Blessedness Is a By-Product of Character (part 3)
April 3, 2011
This is one of those beatitudes we hope never applies to us! When was the last time you said, “Lord, please send someone to persecute me? Or do we tell the Lord, “Please, raise up somebody at work or school who can torment me on account of my faith. I need for this to happen so that I can be a stronger Christian! Thank you, Jesus! Amen!!!”
I’m not praying that prayer - no one in their right mind prays like that! We want people to like us! We want people to be inspired by our faith, not turned off by our faith.
But Jesus is very realistic about what can happen to a righteous person in an unrighteous world. He’s saying that “if you live out the character qualities mentioned in the first seven beatitudes, you’re going to take some heat! You’re going to be rejected by people who are hostile toward God. If you mourn over the sin in the world and if you are a meek and merciful peacemaker in the eyes of God, you’re not going to fit in. Jesus let’s us know what the consequences are:
Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV)
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Across our country today and indeed around the world, there is a battle being waged by those who hate Christ and the truth contained in the Bible (Mat. 24:9).
- Increasingly, our children are discriminated against for trying to present their Christian convictions in school.
- A high school student in Florida was suspended for handing out religious literature before and after - but not during - school hours. Two high school students in Texas were told by their principal they could not wear rosaries. The Principal claimed that they were symbols of gang activity, even though the boys were not involved in any gang
- Music teachers and school districts don’t allow students to perform traditional carols like "Silent Night" and "The First Noel" during Christmas. We can’t call the Christmas dance that anymore it has to be “the winter dance” or “the winter solstice dance,” but it can’t be a Christmas dance
- A New Jersey public school banned the classic Charles Dickens play, "A Christmas Carol" because of its spiritual overtones and message of redemption. Maybe the overtones of redemption and caring are just what we need in America.
- Even though Krispy Kreme promises to give students a free doughnut for each "A" on their report cards, a store in Schereville, Indiana refused to reward the Kamp children for A's received in Bible classes. ["Chain Won't Give a Doughnut for an 'A' in Bible", Wendy Cloyd, Assistant Editor, CitizenLink]
- Confessed child rapist James Arnett's sentence was overturned by an Ohio appeals court. The reason: the judge in his case quoted from Matthew 18:5-6 during sentencing. Matthew 18:5-6 (NIV) 5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
- Consider this incredible case in San Diego, California. “A San Diego pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a county official and warned they will face escalating fines if they continue to hold Bible studies in their home. The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people.
“’Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say “amen”?’ the official reportedly asked. ‘Do you say, “Praise the Lord”?’ The pastor’s wife answered yes. She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding ‘religious assemblies’ until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars. And if they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple will be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, ‘and then it will get ugly’.”
- Imagine that! Now even home Bible studies are becoming illegal. What sort of madness is this? That is persecution. We know that there is a very real spiritual power which wants to silence all of God’s people. And this spiritual battle is of course being fought out in our courts, our laws, our cultures and our social policies.
- That is in America – it is a whole worse in other countries.
- Pakistan: Christians Killed A group of armed Muslims opened fire on Christians at an open-air prayer meeting in Pakistan this past week, killing two men. The shootings occurred during The Salvation Army Church’s annual church celebration and prayer meeting on March 21, 2011, at Hurr Camp, a colony of working-class Christians in Hyderabad. During the open-air meeting, a group of Muslim youths interrupted the meeting by playing music. They also verbally insulted the women at the meeting. Some Christian men from the church asked the Muslims to stop disrupting the service, and a fight broke out. Eventually, the Muslims left and the church resumed its service.
- A short while later, at least 12 of the Muslims returned with guns and opened fire on the Christians. Two men were killed, and two others were injured.
Matthew 24:4-13 (NIV)
4 Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
- The world has been battling Christianity since Christ was born. It has schemed and plotted against Christianity; trying to immobilize and silence Christians for centuries and in the Western culture it first was subtle and now it is a blatant attack on our faith. You can find this attack from courthouse steps to the media to our schools and in our neighborhoods. Here are 3 specific strategies or mechanisms that are common place in silencing the Christian faith.
- Deny our Judeo-Christian roots and to rewrite our historical record.
- Children in public schools never hear the expressions of faith made by the founders of our country. Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights are founded upon the Bible and the moral teachings that come from the Scripture.
- We celebrate the pilgrim's first Thanksgiving but are not told to whom those early settlers were thankful. They came to the New World so that they could worship freely.
- Christ and His church have been banned and any mention of Christianity is forbidden. But as a nation we were started on biblical principles and that is what made us great. We are losing our greatness and everyone is wondering how we got in the mess we are in. It is simple we are not allowing or following God’s standards that we were founded on.
- Secondly, the world point of view has worked at convincing the American people that Christians are in violation of the Constitution.
- Liberal activists would have us believe our founding fathers were terrified at the prospect of Christians participating in the political process. This led them, we're told, to establish a division between church and state.
- But no such provision appears in the Constitution or any of the foundational documents. The principle of separation of church and state is found only in one of Jefferson's letters, and referred, not to the exclusion of religious people from government, but to the protection of religion from governmental interference.
- There have been movements and intimidation within the Congress to silence Christians. There has been a push to deny churches of their tax exempt status if they if they distribute Christian voter education literature or to take a political stand. What happen to our freedom? We are seeing our rights as Christian put into jeopardy by a few alarmists.
- Thirdly, the media, atheist and others that try to stop Christianity by embarrassing, insulting, shout down and mischaracterizing Christians, hoping to intimidate them into silence. It only works if we allow it to.
- Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Jesus predicted that insults and persecution would happen and we never thought it would happen here in a nation based on biblical principles.
- Any Christian who has stood his ground on Biblical faith has grown uncomfortably accustomed to being called all sorts of names:
- Judgmental or a Bigot – People complain that we criticize them and their way of life. But we believe that all which includes us have fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
- We are called Arrogant – People say that we think that we are better than them and we have the only way to eternal life. We do have the only way to eternal life. But we are all in need of God’s grace and we don’t create eternal life it is a gift from God. John 14:6 (NIV) Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
- Narrow-minded: "You think you have the only handle on truth. If you practiced the love you preach, you would see all people as worthy of salvation" 1 Timothy 4:1 (NIV) 1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
- Ignorant: "You don't know there are other paths to enlightenment" 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV) 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
- Old-Fashioned: "You cling to obsolete myths" Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
- The names "radical right," "far right," "extreme right" and "Christian right" are also part of the effort to marginalize and demoralize those with traditional views.
- How should we react when we are persecuted? How should we respond when people reject us and look at us with a weird look because of my faith in Christ?” Jesus tells us in verse 12: He says “Rejoice and be glad! Thank You for the privilege of suffering for the sake of the kingdom! Thank You that the adversity in our life is a sign that we are living exactly the way You want us to live! Thank You, Lord that You are using all the circumstances in our lives to make us more and more like You.
- Maybe you’re thinking, this doesn’t sound normal. When I’m going through a rough time, I don’t want to rejoice. I don’t want to say, "Praise the Lord." I want to scream! I want to go to my room. Slam the door. Kick the cat or dog. Fall on the bed. And bury my head in the pillow!"
- Suffering on account of our faith in Christ is the greatest privilege in the world. Because it means that we’re living your life so close to the Lord that our experiences are beginning to mirror His experiences!
- Jesus mentions two other reasons for rejoicing in the face of persecution. Number one: our reward in heaven is going to be fantastic!
- There is NOTHING compared to the great reward that is prepared for us up in heaven! You’re going to be looking around in heaven and saying, “Wow!!! This place is incredible! I’ve never seen anything so awesome!
- Being here with Jesus and the people I love is the most fabulous thing that’s ever happened to me!” Psalm 16:11 says “You will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
- A second reason for rejoicing in the face of persecution is that it puts us in good company. When you suffer for the sake of the kingdom, you are joining hands with the great saints of the past. Because this evil world system has ALWAYS persecuted the people of faith. In Jeremiah 38, the prophet Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern because he had the guts to preach exactly what the Lord told him to preach.
- And in Amos chapter seven, when Amos was preaching the judgment of the Lord, the people of Israel rejected him and said, “Get out of here! Go back to the land of Judah and do your prophesying there! We don’t want to hear it!”
- And in Daniel chapter three, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were brought before King Nebuchadnezzar because they would not bow down to the idol made of gold. And the king said, “If you don’t bow down, I’m going to throw you into a blazing furnace.” (children sermon)
- But in verse 16, the three young men replied, “"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. 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."
- Why were these men willing to suffer for the sake of the kingdom? Because they loved God so much that nothing in the world could get them to compromise their faith. Not peer pressure. Not even the fear of dying. Loyalty to God is a higher priority than saving our own skin. Allegiance to God takes priority over allegiance to anything else.
- The good news is that the persecution lasts only a moment, while the favor of God lasts for all eternity. Don’t let the fear of man prevent you from enjoying the favor of God. Ask Jesus to be the Lord of your life. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Conclusion:One of the great saints of the faith was a man named Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. He was dragged before the Roman authorities and given a choice – make a sacrifice to Caesar or be burned at the stake. The soldiers pleaded with him: Polycarp, be reasonable! Make the sacrifice. It’s no big deal.”
But Polycarp said, "For eighty six years I have served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How can turn my back on Him now? How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" They brought Polycarp to the stake and he prayed his last prayer; "Oh, Lord God Almighty, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of thee. . . I thank thee that thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour." And he died for his faith with a hymn of praise on his lips. The ones who experience persecution for the sake of the kingdom will receive a heavenly reward.
“God, give us the courage to stay faithful to You even when people try to get us to compromise. Give us the courage to be the best Christian we can be. We don’t want to fall away from You. We don’t want to be remembered in eternity as a spiritual wimp who caves in at the first sign of difficulty. We want to stand with the saints of God! We want the heavenly blessing of Jesus Christ to be on our lives.”
Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.