"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."
Every Sunday I try to remember the persecuted church in the pastoral prayer. I try to keep a note that we should be praying for them in the email blast as well. It is important that we do this because all throughout the world our brothers and sisters are suffering greatly for righteousness sake. Recent estimates suggest that 70 million Christians were martyred in the past two thousand years. About 45 million of these (approximately two-thirds) were martyred between 1900 and 2000. Martyrdom still occurs today.
The kind of persecution that Jesus is speaking about includes being murdered, tortured or physically abused for righteousness. However, Jesus means more than this. In America, violent persecution is rare. We often think that persecution is only when the government tries to put us to death or tries to hinder the work of the church. Jesus says that it also includes “reviling” and “harassing” and “uttering all kinds of evil against you falsely.”
To ‘revile’ means to ‘reproach’ or to heap insults upon. When people do this to you for righteousness sake, you are being persecuted. The word, Jesus uses in verse 11 for “persecute” means to run after or pursue. It is what we would call harassment. When this happens to you for righteousness sake, then you are being persecuted. When people lie about you and make things up about you falsely, you are being persecuted. In the ancient church, Christians were falsely accused of being atheist, cannibals and adulterers. All this was false of course, but that is what they were accused of. In that sense they were being persecuted.
We see that the concept of persecution includes a number of things. We are likely to be persecuted in some manner, when we try to imitate our Lord. The phrase “on my account” is parallel with the previous verses “for righteousness sake.” This means that the righteousness in view is the imitation of Jesus. Remember that all these beatitudes describe Jesus. Since we are united to Jesus and identified with Jesus, we will manifest them all to some degree. This is why we can expect persecution. Look at Matthew 15:18-20,
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were 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. 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.
Why is the church persecuted? Because the world hates Jesus. But we can rejoice when the world persecutes us by looking to our heavenly reward. This is what Jesus says in verse 12.
If you have ever had surgery or a major dental procedure, you know what it feels like to dread something. You dread the pain that you will have to go through and you dread the recovery. Maybe you are a little scared and it causes you anxiety. How do you get through it? Well you remind yourself that it is temporary. You will not be in pain forever. You will not feel anxious forever. In a little while, it will all be over. You view the present, painful experience, through the future experience. This is exactly what Jesus is telling us to do. He says, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” In other words, view your present suffering through the fact that you will be rewarded in heaven. A heavenly perspective does three things for us.
First, it enables us to endure hardship. Whether by persecution of in general. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:17-18,
"For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
Second, it motivates us to do good works. Look at Matthew 6:19-21,
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Third, it helps us to rejoice and be glad. Notice what Jesus says in the first part of verse 12, “Rejoice and be glad.” This is a commandment to us in the midst of suffering and persecution. What this tells us is that rejoicing and being glad will not spontaneously arise within us under bad circumstances.
We must work at rejoicing and being glad. We do this by interpreting our circumstances in light of our heavenly reward. However, we are not to rejoice at the pain and suffering. Jesus is not a masochist. He knows that the pain we feel is real and it does not feel good. Jesus would not be so insensitive to tell us that we should be happy about the pain. Instead he says that we are to rejoice because our heavenly reward.
The Bible often uses the word fruit not to refer to produce, but as a metaphor for virtue and good works. How does one have the power to bear fruit? It is not by self-effort. It is not by trying really hard in your own power. It is by being united to Jesus Christ through faith alone. Martin Luther explains this well. He writes concerning John 15:4,
When I am baptized or converted by the gospel, the Holy Spirit is present. The Spirit takes me as a piece of clay and make of me a new creature, which is endowed with a different mind, heart, and thoughts, that is, with true knowledge of God and a sincere trust in his grace. The very essence of my heart is changed. This makes me a new plant, one that is grafted on Christ the vine and grows from him. My holiness, righteousness, and purity do not stem from me, nor do they depend on me. They come solely from Christ and are based only in him, in whom I am rooted by faith, just as the sap flows from the stalk into the branches. Now I am like him and of his kind. Both he and I are of one nature and essence, and I bear fruit in him and through him. This fruit is not mine; it is the vine’s.
That Christ and the Christian become one loaf and one body, so that the Christian can bear good fruit—not Adam’s or his own, but Christ’s.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
The armor of God enables us to “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Satan and his minons attack God’s people through their schemes. They do not have only one approach, but many creative and different approaches. The word “schemes” speaks of the trickery of the devil in his use of evil. One commentator writes,
Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap. The Bible describes many schemes that the devil uses. We will look at 7.
First, Satan tries to make the Word of God ineffective in our lives by snatching it away (Matt. 13:19) or by choking it out through the cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22). We see this in the parable of the sower. Look at Matthew 13:19-22.
"When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."
Second, he attempts to cause people to doubt and deny Christ by sifting them through difficult experiences and afflictions. Look at Luke 22:31-34.
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Peter said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me."
Third, he tries to make us feel timid or ashamed of Christ and His Word. Look at Matt. 26:69-75. Remember that Jesus had told Peter that Satan wanted to sift him.
"Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you mean." And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." And again he denied it with an oath: "I do not know the man." After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly."
Fourth, he tries to get us to withhold forgiveness when it is due. This leads to strife, tension, bitterness, and destruction of people. Look at 2 Cor. 2:10-11.
"Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs."
Fifth, he tries to deceive us by false doctrine. Look at 2 Cor. 11:3-4.
"But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough."
Sixth, he can act like he is our friend. Look at Genesis 3:1-5.
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'"
Seventh, he can appear holy and beautiful for the purpose of deceiving us. Look at 2 Cor 11:13-15.
"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds."
We need to keep these schemes in mind because Satan will try to destroy us through them. Peter describes Satan as a roaring lion. Look at 1 Peter 5:8,
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
The power and trickery of Satan may cause some to be discouraged or fearful, but this passage is meant to encourage us. The armor of God protects us from Satan and it shows us that God has already won the victory. That is the only reason we have spiritual warfare. We would not be in this warfare if Satan was not defeated. The fact that he is defeated angers him and causes him to try and harm us. But God protects us with His armor.
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:10-17)
At the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he exhorts Christians to be strong in the Lord. The reason for this is that he knows that we are in a spiritual battle. The devil and his demons are real, but they do not fight us in a Hollywood manner. They don’t typically show themselves as in the movie The Exorcist. Instead they fight us more subtly. We will see how over the course of the next several weeks. If we are to stand against them, we must put on the armor of God. Therefore, we must have an understanding of the armor.
The way in which we are to be strong is to “put on the whole armor of God.” Paul is applying a metaphor he used previously when he said to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24 ESV). To put on the new self is to put on the armor of God. We cannot put on only part of the armor, but we need the “whole armor of God.” This indicates that we are totally dependent upon God for strength. It is not like God gives us some strength and we provide the rest. No God gives us all the strength we need for the battle.
When Paul calls this the armor of God he is saying that this armor not only comes from God, but that it is also God’s armor. We see God clothed in this armor in various Old Testament passages. Let’s take a look at some passages from Isaiah. In Isaiah 11 we read of the prophecy concerning Jesus Christ. He is the shoot of Jesse that will come. Notice how Isaiah describes him in verses 4-5,
"but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins."
In Isaiah 59 we see the prophet describe God himself. He writes of God in verse 17,
"He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak."
One more passage in Isaiah 52:6-7. Here we see that it is God himself that preaches the good gospel,
"Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I." How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'"
The imagery of the Armor of God is drawn from Old Testament descriptions of God and the messiah. We will look at these pieces of armor next week. My point in drawing your attention to it now is in order to see who is wearing this armor. It is God that wears this armor. The metaphor of the armor of God is another way of saying that we take our refuge in God. It is another way of speaking about our union with Christ. In order to put on the armor of God you must have faith in Jesus Christ and be united to him. In Christ we wear God’s armor.
Peacemakers are those that God has first made peace with. Paul describes the peace God made for us in Colossians 1:19-22,
"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him."
God made peace with us in Jesus Christ. On the cross Jesus took away our sin so that God could be at peace with us. Now that we have peace with God we are to seek to make peace with other people. This means a number of things:
First, we put an end to conflict by refusing to postpone apologies or restitution.
Second, we refuse to seek revenge.
Third, we humbly serve one another even those that have offended us.
Fourth, we stop promoting ourselves.
Fifth, we stop insisting on our rights.
Sixth, we stop grasping for recognition.
Of course, not everyone will cooperate with our attempts at peacemaking. There will be people that refuse to listen to us, that refuse to accept our apologies, that refuse to allow us to serve them, etc. We are not responsible for the way in which people respond to our peacemaking. We need to understand this because we will be rejected from time to time in our efforts. We may become discouraged because they did not respond to us. However, God only asks us to do our part in peacemaking. It is not our responsibility how others react to this. Paul puts this truth clearly in Romans 12:16-18,
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
One of the barriers to living peaceably with all is our own thought processes and emotions. We often fail to control our interpretations of others and our own emotions. This can lead to conflict between others. Daniel Doriani puts it nicely. I will quote him at leangth,
"Peacemaking also has internal, subjective aspects. Insecurities and worries destroy peace. Discontentment disrupts peace. Envy disrupts peace. When we try to read other people’s thoughts, it disrupts peace. The pastor of a healthy, small-town church recently learned that lesson afresh. The church and the pastor loved and admired each other, but there was some resistance when he lengthen the morning worship by fifteen minutes. No one got upset, he said, but then he began the story of one man:
Church used to end at 10:30; now it goes to 10:45. One man sits near the back, each week, he stands up at precisely 10:30, straightens his jacket and pants, and walks out. He never said anything, but I could feel his displeasure over the longer services. Indeed, sometimes I had to labor to stifle my anger at the weekly display. Then one week, I changed the order of worship and put the sermon first. The man still left at 10:30, but later that day his wife called me.
“Pastor,” she said, “you can’t imagine how happy my husband was today. You see, he has to report to work at 10:45 on Sundays. He waits until the last possible minute each week, but it grieves him that he can never stay until the end of your message. Today he heard your whole sermon and he is so pleased. I just had to tell you.”
Guessing other people’s motives is a prime way to subvert our peace, especially since, by some perverse impulse, we tend to make the most negative, self-damaging guesses.
If we are going to reflect the peacemaking character of God, we must learn to control our inner life. We must have a charitable interpretation of others actions. We do not always know all the facts. Like the pastor in this example, this can cause us to become upset and offended. It can lead us to mistreat others and to disrupt peace. As Kingdom members, we are to be peacemakers and peacemaking begins in your heart. We need to be mindful that we do not always have the facts. We need to be mindful that we should interpret things charitably. If we do not, we will cause conflict and fail to manifest a peacemaking quality.
In the Bible, the heart refers to the inner life of man. It refers to the will, the emotions, the intellect and our moral character. Jesus’ says that members of the kingdom are pure in heart.
Jesus emphasized purity of heart because the religious community of his time satisfied themselves with mere external and perceived holiness. Look at Matthew 23:23-28.
23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
The Pharisees were more concerned about looking good to others than actually being good people. They lived their lives seeking the praise of men and not the praise of God. Jesus was very tender and merciful to those that realize their sin and don’t try to excuse it. He was gracious and forgiving to those that admitted their need of forgiveness and wanted to change. However, to the self-righteous, to those that made a phony, external show of righteousness, he denounced them.
To be ‘pure in heart’ means to have inner moral integrity. It is a sincere, authentic disposition that moves the disciple to pursue righteousness and compels him to live obediently. Our actions spring from our heart. If we are pure in heart, then we will seek to live obediently to God. However, purity of heart is not a qualification for salvation. Instead it is a result of salvation. In other words, like the other beatitudes, we do not merit heaven by first obeying this beatitude. Rather, we reflect this beatitude, because we have already been secured in heaven.
We do not conjure up purity on our own. God does this work in us. Notice what David says in Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” God is the one that does this. Again in verse 10, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Again, God is the one that does this. He does it by first enabling us to believe the Gospel. In order to believe, we must first have received new life from God. God also does this by giving us the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit to clean out our hearts. In fact, Jesus is already saying that we do have pure hearts.
This is significant because what he is saying is that the New Covenant was being fulfilled in his ministry. This New Covenant promised forgiveness of sins and inner transformation. Look at Ezekiel 36:25-27,
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
God is the one that does all of this. This means that if we are to have purity of heart, we must trust God to do it. He does it through the preaching of the Gospel and through the sacraments. A pure heart manifests itself in genuine obedience to God from the inside out!
Jesus says that those who are pure in heart “shall see God.” This is the future reward for those with pure hearts. It is the promise of heaven. The purity God works in us will one day be perfected. This happens when we die. At death, God immediately purges us from all sin and brings us home to heaven.
We know immediately when someone belongs to a particular family. Each family member shares certain physical qualities in common. It could be their hair color, or their height or their facial structure. There are a number of things that family members share. This is why we have a concept of ‘family resemblance.’
An outsider can readily identify that we are part of a certain family by seeing the qualities that we share. For example, if you met my family, you would readily see that I am a Preciado. I share various physical qualities with my family. You could look at those qualities and easily see that I belong to that family.
Now, I do not earn or merit entrance into the Preciado family because I share these qualities with them. In other words, the family resemblance does not gain me a spot in the family. Instead, it is because I belong to that family that I have the family resemblance. It is because I am securely a member of the family that I manifest these qualities. I think that we all readily understand this idea when it comes to family resemblances.
The same thing is true when it comes to membership in the Kingdom of God. This beatitude is sometimes misunderstood to be teaching that we earn God’s mercy by acting mercifully. This is not what Jesus is saying. Instead, he is saying that members of God’s kingdom manifest the quality of showing mercy. This quality does not get us into the Kingdom of God, but we possess this quality because we already are in the Kingdom of God. Showing mercy is the natural result of having faith in Jesus.
Christians will, in fact must, demonstrate mercifulness in their lives. We will never demonstrate perfection in this, but we will demonstrate some level of mercy. If we are without mercy, then we do not belong to the Kingdom. Jesus is not saying that if we do not have perfect mercy and perfect forgiveness, we are not in the Kingdom. No, he knows very well that believers have a sinful nature and we struggle to forgive and to be merciful.
What exactly is mercy? There are five things to consider:
First, mercy is not simply feeling compassion.
Second, mercy exists when something is done to alleviate distress.
Third, mercy is active goodwill.
Fourth, mercy describes one who forgives and pardons another who is in the wrong.
Fifth, the merciful person remembers his own sin and God’s mercy to him. He understands the weakness of others and forgives.