The Beatitudes: The Persecuted
Passage: Matthew 5:10–5:12
If we are to be living out this faith, scripture is going to be clear today, that man, we ought to feel some heat for it. It may not look like persecution overseas, but we ought to see persecution in our life.
So I want you to see it here in Matthew chapter 5, and let’s start in verse 10, I think it’s so fitting after all these Beatitudes, He closes with this one:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Now I think again, it’s interesting. Last week, we talked about “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” And so we have this idea of being at peace, and scripture is clear, as far as it depends on us, we are to pursue peace with people. But I think this Beatitude comes and kind of balances that out, and reminds us that, look, we are to live at peace with all, but there will be some in life who are going to come – in fact, because we’re following Christ, are gonna come against us, and that there will be persecution.
In fact, Jesus Himself, in Matthew chapter 10, says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother . . . a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” In other words, what Jesus is teaching is that if you follow Me, there will be people, maybe even in your family, who will turn against you.
1. The Reality of Persecution
And so this is something that is a reality. And so the first thing I want you to see is what I just said: The reality of persecution. This text is telling us that persecution is a reality not just for Russia and overseas, but it ought to be a reality for our lives here in Frisco. In fact, it is the mark of being a Christian.
Remember that each one of these Beatitudes, Jesus is laying out for us what kingdom living ought to look like. In other words, people who belong to the kingdom, this is what ought to be true for them. So it’s not like, you might have two or three of these Beatitudes, but not the rest. It’s not like gifts of the Spirit, where the Holy Spirit gives some people a certain gift, and another person a different one. No. These Beatitudes are to be seen as such, that, man, this should be the characteristic of all Christians. Not saying we’re perfect at this, but this is what ought to be what we are known for.
So this is the one Beatitude that actually is mentioned twice. Blessed are those who are persecuted, and then He turns it personally: Blessed are YOU when people persecute you and revile you. And so what I think is meant to be pressed down on us is, just like we are to be poor in spirit, and mourn, and meek, that a mark of a Christian is that he or she would suffer persecution. In fact, the moment you commit your life to Christ, I want you to know – make sure you know, there’s no fine line here – when you sign on the line to follow Christ, you are signing on for persecution.
In fact, in Philippians chapter 1, Paul says to the Philippians there that the persecution that they are suffering is a sign of their salvation. He goes on to say in Philippians 1:29 that it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him. In other words, Christian, here’s your great gift. You ready for it? You’re gonna be excited. You get to not only believe in Jesus, but you also get to suffer for Him! True. In Philippians he says it like that, like it’s a gift. Rejoice in it!
And so again, you might be looking at me like, Are you crazy? How is that a good thing? It’s been granted to me, I get to suffer for Him? Is that a good thing?
And I hope that by the end of this sermon that we’ll get a sense of why we can actually see it as a positive and rejoice in it. And so, all the Bible, friend, is very clear. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. In Acts 14 he says, “Through many tribulations we will enter the kingdom of God. All right? On and on you get this. Jesus says in this world that you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) No wonder Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)
In other words, for the Christian, when a trial comes, he or she should say, Oh yeah, of course. I expect this. And not see it as something strange that’s happening. And so the mark of a Christian is that he would be persecuted.
So now let’s talk about the nature of this persecution. Because you might be saying, Well, wait a minute, I’m not being beaten for it, I’m not being thrown in prison like what we saw on this video. And I wanna say to you that I don’t think this verse means, first of all, that we are to be persecuted at every moment or every day. I think what it’s saying, though, is that persecution is inevitable, and that you ought to even bank on it.
And I don’t think it means only physical persecution, though some do, as we saw, endure that. But I think it means all kinds of persecution. In fact, here in verse 11 it says that they will even utter all kinds of evil against you. So the word there, by the way, for persecution carries this idea of being pursued or chased. Another translation could be “harassed.” In other words, you might not be thrown in prison, but all of us ought to at some point feel some heat from the world for following Christ. That’s what this text is teaching us.
So it may be that you’re getting passed over at work. Not being looked at, and not getting that promotion that maybe somebody else who’s less qualified than you is getting. And maybe it’s because the people who are over you do not look favorably upon your commitment to your Christian ethics. Maybe you’re not climbing the ladder because when you go on that out-of-town business trip, after the meeting you’re not going to the strip club with everybody else. And so you’re not climbing the ladder quickly. Maybe it’s a student in high school who’s getting ostracized by their friends because they don’t go along with the crowd. Or it’s moms in neighborhoods that aren’t invited to the other mom events because maybe they don’t enjoy all the gossip that they’re involved in.
Somehow, we ought to expect this kind of – in fact, more and more in our culture, as we align ourselves to Christ and his teaching, we’re gonna suffer persecution for it.
In fact, some of you know the story of Kelvin Cochran. He is 30 years a firefighter, served faithfully his community. Finally he was appointed Fire Chief for the city of Atlanta in 2008. He was so accomplished that in 2009, President Obama actually appointed him the U.S. Fire Administrator for the country. So much so, that Atlanta actually begged for him to return. In 2010, he returned. But the thing is, Kelvin was also a deacon and a Bible study teacher in his church, and he wrote a book called “Who Told You that You Were Naked?” about Genesis and about the fall.
And in it, he talked about the only way that we can have restoration with God because of the fall, the only way is through the grace that comes in Jesus alone. He started preaching the exclusivity of Christ in this book. And he even talked about marriage, and how marriage is to be one man and one woman for eternity. And so what happens is, people came against him, because obviously they were supporting same-sex marriage. And ultimately, they put so much pressure on the city of Atlanta that he was suspended for 30 days, and at the end of that, he was fired. A guy who served faithfully for 30 years, recognized, is fired, because ultimately he was aligning his life with the way of Christ.
And so, listen. This reminds me – you might look at this Beatitude and say, well, this doesn't really tell me anything of a characteristic of a Christian. It tells me how a Christian responds. But I think there is some characteristic in there also. It’s telling me that a Christian is actually not one who is going to be applauded by all. We tend to go, Oh, that guy’s a great Christian; everybody loves him. Well actually, what makes somebody really a Christian, the mark of a Christian, is that he’s NOT going to be applauded by all. In fact, some, and many are gonna revile him. And it’s gonna prove that he is a Christian. Jesus said as much. Look at this, Luke 6:26. He says “Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
Now you say, Wait a minute, 1 Timothy 3 says that an elder is to be well thought of by outsiders. Well yeah, what that’s speaking to is, let your conduct be honorable among gentiles. In other words, there’s nothing in my conduct that they can malign, but it’s the fact that I belong to Christ – that man, you should be maligned. If everyone speaks well of you, you’ve got to wonder if you’re really following Christ. That’s what Jesus is saying.
And so, why don’t we experience this persecution? We said the mark or nature of a Christian is that some way, it may not be being thrown into prison, but you ought to feel some heat, so you might be saying, I don’t feel any heat. So we need to ask ourselves why? And I would give you three reasons, at least, why many of us don’t.
First of all, we are the “Bubble Christian.” You know what I mean by that. All we do is hang out with Christians in our life. We hang out in church, with our friends; we go to work. In fact everybody at our work is Christian. Nothing bad about that, but, man, when we go out to dinner afterwards, we’re out with our Christian friends, then we go home and we slide in the alley and we go in the garage and we close that garage door behind us, and we don’t even talk to our neighbors who aren’t Christian. And so, maybe you don’t feel any heat because you’re living in that bubble.
Maybe you aren’t suffering persecution because you’re not a Bubble Christian, but you’re a Silent Christian. In other words, you believe in Christ, but you don’t speak up about Him. You know, even in Jesus’ time, in John, it says that many believed in Jesus, but for fear of being put out of the synagogue, they didn't confess Him.
And Jesus is clear that this kind of Silent Christianity actually may not be Christianity at all. Jesus says in Matthew 10, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father in Heaven. If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in Heaven.”
So maybe it’s that when people come against the church or against Christ, we don’t speak up. Maybe we deny Him that way, by being silent.
Or maybe it’s not the Bubble or the Silent, but it’s the Blended Christian. You know what I’m talking about here. You are so assimilated with the culture all around you, that nobody would even see Christ in your life, to be able to even persecute you. In other words, we are approving the world’s ways with the way we live our life. And scripture is clear that we’re not to take part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but we’re rather to expose them. Romans 12:1 says we are not to be conformed to the world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we will be able to discern what is the good and perfect will of God. It says, by testing. In other words, we are following the word of God, the will of God. And shining out. But man, some of us, we’ve conformed.
And so, ask yourself this. In fact, we ought to stop, and everyone turn to their neighbor and say “Are you a Bubble Christian, or a Silent Christian, or a Blended Christian?” Okay, Go. Just kidding. But seriously, which one of those are you? Or are you a Christian that’s saying, no, I feel persecution. There’s the Reality of it.
2. The Reason for Persecution
Secondly, I want you to see the Reason for it. This is very important. The Reason for persecution is clearly given to us. It says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for RIGHTEOUSNESS’ sake. So it’s not for foolishness or sin that we suffer persecution, right? He doesn't say here, “Blessed are those who are persecuted, period.” It’s not just any kind of reason. Some of us might be persecuted because we deserve it!
Right? And in Peter 4:15 it says, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or as an evildoer. But if you suffer for the name of Christ, then you are blessed.” In other words, some of us are suffering heat in our lives because of sin in our life. We dare not say, “I’m suffering because of Jesus.”
And some of us, it’s maybe not sin, it’s just foolishness. What I mean by that is it’s this kind of brash, judgmental, obnoxious brand of Christianity. You stand on the street corner and yell at people as they pass by, that they’re going to hell. You probably deserve persecution, all right? That’s not what we’re talking about here. That’s not being persecuted for Christ’s sake, for righteousness’ sake.
And so this is very clear. It’s not for that kind, it’s for righteousness’ sake that we’re persecuted. And so we’re gonna talk about this more in a couple of weeks, but in Matthew 5 Jesus says in verse 17 through 20 that our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees. And we see all throughout the book of Matthew that the Pharisees come against the disciples, because they’re not going their way. They’re not just trying to keep the letter of the law, without the heart. That’s what the Pharisees were doing. They did all the outside, outward righteousness, but they weren’t moving in love towards others; moving in mercy to meet others’ needs. In fact, sometimes, by the way, persecution is gonna come from the establishment, from the religious establishment.
But we know, again, that persecution ought to come for righteousness’ sake, from the world. 1 Peter 4, Peter says it this way: That we’re no longer to run after the lusts of the world, but we’re to run after the will of God. And then he says this: “With respect to this, they (that is, the world) are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” The world will persecute you when you are not swept up in everything else that this world gets swept up in. But you are running after what the Beatitudes list out. They’re gonna come against you. Why? Because really, your life is condemning them.
This is what Hebrews 11:7 says, that Noah, when he was warned by God to build an ark, “he built the ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world.” In other words, him living his faith out, trusting God even though people thought he was crazy, continuing to follow God was actually condemning the world around him. And that is what “for righteousness’ sake” really means. You live out the Beatitudes, there’s a conviction that falls on the unbelieving world around us.
They look at the Beatitudes and they mock it and scoff at it. If you’re really poor in spirit, broken and mourning over your sin, as the Beatitude says, the world is gonna come against that. The world in its pride is gonna say, “We don’t need a Savior! We’re not sinners!” The world looks at meekness and they see it as weakness. The world looks at hungering and thirsting for righteousness as foolishness. They run after the stuff of this world to fill us. The world looks at us as being merciful, and that kind of life rebukes their life, that wants to engage in this back-and-forth vengeance. The world looks at being pure in heart, and again, running solely after Christ and not idols is gonna convict them. The world looks at peacemaking, and not just cheap peacemaking, but peacemaking at a cost, that says, Hey, I’m not gonna be satisfied with just, We point our guns at each other, we’re at a standstill, and that’s it. No, I wanna go the extra mile, and actually reconcile.
The world is convicted by that kind of righteousness. And when we align our life with the Beatitudes, we ought to feel it, again. But ultimately, friend, what this text is telling me that we are persecuted, and for righteousness’ sake, I believe, is explained to us in the next verse. It’s because of Him. It’s because of Jesus.
Look at it, in verse 11: Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely ON MY ACCOUNT. In other words, on the account of Christ you are ultimately persecuted. You’re persecuted because of Jesus.
And so everyone who follows Jesus, lives life to please Him, runs after His name, is going to feel heat from the world. Jesus said as much in John 15:20, He says, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
So, friend, this tells me a lot about Jesus, by the way. There’s some people in the world who would say, “Oh, we love Jesus. We respect Him. He was a great teacher, great humanitarian.”
Look at me. The world doesn't submit their lives to Him. They don’t really know the REAL Jesus. The biblical Jesus is not merely to be revered and respected. Do you understand who Jesus is, that He is the Lord, He is the Savior? That kind of Jesus is offensive to the world. I mean, either the reaction is, you worship Him, or you actually hate him. Coming against the world – He is the light that shines in the darkness. He shows men and women that we are sinners, hopeless and in need of a Savior. And that kind of truth of Christ, again, is gonna repel the sinful man and his pride. I don’t need a Savior.
So when you live for the name of Jesus, you identify with Him, you ought to suffer. This is why Peter, remember, when he denied Christ three times. A servant girl said, “Weren’t you also with Him?” And he had an opportunity to identify with Christ, or to reject him. And the Bible says, you know, he denied Him three times. Because he understood, if I am gonna identify with Christ, it will bring heat and suffering on me.
And so, how are we to respond to this truth? We said the Reality, we said the Reason for it. Before I get to my third and last point, How should we respond? And I think this is what makes this Beatitude, again, stand out from the world. We said that every one of these Beatitudes is going to just counter what the world says. And this one more than any other.
He doesn't say, when you’re persecuted, that you ought to just, you know, endure it. Just grin and bear it. It doesn't say we’re ever to retaliate. It doesn't say we’re to resent and become bitter. It doesn't say we’re to be depressed and be defeated. It doesn't say, again, just to endure it. What does it say? It says that you are to rejoice and be glad. Are you kidding me? The world is gonna say, That makes no sense. Why in the world would you ever rejoice and be glad for persecution?
3. The Reward for Persecution
And I think that this text wants to tell us the Reward for persecution. By the way, before I get to this last point, which is the Reward, I love how Hebrews 12:2 says it. And I think this is the verse that kind of explains it best for me. It says of Jesus, “Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” So how is Jesus able to endure the cross, to walk through it? For the JOY that was set before Him. In other words, He looked through the persecution, and He saw the reward. And, friend, I believe there is great reward for suffering for the name of Christ. And let me give you five quick reasons before we close.
First: It proves you belong to God. It proves you belong to the kingdom of God. Remember, this Beatitude says, Blessed are those who are persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. In other words, if you are persecuted, if the enemy of God turns up the heat, and the world comes against you in any way, you lose your job, you’re kicked out of your house, whatever it might be – in that moment, you can actually turn and say “Thank You,” even to the enemy, for bringing this heat to you, because you are proving that I belong to God, that I am a member of the kingdom of God.
Jesus says in John 15, listen to me, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you” and look what it says, “If you are of the world, the world would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) So, friend, when the world hates me, I’m able to say, That’s proof positive that Jesus chose me out of the world. And so, man, there is great reason to rejoice in that.
In John 16:2, Jesus looks at His disciples and says, people are gonna bring you before the rulers and persecute you, and some will even take your life, thinking they’re doing a service to God. God never promised us a safe life. Let me tell you what He wants for you and me. In John 17 He prays for His disciples, And He says the world hates them, they don’t belong to the world. I pray that You don’t take them from the world, but I pray that You keep them from the evil one. Friend, what Jesus is praying for you is not that you would never go through persecution. That’s not what He’s praying. Here’s what He’s praying for you: That WHEN you do, not if you do, WHEN you do, your faith won’t be shaken by the enemy. That you will be able to stand and walk through it.
Secondly, I can rejoice because I am identifying with Jesus. Again, righteousness’ sake means “on account of His name.” In other words, persecution for the Christian is an opportunity to bring honor to the name of Christ. And friend, THAT is reason enough to rejoice. If I didn't give you any other reason, that in and of itself is reason to rejoice. That my life can bring honor to the name of Christ. Listen to how Peter says it in 1 Peter 4:13-14: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
This is why in Acts, when the early church suffered, the Bible says they actually prayed and thanked God that they were counted worthy to suffer for Him. Can you imagine that? God, thank You that I don’t just the title of Christian, but You’re looking at me, and you see me as one who is worthy to suffer for Your name.
And again, this gives me another characteristic of a Christian. It’s because a true Christian lives for that name. You know you’re a Christian, when you are living not for your name, but for His name. That’s what happens to the Christian. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says that those who’ve been saved by Christ no longer live life for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again.
I live it for THAT name and I get great joy when my life, through good or bad, brings honor to Him. This is why in Acts 9:13 when the Spirit of God told Ananias about Paul, who was Saul persecuting the church, Ananias goes, “Don’t you know he’s here to arrest anyone who calls on the name of the Lord?” And look what Jesus does, He turns it. He says, No, go to him, he’s my chosen instrument to actually carry My Name before the rulers, the gentiles, AND I am gonna show him how much he will suffer for My name.
And, friend, that same Paul, praying, and God in a vision, tells him to go to Macedonia. He goes to Macedonia, and what happens to him there? He gets thrown in prison! In Philippi. And in Rome, he’s writing back to the Philippians, and he’s saying, for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Some actually are preaching as I’m in prison, seeking to malign me. And you know what he says? He says, I rejoice as long as Christ is preached. So this same Paul, who could have just turned to God and said, Why did you lead me to Macedonia to be thrown in prison ultimately? He’s able to say, I’m rejoicing in the midst of it.
And I’m telling you, friend, this is what marks a Christian. We live for that Name. And we get great joy. Why? Because He is our pursuit. He is the one we love. My good friend Farshid – you’ve heard me talk about Farshid many years. Farshid was in prison for 5-1/2 years in Iran for his faith. And guess what, I’m so excited. I haven’t seen him in eight years. And we’re taking a trip to visit the Wynnes, our missionaries in Turkey, in April, and Farshid is gonna come and meet me there. We’re going to do a conference together. It’s the first time I’m gonna see him in eight years.
So I’m texting him this week, and I said, Farshid, I’m preaching on Matthew chapter 5, verse 10-12. And you spent 5-1/2 years in prison. Can you give me some insight? And this is what he wrote back to me. Listen to this. He said, “Here is what I learned from 5 years in prison, that there’s really two types of suffering: One, that we don’t necessarily choose; it happens to us, like sickness or whatever. But then he says there’s another type that we actually choose because of love.” That’s powerful. And then he says, “I think that’s what this is talking about in Matthew 5. Someone who would choose to suffer for the name of Christ. And this is the way you would show your love to your beloved. Because deeply I believe this, Afshin: The highest manifestation of love is suffering. I mean, if you want to see how much you’re in love with someone, we have to see how far we’re ready to suffer for them.”
And I’m like, Okay, I’ll just go up front and say that. It’s pretty good.
And let me tell you one more thing before I go to the next point: God will not waste any suffering that happens for His name. God will not waste any persecution that happens for His name. I heard of a lady named Priya in India, who just recently became a Christian (shows picture on screen). Because of her faith in Christ, her husband began to beat her, just every day, relentlessly. But she kept loving Jesus, kept following Him. And the story goes, one day he was beating her, and literally he lifted up his leg to kick her, and he says that he just got paralyzed, and he fell to the ground. And he said he knew it was her God. And he said, Tell me about your God, tell me about Jesus. And she starts sharing Christ with him. He becomes a believer, and today, they have a house church, that meets in their home, and her husband leads it.
God will not waste any suffering that happens for His name.
Friend, the third reason you can rejoice is you experience His presence. I’ll say this quickly. You know, God doesn't promise protection from pain, but He does promise His presence. In Isaiah 41:10, he says “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
What a promise that is for you! Don’t fear ANY persecution. I will be with you. If it’s for Me, I’m there. That’s a promise. If you suffer for Me, I’m with you. Just like He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who stood for their Lord, and that fourth figure was there in that fiery furnace. Jesus’ presence will be with us. And for me, in my life, let me tell you, I’ve been rejected, even by my own family, and there’s never been a time that I more felt the presence of God than walking through that bitter disappointment of a broken relationship with my dad. I felt His presence with me. I’m your Father; I’ll be with you; I’ll never leave you; I’ll never forsake you.
I heard of a Romanian pastor recently who spent years in prison. They would literally cut off chunks of his flesh, throw him in solitary confinement for days without any medical care and let him just starve. He said that in those moments, he felt the presence of God more than ever. In fact, he said, that when he was released finally, the first day he was released, he fasted. Because he wanted to remember the sweet moments he had in that prison cell with God.
So I’m telling you, His presence will be with you.
Fourthly, a couple more and we’ll be done. You will become like Christ. Jesus is clear, scripture is clear: It’s in persecution and suffering that we are chiseled into Christlikeness. James 1:2-4 says we are to “count it all joy” when it happens. Because you know that “the testing of your faith produces patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
God is doing something in you. 1 Peter 5:10, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” And so there’s a sense that you can say, God, I don’t understand why this is happening to me, but I can’t wait to see how through this You make me more like You.
And then the final reason is right here in this text: I believe we can rejoice because it says “Your reward in Heaven is great.” That there is an inheritance that is being kept for us, 1 Peter 1:6-7 says. There’s an inheritance waiting for those who have been risen in Christ. And it says, “In this you rejoice, though now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes, though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In other words, I am rejoicing through my tribulation because I know that ultimately it’s making me like Christ, and ultimately because all my hope is not in this world.
This tells me another characteristic of a Christian in this one Beatitude: A Christian is one who has eternal eyes, whose eyes are fixed on the reward. That’s what we’re told about the saints in Hebrews 11. They didn't look at the country they came out of; their eyes were on a heavenly country. Moses endured the suffering and didn't go after the pleasures of Egypt. Why? Because his eyes were on the reward. And there’s a reward coming for us who believe in Christ and suffer for Him.
This is what Paul ran after. He said, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) He calls what he is suffering – the shipwreck, being beaten, being ostracized, he calls it a “light, momentary affliction” in comparison to eternity.
And so one day we’re gonna get that reward. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We’re gonna receive the crown that Paul talks about that will come to those who suffered and and endured for the name of Christ. And I’m telling you, that is reward for us, friends. THAT’s why it says rejoice and be glad.
Can I just tell you? There are people who are gonna go and flock to churches who will never preach this verse. Never. Because they’re gonna think, If I preach that you’re blessed if you’re persecuted, in fact, if you follow Christ, you’re going to be persecuted, people are gonna leave my church. And because they want bigger crowds, they’re never gonna preach this.
But I’m telling you, I don’t think we should apologize for this. I don’t think Jesus is apologizing for this. Jesus is actually preaching this as, Hey, this is amazing news for you. This is great reward. You get to suffer for Him. So friends, it’s not masochism. It’s not like I’m always like, Oh, I’m so glad I’m being kicked out of my home, or being hurt. I’m not saying we always smile through it. I’m saying that there’s a deep sense of joy, knowing that you belong to God, that God is with you; that He won’t waste any persecution, and that He’s got a great purpose for it.
And I’m telling you, that ought to make me say, I am blessed. That’s why the world can’t rejoice in suffering, because all their hope is in this life. And so, before I pray, let me say it this way: This verse should do two things for you and for me. It should convict us, and it should encourage us. It should convict us because we ought to be saying, Why don’t I feel any of it? Am I in a bubble? Am I silent? Or am I just blended? And you ought to go and pray and seek the Lord, I ought to do that, and say, God, why don’t I feel any of it? Because if you live it out, you should feel some heat. It’s the mark of a Christian.
But listen to me: It ought to encourage you. You should not walk out of these doors moping, with your head hung low, saying, Man, life is already really hard, and now I’ve just been told that if I really follow Jesus I’m gonna have MORE persecution. Well, man, I’m glad I went to church today!
No! This is meant to lift up your head, and say, Man, there’s opportunity for me in this world to honor the name of Christ. And that is reward, man.
Let me close with this. Mehdi Dibaj, one of my heroes of the faith, in Iran, nine years in prison – you’ve probably heard me talk about him – brought before the Islamic court to renounce Christ, and he turned to them, and he didn't renounce Christ. And in fact, he said, This nine years was God’s goodness to me, because He cleared my schedule of all my responsibilities so that I could spend time more in His presence. And he goes, Who is deserving of that kind of a blessing?
How can a man say that? I’m telling you, it’s a man that’s got the right perspective. And so I pray that we’ll walk out of here encouraged, saying that God has a plan, even in persecution. Let’s pray.
Lord, we love You. God, we thank You for Your word. And, God, we pray that we would be a people who would trust You, who would follow You, who would embrace this teaching. And God, we’re not to be convicted by not being thrown in prison, or to try to compare ourselves with other Christians who are going through torture or whatever it may be. But Lord, more, may we examine ourselves and be convicted if we don’t feel ANY heat for following You. And God, not that we seek that persecution, but we seek You, and we know it’s inevitable. So Lord, would You turn our hearts toward You, to seek after You more. To follow You more. To speak up about You more. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
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