(Please note: The following is the sermon manuscript and not a transcript of the message preached)
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Pastor Scott L. Harris, Grace Bible Church, NY February 23, 2014
Rejoicing Though Persecuted – Matthew 5:10-12
We live in a time when the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has been perverted to tickle the ears of those who want to feel good about themselves. Since people do not like to hear about their sinfulness, sin is either ignored or excused. Since people want to feel loved and have their felt needs met, the emphasis is placed on the love of God and how you can get whatever you need from Him. This is certainly more obvious in those churches that openly proclaim the heretical health, wealth and prosperity gospel, but the ideas seep into more mainstream and conservative churches too because it increases attendance and finances. The tragedy is such a perverted gospel presents a false hope in a false God. People feel good as they merrily make their way through the wide gate and down the wide road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is about the love of God, but it is a love that can only be understood in light of the sinfulness of man. It is a love that can only be understood when the true identity, nature and character of God is known so that the human is absolutely humbled before Him. God is not a doting father seeking to make His offspring happy. God is eternal, self-existent, self-sufficient, and is infinite in power, presence, knowledge, wisdom, majesty, glory, holiness, love, mercy, righteousness and justice. God does not exist for man’s will and pleasure. Man exists for God’s will and pleasure.
The gospel cannot be comprehended until the bad news is understood. Every human is inherently sinful and so is rebellious against God. Man is selfish and desires what he proudly thinks is best for himself. He disobeys God’s commands and defies God’s will. What man earns for himself by all this evil is death and God’s condemnation. Psalm 14 and Romans 3 make it painfully clear that there are no exceptions to this. All have turned aside. All have become corrupt. There is no one that does good, not even one. If that was the end of the story, there would be no hope and none of us would be here today. But it is not the end of the story. The rest of it is the good news that contrasts this horrible reality.
God does love, and out of that love all of God’s attributes work together to provide a way for both His justice and mercy to be satisfied, and for both His holiness and grace to be extended to man so that man can be redeemed, forgiven and adopted into God’s family. That plan of course is the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the eternal godhead becoming a human through the virgin Mary, living a sinless life, dying as the substitute sin sacrifice that atones for the transgressions of man, conquering sin and death by rising from the dead, and now ascended to heaven where He intercedes for His disciples with the Father and is preparing a place for His followers to join Him when He returns in the future. The purpose of all of this is for the praise and glory of God (Ephesians 1:6).
What does this have to do with our text and subject this morning? Simply this. Without the true gospel, you cannot understand Matthew 5:10-12 and the other related texts or how to rejoice when persecuted.
Jesus states in this final Beatitude, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). There are many other passages of similar nature. Here are a few.
Jesus said in John 15:18-21, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love 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 slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” Jesus said in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 3:4 that the affliction he had told them about in advance had come to pass. In 2 Corinthians 7:4 Paul said that he was overflowing with joy though he was being afflicted. The theme of properly handling persecution and suffering runs throughout Peter’s first epistle. Then there is Paul’s very sobering statement in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” You do not even have to be successful in living godly in Christ Jesus to be persecuted, you only need to desire it. Just hesitating to join in with the sin of others can be enough to cause them to ridicule you.
All of these verses are in contrast to the perverted gospel commonly proclaimed today. Yes, God does love you and He does have a wonderful plan for your life, but that plan will include persecution to one degree or another along the way. That has been true throughout history and it is still true today. Jesus told those that were considering becoming His disciples that they would need to count the cost before they picked up their cross to follow Him. There are few evangelists that are willing to even mention what it will cost to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a major reason we have so many people that profess to be Christians in this nation, but so few that are actually disciples of Jesus. People like the idea of having a fire insurance policy that costs them nothing so they can stay out of Hell, and tragically it will be too late when they find out that their policy was peddled by a huckster and it has no validity.
Matthew 5:10-12 is only one beatitude which is stated twice with verses 11 & 12 expanding on verse 10. Jesus is very pointed in both statements that the blessing is due to the reasons for the persecution and not the persecution itself. As I pointed out last week, there is no blessing in being persecuted because of your own sin, lacking basic manners, or for a cause that is not righteous. The blessings are only for those that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness or insulted, persecuted and slandered because of being a disciple of Jesus.
Last week I spent most of the time explaining the nature and reasons for persecution. In simple terms, as already pointed out from John 15, the world hates Jesus so it will hate those who reflect Him. The more you become like Christ, the more the world will hate you. Your very existence is an affront to sinners because their sin and inadequacy is exposed by your righteousness. Personal holiness is provoking to the unrighteous, and Jesus mentions three ways in which the world will react.
The first is to insult which is to revile, reproach or complain against. It is to show contempt by words or action and can be direct or indirect. The second is persecution which includes harassment, oppression, and physical assault escalating even to murder. The third is slander, which is saying evil things against you falsely. I gave a few recent examples of each of these occurring in the United States, and as bad as some of those were, what is happening in other nations is much, much worse.
Persecution Around the World
You need to be aware of what is happening worldwide for several reasons. First, at minimum, we should to be praying for our brothers and sisters who are suffering in other nations. Second, we may be able to provide them some relief. Third, we need to learn from those suffering currently for Christ in order to be prepared ourselves for similar things to happen here in the U.S. in the future, possibly the near future. I am not an alarmist, but the reality is that the moral decline our nation has suffered in the last 30 years could not have been imagined then. The open denigration of Christians in the media that occurs today could not have been imagined 30 years ago, and as I mentioned last week, the current slander of Christians in the media and by the government has a purpose in marginalizing Biblical Christians so that greater persecution will be accepted by our society.
What is happening around the world in current times? Persecution occurs around the world. A study by The Pew Research Center stated that Christians in more than 100 countries were subjected to some form of persecution in 2012, the last year data was available to them. Here is a map that ranks the 50 worst nations in which Christians are persecuted for their faith in Christ. (See: www.Opendoorsusa.org. Lets take a quick look at each continent.
In South America, Columbia ranks 25th because Christians there are targets of communist FARC rebels and drug cartels that view them as threats to their goals. Within indigenous communities, converts to Christianity are seen as a threat to the indigenous culture and traditions.
In Africa, the severity of persecution is directly linked to the strength of Islam in the area. In nations under Islamic law, it is illegal to convert to Christianity and doing so will often be at the cost of your life. Islamic extremists persecute those who believe in Jesus because they think they are being faithful to the Qu’ran and earning the favor of Allah.
Somalia is ranked 2nd for that reason with al-Shabaab targeting the tiny Christian community. It is reported they murdered ten believers in 2013 and have caused so much fear that believers hide their faith and do not trust one another for fear of betrayal.
Nigeria is ranked 14th, but it is a very active hotspot due to the aggressiveness of Boko Haram which has been attacking Christians for years. Most recently, this past Monday, (February 17, 2014), they slaughtered at least 106 people in the Gwoza area of the Borno state in northeastern Nigeria.
Sudan is ranked 11th because even with the split in 2011 between the northern and southern sections, the northern Islamic government is still waging war on Christians. It is bad in the south where northern troops conduct raids on churches and Christian communities killing as they can and capturing others to become slaves, but it is worse in the north were Christians are assaulted, have their homes burned or they are murdered.
Kenya is 43rd on the list, but there is still much violence against Christians. This past February 2, Pastor Lawrence Kazungu Kadenge was murdered in Mombasa, Kenya while guarding his church. Also in Mombasa, two churches were attacked on this past Christmas day by terrorists throwing Molotov cocktails with one of the churches being destroyed by the resulting fire.
The middle-east is by far the worst area of the world for persecution of Christians and this is directly due to the overwhelming dominance of Islam. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are ranked third, fourth and fifth ahead of even Saudi Arabia (6th) (where it is forbidden for even foreign workers to practice Christianity) because of the destruction of the Christian communities that used to be there. Christians made up almost 6% of the population in Syria, but that is rapidly declining as they flee Islamic rebels who are destroying entire villages like the ancient Christian settlement of Sadad where at least 45 were murdered and many more injured last October 21. Tragically, Christian populations in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered the same fate despite American military involvement in those nations.
Persecution in the nations of southern Asia come from two main sources. Islam in Pakistan causes it to be ranked the eighth worst nation. On September 22, 2013, two suicide bombers attacked All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan killing 78 Christians and wounding at least 150 more. They denoted their bombs just as the people were gathering for a special meal between the services.
In India which is ranked 28th, the problem is with radical Hindus who fear Christianity destroying their cast system. Five states have adopted “anti-conversion” laws have only increased persecution. Things have quieted down from the rioting of Hindus that took place in 2007 – 2008 when many Christians were murdered, many homes and churches were burned, and at least 50,000 became refugees after having to flee their homes. However, there are still many instances of severe persecution. Three Christian leaders were murdered in Kandhamal district in 2011. In February 2012, Pastor Titus Ignatius Kapan and his family were attacked and physically abused in Kerala state. About the same time in Pandhi village in Chhattisgarh state, Christian worshipers were attacked by 50 Hindu extremists who tore down their tent and physically assaulted them. Only slightly earlier in the Hailbasa district of Jharkhand state, a group of Christians were attacked by a violent mob with iron rods, axes, arrows and other sharp weapons who then tried to burn down the church where the Christians had taken refuge. Only the arrival of the police protected them from being burned alive. In May 2013, a pastor in Uttar Pradesh state was tied to a tree and beaten, and last month, January 10, 2014, Pastor Sanjeevulu and his wife, Prema, were brutally beaten because they shared the gospel and held prayer meetings. Pastor Sanjeeveulu died from his injuries on January 13. He said just before he died, “God forgive those people who did this to me.”
During the Twentieth Century, more Christians died at the hands of Communists than any other group. Communism is still the problem in eastern Asia. Chinese believers are still subject to severe oppression, but it is worse in Vietnam (18th), Laos (21st) and Myanmar (23rd).
But by far the worst of all nations is North Korea. Even the United Nations recognizes that country is committing widespread oppression of its own people including forced abortions, torture, and without freedom of expression, opinion or religion. Christians in North Korea there have been severely persecuted since the end of the Korean War in 1953 with those that did not renounce their faith and swear allegiance to Kim Il Sung being executed or forced into concentration camps where they have been starved, used as slaves, tortured or shot to death. At present, having faith in God is considered an act of espionage and treason against the worship of Kim Il Sung as a god. What is known about Christians in North Korea comes from interviews of those who have managed to escape. From those interviews it is believed that up to 10% of the population may be Christians, but they must worship in secret for they are still subject to execution and imprisonment in concentration camps reminiscent of Nazi Germany. There is an estimated 50,000 – 70,000 Christians in such camps (see: www.northkoreanchristians.com). Citizens of other nations are also subject to oppression. John Short, 75, an Australian Christian Missionary, was in North Korea for the second time when he was arrested earlier this week, (February 19, 2014).
Joy in the Midst of Persecution
As humans we have a natural bent to want to be safe and comfortable. The idea of such persecution as I have briefly described is abhorrent to us to the point that not only do we want to avoid it, there is even a preference to remain ignorant of it. But the fact remains, that persecution is the normal reaction of an ungodly world to those who will strive to walk in righteousness. Again, as Jesus said in John 16:33, “in this world you will have tribulation,” and as Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” In fact, it is fair to say that if you are a Christian and you have not yet experienced persecution to some degree, then there may be a problem. Here in the United States it will probably not be physical abuse and murder – yet, but slander and insults are already common. You do not want to be like the fellow that was concerned about starting a new job. He and his wife prayed about it. When he got home she asked how things went, and he said, “Great, they never even found out that I am a Christian.”
Persecution should be a normal experience for all Christians, but in saying that, there should not be a pessimistic moan and groan. We should not face present or future persecution with either dread or resignation. Why? That would be the expected normal reaction for humans, but Christians are not normal humans. We have been redeemed by Jesus Christ and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit to be new creatures with a new purpose in life. It is because of this radical change that God makes in us that Jesus can say what He says in here in Matthew 5:10-12 that we are blessed and are to rejoice and be glad. I mentioned this briefly last week, but I want to expand on it this week. How can you be blessed when you are persecuted even to the point that you will rejoice and be glad when others are insulting you, slandering you and persecuting you in some way?
This is not a theoretical idea. It is the reality that believers have demonstrated throughout history even to the present. In Acts 5 the Apostles had been arrested, flogged and sternly warned before being released. Their response? “So they went on their way from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). You find the same reaction in Paul and Silas in Acts 16. They had been arrested, beaten, thrown into jail with their feet fasted in stocks. Verse 25 then states, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Christians in other countries that suffer similar severe persecution still respond in the same way as the early Christians. Groups such as Frontline Missions International, Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors regularly report such stories. In June 2009, 86 year old Baba Qadar was the victim of a Muslim riot against Christians. His house was destroyed and he was beaten and abused for three days before being rescued by police. He was weak and unable to walk, yet still joyful. In Burma, a man named Stephen converted to Christianity and was subsequently beaten so severely that surgery was required to stabilize the internal bleeding and it took two months at home for him to recover. His response? “I only seek to find those that organized the beating so that I may show them the love of Christ and that I forgive them.” It is not uncommon for North Koreans who have escaped, then become Christians, to go back in order to witness and evangelize knowing it will be a one way trip that will end in imprisonment or death, yet they willing do so. Yubelina is a Indonesian Christian who was horribly burned in a fire during a Muslim attack on her village. Her picture says it all about her attitude. Though terribly disfigured and blind in one eye, she radiates joy for she knows she belongs to Christ (See: http://www.eaf.net/mvp/2011/indonesia-beauty-in-ashes/).
How is it possible to suffer so much and still be so joyful? How is it possible to suffer so much and yet replace the desire for revenge with the loving compassion to want to meet your persecutors so that you can tell them the gospel of Jesus Christ? This is not humanly possible, but it is not only possible, but normal for those made righteous by Christ.
Last week I simply pointed out the reasons within verses 10-12 that should motivate you to be blessed and rejoice and be glad in the midst of persecution. First, the blessing given to those persecuted for the sake of righteousness is the kingdom of heaven. The things of this earth are temporal, so they are secondary to the importance of being secure in having heaven as your eternal home.
Second, suffering insult, persecution and slander can be a source of joy and gladness because it places you in association with the prophets before you that suffered in the same way. The persecution is the evidence that you are living your life righteously. That is not only fulfilling the purpose of your existence, but it means that you are storing up treasure in heaven; the gold, jewels and precious stones spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3 and not wasting your life on the wood, hay and stubble that will be burned up.
However, the reality is that such motivation is difficult to transfer into actual joy and gladness unless something else is true in your life. What is that? It is true righteousness which takes us back to the rest of the beatitudes, for only the truly righteous can understand life in the terms demanded by the beatitudes. Remember, this last beatitude is the only one that is not a personal characteristic that results in the stated blessing. This is a blessing that comes as a result of the response of a sinful world to those demonstrate righteous character.
It all starts with humility. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and salvation only comes by God’s grace. The greater your awareness and understanding of the infinite nature of God, the more you are forced into being spiritually destitute before Him. There is nothing you can bargain with or offer Him. You can only come as a spiritual beggar. Only the humble can suffer without grumbling and complaining. (See: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit)
The more you understand the absolute holiness of God, the greater you will see your own personal sinfulness and its tragedy as well as the horrible ramifications of the sin of others and the curse of sin on the world. Only the mournful recognize the true origin of suffering. (See: Blessed are Those that Mourn)
Humility and mourning propel you to desire to do things God’s way instead of your own, so in meekness you submit yourself to His will over your own. The meek look for God’s will in the midst of suffering and submit themselves to it in order to glorify Him. (See: Blessed are the Meek)
Humility, mourning and meekness create a compelling hunger and thirst for righteousness. You want to live as a reflection of Christ in your life including following His example in suffering. (See: Blessed are the Hungry & Thirsty)
In understanding the mercy you have received in being forgiven by faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, you extend that same mercy to others. That includes those who persecute you. (See: Blessed are the Merciful)
Outward actions and reactions of righteousness is insufficient for those who desire to be pure in heart. You want to be clean and holy inwardly as well as outwardly and this changes your thoughts and attitudes toward life including the things you suffer. (See: Blessed are the Pure in Heart)
All of these characteristics combine together to create a desire for others to know and have the blessings that you have received from God, so you become a peacemaker who pleads and begs people to be reconciled to God. This is done despite the negative reactions you know you will receive from the sinners you are trying to help. (See: Blessed are the Peacemakers)
These are the characteristics of true righteousness, and as wonderful as are the blessings promised – the kingdom of heaven, comfort, inheriting the earth, being filled, receiving mercy, seeing God and being a called a son of God – these are not the motivations for walking in righteous. The actual motivation is the desire to glorify God by being what He wants you to be and doing what He wants you to do. A changed heart which loves God compels you forward joyfully even when suffering horrible things at the hands of the unrighteous.
The world is sinful and its reaction to these various elements of righteousness is to insult, slander and persecute. The response of true righteousness is to endure and bless even when suffering persecution. That was Paul’s response (1 Corinthians 4:14) because it was Jesus’ response who “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:23-24). We must heed the example Jesus has given to us in Himself as expressed in Hebrews 1:2-3, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
If you walk with Christ, the world will hate you because it hated Him (John 15). The normal reaction of the world to true righteousness is to insult, slander and persecute, so expect that you will suffer such things from the unrighteous. Even so, you can rejoice and be glad in the midst of such suffering if you continue to walk in righteousness following Jesus’ example and the Christians who have gone before us. You have an eternal purpose in glorying God which transcends the sufferings of this present time [which] are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed (Romans 8:18).
KIDS KORNER: Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times a word for “persecution” is said. Talk with your parents about why Christians are persecuted and how you rejoice in the midst of it.
THINK ABOUT IT! Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why does a perverted gospel destroy the ability to rejoice in the midst of persecution? Explain the true gospel. Why should persecution be the normal experience for Christians? How did the early Christians respond to persecution? Modern true Christians? Examine each of the first seven Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-9) and explain why each one is necessary in order to for the last one (Matthew 5:10-12) to be true in your life? Look up some of the following websites and pray for Christians who are suffering severe persecution: www.christiansincrisis.net/ www.opendoorsusa.org/ www.persecution.com/ http://northkoreanchristians.com/ www.frontlinemissions.info/
Rejoicing Though Persecuted, February 23, 2014 – Matthew 5:10-12
Introduction A perverted gospel gives false hope in a false God to people _________walking the wide road to destruction
The _________of God in the gospel cannot be understood until His true nature and character are known
The _________cannot be comprehended until the true nature of man’s utter sinfulness is known (Psalm 14)
All of God’s attributes work together in the gospel bringing hope to man and ____________to Himself
Matthew 5:10-12 ________________________________________________________________________
John 15:18-21; 16:33 _____________________________________________________________________
1 Peter; 2 Timothy 3:12 ___________________________________________________________________
God loves you and does have a wonderful plan for your life – but that plan includes ________________
A __________ that does not include persecution is an invalid fire insurance policy peddled by a huckster
One beatitude stated twice with blessings only for those who _________ because of righteousness / Christ
Persecution comes because this sinful world _________ Christ and anything that reflects Him (John 15)
Insult is showing contempt;
Persecution is harassment, oppression or physical assault;
Slander is to lie about
Persecution Around the World
Awareness enables you to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering
Awareness enables you to find ways to help bring relief
Awareness enables you to learn how to be prepared when persecution comes upon you
In 2012, Christians in more than 100 countries were subjected to some form of persecution (Pew Research)
Columbia ranks 25th _________________________________________________________
Africa: Severity of persecution is directly linked to strength of Islam in the area
Somalia – 2nd ___________________________________________________________________________
Nigeria – 14th ___________________________________________________________________________
Sudan – 11th ____________________________________________________________________________
Kenya – 43rd ____________________________________________________________________________
The worst area for Christians due to the overwhelming dominance of Islam
Syria – 3rd; Iraq – 4th; Afghanistan – 5th; Saudi Arabia – 6th ________________________________________
Pakistan – 8th ___________________________________________________________________________
India – 28th _____________________________________________________________________________
Communism was the greatest persecutor of Christians in the 20th century, and it still persecutes
South East Asia: Vietnam (18th), Laos (21st) and Myanmar (23rd)___________________________________
North Korea – 1st – with an estimated 50,000 – 70,000 believers still in concentration camps
Joy in the Midst of Persecution
If you are a Christian and have not yet experienced some form of persecution, there may be a ____________
Normal people respond to persecution with either dread or resignation, but Christians are _______________
Rejoicing in the midst of persecution is to be __________for believers, not just theoretical: Acts 5:41; 16:25
Modern examples: Baba Qadar; Stephen in Burma; North Korean believers; Yubelina in Indonesia
To rejoice while enduring so much unjust suffering is only possible for those made ____________by Christ
Matthew 5:10 – The Blessing is the kingdom of ______________
Matthew 5:11-12 – The Blessing is great reward in heaven and ________________with the faithful prophets
Only true _____________provides the ability to rejoice while suffering for the sake of righteousness / Christ
Only the _____________come to God and receive His grace; only the humble can suffer without grumbling
The ________recognize the true origin of suffering in their own sin, the sin of others and a sin cursed world
The _______look for God’s will in the midst of suffering and submit themselves to it in order to glorify Him
___________ and thirst for righteousness includes following Jesus example in suffering
The greatness of the ________you have received results in mercy extended even to those who persecute you
The ________________________want their thoughts and attitudes as well as their actions to reflect holiness
The ________________pleads with sinners to be reconciled to God knowing they will often react negatively
The blessings received for walking in righteousness are ____________motivations to the desire to love God
____________________is our example – Hebrews 1:2-3
The sufferings of the present time are ________________ to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed
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