Charles Spurgeon is honored by most evangelicals today as one of the most successful preachers ever. People have studied his preaching as masterpieces of oratory. They have written about the deepness of His walk with God, the practical character of his ministry, and in other ways have said that he was a model preacher. Now I say that because in his first few years of ministry he received nothing but criticism. There was a steady stream of articles trashing his sermons. There were numerous pamphlets that denounced his methods, motives, mannerisms, messages, and anything else they could think of. He was made fun of in cartoons and caricatures. Several writers even questioned whether he could be converted. It is astonishing to see the vitriol that was poured out on him.
At first, this unbelievable storm of criticism, ostracism, and hatred hurt Spurgeon deeply. He described himself as "broken in agony." Very few preachers have received the kind of criticism that he did. But his wife did something interesting. Rather than getting upset herself, and rather than encouraging him to feel sorry for himself, she prepared a plaque of Matthew 5:11-13 for the wall of their room. And those were the first words that he saw every day. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven." I think it was just as hard for her to rejoice, but she did, and it showed her maturity. And that plaque did wonders for Charles Spurgeon's spirit. In time Spurgeon learned how to take criticism in stride and he regained the joy of the Lord in the face of opposition. I think there is a reason why this beatitude was put at the apex of all of the other beatitudes. It is a sign of great maturity when we can rejoice in the face of persecution. And when you get depressed and bent out of shape over a few harsh words, it is a sign that you need to start down at beatitude 1 again and ask God to give you the reality and the power of beatitude eight.
The eighth beatitude says, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And then in verses 11-20 He gives an exposition of what he means by the blessing, by the persecution, and by the stand for righteousness. So we are going to take all of those verses together this morning.
The strangeness of this happiness (vv. 11-12)
It is experienced during the persecution ("when"; see Rom. 5:3; 1Pet 4:13)
The first thing I want us to notice is the strangeness of the happiness. Remember that we have seen the word "blessed" refers not just to objective blessing, but subjective happiness. Literally it is, "Happy are those who are persecuted." Jesus is not simply promising happiness in heaven (though that is a glorious truth). He is talking about happiness while the persecution is going on. That's what is so strange about this. Spurgeon just grew in his joy and in his sense of God's peace even though the opposition from liberals kept getting worse. I have a close friend in China who has told me that some of the deepest times of joy and realization of God's presence have come when he was being tortured for his faith. Yes there was pain and tears, but he said he had a joy that he just could not explain. It's a strange joy.
One translation of this is, "Oh the bliss of those who are persecuted for righteousness sake." The Greek is the perfect tense, which means that the persecution started in the past and continues in the present. And lest you think that must be an exaggeration, verse 11 repeats the concept using different words: "Happy are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake." Christ is talking about something very unusual going on: happiness and rejoicing in the midst of persecution.
How could Paul say, "we also glory in tribulations..." (Rom. 5:3)? Was he a masochist? No. He did not like the persecution, but he gloried in the richness of God's grace that he experienced in the midst of that persecution. How could Peter say, "rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings"? He is saying that there can be an increase of joy proportional to the increase of persecution. How can he say that?! It seems strange, but that is because it is supernatural. This has been the experience of countless saints down through history who have been given supernatural joy and blessing in the midst of persecution.
It can be experienced with intensity ("be exceedingly glad"; see Luke 6:23; 1 Pet. 1:8; 4:14)
A second aspect that makes it strange is that this joy and happiness can be experienced with such intensity. He says in verse 12, "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad." So there are three different Greek words here: makarioi — blessing/happiness; chairete — rejoicing or being glad; agaliasthe — which the dictionary says means extreme joy or extreme gladness. So there is happiness, gladness and extreme joy. Those are all subjective, aren't they? Well, Luke uses a fourth word: skirtesate — to leap for joy: "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets."
Now there are people who have trouble with this. They try to explain away the subjective elements of happiness, gladness and joy by calling it hyperbole. Or some will say that when you look back on the persecution you will be able to appreciate what God has done. But Luke 6 says, "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!" 1 Peter was written to believers who were undergoing intense persecution. He speaks of it as a fiery trial. And in the midst of that trial he says, "yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory..." (1:8). It is an intense joy. It is such a profound sense of joy that they couldn't put it into words; they couldn't describe it; it was inexpressible. And the reason for it is that it is supernatural joy. 1 Peter 4:14 says, "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." That's what makes it joyful. He says, the reason you have bliss is that the Spirit of God rests upon you. And that is why the next point says that this happiness and joy is consistent with tears. The tears come from our human circumstances and the joy comes from the spiritual circumstances that are unseen to human eyes. And point number C is an important point.
Yet it can be consistent with tears (v. 4; Ps. 30:5; 126:6; Eccl. 3:4; Luke 6:21; John 16:20-21; Rom. 12:15)
We shouldn't get the idea that Christ is discounting pain, suffering and tears. He is not. He just finished saying, "Blessed are those who mourn." And so Christ is recognizing tears as being a legitimate part of the Christian life. You can't read through the Psalms without seeing the anguish believers experience. And I've listed a couple of examples. In Romans 12:15 Paul commands us to "weep with those who weep." We would have an imbalanced Christianity if we were to say that our hearts could never be heavy.
When I was a kid in boarding school it used to irritate me when people wouldn't let you be sad. It was always, "Come on Phil, smile, God loves you!" and you were supposed to wear a white flashy smile all the time. Well I knew there had to be something wrong with that theology since Christ wept, Jeremiah wrote a book on godly weeping, the psalms were filled with weeping. Christ is not denying the terribleness of persecution. In fact, He is using the terribleness of persecution to let His disciples know that He is talking about a joy and happiness that is totally beyond human comprehension here - what Peter calls a joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Years ago an old lady was reproved for her expression of grief, and she said, "Now look here, honey; when de good Lord sends us tribulations, don't you s'pose He 'spects us to tribulate?" And I think anyone who reads the Scriptures would have to say "Yeah, we're s'posed to tribulate." Well, if that's the case, how can these concepts fit together? In John 16:20-22 Christ uses the imagery of birthing labor to explain this. I think Sarah will understand what we are talking about here. No one likes the pain of childbirth. You cry out, right? There can be tears. But there is a joy involved as well. And Christ speaks of coming to them by giving them another Comforter, and in His presence there is fullness of joy.
And yet it is not strange to the true disciple (1 Pet. 4:12-14; Ps. 119:67,71; Mark 10:28-30; Luke 6:26; Acts 5:41; 2 Cor. 12:9-10; Col. 1:24; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 8:18; James 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:6-8)
And so yes, from the world's perspective this is a strange, strange thing that Christ is talking about. But for Christians it should not be strange. Peter said, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings" (1 Pet. 4:12). He is telling them not to think of this eighth blessing of Christ as a strange blessing. For immature Christians it does seem strange. But it has been the wonderful testimony of saints all down through the years. In Acts 5 the apostles were whipped by the Sanhedrin for preaching the Gospel, and with bleeding and bruised bodies they rejoiced. Verses 40-41 say, "they departed from the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." Again in Acts 16 Paul and Silas have the same testimony. After being beaten and chained in prison they hurt so bad that they can't even sleep, and yet Acts tells us that they didn't spend their time of insomnia feeling sorry for themselves. It says they were praising God, praying and singing hymns to God.
The condition — yoked with Christ by faith (vv. 10-16)
1 Peter says that God gives this joy. Philippians says that God gives a peace that passes all understanding. If that is true, then why does Christ command us to rejoice? Wouldn't we just automatically rejoice if it was all of God's grace? And Christ's answer here and elsewhere in Scripture is that we must be yoked with Christ by faith. If you are not actively entering into the fellowship of His sufferings, you will not have that joy. And if you aren't entering into the fellowship of His power during good times, it is unlikely that you will experience the fellowship of His sufferings during bad times. It is only when we receive His grace by faith that we find His yoke easy and His burden light.
And I think this Roman numeral II is implied throughout. We won't spend much time on it. When it comes to persecution, we aren't being persecuted like the Tibetans are — simply because of differences of religion, culture, and viewpoint. The persecution that is blessed is a persecution of Jesus within us. When Jesus says that we are persecuted "for My sake," He is saying that He takes it personally. When we by faith are yoked with Jesus in His sufferings we will also be yoked with Jesus in His grace, joy, power, and provision — and the beatitude says, whatever else we need in the kingdom — theirs is the kingdom. We need to learn how to enter into that fellowship. And experiencing that provision doesn't always mean escape.
Let me read you of a persecution that is not a great story. But I am giving it because it is easy to think that God will immediately rescue us if we have faith. But that's not always true. Nevertheless, Paul's testimony can always be theirs when Paul said, "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformable to His death." In other words, it doesn't matter what circumstances you may be going through, you are going through them with Christ. Three South African missionaries were arrested in Zambia and while they were in the prison they met a Christian South African who had been there for almost five years. And they were dismayed to hear his cries as he was daily tortured. Here is part of their testimony:
Isaiah had been detained and severely tortured since February 1986. He had been falsely accused of being a spy and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
At night the cries and agonizing screams could be heard from Isaiah's cell. The Zambian police had tortured Isaiah by suffocating him in buckets of water, burning him with red-hot pokers, brutally beating him and subjecting him to hours of electric shock. His body was covered with ugly sores that were swollen and infested.
Through all the torment, Isaiah managed to maintain his faith that God would deliver him. Filled with peace and joy of the Lord, Isaiah passed the long hours in prayer, singing hymns, and witnessing to his fellow prisoners.
Now he did as a matter of fact escape at the end of five years. These missionaries were able to make his plight known to Christian Solidarity International, and after a lot of international attention, he was released in the summer of 1992 — but it was after five years of daily torture. His name is Isaiah Moyo. And people might think, "That hardly seems like the power of Christ's resurrection. That hardly seems like the fellowship of His sufferings." But Isaac Moyo would tell you differently. His testimony was that despite the agony of the pain, God compensated with an invasion of a supernatural overflowing peace and joy. He was identifying with Christ, and thus Christ identified with His persecution. Too many people suffer the persecution all by themselves because they don't identify with Christ by faith. When their boss yells at them, they take it personally rather than seeing it as an attack on Jesus. When their wife treats them badly, they can't rejoice because they take it personally rather than seeing themselves as yoked with Jesus. None of this can be received apart from faith. Another way of saying it is that you can't jump to beatitude 8 by skipping the previous beatitudes.
And each of the illustrations shows us being yoked with Jesus and His cause. We have no salt in ourselves apart from the presence of Christ within us. Where do we get it? By faith we receive it. We can't be lamps without the oil of the Holy Spirit and the flame of Jesus empowering us. And we will be seeing in verses 17-20 that the persecution that God blesses with His presence is not persecution that comes because we are stubbornly pursuing our own will. Rather it is a persecution that comes because of Christ's will, Christ's law and Christ's cause. And so, yes, there is a condition, but it is simply the condition of the first seven beatitudes — to walk by faith in the finished work that Jesus has accomplished for us. The only condition is to be yoked with Christ by faith. If you are yoked with Christ you will receive His sufferings, but you will also receive His blessings, won't you? So you've got to look at suffering through the Gospel of Jesus.
The only alternatives (vv. 13-16)
A wasted life or kingdom living
I have thrown point III into the outline because we tend to be creatures that like to avoid pain, and we will avoid pain even if we are shown the value of the reward. So I want to talk about the inescapability of facing costs, because if you know you will have suffering with either choice, it will help you to make the right choice. There are costs to being disciples of Jesus Christ, but there are even greater costs in failing to do so.
How many of you have read the book, Lord's of the Earth, by Don Richardson? It's a wonderful book on missions. I want to read one little portion of that book. I've deliberately picked a portion that seems to contradict what we have just said. But I think you will see in a moment that it does not.
There was an Australian missionary by the name of Stan Dale who went into the Yali tribe of Irian Jaya. These people were cannibals that he longed to bring to salvation. He had won some Yali's to Christ, but his life was very quickly brought down and it seemed as if His witness was lost. From the world's perspective it seemed like a tragedy, and yet there was something about the radiance of Stan Dale and fellow missionary Phil Masters that had a profound impact upon their persecutors long after they died. Richardson says:
A priest of Kembu named Bereway slipped around behind Stan and - at point blank range - shot an arrow in under his upraised arm. Another priest, Bunu, shot a bamboo-bladed shaft into Stan's back, just below his right shoulder.
...As the arrows entered his flesh, Stan pulled them out, one by one, broke them and cast them away. [And by the way, it doesn't mention it here, but he was seeking to reinforce the Gospel with these actions that they had come in friendship and peace.] Dozens of them were coming at him from all directions. He kept pulling them out, breaking them and dropping them at his feet until he could not keep ahead of them. Nalimo reached the scene after some 30 arrows had found their mark in Stan's body.
"How can he stand there so long?" Nalimo gasped. "Why doesn't He fall? Any one of us would have fallen long ago!" A different kind of shaft pierced Nalimo's normally impassive face melted with sudden emotion...
Stan faced his enemies, steady and unwavering except for the jolt of each new strike...
Fifty arrows - sixty! Red ribbons of blood trailed from the many wounds, but still Stan stood his ground. Nalimo saw that he was not alone in his fear. The attack had begun with hilarity, but now the warriors shot their arrows with desperation bordering on panic because Stan refused to fall. Perhaps Kusaho was right! Perhaps they were committing a monstrous crime against the supernatural world instead of defending it, as they intended.
"Fall!" they screamed at Stan. "Die!" It was a plea - please die!
Yemu did not hear Phil [Masters, a fellow missionary] say anything to the warriors as they aimed their arrows at him. Phil made no attempt to flee or struggle. He had faced danger many times but never certain death. But Stan had shown him how to face it, if he needed an example. That example could hardly have been followed with greater courage.
Once again, it was Bereway who shot the first arrow. And it took almost as many arrows to down Phil as it had Stan.
Yemu and the three Danis waited until they knew Phil was too badly wounded to survive...1
The hatred of the Kembu priests had wiped out the missionary force in that area. The mission closed down that station and had no intentions of going back. But the Indonesian army flew in with machine guns and made matters worse by killing five people and taking one prisoner. Well, that made the people even more hostile, so it seemed as if there was no hope of opening that area up again any time soon.
So here is the question: Were their lives wasted lives? Many people said so. And there were more apparently wasted lives that God was weaving into His kingdom tapestry. Mission Aviation Pilot Menno Voth had just been in Irian Jaya for six months and he was taking a missionary family on a trip. The passengers were Gene and Lois Newman and their children Paul (who was 9), Steven (who was 5), Joyce (who was 3), and baby Jonathan (who was 1). Part way through the flight, a monsoon storm took the plane way off course and the pilot was totally lost in the clouds. He got trapped in a mountain range and the plane crashed a few hundred feet away from where Phil and Stan and been killed and eaten. The only survivor was 9-year-old Paul who watched his family go up in flames. He was unhurt, but he lost his glasses and couldn't see very well. He ran as fast as he could up a path since he thought they were in Muria where there were friendly natives. Richardson says:
Paul had no inkling that he was climbing a hill only 800 yards downstream from the place where Stan and Phil spent their last night. Or that hundreds of eyes watched him now from lofty mountain ridges. Eyes of people who, three months earlier, hounded Stan and Phil to death. And who, two months earlier, lost five of their own number to the guns of patrolmen. In the normal course of Yali tradition, those people would relish a chance to exact vengeance for their five dead brothers, especially upon one lone unarmed figure.2
I can't read you the part that shows how one of the warriors, Kusaho, had been pricked in conscience much like Saul was at the stoning of Stephen. Kusaho saw the reality of verses 10-13 on the faces of martyrs Stan and Phil. He saw the radiance, love and joy that could not be explained, and he had ever since felt guilty and tormented in soul. Now he felt a compulsion to protect this boy. Richardson said:
The man also wore a pig tusk, the sharpened ends jutting fiercely from his nostrils. An equally fierce looking necklace of dog fangs hung around his neck. His eyes, however, were anything but fierce - as they stared incredulously, as did Paul's. Then Paul saw the bow and arrows in the man's hands, and he started with fear. The killing of Mr. Dale and Mr. Masters was still fresh in his mind. Instinctively, Paul held his hand out in front of him and cringed.
"No, mister!" he pleaded. "Don't shoot me!"
Kusaho understood not a word, but the gesture was plain. He laid down his weapons and held out his hands, palms up. Paul relaxed. Kusaho looked over his shoulder, afraid that his brothers might see the boy, and return to kill him for Kumi's sake. But the mist hid everyone else from view.
"How very, very strange," Kusaho mused; "after my friends killed the two duongs, I wished I had welcomed them into my own yogwa and tried to protect them from the savagery of my own people. Now, so unexpectedly, I have opportunity to do what I wanted to do before - protect a duong. A little boy duong this time. It's as if someone understood my wish and arranged to fulfill it in this strange, strange manner."3
He befriended the boy, and over time became a bridge to open that tribe once again to the Gospel. Because of those two incidents, today almost the entire Yali tribe and the territory around them has come to know Christ, and rather than eating missionaries, they eat around the Lord's Table. Now, if you knew for certain that 200,000 Yalis would be saved as a result of your death, would you be willing to face what Stan and Phil faced? I would; in a heartbeat. And I think you would to. God has made us want our lives to count. We don't want our lives to be wasted. But that's the whole point of this beatitude — God can make every persecution you face to count for time and eternity.
If you abandon beatitudes 1-7 in order to avoid persecution (which is what many people do), God says your life will be wasted. Even if you preserve your life, it will be wasted. But when you respond like the prophets who were persecuted in verse 12, your life will count. If you were to take a list of all the people in history who have counted for something, certainly the prophets who wrote the Scriptures would be said to have lives that counted. Hebrews 11:38 says of these prophets who were persecuted, "of whom the world was not worthy." This beatitude is the dividing line between those whose lives are wasted and those whose lives count for eternity. Which life do you choose? As for me, I want a life that will count for eternity.
Suffering as salt or suffering as unsalty salt
Verse 13 shows another inescapable contrast — you can suffer because you are acting as salt or you can suffer because you are failing to act as salt. "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men." There are two kinds of opposition in this verse. There is opposition from the world because you are being truly salty. That means that you are influencing and changing culture for Christ, and are representing Christ to the world. And you know what? Salt stings when it goes into wounds. The world doesn't like the salt of Christianity. But it is a preservative force in the world for good. Salty Christians are what are going to turn this world around.
The second kind of opposition is because you lack the salt of Christ's grace in your life. In this situation you are failing to identify with Christ, and failing to seek to bring culture to bow its knees before king Jesus. You have made friends with the world, but ironically the world will trample you under its feet. To be under someone's feet means to be under their dominion. It means that humanism will dominate. And when humanism dominates, everyone suffers. It's a different kind of opposition, but you cannot escape opposition if you are a believer. Which opposition brings joy? It's only the first. So if the cost will always be there, why not be salt and make a difference?
"Good for nothing" versus "Glorify your Father"
There is a third vivid contrast in these verses. There is the declaration in verse 13 that some Christians are good for nothing, and then you look at the prophets persecuted in verse 12, whom Hebrews 11:38 says that the world is not worthy. It is good for nothing versus lives that have great worth.
Spurgeon illustrated it this way in a sermon :
The teacher said, "Boys, here's a watch. What is it for?" The children answered, "To tell time." "Well," said he, "suppose my watch does not tell the time. What is it good for?" "Good for nothing, sir." Then he took a pencil. "What is this pencil for?" "It is to write with, sir." "Suppose the pencil won't make a mark. What is it good for?" "Good for nothing, sir." Then the teacher asked, "What is the chief end of man?" And they replied, "To glorify God." "But suppose a man does not glorify God. What is he good for?" "Good for nothing, sir."
I don't know about you, but those words in verse 13 — "good for nothing" - are frightful words for me. I want Christ to say to me in the last day, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." The Christian's aim should be to live every minute of His life out of love for God and for His glory. "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." And if you do, persecution can never shake you or take away your joy. If your money is lost you will be able to say, "If it glorifies God for me to be poor now, I am no loser. I gave my goods to God long ago." The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. If you are put in prison you will be able to say, "I have lost my liberty, but I am no loser. I gave my liberty to God long ago." If they sentence you to die, you will still be able to say, "I am no loser, for I gave him my life long ago. I am altogether Christ's."
If you've read the story of Jim Elliot, the missionary martyred by Auca Indians you will remember his famous words, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." When we live our lives for God's glory we gain something the world cannot take away from us, but if we live our lives for things below we will lose them eventually and have nothing. These verses contrast a life that is good for nothing and a life that has huge significance.
Transitory happiness versus a joy that strengthens us in the toughest of times
Point D gives a fourth contrast. The reason some people do anything they can to avoid persecution is because they want to be happy. But Christ points out that this is a fleeting happiness that cannot carry you through the tough times. What is so wonderful about Christ's joy is that it sustains you through the persecution. Listen to the following Scriptures that tie God's joy together with strength.
Nehemiah 8:10 says, "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Stan Dale and Phil Masters had an incredible strength to face the enemy because of the supernatural joy and peace that came from knowing that their life was hidden in God. 1 Chron. 16:10-11 speaks of a strengthening that occurs from rejoicing in God and then in verse 27 he says, "strength and gladness are in His place." Ezra 6:22 says "The Lord made them joyful...to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God." Proverbs 17:22 says, "A happy heart does good like medicine." It literally performs healing. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 speaks of Christ's statement that His strength was made perfect in Paul's weakness, but in the midst of the passage Paul says that he rejoices in this truth that the power of Christ might rest upon him. Hebrews 12:2 says about Christ, "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross."
You are putting the cart before the horse when you avoid persecution in order to be happy. It was joy that enabled Christ to endure. It was joy that enabled Paul and Silas to endure. He wants the world to sit up and take notice because when you mash our finger with a hammer, and no curse words escape; when you lose your stocks and bonds, and your perspective on life is not destroyed.
Brilliant testimony versus lost testimony (v. 14)
The fifth contrast is between a brilliant testimony that cannot be hid from anyone and a lost testimony. He says in verse 14, You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. We are there as a light to be noticed by the world. We are there to be a city that cannot be missed. And when we cannot be missed, yes, eventually Satan will find a way of bringing the persecution. But the joy of Christianity is that persecution cannot destroy a testimony. The more Satan seeks to stamp out the flame of our light, the more the fire catches on and grows. But the opposite is true when we fail to take up our cross and follow Christ. We can receive the same kind of opposition from the world; we will be stomped on, but when we fail to be out and out for Jesus, God will allow Satan to stomp out our light rather than causing us to shine more brightly. Our testimony will be diminished and perhaps even ruined.
A nurse in London complained to Bishop Taylor Smith that she had been treated rudely by some of her patients. He said, "Thank God for that!" And she was kind of taken aback and said, "What do you mean?" And he explained. "Why, if you are carrying a vessel and somebody knocks up against you, you can only spill out of the vessel what is inside. And when people misjudge and persecute us, we can only spill what is inside." What do people see in you when you receive tribulations, trials and persecutions? Is your life so full of beatitudes 1-7 that only a godly testimony spills out? Do they witness the joy of the Lord, or do you lose all joy when you get bumped? That is a good indication of how fully you are living out these beatitudes. Jeremiah 12:5 says, "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" That is basically what my challenge is to you. If you lose your joy when you are faced with inconveniences, how will you possibly manage to have this joy when persecution heats up against you? You have got to learn how to enjoy kingdom living in the safe country before you will be able to enjoy it in the thickets by the Jordan.
Preserving our own will versus preserving God's will (vv. 17-20)
The last contrast that Christ addresses is preserving our own will versus preserving God's will. It is so easy to start cutting out embarrassing parts of the Bible in order to avoid persecution. Initially it might be cutting out creationism because of how so-called scientists attack the Bible's cosmology and persecute creationist professors. O yes, there is lots of persecution of creationist professors. In most Universities they can't teach. So in order to succeed, these professors adopt Day Age or one of the other false theories on Genesis 1. Later it might be hell that we dismiss because we are embarrassed by what others think about it. Later it might be Scripture's views on women, then on homosexuals, and then on other topics that we don't like. We have seen the last 100 years eroding one commandment after another and one doctrine after another until we live in a postmodern time when churches are afraid to touch on anything. Keep your mouth closed and you might avoid some persecution. But rather than pushing our own agendas, Christ wants us to be proud of and preserve every jot and tittle of the Old Testament. Let me just read without comment verses 17-20. This is what Christ meant to be persecuted for righteousness sake. He's talking about Old Testament righteousness. He's talking about every portion of the Word.
Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
Matthew 5:18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Matthew 5:19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
If there are no alternatives other than facing the discomfort of losing God's smile of approval or facing the discomfort of losing the smile of man's approval, choose to follow God. Since He is the source of every blessing, it is always safe to walk with Him during both pleasant times and tough times. My exhortation to you is to embrace all eight beatitudes. They are the blueprint for happiness, joy, fulfillment, and success in kingdom living. And may this church be filled to overflowing with the blessing of the Lord. Amen.