LoS: Blessed are the Persecuted – Exposition (Matthew 5:11)

Sermon on the Mount, Carl Heinrich Bloch

Sermon on the Mount, Carl Heinrich Bloch

11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

However, in the first centuries A.D., in the pagan Roman Empire, living out the righteous Christian life placed one in radical conflict with the dominant religious practices, cultural norms and political realities. For example, to claim Christ as LORD could be, and was interpreted as a challenge to the Roman Emperor’s position as a deity. Again, the Lord’s Supper was interpreted as a monstrous rite of cannibalism. Worship of a crucified “loser” in a culture that revered great victors was viewed as beyond strange.

The consequences for early Christians varied from social disapproval to mass martyrdom. Christians were sent to their deaths in the coliseums as fodder for wild animals or burned alive for the entertainment of the pagan population.

Unfortunately, the violent, deadly persecution of Christians today is even worse in terms of numbers than it was two thousand years ago. If you pay attention to news from countries around the world with Christian minorities, you will quickly come face to face with the terrible facts of persecution because of faith in Christ.

Although we may live in societies in which the residue of Christian ethos prevails, it often doesn’t prevail in practice in our institutions. We should be very concerned if no one in the organizations in which we operate, be they for work or pleasure, has ever found us objectionable because of our distinctive Christian ethic. For to conform yourself to Christ is to stand against the passions that are given free sway in those who have conformed themselves to the world.

Finally, it simply must be pointed out that this sure saying of Christ is in complete opposition to that dark blot on Christian teaching known as “prosperity theology.” Most of us have seen it in its grossest form on the television, where some slick, shifty televangelist seeks to fleece the gullible with the promise of a ten-fold return from god for their generosity.

Unfortunately, this blight insidiously creeps into even the most well founded theological lives of the well off. It slithers in when thoughts of having been so blessed are connected with our own talents and hard work. It sneaks in when we tisk, tisk about the incompetence of other’s efforts as compared to our own. In short, our own prosperity can so easily become an idol at which we worship our own selves. My God deliver us from evil.

LoS: Blessed are the Persecuted – Exposition (Matthew 5:10)

The three verses under study (Matthew 5:10-12) are taken from near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the most important sermon ever preached. This oration fills three entire chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (5-7). It touches on many important aspects of Christian life, providing God’s own Word spoken by God Himself. It is a holy, humbling, fearful, hope-filled and blessed utterance. To read this sermon is to be shaken down to your very depths while simultaneously lifted towards hope and joy. This is what happens when God Incarnate speaks.

Sermon on the Mount Copenhagen Church Alter Painting

Sermon on the Mount
Copenhagen Church Alter Painting

5 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This verse is the eighth of the eight Beatitudes that open the Sermon on the Mount. It is the only Beatitude that is expanded and amplified upon, as follows in verses eleven and twelve.

These words hit modern, Western ears oddly. Persecuted…for doing right? This is the case only because we live in a culture where the residue of Christianity lives within our laws, morals and worldviews. That is, there has been a partial alignment between cultural norms and Christianity in those societies in which it has been the dominant religion.

LoS: Blessed are the Persecuted – Opening Thoughts

called-to-sufferJesus Christ predicted on numerous occasions that allegiance to Him would result in persecution. In fact, Christ went even farther, saying, in effect, that a sure sign of belonging to Him was to suffer persecution.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20)

Christ’s words have been proven true from the moment He spoke them up to the very present. They will continue to be true right up to the moment when He returns in glory.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the whole of creation was transformed into opposition to the will of God. Therefore, to be transformed through faith in Christ back towards God’s will inevitably places us in opposition to the world as well. The magnitude of this opposition is a function of the extent of our transformation back to God’s will and the nature of the society in which we live.

Thus, some Christians suffer terrible persecution for taking the very first steps of faith while others suffer almost none even though they follow their Savior to the farthest boundaries of devotion. The reasons remain shrouded within the inaccessible depths of God’s wisdom and purposes.

LoS: Isaiah – Closing Thoughts

In Genesis we witnessed suffering’s entry into human experience. In Job we struggled with the terrible questions of its apparent arbitrariness, meaning and spiritual implications. What has this passage added?

I believe that there are at least two primary messages to be found in this perhaps the most important passage in the Old Testament. Firstly, the dialectic synthesis between suffering and salvation within the context of a person is explicitly identified. This person is clearly exceedingly special in God’s sight, and given the incredible events and consequences of his experiences could have been identified with messianic attributes. Had this passage of Scripture been used as the template for the Messiah, Christ may not have suffered and died as He did. But in God’s wisdom and foreknowledge, a very different messianic expectation was in place ca. A.D. 30, one of a powerful, conquering, nation-restoring hero.

Secondly, although it would not become understood until after the resurrection, God is here telling us, centuries before Christ, that suffering is an experience that He Himself will enter into with us. We will see the terrible fulfillment of this prophecy in all of its chilling detail when we follow Christ to the cross in Christ’s Suffering and Death.crownnails1

LoS: Isaiah – Exposition (53:8-12)

8By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

       And who can speak of his descendants?

       For he was cut off from the land of the living;

       for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio.

The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio.

9He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

       and with the rich in his death,

       though he had done no violence,

       nor was any deceit in his mouth.

   10Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,

       and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,

       he will see his offspring and prolong his days,

       and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

We have passed through the black night of Christ’s suffering and now begin to see glimmers of the daybreak. He is entombed in a place of shame and then, a turning, where the luminosity of the intention for good deeply wrapped inside the cloak of this darkness breaks forth.

11After the suffering of his soul,

       he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

       by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,

      and he will bear their iniquities.

Resurrection of Christ by Noel Coypel

Resurrection of Christ by Noel Coypel

The Resurrection!

Let those who doubt answer how the same Peter who denied Jesus three times could only a few weeks later speak thus to a crowd in the same Jerusalem that meted out such a gruesome punishment on his Master.

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:22-24)

Christ had known it all from the beginning:

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)

12Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,

       and he will divide the spoils with the strong,

       because he poured out his life unto death,

       and was numbered with the transgressors.

       For he bore the sin of many,

       and made intercession for the transgressors.

May the Great Apostle have the last word.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

LoS: Isaiah – Exposition (53:4-7)

took-our-sickness4Surely he took up our infirmities

       and carried our sorrows,

       yet we considered him stricken by God,

       smitten by him, and afflicted.

Death by crucifixion was considered to be a sign of rejection by God Himself: “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.”(Deuteronomy 21:22,23).

5But he was pierced for our transgressions,

       he was crushed for our iniquities;

       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

       and by his wounds we are healed.

To ensure that Christ was indeed dead while He hung on the cross, “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” (John 19:34)

To ensure that the Good News would burst forth into a desperate world, the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5)

6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

       each of us has turned to his own way;

       and the LORD has laid on him

       the iniquity of us all.

Jesus Christ told us that He is the Good Shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

7He was oppressed and afflicted,

       yet he did not open his mouth;

       he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

       and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,

       so he did not open his mouth.

Consider first Christ in Gethsemane, praying in such a state of anguish that sweat like drops of blood fell to the ground. He knew full well the agony that lay ahead. We tend to focus on the physical suffering because it’s something that we can relate to. But isn’t it likely that the spiritual suffering would dwarf the physical into insignificance? We simply can’t possibly grasp the full extent of the suffering required for Christ to pay for the sins of all humans that ever have, do or will exist.

Now consider that with one simple miracle in the presence of Pilate or Herod Christ could have avoided this future of unimaginable misery. And yet, He was silent, meekly following His Father’s good and perfect will, being led to the cross; “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)