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February 21 Sunday Devotional

A Brief Update

For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this afternoon and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.

Songs We are Singing Together

Devotional on Matthew 5:10-12

Larry Malament

Here in Matthew 5, Jesus’s opening sermon describes and defines the kingdom of God for those who are his disciples. How his disciples live reveals the kingdom to which they belong. But in this last beatitude—this last “blessing”—they are told that their blessing is not seen in how they live but in what will happen to them because of the way they live.

Surrounded not only by his disciples, but by unbelieving curious bystanders, this sermon and final beatitude is absolutely the worst recruitment speech of all time. “Join this kingdom, live in this kingdom, and follow this king, you need to know that you will be persecuted and you will suffer, and oh, by the way, what a blessing that will be!”

But this is the way of Christ’s kingdom, and by sharing this sermon, Jesus is not only preparing his disciples for the inevitability of persecution, but he is also telling unbelievers that this is life in my kingdom. Later, when he closes his sermon, he makes a gospel offer to unbelievers to “enter by the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13), calling unbelievers to faith in him with the understanding that they will be persecuted if they come. Not a very attractive offer.

Jesus made it very clear at the beginning of his ministry that there is a serious cost to being his disciple and to live in his kingdom. It is a cost he will speak of again and again until his crucifixion when he puts on full display the persecution and suffering that comes with living for God.

Since all the beatitudes describe what every Christian disciple is intended to be, the condition of being despised and rejected, slandered and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as being pure in heart or merciful.  Those who hunger for righteousness will suffer for the hunger they crave. That is what this final beatitude promises three times in these verses, but he also mentions twice the blessing that comes with persecution.

[Read Matthew 5:10-12]

First, notice the certainty of persecution in Matthew 5:10-11.

The Greek “to persecute” means to vex, molest, prosecute, or pursue to death.  Physical or verbal, it simply means the world becomes our enemy.

You would think that living the beatitudes would be attractive, but this is not true. Living rightly for Christ brings persecution because it threatens the world’s way of life. When the light of Christ comes into the darkness it exposes the sin people try so hard to hide.

The world is in rebellion against God, and it is not happy when it encounters someone who is not like them. When we identify with Jesus and not the world we will be hated.

Martyn Lloyd Jones once said, “To be Christian, ultimately, is to be like Christ; and one can never be like Christ without being entirely changed. We must get rid of the old nature that hates Christ and hates righteousness; we need a new nature that will love these things and love him and thus become like him. If you try to imitate Christ the world will praise you; if you become Christlike it will hate you.”

Jesus says exactly this in John 15:18. “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, because 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.”

Christlikeness in us will produce the same results as Christlikeness did in the apostles, in the early church, and in every believer throughout history who has been persecuted and has suffered for being a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

Christians are persecuted for their righteousness and their identity.

Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The gospel intends to produce in us a lifestyle characterized by righteousness. But this will challenge the moral indifferences and compromises others make around us both in the world and in the church. Sometimes it’s not what we do but what we don’t do that stirs resentment. Not laughing at a crude joke, not gossiping when those around us are gossiping, and refusing to compromise when offered the opportunity just to name a few.

Christians are also persecuted for identifying with Jesus. In Matthew 5:11, Jesus stops speaking in generalities and speaks directly to those listening, saying, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

If we are living righteously and willingly identifying with Jesus Christ we will be slandered, insulted, reviled, lied about, and maybe even physically harmed. Will we stand firm when it comes time to be identified as “one of those Christian bigots” or will we quietly disappear and hide? Jesus tells us that if we don’t hide, we will be blessed and great will our reward be in heaven.

When professed believers are popular and praised by the world it does not indicate that the world has raised its standards but that many who call themselves Christian have lowered theirs. They are reflecting rather than confronting that society, and when they please the world, they can be sure they are grieving God. Hear the words of Jesus in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when men speak well of you.”

Second, notice the certainty of God’s blessing in Matthew 5:12.

Here is the only command in the beatitudes: “Rejoice and be glad (exceedingly).” Jesus wants these believers to “rejoice and be glad” for two reasons: because of the assurance it gives them when they are persecuted and because they are in great company.  

The great reward Jesus speaks of is the assurance we are given when we are persecuted. The assurance of our salvation does not come from knowing we made a decision somewhere in the past. Rather, our assurance is knowing that being persecuted for the sake of Christ and his righteousness proves we are identified with him and his promise. “Theirs is the kingdom heaven.”  No matter what the world does to us, it cannot affect our standing in Christ’s kingdom.

Not only is our reward in heaven great, but we are also counted among the righteous who have gone before us. If we are persecuted and maligned falsely for Christ’s sake, we are told we are like the prophets, who were God’s chosen servants, and who are now with God, rejoicing in heaven.” We are in the best possible company. Though the world was not worthy of their company every persecuted believer is.

Persecution brings great assurance. It proves we are Christians because we are identified with Christ, and it assures us we will live in the kingdom of heaven.

So, when we suffer as Christians, let us not be surprised as Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 4:12. Rather, let us be prepared, and when we suffer let us suffer with patience, courage, and cheerfulness as we pray and ask God for strength, and for the salvation of our persecutors. Let us be Christlike as we follow Paul’s example in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

In a hostile world, Jesus gave us an example to follow. In all his absolute perfection, his gentleness and his meekness he was violently persecuted. Never was anyone so gentle and so kind. Never was anyone so merciful or so righteous. Never was anyone so peaceable or so pure, and never was anyone so willing to forgive by giving up his life to pay for our sins by suffering the wrath and rejection of God his father by dying on a cross.

Persecution reveals who we really are. If we try to imitate Christ, the world will praise us. But if we become Christlike, the world will hate us.

Let us join him willingly, along with all the others who have suffered for his name—the prophets in Matthew 5, the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 and 12, and the apostles in Acts 5—who counted it worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.

Song of Response

Sermon Audio from Recent Sundays

February 14 - Matthew 5:9 (Larry Malament)

January 24 - Matthew 5:8 (Devon Kauflin)

January 17 - Matthew 5:7 (Devon Kauflin)