Matthew 5:1-12 Part 8

We come to verse ten – the eighth and last Beatitude – “Blessed the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens.”

Verses eleven and twelve are elaboration and application of verse ten, rather than another characteristic of Christ’s disciples.  Many have tried to make another beatitude out of these two verses, but the language won’t allow it.

As we’ve discussed before, there is no verb for in the first eight.  “Blessed the poor in spirit, blessed those who mourn, blessed the meek....” – all pronouncements of Christ as to the character of His Own people, for all times.

But verse eleven begins with “blessed are you....”  And, by supplying the verb, Jesus takes it out of the realm of the universal characteristic of all of His Own, and puts it in the present tense in order to make it active for those to whom He’s speaking.  And He uses the second person plural in doing so  “blessed are you” – speaking directly to, and about, those who are gathered around Him – not, by any means excluding us from what He’s saying, but simply becoming more personal with this last beatitude here in verse ten.

And there’s a good reason for that!  This first group of disciples was the vanguard of Christ’s Kingdom!  To them came the honor to be first!  To suffer with Christ – and for Christ – and in Christ!  To these who were like these first seven descriptions of all of Jesus followers, fell the lot of being persecuted for the sake of Christ.

The full elaboration of this final beatitude (verses eleven and twelve) casts a special aura around it, for if we are like these first seven – poor in spirit, sorrowful and mournful due to our perversity, meek, hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of God, merciful and compassionate, pure in heart, and peacemakers – if we’re like this, then the eighth describes us!  Come it will, says Jesus.  And this full elaboration of it puts a cap on the whole of our description.

And the promise that “the Kingdom of the Heavens” is ours is the same promise as in the first beatitude – indicating this same thing.  Jesus is wrapping His Own people in the Kingdom promise.  The fact that it is the promise of the first, and the promise of the last, tells us that those who are like this – those who are in Christ – are participants of all that is His.  His is the new heavens and the new earth – and it is ours in Him.  And the promise is only  for those who are like this.  Because those in Him become like Him!  And if we don’t become like Him then we aren’t in Him!  This accentuates the Kingdom perspective.

One more thing about the structure here.  Four of Jesus’ descriptions of our nature in Him are intensely personal – having to do with our own awareness of our sin and depravity, our desperate need for God’s righteousness, and our meek submission to Him.  Three of them – mercy and compassion, without retaliation; purity of heart; and bringing God’s peace to the world order – describe our relationships with others.  That makes seven.  This last one has to do with the reaction of the world to the “nature of Christ” in us.

And it is a strange paradox, isn’t it, that those who hate and mourn their own sin and the sin of the world, and who meekly submit to scorn, and who desire God’s righteousness for themselves and for the world, and who have merciful compassion for the hurting and the depraved, and who have pure hearts and consciences, and who carry the peace of God into all corners of society, the these are the ones who suffer persecution at the hands of the world?  These are the ones who are accorded the very opposite of peace!

It is a monstrous thing – for those who study to live righteously and peacefully – that they should be tormented unjustly.  But righteousness is resented!  That is the ordinary thing!  The lust of the flesh can’t endure being exposed and reproved!  It hates that.  And it strikes at it with vile and prurient venom.  More about that in a few minutes.

But Jesus says, “bless are those who are persecuted....”  In the former seven of Jesus’ sayings He used a present active participle – “blessed the poor in spirit...” etc.  But in this eighth one He uses a perfect, passive participle, indicating first the receiving of persecution, and, then, secondly the enduring nature of Christ’s disciples and the continuing persecution to come as a result of that new nature!

But He doesn’t stop there.  He says, “Blessed those who are enduring through constant persecution for righteousness sake – on account of righteousness!”  This is a critical modifier.  Paul tells Timothy “all that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

And right here we have to make sure that we distinguish between martyrs who live Godly in Christ, and those who suffer persecution for some other reason.  Because there’s nothing blessed, nothing exulting and joyful, and no ownership of the Kingdom of Christ in persecution for some other reason!

There’s nothing here that says – blessed are those who are persecuted for being fanatic zealots!  It says “blessed those who are persecuted for being poor is spirit.”

I see nothing here that says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for publicly degrading civil officials!  It says, “Blessed those who are persecuted for mourning and lamenting perversity and its consequences.

I don’t see anything that says blessed are those who are persecuted for standing up for their rights!  It says “Blessed those who are persecuted for being the meek ones....”

And, as much as I’ve looked, I can’t find where it says blessed are those who are persecuted for marching and demonstrations!  It says, “Blessed the ones who are persecuted for being merciful.”

And I can’t find where Christians are blessed when they’re persecuted for storing an armory in their back yards, or being black in a white society!  It says “Blessed the ones persecuted for being pure in heart.”

The apostle Peter said, “Let none of you suffer persecution for being busybodies in other people’s affairs.”  It says here, “Blessed those who are persecuted for being peacemakers!”  Peter says to believers that it is not praiseworthy to suffer persecution quietly when you’ve broken the law!  Jesus says “Blessed the ones enduring persecution on account of righteousness!”  And He has very clearly defined what that righteousness is!

You can’t delight in yourself if the magistrates are against you for rebellion; you can’t delight in yourself if you suffer because of a mean spirit; you can’t delight in yourself if you suffer for false doctrine!

We must know that there are many who are anxious for martyrdom, and who will justify anything they’ve done, and cry persecution at the first hint of opposition!  And we have to be discerning about this in others, and about this same tendency in ourselves, for there is reason to believe that when it happens, “the Faith” isn’t being practiced at all.

“Blessed the ones enduring persecution for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens.”  These are the righteous in God’s eyes.  They confess the Faith and engage the world as meek, merciful peacemakers, and thus they are obnoxious to the world, which visits upon them torturous persecution!  And it’s more than suffering innocently – it’s more than being blamed for some sin you didn’t commit!

It’s suffering because of what you are in character and nature!  Because of the Divine approval which rests upon you!  God has pronounced you righteous, and the world detests that!

That needs further definition doesn’t it?  And Jesus Becomes more specific in verse eleven, where He says, “Blessed are you whenever they revile you and persecute you and say everything wicked against you falsely, on account of Me.”  Luke records some different things in another similar sermon – “blessed are you when men shall hate you, and separate you and load you up with reproaches and cast out your name as evil.”

            But, Jesus says, “on account of Me.”  It is Christ that the world order can’t stand!  And our new nature, which He describes in these beatitudes, is His nature!  The Divine approval rests upon us because of Christ.  It can put up with law breaking, but not the meekness and mercy of Christ!  It can abide the mean –spirited, because they’re one of them!  But not the poor in spirit!  He says, “Great is your reward in the heavens.”  But the reward isn’t for our merit, but for His!  Our best works are because of Him – not because we stood for God, but we stand because He did.  We don’t do anything or have anything that God judges as worthy of reward – the reward in the Heavens belongs to Christ.

You see, Christ’s people live in Him.  We have been made new – new creations in Him.  And the beatitudes are descriptions of the nature of our Lord.  And living in Him through faith, we are given His character.  We take on the attributes and qualities and characteristics of Jesus in Whose body we live and breathe and have our being!

Through faith our hearts are raised into the heavenlies by the Spirit, where we feed on Him and drink His blood, which is signified in the table.  We rest in all aspects of His sacrifice; we contemplate His Person; we meditate on His attributes; we grow in knowledge of Him; and learn to love and rest in His Holy Law.  Our eyes are off of self!

And the Holy Spirit, through that same faith, gives us the meekness of Christ – and gives us the mercy and compassion of Christ, and gives us His mourning for the sin of the world – and gives us His hunger and thirst for the Peace of God in the world – and gives us His zeal for the Kingdom. 

And the world of rebellion and conflict hates Him and therefore hates us!  When we show the compassion of Christ, it hates us.  When we show the Prince of Peace to those in conflict, they hate us.  When we mourn the sin of the world and it vexes us, we’re cast out and separated as being odd and strange.

The world has seen imprisonment and torture and murder on account of Jesus – it’s going on right now in many places.  And, as we’ve said before, we may one day see gross violence like that.  But, for the present, the persecution we receive and the suffering we endure take on more subtle, but sometimes equally as heavy, forms.  It may take the form of a man losing his job.  It may come as laughter and ridicule.  It may be as whispering and character assassination.  And it may reach a point of bitterness and vile language and shunning – casting out, separation.

And, more often than we might think, the persecution comes more from the church than it does from the world!  But the same reason holds – the righteous are persecuted because they’re different, not because they’re “strange”, but because they have the nature of Christ.  Many churches aren’t different – they live very nicely in and with the world order – and they don’t disturb pagan sensitivities.

The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the religious people; and the level of contempt that religious people can heap upon the head of a disciple of Christ is mighty indeed!  There are doctrines and life-styles of people who profess to be Christian that are far removed from Scripture.  And what they do to ones who sincerely want to be like Jesus is sometimes hard to believe.  And all of it is against Christ.  He is completely foreign to the order of things.

And it’s sometimes easy for Christians to feel and see themselves as detestable in the eyes of the world, and to become downcast.  But Christ comforts us here that we might not lose courage.  This isn’t just light suffering!  - to be thrown out; to be unwanted; to be hated; to be separated from friends and even family as alien; to be called profane and be cursed.  Our Lord knew that His adopted brother-in-the-flesh would be heaped with an immense mass of reproach by hypocrites!

As He says here in verse eleven, “blessed are you whenever they revile you, and persecute you, and say everything wicked against you....”  Revile means to look down on, or to upbraid with violent or nasty language.  Persecute means to inflict injury, whether that be physical, mental, economic or legal injury.  And whenever they forever mention you, they will say wicked and false things against you.  All of these are painful inflictions!

But Jesus never held out any false prospects for us, did He?  Listen to the apostle John quote Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of his Gospel:  “Because you are not of this world, the world hates you... if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My Word, they will also keep yours... all these things they will do unto you for My Name’s sake, because they know not Him Who sent Me....”

And although persecution is not light, there is reason to rejoice and to celebrate!  “When they do these things on account of Me, rejoice and celebrate, for your reward is great in the heavens!”

Instead of grieving and groaning and being embittered, Jesus tells us to have great joy!  Exult in it, He says!  These words are durative imperatives!  In other words, the joy of it is never to leave them – no matter what they are called upon to endure.  Christ endured it all!  Is the servant better than His Master?

If we suffer for righteousness sake, are we not suffering with Him?  After suffering beatings for Christ, the twelve apostles, Acts chapter five, were “rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.”  They were exultant that they could take blows on account of Him.  Why?  Because it was further verification of His promises – further verification of His condemnation of Israel – further verification that they were in Him – further verification that they were like Him in character – and, above all- the honor of sharing His suffering with Him!

He’s the One Who took the pain of the crown of thorns; He’s the One Who took the thirty-nine lacerations across His back; He’s the One Who carried the tree on those lacerations; He’s the One Who had nails driven into His feet and wrists and hung there naked before the population of Jerusalem; and He’s the One Who was pierced with a sword, who sweat great drops like blood, who took scorn and spitting, and ridicule and laughter and rejection and casting outside the city!  And the apostles considered it an honor at the highest level to receive a beating on account of Him – to share His suffering!  If they were in Him they must share His pain!  If they were in Him, then they must have His hated nature!

The reward is great, isn’t it?  It’s great because the One Who gives it is great.  To look up into the heavenlies with the eye of faith and see Him, as Steven did when he was stoned, to see Him as He sits at the right hand of the Father, to see Him as the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world!  To see Him brighter than the blazing sun – with that Sword proceeding from His mouth – “for they shall see God ... for they shall be called sons of God... for they shall be filled... for they shall receive mercy... for they shall inherit the earth... for theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens.

Our Lord finishes his description of His Own people by saying, “for thus they persecuted the prophets before you.”  Jesus points to the prophets of the past, so many of whom were sent to Israel and were humiliated, ignored and murdered.  In Matthew chapter twenty-three Jesus laid upon them the deaths of prophets from Abel to Zechariah.  And in only one way can one join the list of heroic martyrs – by joyfully receiving persecution for Christ’s sake.  The wounds and hurts are “medals of honor” for him, and they attest to the fact that we live in Him and not in the world order – for “all who live Godly in Christ shall suffer persecution.”

The restoration of all things under the reign of Christ, being everywhere promised in Scripture and a basic tenet of Reformed Theology, has, in some people, fostered a vain confidence.  But as soon as Christ’s disciples succeed to the place of the prophets, they must sustain the same contest that engaged the prophets!

The heroes of the past were first, and they were persecuted.  And Christ’s followers take their place!  It’s a promise of Christ!  Right here in the Luke parallel to this verse he says don’t think that prosperity will follow if you engage as the prophets did.  Men are intoxicated by prosperity!  And Christ pronounces a curse on those who receive their consolation in the world.

But joy, consolation and fulfillment – occurs when the elect men and women in Christ engage the battle and are persecuted and suffer because of Christ!  Great is their reward in the heavens!  The prophets engaged and suffered – Christ engaged and suffered – and so will you!

Luke then records Christ’s woes against the full and satisfied, not because they enjoy blessings given by God, but because they are lifted up by confidence in the blessings of the world.  They avoid any kind of trouble associated with engaging for the glory of God!  And the next woe has to do with the applause of men.  The world order applauds the false teacher who doesn’t engage the battle for truth, but seeks to mollify men to receive their favor!  It seems that many are afraid of the scars of warfare for Him.

But with the nature and character of Christ here in the beatitudes, Christians are to put on the breastplate of righteousness, wrap our loins in truth, shod ourselves with the Gospel of peace, defend ourselves with the shield of faith – and pick up the Sword and begin to engage the battle!  The nature of Jesus and a weapon.

Our Lord Jesus sacrificed His body and shed His blood to win the victory.  And it’s time to engage so the prophets did.