Now as I said we're turning in our Bibles to Matthew's gospel again, for the last time, as we look at the Beatitudes together - this sermon of the Lord Jesus Christ that is full of so many truths that we've been learning about week after week. We'll take time this morning, in our conclusion of this series, to read all of the Beatitudes together from verse 1 of chapter 5.
"And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was sat down, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you".
Let us pray together: Our Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy truth. We thank Thee that all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and Lord we have found in these past weeks as we have studied in this passage of scripture, that it has all been profitable to us. Some of it may have been hard to take for us, as we have looked at ourselves through the mirror of Thy truth and we've seen what we are - not what we think we are, but what we truly are in Thy sight. Lord, we have been shocked at times as we have seen the standard of our God and all His holiness, and we say with Paul in the book of Romans, that there's no difference between any of us, because we've all sinned and fallen short of that great standard of glory. Lord, help us today as we conclude this study of Thy word, that You'll speak to us again by Thy Spirit - Lord, that You'll come to us afresh and breathe life into our souls, and challenge us, encourage us, rebuke us if we need it. Lord, mend our wounds if we're bleeding. But Lord, whatever our need be today, meet it we ask, and fill us by Thy Spirit we pray by the preaching of the word of God. For we ask these things in Jesus precious name, Amen.
We're looking at verse 10, verse 11, and verse 12: "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you".
These three verses that we have read, I believe anyway, makes up the eighth Beatitude. We've looked at the first seven of them, but as we look at the eighth Beatitude in verses 10 to 12, we see that there's a difference between this one and the first seven of them. It seems that there are three differences, first of all, between this Beatitude and the rest of them. It seems to be singled out, to be important. It is of supreme importance to the church of Jesus Christ, and as the Lord Jesus Christ stands and preaches this sermon to His followers, He wants to emphasise to them that this last concluding Beatitude is of supreme importance.
How do we know that? Well, first of all: it's repeated. We find it in verse 10: 'Blessed are they which are persecuted', and then in verse 11 the Lord seems to repeat Himself: 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you'. He is emphasising the importance of this particular Beatitude. But secondly, we know it's of supreme importance because in verse 10 we see this, He says: 'Blessed are they which are persecuted' - yet in verse 11 the person is changed from 'they' to 'you': 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you'. All the rest of the Beatitude were given in the person 'they', but the Lord wants to emphasise this one to us today, and to His disciples who were listening to Him on this day on the mount. He says to them: 'Blessed are you' - this is important, that you listen to this and you take note of this Beatitude. Thirdly, not just the repetition or the person, but there's the position of the Beatitude: it's the very last Beatitude - and it's almost as if this is the pinnacle, the climax, of what the Lord Jesus has been saying to His disciples and to the others that listened to the sermon on the mount. He says to you: 'Blessed are ye if you follow this truth from the word of God'.
This is important that we note this Beatitude, for the Lord Jesus has emphasised it to us as we stand at the threshold of a future that no one knows, as we stand at the future of a new century, a new millennium, day by day we have new opportunities - like a blank page before us, we can write our futures so to speak. As we stand here, not just as human beings on this planet, but as we stand among that cloud of witnesses that have gone before us and that remain here upon the earth, of the children in the church of God, what a message - what a message for us today!
What does this little word 'persecute' mean? In the Greek language it comes from the root idea 'to pursue', it means to chase after something - it's like the hounds chasing after the fox, to chase them, to run them down into the ground, and then to go in for the kill. A good translation of this word is to 'harass'. The Lord Jesus is saying: 'Blessed are they which are harassed. Blessed are you when men shall harass you, revile you, and persecute you'. Verse 11 talks about insults, about people - and the idea is literally 'things being thrown in your teeth' - face-to-face assaults from those in the world, from our enemies, from the very Devil himself. The Lord is talking about such persecution that perhaps many of us here today have never ever known in our lifetime.
Now we, as we looked into the word of God in past weeks at these beatitudes, we've seen week after week how it has been so important to look at each verse in its context. Not just in its context within the passage of Scripture, but its context historically speaking, and what these words meant to the people who were listening to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, as they sit there, and they listen to these astounding words coming from the Lord Jesus - what do you think was their reaction as they heard their Messiah, their Christ whom they thought was their political, religious, economic deliverer - and from His lips come these words: 'Blessed are they that are persecuted'? I dare to think that those, many of them that were listening to Him - and certainly the Scribes and the Pharisees - thought that it was the greatest religious nonsense that they had ever heard!
Why do I think that? If you turn with me for a moment to Acts chapter 28, Acts chapter 28, you'll find there an account of Paul, who is on one of his missionary journeys - but it gives us an insight to the thinking, the way people think in our world. It was the way many of the Jews thought, it's the way many religious and even charismatic figures today in our world think - this is the way they reason. Acts 28 verse 3 and 4: 'And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live'. These barbarians - they were Gentiles they weren't Jews, they're like us - and they look, and they see this man Paul. He's building a fire, and all of a sudden a deadly snake comes out of the fire, grabs hold of his hand - and they make the formula in their minds that this man is suffering because he's done something wrong - he must have sinned.
If you were to turn to John chapter 9 - you don't need to do it this morning, but you know the story - John chapter 9, you see that the disciples asked about a man that was born blind. They looked at the Lord Jesus and reasoned with Him: 'Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest'. Is it not the thinking of the world today, and it's increasingly so in the new age in which we live, that there is something called 'karma'? That when you do good, good will be done to you, and it'll all be weighed up one day, and when you come into another life you'll be a better person, a better being. You mightn't believe in that, but you might have in your mind - even as a Christian - this false idea that if you do good, good will be done to you; and if you do evil, well, evil will be done to you also. Believe it or not, Jesus' listeners had an idea of some type of prosperity gospel.
Do you remember what they were waiting on? They were sitting in the claws, and the clutches, and the jaws of a vicious Roman Empire. They were looking to the skies for their deliverer, their Messiah, to come and deliver them, to set them free, to defeat the enemy, to defeat the Emperor - Caesar. When the Lord Jesus Christ came they hailed Him as the King of the Jews, and they were waiting for Him to come in and build His eternal kingdom. Oh, we've learnt week after week that they were second guessed - they got the whole thing wrong because the Lord told them: 'My kingdom is in your hearts, children. I am come into this place as a peacemaker' - not to make peace in homes, because He did say that He would make war in homes, and there would be many relationships that would be broken down because of the Gospel. But what He was saying was, He was coming in to tear up a world's sin in order to bring peace to a dying race. He also said: 'Blessed are those who are persecuted'. Now, try and put yourself in their position. They're waiting for a military, economic, political, religious leader - and He comes out with these astounding words: 'Blessed are you when men take advantage of you, when men insult you, when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you - you're blessed, you're accepted with God, the smile God is upon your life'.
Now, I want you to note before we go any further, that the Lord said: 'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake' - that's very important. Because you could be here and think that, as a Christian, you're being persecuted because you're standing for the faith, and it may be that you're being persecuted because of your ignorant personality! That could be what's happening! You could think that you're being persecuted for the cause of God, but you're piously ignorant, you're rude, you're obnoxious! The Lord is saying here that it is the cause of righteousness, and more importantly the character of righteousness, that will be persecuted - that's why it comes as the eighth Beatitude.
What's He saying? Those that are poor in spirit will be persecuted. Those that mourn will be persecuted. Those that are meek, those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, those that are merciful, those that are pure, peacemakers - you'll be persecuted, why? We looked week after week, didn't we, that this world, and His world then did not testify that you were to be poor in spirit. You were to be great in spirit! Self-esteem was the pinnacle! 'You're not to mourn over your sins, you're to forget about them and get on with your life. You're not to be meek, meek people are walked all over, don't be meek! You're not to be pure, you're not to be single-minded - a 'jack of all trades', that's what you're to be - don't worry about purity of mind in a filthy world, enjoy yourself! Don't hunger after righteousness, hunger and lust after money, sexual immorality, whatever tickles your fancy - if it feels good, hunger after that!'. And again the Lord Jesus Christ, He comes in - as He did right throughout this sermon - and He just turns the whole world upside-down.
Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake - do you want to know the secret of what this 'righteousness' sake' really means? If you look at verse 10, you see it's talked about as righteousness' sake, and then in verse 11 He says: 'Blessed are ye when men shall revive you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake' - there's the secret. You see if you're poor in spirit, you see if you're mournful over your sin, you see if you're meek, you see if you hunger and thirst after the good things of God, and you're merciful, and you're pure, and you're a peacemaker - you will be persecuted! Because what the Lord is saying here is: 'You'll be persecuted for My sake, because if you live like that, you will be living My life out in your life - and men never ever liked Me!'. Isn't that right? We read within the word of God that Christlikeness will always be persecuted.
If you turn to John chapter 15, John chapter 15 and verse 18 to 20, the Lord said this - He warned His disciples: 'If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you'. Are you greater than your Master? Oh, my friends today, if we can only see this: that it's not the way we preach, but it's our Christlikeness that people will hate. And, oh, they have always hated it - throughout all of history - to be like God. Paul told Timothy: 'Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution'. He told the Christians in Antioch in Acts 14:22: 'We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God'.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer suffered at the hands of the Nazis in World War II, and he said these sobering words to us today, in the same century in which he suffered, he said: 'Suffering then, is the badge of true discipleship'. Now, I'm going to keep you a little bit longer today - not too long, but I want to finish this series and I want to deal with it. I want to talk to you first of all about our fathers, your fathers, who have suffered. Those that were persecuted in times past, indeed the historian today Tennis-Scott Latourette (sp?) says this: 'No other faith of mankind, religious or political, has quite so extensive a record of violent bitter opposition to its growth than the Christian church'. Think about it for a minute, go right back to the book of Genesis, Genesis chapter 4. What's happening? The child of God, Abel, is being persecuted by the child of Satan, Cain. The Lord said to the Pharisees themselves, He faced them face-to-face, He looked into their eyeballs in Matthew 23:35 and said that, from the blood of Abel to Zacharias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar - you slew him!'. And incidentally, Abel begins with what letter? 'A', Zechariah begins with 'Z' - and I like to think that the A to Z of all the martyrs in the world testify that: 'Blessed are they that are persecuted', for they have the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Do you remember Stephen? When he preached his message, his sermon, before he was martyred in Acts 7:52 - what did he accuse the Pharisees of? He said: 'Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?'. You can go back to Moses, and those that grumbled, and those that wanted his blood, those that resented him for bringing them out of Egypt. You can go to David and read the Psalms about those that attacked him, his enemies in the flesh and even the spirit. You can look at Elijah, as he runs and he sits under that tree, from the woman Jezebel. Have you ever read about Jeremiah? How he was beaten, put in stocks? How he was thrown into a cistern of mud, and threatened with execution, and eventually martyred? What about Isaiah? The second century Christian father Justin Martyn (sp?) tells us that Isaiah was sawn asunder with a wooden sword!
Indeed, the word of God testifies in Hebrews 11 and 36: 'And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy)'. You go into the New Testament, and the very first sermon that was preached on the day of Pentecost, even before Peter opened his mouth he was being accused, and his friends, of being drunk! Then straight after that sermon two of the disciples were taken and thrown into prison. They were told not to speak or to teach in the name of Jesus. Indeed, if you look throughout the whole 28 chapters of the book of Acts, you find at least 56 references to persecution. The tradition is that Andrew, the Lord's disciple, was tied to a cross and left to die, the history books tell us that Peter was crucified upside-down - why? Because blessed are they that are persecuted, because these men and these women, these boys and girls, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:13, counted themselves as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things - they counted their life dung, rubbish, that they would win Christ!
Sure, the early church was accused of drunkenness, cannibalism, because they ate flesh - people thought - and drank blood. They were murdered because [people] said they had sexual orgies because they called the breaking of bread 'a love feast'. Nero fed thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ to the lions and burnt them at the stake - and today you have communism in our world. You might be facing it at work, my friend. You might be facing it at school, or University, or in your very family - but the reality is this: those that live godly will suffer! They will suffer. Blanchard says this in his commentary on the Beatitudes: 'Today the pure gospel of the grace of God remains anathema, not only to the blatantly godless, but to countless sects, cults, to Roman Catholicism, to liberalism which robs the Bible of its authority, Christ of His deity, His miracles of their integrity, and His substitutionary death of its efficacy'. Thomas Scott said, 200 years to our century today: 'The wicked hate the holy image of God and those that bear it'.
But look with me also, your fathers suffered, they always did - but you will suffer if, if, you live godly in Christ Jesus. If you're a Christian the first seven beatitudes outline what you will have in your life if you are a Christian - and you can certainly say, at the conclusion of Beatitude eight, that if you're not persecuted at some time in your life you couldn't be a Christian! I'm not saying that you have to be persecuted every moment of the day, that's not what I'm saying. But if you have never faced opposition, if you've never faced segregation, rejection, insults because of the character of the Lord Jesus Christ - the question must be asked: is His character within you?
Do you know what I believe the tragedy is today? Perhaps within the world, but within the church of Jesus Christ at large, it's this: persecution is absent from many of our lives. Why is that? First of all, I believe it's absent because we as Christians are cut off from the world. The Lord said in this passage that you're to be a light in the world, in the dark place - if you're going to spread light you have to be in a dark place - but what do we do? We come to our church - and that's only right, that's what we do do - but our friends, who are they? Who do we contact day by day, is it unsaved people to bring an opportunity to them of trusting Christ? Sure, we even play golf with Christians! Some of us send our children to Christian schools, totally segregated from the world at large where they can reach the darkness! Many of us are sheltered from persecution.
Secondly: I believe that there is silent Christianity today. People who don't tell others in their workplace, or at their school, or wherever, that they're one of the Lord's - and the question must be asked: is silent Christianity, Christianity at all? Thirdly - and I think this is the biggest reason: the church is becoming like the world. I'm not talking about in its dress now - it is in the places that it goes, but that's not specifically what I'm talking about, I'm talking about attitudes. I want to quote Mr Kent Hughes, who wrote in his commentary - listen to this: 'If you want to get along the formula is simple' - that means in the world - 'Approve the world's morals and ethics at least outwardly. Live like the world lives, laugh at its humour, immerse yourself in its entertainment, smile when God is mocked, act as if all religions converge on the same road, don't mention hell, draw no moral judgements, take no stand on moral issues - and above all: don't preach the Gospel to others!'. The fact is this: the church must be persecuted, or the church is not the church at all.
A hundred years after this sermon on the mount was preached, a man came to the great church father Tertullian with a problem. Because, since professing faith in Christ, his business interests and Christianity were conflicting - and he ended up by asking that great church father: 'What can I do? I must live!'. Tertullian turned to him and said: 'Must you?'. Tertullian esteemed death for Christ greater than life for self. That is the message that we have been looking at in the Beatitudes week after week: that to live is Christ and to die is gain! That we would count everything in this world, all externalities, as rubbish so that we might win Christ and be found in Him!
Your fathers suffered, and you will suffer if you live righteously - but this is the great message, this is the great joyous ending of all the beatitudes: you will be blessed if you suffer for Christ! You will be blessed with joy - isn't that what He says? Look at the passage again, Matthew chapter 5, look what He says in verse 11: 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven'. You're to rejoice not in the pain, not in the sorrow, but you're to rejoice in the fact that you've been called worthy to suffer with Christ, and that one day - if you have a forward and an upward look - you will be given a reward with Christ.
You know, the Greek word for 'joy' here - do you know what it literally means? We're very reserved people here in Northern Ireland - it means to leap, to skip with excessive delight and ecstasy! J. B. Phillips translates it like this: 'A joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of heaven'. In Acts chapter 5 and verse 41, when Peter and his other friends had been flogged before the Sanhedrin shortly after the day of Pentecost, do you know what it says? Listen to this: '[the apostles left], rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name'. You know, that's a supernatural joy, that's something that I can't explain unless you've experienced it. It's something that the great Scottish Christian, Samuel Rutherford, penned when he described how he was locked up in a prison cell. He wrote from his prison cell and said these words: 'I never knew, in my nine years of preaching, so much of Christ's love as He taught me in Aberdeen by six months imprisonment. Christ's cross is such a burden as sails are to a ship, and wings are to a bird'.
I heard recently the story in our living memory of a Romanian Pastor, he knew what it was to rejoice and have joy in his persecution. He was tortured, he was imprisoned, mercilessly they put him through excruciating pain - and yet, in his cell where he was in all that degradation and inhumanity, he testified that he experienced such joy! He was locked in solitary confinement, and day by day he was summoned by his captors who cut chunks of flesh from his body. Then, when he would return to his cell where he was starved almost to death, he would lie there and he would pray to his God - and he testified that in the midst of that sadism there were times when the joy of Christ would so overcome him that he would pull himself up and shuffle about the cell in a holy dance! So remarkable was his joy that on his return from prison, when he got home to his wife and his children, do you know what the first thing he did was? He had a day of fasting as a memorial to the joy that he had been given through persecution!
I have finished all I have to say really today, and in the study of the Beatitudes over the past weeks - but let me ask you this: are you being persecuted for Christ? Not for your character, but for Christ's character in you? For if you are, and if you are fulfilling all of these Beatitudes, the Lord Jesus says to you today: 'Great is your reward in heaven!'.
J.D. Rockefeller died, and every paper in United States of America was speculating how much he was worth. For one reporter it got too much for him, and he ran and he organised a meeting with one of Rockefeller's aids, and he came to him and when he got into the room with this man, and he thought he was going to find out - he said to him: 'How much did Rockefeller leave?'. The man looked at him and soberly and calmly said: 'He left it all'.
The message of the sermon on the mount is this: what are you living for? Are you living for down here, or are you living for up there? May it be said of us, as an Assembly and individually, that we like Paul may know Him, and the power of His resurrection - and if we can take it, brethren, the fellowship of His suffering.
Our Father, we are conscious as we look into history that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. And we hear the writer to the Hebrews, who says to us today in our nation, ye have not yet striven against sin by shedding your blood. Lord, we don't know where to look at times, because when we look into ourselves and we see how we fall short, Lord we despair. But Lord, let us not remain with our gaze there - but let us, as Paul has exhorted us in the book of Romans, to look to the Lord Jesus and to say: 'Thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'. Lord, help us to hear the trumpet sound, help us in these last days to put on the gospel armour, and to fight the good fight of faith. Bless us now, we pray, and part us with Your fear, for Christ's sake. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth tape in his Beatitudes series, titled "Blessed Are The Persecuted" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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