteous suffering, not to unrighteous suffering.

Jesus in verse 11 explains what it means to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of ______________."

Verse 12, that is we are to rejoice and be glad, is true but even truer because not only were the prophets persecuted, not only do you stand shoulder to shoulder with the persecuted prophets, you also stand in the same company with the persecuted Jesus; you stand shoulder to shoulder with Jesus. For this reason we are to "rejoice and be glad." To be in the company not only of the saints but also in the company of Jesus is something to rejoice over, not only in this life but especially in the life to come.

Notice that this not just ordinary joy. Bultmann describes it as "jubilant and thankful exultation. . . . It is indeed the eschatological act of divine salvation which is supremely the theme of rejoicing, as is seen most clearly in the song of Revelation 19:7"—"Let us rejoice and be glad for the _____________ of the Lamb has come and His ___________ has made herself ready" (TDNT 1:20).

Marriages can truly be times of great celebration. Recently, my son married a young lady he met at Baylor. His mom and I were a little nervous about the wedding because unfortunately the element at Baylor he was involved with was not actually the most orthodox Christian element on campus. We were nervous about what kind of ceremony they would put together. Would it honor Christ or was it going to be almost 100% secular? When we heard that the exit song for the ceremony was going to be “When I'm 64” from the Beatles, my wife and I had to swallow really hard.

Well, we were pleasantly surprised? It was one of the most tasteful Christian weddings I had ever been involved in. The minister did a bang-up job. Christ was really honored in the wedding. The reception was tasteful and very classy. I was so proud of Nathan that I came up to him during the reception and said, “Son, I am so glad your middle name is ‘Carey.’” He went, “Dad!” he was so touched. And do you know what? The song “When I'm 64”—played by a bass and cello—was one of the coolest parts of the entire ceremony because it was a challenge for them to love each other not only now but also later, even when they are 64. Pretty cool.

Well, the joy of that marriage ceremony is going to pale to the joy of that future wedding ceremony. That joy is unspeakable. Yet the wonderful thing is this: the joy that we experience in the delightful squeals of a child, in the merriment of a wedding, in the laughing of teenagers making merry are true tastes of the ultimate joy we shall experience on the last day, on the day of the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.

Why are we not persecuted today? We excuse our lack of persecution by claiming that we are living in a Christian society which has erased all forms of religious persecution. Whoever makes that claim is probably not living on our planet, and definitely not in our country. The reason most of us are never persecuted is that we compromise consistently with the world; the world is not threatened by us at all. The only Christian groups which are being castigated by the press are those who are taking a stand, the Roman Catholics and Fundamentalist Christians.

Just ask yourself the following questions: Are you truly following Christ in each and every area of your life? Are your business dealings honoring Christ, or do you compromise? Do you go along in order to get along? Do you refuse to rock the boat in order to keep peace within the church or in the city? Are you members of certain groups in order to be successful in life, or are you choosing paths in your life which in the eyes of the world is beneath you? Do you laugh at jokes when you should be embarrassed by them? Do you cut down other people in order to look good in front of others? Do you ask people who are using crude language to tone it down? If not, then you really shouldn't be surprised that you are not persecuted.

Notice that the promise of the kingdom of heaven is given both at the beginning of the Beatitudes (5:3) and at the end (5:10). Verses 3 and 10 serve as bookends, that is everything in between must characterize the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. When it is all said and done, the true citizen of the kingdom of heaven, the one upon whom God's blessing (beatitude) falls is the one who is poor in spirit, mournful, gentle, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, and persecuted. These are not suggested characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven; they are requirements. If they are not true in your or my life, then how in the world can we ever claim to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven? To claim to be a citizen of the kingdom without having these attributes in your or my life means that we are sellers of the cheap grace which Bonhoeffer so powerfully rails against.

AND NOW FROM BONHOEFFER: From the Beatitudes

"This does not refer to the righteousness of God [the righteousness we receive when we first become Christians], but to suffering in a just cause, suffering for their own judgements and actions. For it is by these that they who renounce possessions, fortune, rights, righteousness, honour, and force for the sake of following Christ, will be distinguished from the world. The world will be offended at them, and so the disciples will be persecuted for righteousness' sake. Not ______________, but ______________, is the reward they get from the world for their message and works. It is important that Jesus gives his blessing not merely to suffering incurred directly for the confession of his name, but to suffering in any just cause. They receive the same promise as the poor, for in persecution they are their equals in poverty."