Blessed are those who are persecuted Matthew 5:10-12

Back in 1979 the Upminster superstars Ian Dury and the Blockheads released their last and most famous song, “Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3”. Since Easter we have been looking a much more significant list of “Reasons to Be Cheerful” – the eight sayings at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount which we call the Beatitudes – where Jesus tells is who is really blessed in this mixed up world. As Jesus turns the world the right way up again, he tells us what it really means to be happy in God’s Upside-Down Kingdom.
If you ask people what would make them happy, most would say they would like to be rich, or at least comfortably off. Most would prefer to be laughing rather than crying. Not everybody wants to be the life and soul of the party, but most would like to be cheerful and joking and having fun. Most people would like to be powerful – in control of their own lives even if they aren’t in control of everything else around them. Most people like to be popular and have lots of friends – it’s hard to be happy when you are lonely. Most people would rather be successful and not feel a failure – and some couldn’t care less how they achieve that success. People like to be shrewd, maybe even a little bit calculating, always keeping a few cards up their sleeves and never having to be vulnerable. And most people think it is alright to be determined – not vindictive or ruthless but still making sure they get their own way – not forceful, but not a pushover either. People think that if only their lives were like that all the time, they would be happy.
We have seen Jesus teach us in the Beatitudes that the world has all the wrong ideas about what people need to be happy. Instead of being rich, Jesus says “blessed are the poor” – not just material poverty spiritual poverty but spiritual poverty. Instead of laughing all the time, Jesus says “blessed are those who mourn” – not being gloomy all the time but seeing this sad world as it really is. Instead of being powerful, Jesus says “blessed are the meek and humble” even if they are the ones getting trodden into the ground. Instead of being popular, Jesus says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness”, even though doing the right thing usually loses you more friends than it wins. Instead of being successful, Jesus says “blessed are the merciful”, forgiving rather than insisting on getting your own way all the time. Instead of being shrewd, Jesus says “blessed are the pure in heart” – those who are holy through and through, valuing sincerity and integrity above the shallowness of so much of modern life. Instead of being determined, Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers” – those who make peace instead of making war.
Poor, mourning, humble, righteous, merciful, pure, seeking out peace. In the world’s eyes those are the ingredients for an unhappy life. But in God’s Upside Kingdom “the first will be last and the last will be first.” God’s values are the complete opposite of the world’s values. When God acts as King, He puts right the wrongs in the world and turns the world the right way up again. And then it turns out that all the people who the world around consider to be failures and look down on and reject are revealed to be the very people who are most blessed by God and the most happy. There is a book by the founder of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship called “The Happiest People on Earth” and that is the truth. In God’s Upside-Down Kingdom, Christians really are the happiest people on earth!
But that leads us on to the last Beatitude and some very challenging words.
Matthew 5 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Here is the paradox. The people who are blessed in the Kingdom of God are those who are persecuted in this world. Specifically, God blesses people who are persecuted because of righteousness.
The New Living Translation says, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
People who seek God’s Kingdom and its righteousness will choose to do the right thing. And those who do the right thing will inevitably face opposition from so many people who are running away from God when they are not hiding from Him. Jesus goes on to warn his disciples very specifically that they will themselves be among those people who will experience persecution. The Beatitudes are all voiced in the third person; “they.” But Jesus switches to the second person as says this.
Matthew 5 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.
Blessed are YOU. When people insult YOU. Persecute YOU. Falsely say all kinds of evil things against YOU. Disciples of Jesus should expect insults. Disciples should expect persecution. Disciples should expect all kinds of lies and false accusations. Jesus gives all Christians that solemn warning. And that includes us. We should not be surprised if people insult us, or persecute us, or tell lies and make false accusations against us. Those things happened to the prophets in the Old Testament and they will happen even to us.
We find the same warning in Luke 6 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
But these were not the only warning Jesus gave to His followers. Just days before He died Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem and said this.
Matthew 24 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.
“Handed over to be persecuted.” “Put to death.” “Hated by all nations.” “Betrayed.” This will be the destiny for those who follow Jesus the Servant King, who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many. A few days later in the Upper Room on the night before He was crucified, Jesus said this to his apostles.
John 15 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 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. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

Jesus warned his disciples that people would hate them and persecute them, and we read how that began to be fulfilled many times in the Book of Acts. After the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin.
Acts 5:40. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
The more they preached the Good News about Jesus the Christ and his glorious resurrection from the dead, the more the disciples suffered. In fact, history tells us that the apostles were not only insulted, persecuted and falsely accused. Of the twelve apostles, only John lived to a healthy old age. All the other apostles were persecuted and martyred for their faith: crucified; beheaded; hanged; stabbed. Through the ages countless nameless Christians have suffered fierce persecution and there are still parts of the world today where following Jesus can lead to opposition, imprisonment and even martyrdom.
During His ministry Jesus had helped his disciples to prepare to face persecution. He taught us to show love instead of hatred.
Matt 25 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

In the decades to follow, many of the letters in the New Testament were written to help Christians to cope with the persecution they were facing at the time.
James 1 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Peter wrote similar words of comfort and encouragement.
1 Peter 4 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. … 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
So God can bring blessings even through persecution and use those events to bring glory to Himself. Paul encourages the Christians in Rome like this.
Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God loves us with a love which will never let us go. It is never about us holding on to God. It is only ever about God holding tight on to us.
Right back in the Beatitudes, Jesus promised comfort to His disciples. Remember the first Beatitude said this.
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And we just read the final Beatitude.
Matthew 5 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The same blessing is promised both to those who are poor in spirit and also to those who are persecuted because of righteousness. The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs – the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them! “While He taught those disciples who one day would experience persecution, Jesus also promised them great rewards.
Matthew 5 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.
Rejoice and be glad! The old King James Version sounds even better. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad! Jesus’s words in Luke 6 are even just as encouraging.
Luke 6 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
Be exceedingly glad. Rejoice and leap for joy! Why? Because great is your reward in heaven! There were other occasions as well when Jesus talked about the rewards which are waiting for His disciples, whatever persecutions they might suffer for His sake.
Mark 10:28 Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
There will be wonderful rewards for those who make sacrifices to follow Jesus. The Parable of the Talents promises the same glorious reward to the servant who had been entrusted with five talents who used them to earn five more and equally to the servant who had been entrusted with two talents who used them to earn two more. To each of these, the Master says simply this. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:21)

Whatever suffering this world may bring, Christians are guaranteed all the blessings of Heaven, eternity spent in the presence of Almighty God – sharing the Master’s happiness. Peter wrote this to Christians facing bitter persecution under Emperor Nero.
1 Peter 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Come and share your Master’s happiness. A beautiful echo of God’s wonderful promise to Abraham I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) God Himself is the reward for all who trust and serve Him. “I am your very great reward!” The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to these. Whatever this world might bring.
Eusebius was a historian, theologian and bishop of Caesarea at the beginning of the fourth century. The Roman Emperor Valens threatened him with confiscation of all his goods, torture, banishment, or even death. Eusebius replied like this. “He needs not fear confiscation, who has nothing to lose; nor banishment, to whom heaven is his country; nor torments, when his body can be destroyed at one blow; nor death, which is the only way to set him at liberty from sin and sorrow.”
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Rejoice and leap for joy. Some in and share your Master’s Happiness. Whatever life may be throwing at us. Whatever we may be going through.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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