Blessed Are the Persecuted

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Standard;Lia is a preteen from Canada who decided to speak out against abortion in her school's speech contest, despite teachers and school officials who encouraged her to pick a different topic.

Lia was told by school officials that if she chose the topic of abortion, she would not be allowed to participate.

Initially, she was disqualified, but later the panel declarerd her the winner. She had been asked to take out the following portion from her speech, “fetuses are definitely humans knit together in their mother's womb by their wonderful Creator who knows tham all by name.” She refused.

Her speech has been placed on You Tube and has been viewed by over 200,000 people!

Mt 5:10,11 – 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.”

But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, until there was no remedy.” ( 2 Chron. 36:16)  Chilling words! What happens when there is no remedy, no cure?  God brings judgement.

I think this is what Peter was getting at in 2 Pet 3:11,12 as he talked about the final Day of Judgment. “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the Day of God.”

This beatitude reminds us that part of living holy and godly lives is taking stands for righteousness. As we take these stands and insist on God's truth persecution will come. And when it comes, God's wrath will be stirred, until there is no remedy, and then the end will come.  And so we have a role to play in the culmination of all things, and that role is getting off our butts and taking stands for righteousness' sake.

We need to be out there, witnessing by living holy and godly lives in word and deed, hastening the coming Day of the Lord.

In the Book of Revelation we read of the “souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth. Then  they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” (Rev 6:9-11)

The Day of Judgement will come when the number of martyrs have been fulfilled. But if we keep will there be any martyrs? The biblical definition of martyrs is “witnesses,” Martyrs are those who witness to the truth of God. They have not remained silent.

The evidence of their witness is persecution, persecution that comes in the form of verbal assisination, or any degree of physical persecution which may even mean tortuous death.
And so when you take heat because you have witnessed for Jesus in word or deed. Your thoughts should turn heavenward, Rejoice! Jump for joy! For the Day has become that much closer when you will share in the rewards of the prophets who have gone before you bearing witness to the truth of God's Word!

The Apostles of the New Testament took heat because of their insistence that Jesus is the only way to salvation. The Old Testament prophets took heat because they confronted sin. Both areas need our bold and consistent witness today.

It's George Washington's birthday today and I ran across a quote from him that I think is relevant  

"It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn." George Washington  

This quote could be applied to Christians as well, “It should be the highest ambition of every Christian to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his witness will not only affect himself, but also the spiritual climate of his environment, and his family. What the church does with it's biblical role of witnessing will stamp spiritual happiness or spiritual misery on ages yet unborn.

The problem with peacemakers who bring their witness to bear in the world is they are viewed as troublemakers to those who do not respond to their efforts to unite them with God through turning away from sin and trusting in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.   Hence, the persecution.

It;s interesting that sometimes the pointing out of sinful behavior is accomplished without saying a word. When we begin to live out the graces of the beatitudes, it is inevitable that we will seem different to the world.

As God fills you with the righteousness that you hunger and thirst for, you will be noticeably different. The world sees your godly behavior as criticism of their lifestyle, and they won't like it, they will lash back at you.
We are pesecuted because as we live out Christ wrought righteousness, we are constant reminders to unbelievers of their sin.

Well, wear the badge of persecution with joy, for it is your “Hello, my name is tag in heaven.” The fact that people put the heat on you because of Christ's imputed righteousness is proof that you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Stott, in his book on the beatitudes says, “Persecution is a token of genuiness....a certificate of Christian authenticity.”

The Concordia self-study commentary says, “To be on the path of suffering (for the sake of righteousness) is to be on the road to the Kingdom.  Lenski says the wounds and hurts (of the persecuted) are medals of honor.

Are we on the road to the Kingdom? Are we genuine? When's the last time you received heat for being unbending concerning the Word of God?

I find it notable that when Christians do nice things for the world, the world generally treats us well. And of course we should do nice things for them as we shall see as we go through the rest of the sermon on the mount.

But, when does the persecution come? When does the trash talking begin? It begins when we insist that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and when the Holy Spirit starts convicting people of their sin through the words we speak and the life we live.

That's when it comes, and if we are not experiencing it....something is wrong with our walk.  Luke 6:26 says, “Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Our Christianity is not to be hidden.  Stop being silent about who and what you believe in.  And in the very next verses in Matthew,  He tells us we are to be salt and light in this world.
I think we have come to a critical time in the church. Are we going to let a little intimidation from the world keep us from speaking out? Are we going to be content with just being Mr. Nice Guy, ignoring damnable sins. Are we going to become weary because we don't seem to be making a difference?

Listen, God's standards of righteousness and way of salvation have not changed....we have. We sometimes think the world is becoming more tolerant of us, but they will never be more tolerant.....the devil's standards don't change either. He is forever opposed to the righteousness of God.  In reality, we have become more accepting of the world.

What changes is the church, for whatever reason we weary of calling sin, sin, and declaring that Jesus is the only way of salvation. We seek peace when there is no peace.  

In this beatitude, we have a veiled  warning from Jesus. If we are not being persecuted, we have slipped back under the bushel basket, or we have diluted His message, and have moved dangerously close to being conformed to the world. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Make your mind new! Test what is being said by the church today! What are we saying about Jesus being the only way? What are we saying about fornication? Divorce and remarriage? Homosexuality? Abortion? Does it match up with what the Scriptures say? Do our actions match up with what Scripture says?      

I quote from a story in the Post Crescent this week: The nation's largest Lutheran denomination will consider allowing individual congregations to choose whether to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy, an attempt to avoid the sort of infighting that has threatened to tear other churches apart.

Someone needs to tell the ELCA that homosexuality is a sin. Someone needs to direct their attention to 1 Cor 6:9-11a -  Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,
 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you

The church is not to be looking for ways to accommodate homosexuals, we are to be looking for ways to deliver them!
They want to avoid “infighting?” We should be praying for the infighters. Praying for those inside that church body who are fighting this. As we said last week, peace at the expense of truth isn't really peace.

Now, it's not that we purposely go out and look for need to. This beatitude tells us that when we take a stand for Jesus and righteousness.....the heat will automatically come. It has to, because your stand riles up the enemy of God, the devil, and he will strike back with a vengeance through the mouths and hands of unwitting pawns.

Sometimes we think, if we just blend in with the world, we'll be able to sneak in the gospel every now and then. Well, God doesn't need sneaks. He doesn't need people sneaking around with bushel baskets over their head! He needs people showing a better way. Did Jesus blend in with the tax collectors when He hung out with them? Or did He stand out as an alternative?  

Mix in yes, but don't blend in. This will result in raised eyebrows, words spoken behind your back,  and even social isolation as you refuse to laugh at the world's jokes, or join in the character assasination of others around the water cooler, or spend your entertainment dollar on filth and blaspemy, or challenging people on their use of language or lifestyle.  

Yes, persecution will come when you take a stand against abortion, lodgery,  homosexuality, divorce, or divorce and remarriage, or fornication, but the secret to coping with persecution and not being loved by the world is to look beyond this life and into the next. Focus on heaven!

“For all the hatred that can be poured out by the enemies cannot be measured against, cannot come into consideration in comparison with the reward of grace in heaven.”  Kretzmann.

A paraphrase: How fortunate are those who are willing to endure being pursued with harmful intent on account of they belong to Christ by faith. For they will enjoy the benefits of fellowship with God.  Indeed, how fortunate are Jesus' disciples when men rail at them and pursue them with harmful intent, and speak shamefully and untruthfully about them. Be calmly happy and jump for joy, when this happens because you share in the reward of the prophets.  
If you insist on Jesus being the only way to heaven, and if you take stands for righteousness's sake, you will be hounded with intent to harm. Either your character, or your livelihood, or your physical body will receive abuse.

Before the Apostle Paul was converted  he “ravaged the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3)  Then in Acts 9:1,2  we read, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

This is very instructive, in that we know why these people were persecuted. They held to “the Way.”  Capital W. What Way? Jesus as the only Way to the Father. This stirred up rage in Saul and it will stir up rage in those around us today as we keep insisting on the truth of John 14:6.

We also need to speak up and challenge willful sin. John the Baptist is a classic example of persecution that comes from challenging sin. We read about it in Mark 6:17, “For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodius, his brother Phillip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, it is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.”

Marriage is permanent. The Bible makes it clear here that Herodius was still considered Phillip's wife. You cannot go out and marry someone else's mate. John was being persecuted for taking this stand on the permanence of marriage, and undergirding the teaching of Jesus that the divorced are not to remarry.

John the Baptist was dealing with a powerful man here, but it didn't stop him from calling sin, sin. Such a stand on behalf of the permanence of marriage likely won't cost you your head, but it will cost.  Take the stand anyway. Stand against sin, whenever and wherever you see it. But remember the goal is always peace.....reconciliation with God.

That's another interseting aspect of John the Baptist's confrontations with Herod. In Luke 3:19 we read “But Herod, the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodius, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.”

John had other issues with Herod's lifestyle and he challenged them.  Do you think John had a personal vendetta against Herod? Or do you think he had a desire to reconcile him with God? I would say it would be the latter, John saw the things that were separating Herod from God and sought to restore him as he lovingly pointed them out.
John cared about the soul of Herod. Is  it any wonder that the Bible said Herod was sorry for killing John, and that he was so haunted by the death of John the Baptist. He knew John cared.

It's funny how your mind races when you confront sin. It takes off faster than Elijah did when he confronted that wicked Jezebel and Ahab.  You start imagining all the worst things that can happen to you, and many times it will keep you from bringing the matter up. Fight that tendency. Speak the truth and let God handle the outcome.

We often think, “aw, what good will it do? They'll think I'm crazy. They won't change. They'll tell others and they will mock me. But listen, who knows, your pointing out of sin may lead to salvation or help someone to avoid a huge mistake.  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Mt 18:15)

And of course there is a stern warning in Ezekiel that we should not overlook as it concerns confronting sin. .

 Eze 3:18 "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
 19 "Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
 20 "Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.
 21 "Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul."
We have a responsibility to warn the wicked and the righteous who have committed iniquity. These warnings will either lead to reconciliation, peace with God, or war against you. Speak and hope for the best. At least you have done your part.

Peter's epistles were written to believers who were experiencing tremendous persecution, and in 1 Pe 4:12-14, we have a loose paraphrase of this beatitude.  Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;  13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.  14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

One of the reasons persecution comes is through ignorance. That's why Jesus asked the Father to forgive His persecutors because they did not know what they were doing.  Peter speaking to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost concerning their sin of crucifying Jesus said,

Acts 3:17  - And now brothers I know that you acted in ignorance as did also you rulers.

Paul writing to Timothy said the same thing.
1 Tim 1:13,  though formerly I was a blasphener, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.”

The way to combat ignorance is to become well-versed in Scripture yourself. When you confront someone with truth, sin, be sure to have the Bible passages ready, then pray that the Holy Spirit will work in those words to bring about conviction and repentance and reconciliation. Use the Word of God! Trust in its power!

This persecution brought on by our insistence of Jesus being the way to heaven and the way to live is vital. It is part of the works that prove we have a living faith.

Rom 8:17, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

2 Tim 2:12 – If we endure with Him we will also reign with Him, if we deny Him, He also will deny us.”

Jesus gave us and His disciples the charge to be witnesses for all time before He ascended into heaven. When He said, “ But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my martyrs (witnesses....same word!) in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”

Feeling a little weak-kneed in your willingness to express the truth that Jesus is the only way, or getting ready to bail out before confronting sin? Then go to the Holy Spirit and ask for His power! To do it in your own strength is foolish anyway.

I think if we were honest we would all say that we have fallen short in this arena of confronting sin and the declaration of Jn 14:6. So what do we do about it? I propose that we confess it as sin, the sin of being ashamed of the Lord and His Words, and then ask God to show us opportunities to speak to these matters.  Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

They may be close to home in our own families. They may be at the school board, or in the newspaper, or at the water cooler at work, or outside the abortion clinic in Grand Chute. There is no shortage of opportunities, just a seeming shortage of willingness and courage on our part to be martyrs. .

We pray:

Oh God, we are so easily subdued by the devil, the world, and our flesh in this vital area of witnessing to Your truth. Give us the courage to not remain silent. Help us to cast off the bushel basket and let our light so shine befoire men. Give us the power to speak and live Your truth with love.

How fortunate are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.