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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART EIGHT

PRESENTED 05-03-08

 

        We have reviewed and examined seven of the Beatitudes which as a whole constitute the opening remarks of Jesus in what is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.  In these seven Beatitudes, Jesus defines what it means to be His disciple and therefore is defining what it means to be righteous as Jesus was perfectly righteous. In these first seven Beatitudes, Jesus shows us the positive results and benefits that are obtained by expressing the righteousness defined in these seven Beatitudes. In the eighth Beatitude, Jesus brings to our attention certain consequences associated with behaving in accordance with the righteousness of the first seven.

       Matthew 5:10-13:   Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

       So even though there is much to be gained by behaving according to the righteousness outlined in the first seven Beatitudes, there is a price to be paid. Jesus is showing that people are going to react to the way of righteousness and such reaction is not always going to be positive.  Righteousness is simply doing what is right.  What is right is defined by our creator.  Righteousness is doing the will of God.  Jesus showed in the first seven Beatitudes it is Gods will that we be poor in spirit, that we morn, are meek, hunger and thirst after righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers.  We discussed these seven attitudes in depth in previous sermons.  Now we must discuss what on the surface would appear a negative.  Yet Jesus sees it as a positive.  He says blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness.  Blessed are those who live in accordance with the attitudes defined in the first seven Beatitudes. 

       Last week we discussed being a peacemaker.  We showed how the Father and the Son are all about peace and how it is Gods will that we be all about peace.  But we also read where Christ said He did not come to bring peace but a sword.  We went on to show that Jesus was saying the message he brought would not be accepted by everyone and it would therefore create conflict because of the manner in which people would react to it.

       Living our lives in harmony with the first seven Beatitudes is going to cause reaction and it won’t always be a positive reaction.  Being meek will sometimes be seen as being weak. Being merciful will sometimes be seen as a failure to administer the punishment that someone deserves. Being a peacemaker will at times be seen as caving in to the enemy.  Living the law of love will sometimes be seen as unrealistic.

       Above all, living in harmony with the will of God becomes incriminating to others because it reveals a great contrast in life styles.  It illuminates behavior in others who know intuitively that their behavior is wrong but they don’t want to change and don’t want anyone exposing their wrong behavior by acting righteously in their presence.  Righteous behavior can be very intimidating to those who choose to behave unrighteously. Human nature being what it is, it can be very threatening to the self image to be around people who are always conscious of doing the right thing and won’t compromise with sin.

       More often than not, people who behave in an unrighteous manner don’t perceive their behavior as unrighteous and when confronted with righteous behavior, they become hostile because they feel their way of doing things is being challenged.  This can be especially true where someone in a position of authority rules in a righteous manner and therefore cramps the style of subordinates who would rather behavior according to the pulls of their nature.  The account of Daniel in the lions den is a classic example of this.  

       Daniel 6:1-5:  It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss.  Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, "We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God."

       So the administrators and satraps devised a plan whereby they would get King Darius to decree that for thirty days the people of the Kingdom could not pray to any man or god except Darius.  Anyone failing to comply with this edict would be thrown into a den of loins.  Daniel being a righteous man and very much in harmony with God continued to pray three times a day to YHWH.  His fellow administrators squealed on him and he promptly was thrown into the lions den and you know the rest of the story.  

       Here is a classic case of being persecuted for righteousness sake.  Daniel was righteously administrating government and being recognized for it and was about to be rewarded by the King.  This created jealousy, resentment and hatred toward Daniel resulting in persecution to the point of Daniel being sentenced to certain death.  In this case God miraculously intervened and Daniel was saved. 

       Then there is the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  These Jewish men were appointed to administrative positions in the government of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The king had the giant image of gold made and set up and decreed that all in his kingdom worship this statue.  Since the scriptures say it was an image, it probably was an image of himself.  Well, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego worshiped YHWH and knew thy could not bow down and worship a statue made of gold where they would be in essence worshiping Nebuchadnezzar.   

       Daniel 3:16-21: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace.

       Many have not been delivered from persecution and have suffered greatly for there commitment to righteousness.  God does not promise deliverance from persecution.  In fact persecution appears to be a normal and expected consequence of behaving in harmony with the will of God.  Rather than being delivered from persecution, the scriptural instruction is that we suffer persecution and do so nobly even to the point of delighting in persecution.

       2 Corinthians 12:10: For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

       2 Timothy 3:12: In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

       When we look at scriptures such as these we get the impression that persecution is a virtual identifying sign that we are living a life in harmony with God's will and law of love. You could conclude that if you are not experiencing persecution you are not living a life characterized by righteousness.  Here, however, is where we have to be very careful with the conclusions we draw.  There is no doubt that many Christians over the centuries have been persecuted for righteousness sake.  But many Christians have also been persecuted for what they thought was for righteousness when in actuality righteousness was not involved at all.  Remember what righteousness is.  It is doing right and doing right is behavior in harmony with the will of God.  Many Christians have been and are persecuted not because of behavior reflective of the will of God but behavior reflective of their misinterpretation of the will of God or behavior that is actually contrary to the will of God. 

       1 Peter 4:14-16: If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  

       We must be careful that when we suffer for Christ we suffer because of truly representing Christ and not for things that don’t represent Christ.  Over the centuries, Christians have suffered for arrogantly standing up for various doctrines and theological positions that upon investigation turned out to be wrong.  This doesn’t justify those doing the persecuting but neither does it truly represent being persecuted for the sake of Christ.  I know, having lived through the legal challenges the World Wide Church of God experienced in 1979, that we all believed we were being greatly persecuted because we were the one true church and Satan was persecuting us through the government authorities of the state of California. 

       Well, as it turned out we were and are not the one true church, our doctrinal system was very flawed and we were not being persecuted for righteousness sake.  In fact there was a great deal or unrighteousness going on at the time within the leadership circles of our fellowship.

       I am sure the members of the sect of Mormonism currently being persecuted by the state of Texas believe they are being persecuted for their particular way of life which they believe is founded in the will of God.  Yet it should be rather apparent to us that what they are doing is not what the scriptures teach or could it be remotely associated with the will of God.  Therefore, they are not being persecuted for righteousness sake. This doesn’t mean the state of Texas is right or justified in doing what they are doing to these people.  Hopefully the truth will come out in the weeks ahead as to what was really going on in this quasi Mormon community and just decisions will be made.

       We must be very careful in attributing sufferings, persecution, harassment and maltreatment to retaliation for righteousness.  We often bring persecution upon ourselves not because we are righteous but because we are behaving in a way that simply irritates others.  We must be careful not to confuse righteous behavior with offensive behavior.  Many Christians have made the foolish mistake of trying to cram Christ down someone’s throat and then think they are being persecuted when they get the door slammed in their face.  Religious fanaticism is a problem in all religious systems and brings untold suffering, offenses, general strife, conflict and even war.  Look how many wars have been fought because people tried to force their particle religious point of view unto someone else.

       The scriptures teach the right protocol that should be followed in expressing the gospel of Christ to others.  Apostle Peter said this:

       1 Peter 3:14-16: But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But, sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. (RSV)

       Peter speaks of having good conduct in Christ and always being ready to defend the reason for the hope that is within us and to do it with meekness and fear and with good conscience. Then if we are persecuted, we can know we are being persecuted for righteousness that is truly righteousness and not the pseudo righteousness that so often is the case.  Our Christian walk should be our witness.  But such witness must be established on valid principles and sound judgement.  The couple in Wisconsin whose daughter recently died from diabetic complications did not use good judgement and in so doing has actually brought ridicule to the gospel of Christ.  Yet if they get jail time they will probably believe they are suffering for the cause of Christ.

        While it is certainly admirable to have great conviction as to ones belief and be willing to even die for ones belief, it is also true that many over the centuries, continuing to this very day, have died for beliefs that were not valid whether it is in Christianity, other religious systems or political systems.  Look at the suicide bombers in the Islamic faith who are willing to blow themselves up in belief they are doing the will of God and will be greatly rewarded for their sacrifice.  They believe they are suffering for righteousness when there is nothing righteous about the doctrines for which they suffer. 

       There are those who develop what is sometimes called a martyr complex where they look for ways in which they can suffer persecution for the cause of Christ. This is not what Jesus  is implying when He speaks about suffering persecution for the sake of righteousness.  Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." Jesus is talking about people responding to behavior that reflects Him.  If you are persecuted because of expressing love, mercy and compassion, then you are being persecuted for righteousness. If you are being persecuted because you refuse to participate in immoral and unethical behavior, you are being persecuted for righteousness. 

       I still remember the time back in 1965 when I came to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior and was trying to behave ethically and I was at a restaurant with some friends and as we were leaving and I realized we hadn’t been charged enough for our purchase and I went back to rectify the matter and was ridiculed by my friends for being honest.  While this was a small matter, it still was a matter of being persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  Being honest was the right thing to do.  My friends where only looking at the money we saved and could not have cared less about cheating the restaurant.   

       To be persecuted for righteousness is to be persecuted for being like Christ. Christ came as a light into the world.  Light dispels darkness. Darkness cannot survive in the presence of light.  Jesus saw Himself as light coming into the world.  In speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus said:

       John 3:19-21: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."  

        If we are like Christ, we too will be a light to the world.  Being a light to the world will create a reaction with darkness.  It will create much disturbance of darkness.  To the extent darkness doesn’t want to be disturbed there will be persecution.  We don’t have to seek out persecution.  It will be there if we are being Christ like in our behavior.  Christ said living in the light involves living by the truth.  When we are persecuted because of the truth we are persecuted for righteousness.  But we need to be sure it is the truth we are being persecuted for and not something else.  I am afraid there are many Christians, including some Christian martyrs who will not receive the great reward in heaven that Jesus said would be given to those persecuted for righteousness.

       Lastly, we are to rejoice when persecuted for righteousness.  Now if anything goes against the grain of human nature it is rejoicing when we feel we are being unjustly accused of something or are being wronged in some way.   Our first inclination is to retaliate. But that is not being Christ like.  Look how Jesus was persecuted.  Jesus healed hundreds, maybe thousands of people.  He taught the way of love, mercy and compassion.  He preached peace but the reaction to His teaching produced conflict and resistance.  Most of that resistance came from the religious leaders who felt threatened by His teachings and performance of miracles.  In the end it led to His death.  But how did Jesus respond to persecution.

       Hebrews 12:2-3: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.    

       Because of the joy set before Him He endured opposition from sinful men even as far as dying for them and us. We have a joy set before us.  Jesus said,   "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven."

       We also have a joy set before us.  It is the joy of living for eternity in a dimension of existence we can’t even begin to imagine. 

SERMON NINE