Happiness is… Blessed are those who are persecuted

By: Donnell Wyche – November 03, 2019

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. As a church we partner with the liberating presence of God to cultivate joy, hope & belonging as Jesus invites us into freedom, keeps us free, and helps us free others. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

We are continuing our journey through the Beatitudes this morning. Matthew describes them in Chapter 4 as the sick and their caretakers, people in pain, epileptics, demon-possessed, paralytics, from all over Israel and from the nearby cities. As you enter into the text with me, imagine that this audience represents the full spectrum of the human experience. Each of them there with their own story, their own understanding of God, themselves, and how they fit within God’s larger the story of creation. When he saw the crowds that gathered to hear him teach, he went up on a mountainside, a hotbed of terrorist activity, and began to teach them. It’s here that he announces… 

Blessed… or Happy….

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3–12)

The Beatitudes announce the joys of participation in the kingdom of God. They announce that the creator God meets you, redeems you, saves you and invites you to join him in his kingdom. A kingdom where He is in charge and his followers live as citizens of a new world in which anger, lust, and violence are abandoned. They live in a kingdom where enemies are loved, not hated. Where the golden rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself” reigns supreme. 

Last week we considered the seventh beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” today we consider the final one,

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11-12)

The last two Beatitudes both summarize and bring the climax to the others. There’s a progression to the Beatitudes. Remember the first four Beatitudes speak to the grace that Christ extends to us, God’s grace meeting us in our spiritual poverty, in our mourning, in our meekness, in our need for his righteousness. You can almost hear Jesus saying that when you take up his way, when you say yes to the Gospel, the Good News, get ready, cause it’s going to irritate some people. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)

If you are like me, when you read the eighth Beatitude, your mind might jump to the stories of those who are persecuted every day around the world for their loyalty to Jesus, like our friends in the northern region of India or in Turkey. The Jesus followers who put their lives on the line every day because of their faithfulness and loyalty to God. I’ve met and spent time with some of our friends in India who are facing the very real threat that following Jesus might just require their very lives. 

It’s very easy and convenient to assume that the focus of this Beatitude is aimed right in the center of this kind of persecution. Of course, you would be right. 

And at the same time, this Beatitude also includes all of the ways in our ordinary lives we experience persecution when because of our surrender to Jesus and our unfolding discipleship we choose righteousness. Remember that Pastor Marissa reminded us that righteousness and justice went hand-in-hand. That the Old Testament writers described justice as “the flourishing of everything in the world under God’s good rule.” As you pursue this kind of righteousness, not just for yourself, but especially for others, you should expect some persecution. It often shows up first as a question, “Why would you do this or that?”

When your family members disinvite you to gatherings because you refuse to participate in family gossip because you know its hurtful to be talked about when you aren’t in the room.

Jesus says, blessed.

When the administrators say you are a troublemaker because you point out there are tiers of access to resources that should be available to everyone.

Jesus says, blessed.

When you don’t get that promotion at work because you take up the causes of the those without power or influence and you speak and advocate on their behalf. 

Jesus says, blessed.

When you are falsely accused of something, and a new opportunity comes along, which would be better for you personally, but your departure will leave behind an oppressed group without an advocate, so you choose righteous and you stay put and endure the persecution, because you believe in justice that creates flourishing for everyone.

Jesus says, blessed.

When you discover that someone is cutting corners and you report it. You get a reputation as a snitch.

Jesus says, blessed. 

What if Jesus is saying that God’s blessing is available to you whenever you follow Jesus, and it costs you something, and you lose. That God’s blessing shows up when you choose to be faithful instead of successful.

Eduard Schweizer, the Swiss New Testament scholar in his commentary on Matthew puts it this way: 

“This passage extols not the strong, who, to the admiration of all, heroically defend their faith, but those who are defamed and go down in igno • mini • ous defeat.” Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, page 96

When your discipleship and practice of honesty, service, forgiveness, and mercy transforms the way that you behave and live within the world, some people will get mad, which isn’t that surprising, what’s surprising is who gets mad. More times than I care to admit, it’s people who believe that God’s grace and mercy shouldn’t be extended so freely to those most in need of God’s love, welcome and embrace. 

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matt 5:11)

You may have heard people describe this as “cheap grace.”  When you hear people use that phrase it may imply that they are pitting God’s grace and our discipleship as rivals. When people do that, I think they misunderstand what Jesus is doing in the Beatitudes. He is announcing Good News. He is announcing God’s presence with us and God’s active deliverance of us. Jesus is announcing that our share in God’s deliverance is blessedness and joy. 

The shape of this grace is Christ taking form in us. We participate in this grace when answer Jesus call: come follow me. This is not cheap grace. This grace is a gift, and it’s our deliverance, our welcome. It’s given to us by God in his Son Jesus. Jesus doesn’t give us a ladder to lift ourselves up, instead he comes to us on the cross and welcomes us to follow him as he transforms us and makes us cruciform.

The Beatitudes are God’s joyous announcement of grace. 

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matt 5:11)

When you start seeing people the way God does, woe to you, because judgement is coming. He’s declaring that when people hate you, insult you, falsely accuse you because of me, my love, and my welcome. Don’t worry. I’m right there with you.

The only command in the Beatitudes is to rejoice. 

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.(Matt 5:12)

Don’t worry, Jesus is saying to us when because of our transformation, people insult us, hate us, and falsely accuse us. Rejoice. 

When you feel all alone. Rejoice.

When it’s so tough and difficult that you want to give up. Rejoice

When everyone around you is out to get you. Rejoice.

When people start rumors about you that make you want to run & hide. Rejoice. 

When you can’t catch a break. Rejoice.

When you feel like a failure. Rejoice.

When you feel like a loser. Rejoice.

When you feel like a zero. Rejoice.

When you have reached your lowest, darkest point. Rejoice. 

In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus is announcing that we are blessed. We are blessed because we are experiencing God’s reign in our midst, and we will experience it in fullness in the future coming reign of God. Each beatitude begins with the joy, the happiness, the blessedness, of the good news of participation in God’s gracious deliverance. Each beatitude ends by pointing to the reality of God’s coming reign: in God’s kingdom those who mourn will be comforted, the humble will inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness will be filled, mercy will be shown, people will see God, peacemakers will be called the children of God, and the faithful will be members of the kingdom of God. 

“Wherever you are right now, whether you are spiritually poor, mourning, meek, or desperate for righteousness, may you know that God’s blessing is upon you. May you accept God’s transforming grace to become more merciful, more pure of heart, and more of an agent of peace. May you know that God is with you, even if you feel as though everyone else is against you.”

Prayer Senses:

Courage and clarity. Ask God to give you the courage to hear the truth that you don’t want to hear. There is healing and peace on the other side of that. 

Healing and freedom through forgiveness. Jesus loves your enemy. Ask Him to show you how to forgive them and how to love them like He does. No one is beyond hope. God can lift up the people who have let you down, He can change their hearts, and He can do it through you. Let go of unforgiveness. Partner with Jesus. Hatred blocks the blessing. Forgive. 

Encouragement and Perseverance. God has not forgotten you and your pain matters to God. You’re close to giving up. Don’t. He’s got you. Keep going. His strength is available. He knows you and He knows what you need. Trust Him to keep you. 

Freedom in finances.  Jesus is healing mindsets and hearts that have been affected by lack and neglect. The Father is good and He gives good gifts. You’re not alone as you try to climb out of debt. Ask God for the next step. You’ll have enough light for the step you’re on. Invite Him to be a part of the journey. 

Hope. You have something to live for. Your life matters to God. He loves you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to fight this battle alone. 

Reconciliation in families. The Lord is ministering to those who come from or are in broken families. He wants to bless you with wholeness. 

Scriptures:

1 John 3:20 – “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

2 Corinthians 12:9 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Matthew 5:23-24 – There if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and the come and offer your gift.

Colossians 3:23 – “… as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.“