Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Smile - your friends hate you

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

This week we will focus on Jesus’ (apparently crazy) assertions that people who are persecuted, insulted and lied about … are actually to be congratulated (blessed).  This is one beatitude we get so used to hearing and accepting that we forget sometimes to make it real:
Do you seriously think Jesus was saying that it’s a blessing to be lied about?  That we should rejoice and be glad when people insult us?  Crazy, but I believe Jesus words are true, and can be trusted – even these words. 

Before we get too far into it … let’s get a few things straight

Pronouns Matter

In this section, remember to pay attention to the pronouns, for they give us some excellent clues into the meaning of the text.  When Jesus said (or Matthew wrote) the word “you,” do you suppose he was talking to you or me?  Not in the least.  Jesus was speaking to Jews who would be persecuted for also being followers of Jesus.  It was true then, and it’s still true today that Jews who believe Jesus was/is the Messiah – will be persecuted by other Jews.  Romans don’t care, Chinese don’t care, neither do Druids or Goths or Emos or Vampires … no one cares enough to persecute us but those we really bother.  It is those who feel betrayed by their brothers who are suffering this abuse. 

Jesus is preaching this sermon to a specific group – Jewish disciples in the first century.  What we must do is learn to apply those principles to our lives.  If this was true of them, then what can we expect to be true of us? 

If we devote our lives to sincere discipleship, we will be ostracized by others in “the church.”  You should be careful to observe this!  “They” who persecuted prophets were fellow Jews, and when “people” insult you, it’s not mostly going to come from outsiders, for who cares what they think? 

Also remember: It’s not our job to judge outsiders (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).  These days so-called Christians want to use their influence in government to force Christian values on those who are not Christians.  This is wrong.  Right now “Christians” are hoping the Supreme Court will refuse to allow homosexuals to marry, and the result is that our Lord is made to look bad.  These same people will be told that we are “suffering for righteousness,” and this is pure hogwash.  This is conservative politicians using religion to get our political support, and it’s working because most Christians don’t know their bibles well enough to know better.

Understand: I’m not telling you how to vote, think, or work.  But I do know God’s word, and God did not put us here to get immoral people to “behave.”  He wants immoral people to REPENT!  Our job for the kingdom is to help homosexuals to learn about the love and forgiveness of God, same as it is our job to help all sorts of sinners to repent and “come home.”  We leave the 99 to go in search of the one lost sheep, not to get the 99 sheep all riled up and put the lost lamb into jail. 

This passage is about intra-church situations almost exclusively.  Rarely do outsiders care about what we do, think or believe.  Leave them alone!  But – work like crazy to be sure we are pure inside the church:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.  For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.  Hebrews 12:15-17

Kingdom of Heaven

This passage is not (mostly) about heaven (the after-life), it’s about the kingdom.  It’s easy for us to read this and think that we will suffer now, and then someday we get to go to heaven and it’ll all be OK.  That is true, but it’s not the whole truth.  The kingdom of heaven is also called “the kingdom of God,” or just: “The Kingdom.”   Matthew mostly uses “Kingdom of Heaven,” and Luke mostly uses “The Kingdom of God,” and they are the same thing. 

The kingdom is God’s realm, where Jesus is king and we are subjects.  The kingdom is a government not of this world:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom isn’t of this realm.”  Therefore Pilate said to him, “So you’re a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”  John 18:36-37

Our worldly government is the USA, but for those of us who have been born again in baptism, we are now a part of the kingdom of God (John 3:5).  My primary citizenship is in this kingdom.  I “seek first” this kingdom (Matthew 6.33), I’m a part of it, and it is my identity as God’s child, His slave and His subject. 

When our King says “theirs is the kingdom” he means that we are truly a part of that kingdom when we are in this position.  In God’s old physical kingdom (Israel), it was the true prophets who were persecuted, and so it will be in the eternal, spiritual kingdom.  We will have people lie about us, we will have people hate us, insult us, and say all manner of evil about us.  And when these things come from “good” people, we will be tempted to doubt ourselves and our message.  This isn't unique, and it’s not rare … it always happens.  If you’re not a new disciple, and it hasn't happened to you, you’re doing something wrong.  For highlights of the history of this struggle, read Hebrews 10:26-12:29

Our reward in heaven will be great, but also our lives here will be better.  Often we will doubt and struggle, and that’s why Jesus said these words – to comfort us.  It’s also why our fellowship is so important.  Sometimes we should doubt, and we need friends to keep us humble and in line.  But other times we need them to tell us that what we are suffering is this: suffering for righteousness. 

Earlier ‘Tudes

Consider our earlier beatitudes.  Showing mercy to someone is suffering for righteousness.  It’s not “fair” (righteous/just) to be hurt, but it is right to show mercy and suffer for someone else’s sin.  It is hard to be a peacemaker and butt-in to others’ business – that “hard” part is suffering for righteousness.   To mourn, keep a pure heart … all of these things are HARD!  Doing things that are hard for the sake of the kingdom is … suffering for righteousness. 

you being Jesus

Jesus said during the Last Passover:  
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before you.
If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you’re not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you:
‘A slave is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they’ll also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know The One who sent me.  John 15:18-21
Jesus was speaking to 11 faithful Apostles – men he had chosen from among the sons of Israel to be his special messengers.  He makes it very clear that those who will be like Jesus will be treated the way Jesus was.  Jesus was hated – that’s a fact.  It’s a fact we forget as we gleefully sing songs and pat one another on the back and congratulate a preacher for his sermon or how great was a service at church.  These things were not like Jesus.  True followers of Jesus will be hated, just like he was.  We will be persecuted, and we must keep his word.  Keeping Jesus’ word is what that third column is all about. 

The question is simple: do you believe? 

We all say we believe IN Jesus, but most of us refuse to believe, truly, that it’s a blessing to be despised, persecuted and lied about.  What do you believe?

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