The Persecuted

by | Mar 13, 2023 | Sermons | 0 comments

March 12, 2023

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-10, 10:1, 5-10, 37-39

We’ve come to the last of the Beatitudes today and every one has been a challenge to me as I’ve looked at the life-characteristics of kingdom people and compared it to myself. I rather think

Jesus was not trying to make us feel miserable about ourselves, but more to give us an ideal toward which to move. I also suspect that he wouldn’t apologize for making us feel the pinch! This last one doesn’t fail to pinch!

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

My first thought is: I don’t feel persecuted! My second thought is: If I’m not persecuted, am I also left out of being identified as a person of the kingdom?

Who all is being persecuted for righteousness these days? Most of us remember a time when Christianity wasn’t as dominant and didn’t wield as much power in our society as it does now. Now, there’s a whole cadre of public figures who have joined the fight to make the United States into a “Christian” nation like some Arab countries are Muslim. And to the extent that they can’t get that done, they feel persecuted! But I don’t think that was what Jesus was talking about.

But nowhere does Jesus or the Bible insist on compliance with a Christian belief system and cry “foul” if people walk away. Being a part of the kingdom of heaven has always been invitational and not compulsory. We cannot claim a right to live in a country where Christian belief system is the law of the land. That is a theocracy and has been opposed from the beginning of our country.

These Beatitudes seem to be about BEING AND DOING and not about a belief system. So, it’s fair to say that Jesus was saying: Blessed are those who are persecuted for BEING righteous! For acting in ways consistent with one who follows God’s direction in his/her life.

What we can say is this: To be a Christian – or to be a part of the kingdom where God is in charge – is to recognize a power and an authority in our own personal lives which is above all else. For kingdom citizens, that authority is above any political or legal authority and above popular opinions.

There’s the rub and there is the key to understanding what Jesus was trying to get through to us with this beatitude. Being this kind of citizen in the kingdom of heaven is what will eventually lead you to know and experience persecution because faithfulness to God’s authority sometimes comes into direct conflict with other people and systems that lay claim to our loyalty. When we insist on putting the will of God first in our lives, we declare without saying a word that we cannot do what any other authority requires of us. Our loyalty to God’s authority supersedes any other! This is a personal commitment and standard within you which is often counter-cultural and gets you into what John Lewis called: “Good Trouble.”

When we own an authority which is above all others, and no matter the position of our friends, neighbors, or government, we are on a treacherous path. When push comes to shove, in big matters and small ones, we have only one Lord.

You know what that’s like. You know what it is to get crosswise with members of your family, or your neighbors, or the community because your heart will not let you do otherwise. You know what Martin Luther meant when he said: “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

You know what it is to be a captive of the TRUTH. “This is too important. I must stand with the truth!” You know what it is to be under a call to be KIND AND COMPASSIONATE to those around you that others despise and ridicule. Inside you know it is the righteous thing to do. You know what it is to stand for JUSTICE AND RIGHTNESS when the money and power is on the other side. You know what that is even if you fail to do the right thing to avoid ridicule or taunting.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When Jesus sent his 12 out into the world to do good, to heal, to preach and to live like kingdom people, he took great pains to let them know it would not always be peaches and cream. There eventually will be a price to be paid when other claims on our time, money, and loyalty supersede the competition.

He knew that just like himself, they would taste the cross – “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

This is such a personal thing. Of course there are these great kingdom principles for which we all must take a stand, but there are also these deeply embedded calls of God on our own personal lives that others may not understand or share.

We may well be called upon to stand – not with anger or vengeance or a vicious spirit, but stand we must. And when we do, we know what the beatitude means: “Happy / blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness.”

Pastor Don Crist