“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble” (Matthew 5:10-12, The Message)
I have never suffered for my faith. When I consider what the martyrs of the church had to endure, I’m embarrassed to say that I have only been ridiculed, laughed at, and even pushed off of a porch by an irate husband once, when witnessing to his wife, but that’s minor by comparison with the martyrs of history.
Through the ages many believers have been martyred for their testimony for Christ. Interestingly, the word “martyr” is the basic Greek word used in the New Testament which is translated “witness.” Therefore, when Jesus said, “you shall be witnesses unto me” He is saying “you shall be martyrs…” The Bible promises, “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). And the Message paraphrases this verse, “Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there’s no getting around it.”
Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He was speaking the truth about Jesus Christ. Not only did he tell the truth about Jesus but he condemned Israel for their rejection and persecution of the prophets. Listen to him:
“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels. The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!’ Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died” (Acts 7:51-60 NLT).
The Apostles and early Christian writers suffered persecution.
•Matthew suffered martyrdom by being slain with a sword at a distant city of Ethiopia.
•Mark expired at Alexandria, after being cruelly dragged through the streets of that city.
•Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in the classic land of Greece.
•John was put in a caldron of boiling oil, but escaped death in a miraculous manner, and was afterward banished to Patmos.
•Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward.
•James, the Greater, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
•James, the Less, was thrown from a lofty pinnacle of the temple, and then beaten to death with a fuller's club.
•Bartholomew was flayed alive.
•Andrew was bound to a cross, whence he preached to his persecutors until he died.
•Thomas was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel in the East Indies (India?)–js.
•Jude was shot to death with arrows.
•Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded.
•Barnabas of the Gentiles was stoned to death at Salonica.
•Paul, after various tortures and persecutions, was at length beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero. –theexaminer.org
(I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this list as there are several versions of the Apostle’s deaths. But rest assured that everyone was martyred, with the possible exception of John, who was exiled to the Isle of Patmos-js)
We cannot continue without including the martyrdom of Polycarp (AD 69–155), Bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John and an early church leader whose life ended when he refused to betray his Lord, a pyre was built and he was burned alive, but his words echo down through time to us. Asked one last time to deny his Lord, the old man replied, “Eighty-six years have I served Him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
On January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot, along with four of his missionary colleagues was killed on while trying to establish contact with the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Flemming and Roger Youderian had been working to make friendly contact with the Auca tribe which they had seen from the air. Though they had only met one tribesman face to face, they had participated in trades with the Auca from a plane to ground system. When Elliot and his friends landed on a river beach on that fateful January day they were slaughtered by the waiting men.
Their deaths were not in vain though. The widows continued to try, successfully to make peaceful contact with those very same natives and eventually won the hearts of the tribe.
“There are 2.2 billion Christians around the world. The Christian non-governmental organization Open Doors calculates that 100 million of them are being threatened or persecuted. They aren't allowed to build churches, buy Bibles or obtain jobs. That's the more harmless form of discrimination and it affects the majority of these 100 million Christians. The more brutal version sees them blackmailed, robbed, expelled, abducted or even murdered.” –abcnews.go.com
Why are true believers persecuted? Actually, if we live out to the first seven Beatitudes, we will automatically experience the eighth. Our faith begins, develops, and matures as we live out the first seven. Our faith is then tested when we come to the last one.
The glory of the gospel is seen when the church is absolutely different from the world. The world will not listen to the message of the church unless they can see it as a divine institution. When the world can see a group of people (the church) who are totally in love with Jesus Christ and each other; totally one in unity of thought and purpose; totally concerned about each other and a lost world, then they will see the difference in a supernatural institution as compared with the worldly ones of which they have been accustomed. But when they see bickering, backbiting, gossip and lack of love or even consideration for each other they will look elsewhere for God.
Beatitude-believers will always demonstrate the life of Christ in their lives. And the more we show our Beatitude-life in our daily living, the more the world will see Jesus in us and in our church, and the more resentment and hate it will foster. Why is that so? Christians and non-Christians are so totally different in what they believe, in what they do, in what they seek, and in how they think.
Truly, “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” (Albert E. Brumley, 1905-1977). Peter writes, “Dear friends, I warn you as temporary residents and foreigners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:11,12 NLT).
Christians must maintain their utter difference in philosophy, attitude and actions with the world. John admonishes us: “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you” (1 John 2:15 NLT). Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21 NLT).
“In living these principles of Jesus and thus confessing Christ before men, the righteousness of the Christians’ lives tends to make them conspicuous before men, to make them seem different from, morally cleaner than, the others. And therefore the children of the world will resent this aloofness, construing their attitude as a criticism of their own behavior. The hatred of the world because of this belief results in persecution, John 15:19. The consolation of the followers of Christ, in that case, is that the various evidences of hatred which they must endure will be more than outweighed by their heritage, the kingdom heaven.” –Paul E. Kretzmann
“One of our biggest problems today is that most of our church people have never really made up their minds to follow Jesus Christ. They are like Mr. Looking‑both‑ways in Pilgrim's Progress, or like Lot's wife looking back toward Sodom. They are like the man in the Civil War who wore a blue coat and gray trousers, and was shot at from both sides. They are like a donkey between two bales of hay‑undecided as to which to eat. They are like the son in our Lord's parable who said, ‘I go, Sir,’ and went not’ (Matthew 21:30). They receive the word with joy, but have no root nor depth and soon fall away. They never really make up their minds, and are like the man who was asked, ‘Do you have trouble making decisions?’ He replied, ‘Yes and no.’ –Vance Havner
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?
It costs to be a Beatitude-believer! Every true Beatitude- believer, by definition is a true disciple of Christ! Discipleship necessitates living the Beatitudes, and that will invariably bring about persecution. Discipleship is costly: “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple…Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26,27,33 MSG).
Verse 10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers” (Matthew 5:11 NLT).
“Blessed” comes from the Greek word “Macharios,” from the root, “Machar,” meaning, real joy, inward bliss, and happiness.
“For righteousness‘ sake.” Persecuted persons whose troubles arise from other causes, such as their own misconduct, are not included in this beatitude.
Christians are not persecuted because they are loud and obnoxious. We all have known people who have the gift of annoying. “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
It also does not say Christians are persecuted for being pushy. “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone…” (2 Timothy 2:24 NLT).
Christians are not persecuted because they are judgmental, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back” (Matthew 18:15 NLT).
Christians are not persecuted because they are complainers and grumblers, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain” (Philippians 2:14-16).
And they are not persecuted for any crimes they have done, or unrighteousness and iniquity, as murderers, thieves, and evildoers, but the only logical reason for persecution of Beatitude-believers is because they are righteous, living right in the eyes of God, living the Beatitudes. They are the friends of God. Those whose righteousness is of such a quality that Satan will vent his wrath on them. “All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed’ (John 3:20).
Verse 11: “Blessed are you when they revile (insult) and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
The old children's rhyme is truth when it comes to persecution. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”
“Revile” means to slander, falsely accuse or to speak disparagingly about a person in manner without justification, to find fault in a way that demeans the other, to mock, to heap insults upon someone as a way of shaming.
Verse 12a: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
How in the world can one rejoice when being persecuted? For one thing “rejoicing” is not the same as being “happy”. Rejoicing comes from within, rejoicing or “joy is often presented as true contentment based on faith. Happiness, in contrast, is often thought of as false or superficial emotion dependent on circumstances.” –gotquestion.org. You can walk around and say that you are rejoicing but if it's not seen then you are not rejoicing!
Verse 12b: “…for great is your reward in heaven.” “And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT). “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).
Allow me to close this message with an illustration from Zechariah 2:8, God loved Israel, His chosen people. They were “…the apple of His eye; hidden me under the shadow of His wings” (Psalm 17:8).
The word “apple” applied to the eye means the pupil, and as one protects his own eyes, the most sensitive part of his body, the LORD protects His people.
“Nothing can exceed the force and delicacy of this expression. As deeply concerned and as carefully attentive as man can be for the safety of his eyesight, so was God for the protection and welfare of this people. How amazing this condescension!.” –Adam Clarke
What is He saying?
“Preserve me; guard me; defend me, as one defends that which is to him most precious and valuable. In the original there is a remarkable strength of expression, and at the same time a remarkable confusion of gender in the language. The literal translation would be, ‘Keep me as the little man - the daughter of the eye.’” –Barnes
“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 17:8).
My friend Bob Wilson was preaching on a street in front of a bar when a very large, very drunk man came up to him, threatening to hurt him if he didn’t stop preaching. He grabbed Bob by the collar and lifted him up quite high, still threatening to hurt him. Bob said to this huge drunken man, If you don’t put me down, “It would be better for him (you) if a millstone were hung around his (your) neck, and he (you) were thrown into the sea, than that he (you) should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2). Bob said the man just quietly and gently put him down and walked away.
God is very jealous for His people! Israel, God’s chosen people were very precious to Him, as is every Christian. David had just been through a terrible time of testing, he writes, “He led me to a place of safety; He rescued me because he delights in me” (Psalm 18:19 NLT).
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).
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