Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blessed Hope (Matthew 5:10-12)

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NASB95)

These beatitudes began with those who are poor in spirit and progressed through mourning, gentleness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful and doing so with a pure heart seeking to be peacemakers in a world where real peace is only found in God. The last beatitude deals with persecution and it is a repeated and re-framed one which seems to be a culmination of a progression of all of the earlier beatitudes.

In previous readings of the Matthew 5 I did not necessarily make such a progressive link, but this time I did. I think it has in part to due with what has been a dominant thread in some portions of our news media. Over the past many months (even years) we have seen people who stand for righteousness attacked for their faith positions.

Even today I read of a couple who were denied a hearing by their State’s Supreme Court for their refusal to participate as videographers in a same sex wedding, citing their participation as a violation of their religious conscience. This couple was told by the court that they had to set aside their faith when they entered the public market as a business. I do not know this couple and I do not have access to them to speak with them, but I’m sure their faith means more to them that a court ruling and that this is not the end of their fight nor is it likely to be the end of their persecution for their faith.

I also read today of an update concerning a sports broadcaster who was terminated from his position within 24 hours of beginning his employment with a major sports network because of his biblical position on marriage. He did not get his job back, but had to move on. Today he joined the staff of a major faith based organization given to the cause of defending faith and faith positions in the public arena whether it is in sport, business, politics and legislation, or education including teachers, students, and their subject matter. This individual is now using his talents to help others with the same or similar struggles.

We are clearly in a time when holding sound biblical positions in the public arena is no longer popular among some verbally vehement and powerful groups. These individuals go way beyond normal discourse, using intensely derogatory speech and demanding harsh responses of those who have power over their targets (e.g., employers, courts).

We live in a time in this country where living openly righteous lives is turning from being admired and encouraged to being detested. Jesus saw this in His life and He pointed back to it happening to the prophets who spoke out against the rebellion and sins of the people. In these verses Jesus acknowledges that this persecution will continue. He even spoke of what we are seeing today when people of faith are being accosted with insults and malicious lies. But God has given His Word as truth, and His truth is not subject to public whim or the desires of man and his systems.

Last night I was in a class where I heard the following statement, “Truth is by definition intolerant.” The reason for this is that with truth there can only be one right answer. The world cannot tolerate this position because if we are right, then they by definition have to be wrong. It is for this reason that those who place their trust in God will continue to be a source of consternation for the world and those who insist on living apart from its precepts. It doesn’t even matter to some how we phrase our disagreement or how much kindness or mercy we might show. To a very real degree it is not the method of the message but the message itself and its source, Jesus Christ, to which the world objects.

The cases cited above are not about people standing on a street corner pointing to the sins of those walking the streets, but they are people who live their convictions before Christ in all that they give themselves to. These people are not rigidly legalistic, unkind, or harsh in their speech. From what I have read they have even been very much the opposite. It comes down to them making known in some way that their faith directs their lives, and in that they have to remain true to their conscience before God. And for that, the sake of righteousness, they suffer persecution.

There are none of us who are perfect, nor are there any who follow God’s Word without infraction and even deception. It never has been about us getting our lives squared away before God would accept us. It has always been about trusting Him by faith. Through the sacrifice of Christ, salvation is given to all who believe. With salvation comes the gift of the Holy Spirit to grow us in Christ and lead us in His truth as we learn, rightly handle, and abide by His Word hidden in our hearts.

Every individual is accountable to God. He is the only righteous and true judge. Some will appear before God as His children, saved by faith, to have their works weighed for reward. Others will bow before Him judged for their sins with only their works which will not satisfy. Recognizing this, there will continue to be many who do not agree with or accept God or the precepts of His infallible Word. It is in response to His great love that we love others, even enduring hardship and ill treatment that we might show how real is His love for us and them. God will use our distress and persecution for His glory and our reward. This is a certain promise.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, NASB95)

Beatitude facet number 8: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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