Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted for Righteousness Sake
Pastor Dan Haugen
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…
Please pray with me…
As we continue I our series entitled, “Having a Beatitude Attitude”, we come to Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” My own translation goes something like this, “Blessed are those who have an attitude of Godly righteousness and do the right thing even when the world finds it wrong.”
We, in America, are pretty fortunate in our faith. We are relatively free to worship as we please, when we please and even where we please. We have certain rights that protect us and a government, for the most part, that supports us.
Oh, sure, there are those who openly oppose Christianity, there always have been. There are those who picket certain churches, start petitions to take down Christian monuments and argue against our beliefs, but, for the most part, we are very blessed to have the ability to worship our God with relative ease. We’ll discuss the good and bad of that later.
I don’t think any of us have had to suffer the kind of persecution we read about in many non-Christian countries. None of us have had to practice our faith under the fear of imprisonment or death.
None of us have been threatened or beaten or ridiculed in front of an angry mob because of our belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. None of us have had to stand in a stadium filled with hungry lions because we proclaimed Christ publicly. None of us have had to face a firing squad like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, simply because we didn’t follow the party line.
David Barrett of the World Evangelization Research Center writes, “In one part of the globe, over 10,000 Christians have been killed every year since 1950, due to clashes with anti-Christian mobs, infuriated relatives, state-organized death squads, and so on.” His statistics, in fact, reveal that deaths of Christians for their faith have shown a marked upsurge since the 1900’s when there used to be around 35,000 a year, to the last few years when the figures are up to around 260,000 a year.
We have had the luxury to come to Prince of Peace or together over the internet every week to hear the Gospel message (and even the law) in all its honest glory without the pressure to change what we believe or water down what we say. We are very blessed.
Now, that’s not necessarily great news for us because our freedom has made us very lazy.
When other Christians are boldly proclaiming Christ, despite the fact that it might cost them their freedom or even their life, we’re hard-pressed to even tell people we know about Christ because it might make us feel uncomfortable. Our freedom and easy lifestyle have been a curse in many ways because it has stopped the message from reaching willing ears.
Now, I could go on and try to shame you into action. I could start a fire and brimstone sermon on what sinners you are for not doing the right thing. I could, but I won’t. You already know where you fall short. If you’re like me you’ve already beaten yourself up enough times for not having the courage you should have to reach out, even when it makes you feel ill at ease.
No, I’m not going to call you to action as much as I am going to inform you why you should act. There are many good reasons to strive for righteousness, even if it means there will be persecution to follow.
Because of the faith they held dear, most of the disciples faced persecution for righteousness sake. James, the son of Zebedee, was beheaded. Philip was thrown into prison and later crucified. Matthew was killed by a sword. Matthias was stoned in Jerusalem and then beheaded. Andrew, the brother of Peter, was crucified on a cross.
Mark was dragged to pieces by the people in Alexandria. Peter, it is thought, was crucified upside down at his own request because he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified like Christ. Paul and Jude were both beheaded. Bartholomew was beaten and crucified. Thomas was thrust through with a spear. Luke was hanged on an olive tree. Simon was martyred by crucifixion and Barnabas was put to death in 73 AD. They all died for a cause. They all died because they refused not to do the right thing. They were all martyred because they wouldn’t allow themselves to hold back the truth. The message was that important. These brave men of God are now blessed with the inheritance of heaven because they were persecuted for righteousness sake.
So, why is righteousness worth being persecuted over you ask? Proverbs 21:21 gives us reason, saying, “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness and honor.” Psalm 112:6 adds, “For the righteous will never be moved; He will be remembered forever.” Matthew 6:33, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Finally back to Proverbs, this time chapter 10 verse 2, “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.” all good reasons to be sure.
So, how is righteousness in God’s eyes defined? Righteousness, in relation to men, is their conformity to a standard. In other words, if the world sets a certain standard for being a good citizen, it is right, according to the world, to conform to that standard. As we’ve seen though, what the world calls right is not necessarily what God calls right.
To be right in God’s eyes is to conform into the image of His Son who, in turn, bears the image of His Father in heaven. The righteousness of God is evident in the way He consistently acts in accord with His own character. God always acts righteously; His every action is consistent with His character. God is always consistently “Godly.” God is not defined by the term “righteous,” as much as the term “righteous” is defined by God. God is not measured by the standard of righteousness; God sets the standard of righteousness.
So, to be righteous in God’s eyes is to imitate the rightness of His character. In other words, if your actions separate you from Godliness, they would be considered unrighteous. Conversely, those actions which draw you closer to the likeness of God are the actions that He would see as righteous. Godliness is the goal of righteousness.
But this kind of righteousness is a tall order for the imperfect of which we must claim a membership. How do we attain this kind of righteousness, then, in our limited capacity?
Well, we do so the same way we attain Godly meekness and mercy and purity and peacefulness. We do so through Christ alone. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So, therefore, it is through Christ that we find our righteousness. It is through Christ that we find our strength. It is in Christ’s name that we have been made ambassadors with the same agenda of those who were persecuted before us who saw God’s appeal worthy to suffer for.
God reveals His righteousness by revealing His will and His Word to the world through His people. To do this, however, takes the strength that only God can provide through His Spirit within us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together as one. Our intaking of His righteousness is a perfect explanation for how this works. There is one purpose under Christ and every person of the Trinity plays a part in that one purpose to bring righteousness to the world. Yet, all work through means, through you and I, to bring about this great blessing.
And, in a world where the Word and the will of God has become hostile to some who support the worldly definitions of righteousness, there is bound to be resistance. With this resistance can come persecution, yet that persecution does not lessen the urgency of the message. If anything, it heightens it. So, we are therefore called to persecution if that is the price we must pay to share what we know of salvation. We are the means by which God spreads His wonderful Gospel message, yet to do that takes a certain strength and willingness that we cannot find on our own. Therefore, God imparts on us the strength won for us on the cross of Christ. Christ has become our power, the Holy Spirit has been given to instill us with that might which, in turn, imitates the character of the Father Himself. The Holy Trinity in unity working towards righteousness. Our challenge, then, is to place our trust in the perfector of our faith who is our strength. Will it always be easy to follow this calling towards righteousness, God Himself says very much the opposite. In John 15 He reminds us, “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. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
Yet the message of salvation is so great that it is worth taking on the hatred of the world. The disciples certainly thought so and they were eye witnesses to glory.
Every person needs to know what you know, that Jesus Christ is our salvation. Every person needs to have the opportunity to receive the same blessings you have been given because the message you have been given through our Triune God has everlasting consequences. Yet, the world has been influenced by evil and, even though the Word is the best gift they could possibly receive, they will continue to resist it.
Our God loves you with a God sized love, but so does he love the person who has become deaf to His calling. Our God sent you His Son so that He could be your righteousness, and he sent Him to be the righteousness even to those who publicly condemn Him. God opens His arms to welcome you to everlasting life with Him in heaven and those same arms reach out for the lost who want to persecute you for your beliefs.
Our God is asking you to do the right thing, even if it means you will meet opposition. His Spirit will be your words and His Son will be your strength. Righteousness is worth your efforts because it is the very character of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Amen