From the Pastor's Desk 

Happy are the Harassed

8-12-18

 

            Let's pray.

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            Some years ago, a popular national magazine took a survey.  They wanted to determine the things that make people happy.  According to the results of the survey, happy people enjoy other people.  At the same time they tend to focus on self and are not self-sacrificing.  They are positive and upbeat and refuse to participate in any negative feelings or emotions.  In addition, the survey revealed that happy people have a sense of accomplishment based on their own self-sufficiency.

            The person described as happy in that magazine article is completely contrary to the kind of person the Lord says will be authentically happy.  The Lord lays out for us His definition of happiness in the beginning parts of the Sermon of the Mount in what we call the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are a list of characteristics that describe someone who is a member of the kingdom of God. 

            According to Jesus, the truly happy person recognizes his own emptiness and his own need.      Happy people in God's kingdom mourn over their own sinfulness.  To be genuinely content a person must not be self-giving but self-sacrificing.  He must be gentle, merciful, pure in heart, yearn for righteousness and seek to make peace on God's terms.  He seeks those attitudes in his life even if they cause him to suffer.

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            This morning, we're going to finish our look at the Beatitudes by examining the eighth and last one.  Of all of them, this one seems the most contrary with human experience and human thinking.  The world does not associate happiness with humility or mourning over sin.  Usually people don't look at gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity and peacemaking as avenues of happiness.  It certainly doesn't consider persecution to be associated with happiness. 

            But as Jesus ends this section of His first major message to the masses, He leaves us with a sobering truth:  those who live faithfully according to the first seven beatitudes are guaranteed at some point to experience the eighth.  Those who live righteously will inevitably be persecuted for it.  The crowning feature of the happy person is persecution.  Let's now read Matt. 5:10-12. 

            As we have said numerous times over the course of our study of this passage, these beatitudes are not separate and distinct from each other.  They all tie together.  The person who recognizes his spiritual poverty and mourns over his spiritual condition and then yields to the Master will be brought under God's control.  As a result, he will hunger and thirst for righteousness, seeking to be merciful and pure in heart, desiring peace for all as he has experienced it. 

            That means that if we live like Jesus wants us to live we will experience persecution in our lives.  That's one of the promises made to us in Scripture.  Paul tells us in 2 Timothy that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 

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            How does this play out?  Imagine a man who accepted a new job in which he had to work with especially profane people.  When he came home at the end of his first day, his wife asked him how he had managed.  He said, "Terrific!  They never even guessed that I was a Christian."  Your attitude towards righteous living and your attitude towards persecution will determine whether you think that story was good or bad.  But from Christ's perspective, it's bad.  People should always know that we are Christians.  Ask yourself this:  Is that how you live your life?  Do people even know that you're a believer?

            As long as people have no reason to believe that we are Christians, we need not worry about persecution.  But if we live for Jesus, persecution will be a part of our lives.  Persecution is one of the surest and most tangible evidences of salvation.  Suffering persecution is part of the normal Christian life.  If we never experience ridicule, criticism or rejection because of our faith, we have reason to examine the genuineness of our salvation.   

            Not all believers will be in a constant state of opposition, ridicule or persecution.  But every faithful believer will at times have some resistance and ridicule from the world.  Others, meanwhile, will endure more extreme suffering.  Our responsibility is not to seek out persecution; our responsibility is to be willing to endure whatever comes our way.

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            Avoiding persecution is easy.  To live like the world will cost us nothing.  To mimic the world and never criticize it will cost us nothing.  To keep quiet about the gospel, will cost us nothing.  To go along with the world and laugh at its jokes and enjoy its entertainment and smile as it mocks God and to be ashamed to take a stand for Christ, will cost us nothing.

            But doing those things and living that way are habits of the sham Christian.  Jesus does not take faithlessness lightly.  Luke 9:26.  If we are ashamed of Christ, He will be ashamed of us.  That's because being ashamed of Christ is evidence of a lack of salvation.  To be popular with everyone is either to have compromised the faith or not to have true faith at all.

            We aren't truly persecuted for our faith for simply being stupid.  Having a rotten attitude; acting morally superior to everyone else; being a hypocrite; wrongly judging others in a harsh manner; engaging in pointless arguments where your only goal is to win are not ways that we are persecuted for righteousness.  Those are ways that we make people dislike us because we're being dumb and sinful; that is not persecution.

            True persecution stems from us living righteous lives.  When we reflect Jesus to the world; when we live according to His standards; when we share Christ with a lost world; when we take a stand against sin; those are the attitudes and the actions that the world hates and that will result in us suffering persecution.

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            Believers have been suffering persecution since Christ started the church.  In order to try to stamp out the church, the Romans invented charges against Christians.  They accused them of being cannibals because in the Lord's Supper they spoke of eating Jesus' body and drinking His blood.  They accused them of immorality in association with their love feasts.  They even accused the church of setting fire to Rome.  They branded them as revolutionaries because they called Jesus Lord and King and spoke of God's destroying the earth by fire.

            During Roman rule, the Caesars came to be deified.  Everyone had to give a verbal oath of allegiance to Caesar once a year.  After proclaiming "Caesar is Lord" the person was free to worship any other gods he chose.  Because faithful Christians refused to declare allegiance to anyone by Christ, they were considered traitors. 

            As a result first century believers paid a very high price.  They would lose property or work; they often faced prison time.  An example of that might be a Christian stonemason in Ephesus in Paul's day.  He might have been asked to help build a pagan temple or shrine.  Because he could not do that in good conscience, his faith could cost him not only his job but also his career. 

            But we don't have to back that far, the exact same thing is happening in America, today.  Christian bakers and Christians florists and Christian photographers are having to make decisions on jobs they'll do based on their religious convictions.  Many of them are paying a steep price for refusing to cater same-sex wedding ceremonies.  They're paying huge fines to state human rights commissions, losing business, being publicly ridiculed and threatened (I'm sure in a loving and tolerant manner). 

            Of course many of them were also put to death.  There were many means of putting someone to death.  Stoning was a popular means of execution.  Some believers were covered in pitch and used as a human torch.  Then there was the ever popular method of wrapping them in animal skins and throwing them to vicious hunting dogs.

            No matter what happens to us, Christ calls us to live a life of suffering and persecution.  Luke 9:23.  We need to be ready to die, if need be, for the cause of the Lord.  Not everyone has to pay that price.  Some costs for obedience will be great while others will be slight.  Some will be known in advance while others will surprise us.  But no matter what cost we may have to pay for following our Lord, a true believer is always willing to pay it. 

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            There are a number of types of persecution that we experience as believers.  First, there is physical persecution.  The basic meaning of persecute is "chasing, driving away or pursuing."  From that came the connotation of physical persecution, harassment, abuse and other unjust treatment.  This would obviously involve beatings and death.

            The way this is worded in the Greek also indicates continuousness.  Believers are to have a continuing willingness to endure persecution if it is the price of godly living.  It is a constant attitude of accepting whatever faithfulness to Christ may bring.

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            Another form of persecution that true believers experience is verbal insults.  This carries the idea of "reviling, upbraiding or seriously insulting."  It literally means to cast in one's teeth.  To cast insults is to throw abusive words in the face of an opponent, to mock viciously.  Faithfulness to Christ may even cause friends and loved ones to say things that cut and hurt deeply. 

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            The last form of persecution that we experience is false accusation.  This describes evil things, primarily "abusive words said behind our backs."  This may be harder to take purely because it is harder to defend against.  It has opportunity to spread and be believed before we even have a chance to correct it.  Much harm to our reputation can be done even before we are aware someone has slandered us.

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            The specific blessing promised to those who are so persecuted is that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  The citizens of the kingdom are going to inherit the kingdom. 

            Sometimes, we receive and we enjoy present blessings of the kingdom.  We can look at OT characters like Joseph and Daniel to see the truth of this.  Joseph had all kinds of bad things happen to him, yet eventually God put him in charge of the entire nation of Egypt and used him to save the world from starvation.  Daniel was falsely accused of things, but also ended up with great power and great influence with a foreign government.

            However, we also need to keep in mind that doesn't always happen.  It isn't true that God only wants good, positive things for our lives.  No matter how much faith we claim; no matter what we might say, sometimes we experience negative things in life including what we might consider premature death.  Not every believer is rewarded in this life with the things of this life.  But every believer is rewarded in this life with the comfort, strength and joy of the indwelling Lord.  He is also blessed with the assurance that no service or sacrifice for the Lord will be in vain. 

            We will also experience the future reward of the eternal kingdom.  As believers we have the promise of the blessing of all blessings of living forever in our Lord's kingdom enjoying His very presence for all eternity.  Even if the world takes from us every possession; every freedom; every comfort; every satisfaction of physical life, it can take nothing from our spiritual life now or throughout eternity. 

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            The believer's response to persecution and affliction should not be to retreat and hate.  To escape from the world is to escape responsibility.  Because we belong to Christ, we are no longer of this world.  He has sent us into this world to serve, just as He Himself came into this world to serve. 

            We are salt and light.  Matt. 5:13-14.  For our salt to flavor and our light to enlighten, we must be active in the world.  The gospel is not given to be hidden.  When we become church salt we will sting the world's open wounds of sin.  When we become Christ's light we will irritate the eyes that are used to darkness.  But even when our salt and light are restricted, rejected and thrown back into our face, we should rejoice and be glad.  We can be glad because our reward is great.  We also rejoice because the prophets before us were also rejected.

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            Our assurance of salvation does not come from knowing we made a decision sometime in the past.  Rather, our assurance that we are saved is found in the life of righteousness that results in suffering for the sake of Christ.  Many will claim to have preached Christ, cast out demons and done mighty works, but will be refused heaven.  But none who have suffered righteously for Jesus will be left out. 

            As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to live a life that will produce persecution.  We shouldn't be stupid or sinful and think that's persecution when people react negatively towards us.  We also shouldn't seek persecution.  But we should live according to God's standards.  When we do that, the world will hate us and they will persecute us.  Praise God for that.

            If there are any decisions or professions of faith that anyone needs to make now, we invite you to come now and speak with me as we stand and sing.  Prayer.