In Matthew chapter 5 and verses 10 through 12, Jesus now explains a new aspect of character that is needed in the heart of His disciples. He now turns to the subject of how you handle suffering. Remember, in each Beatitude Jesus describes the attitude that must be in a true disciple of Christ. If you are a follower of His, this is the person He wants you to become. Character is reflected in how you relate to God. Your character is reflected in how you relate to people. However, character is also being built in you as you learn to suffer. Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Now after reading these Beatitudes you may think to yourself, Can I really be blessed when I am persecuted? I don’t know if persecution is such a blessed experience. How can this be?
So, let’s first look at what Jesus says about suffering in these passages. Did you know that there are some 70 other passages where Jesus addressed suffering with His disciples? Suffering was a major topic in the preaching of Jesus. Therefore, what did Jesus declare in these passages about suffering? What kind of persecution are you going to experience as a believer? There are two kinds of persecution. One is physical persecution where you may experience physical abuse, beating, or even death. Second, there is a verbal persecution where people say mean and evil things to you and about you falsely for Christ’s sake. Both types of persecution are spoken in these Beatitudes. First, Jesus speaks about the verbal abuse you must take, and then the physical abuse you may also receive as the prophets before you.
Jesus specifically warned the disciples on that last night before the crucifixion that they would meet harsh physical persecution in John 16 verses 1 and 2. There He told them that suffering would be their experience if they followed Him. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” He wanted them to know these things, so that they might not stumble when suffering came their way. Now, do you remember anyone in the Scripture that actually thought he was doing God a service to kill Christians? Saul did this, who later had his name changed to Paul. So, this passage literally came to pass. However, there were many others throughout history just like Saul, who believed the same. There are many around the world today that believe they are doing their God a service by killing Christians. Just look at many of the Muslim countries today that bomb Christian churches or put men and women in prison because they reject Islam and turn to Christ. Even in our country today, attitudes are changing toward Christians. People are now calling us intolerant because we stand against abortion or homosexuality. We live in an incredible country that has incredible civil rights and freedoms. But, these freedoms may not last. How will you deal with persecution coming toward you and your family? Many times, we take our freedoms for granted. Many people around the world take the chance of losing their life for simply opening their mouth and telling someone that they are a believer, or by attending a church service. For example look at the Sudan were over the last 20 years of civil war in that country, the estimates range anywhere from 1 million to 1 1/2 million believers have that been put to death for their faith in Christ. Their churches have been burned, their homes have been destroyed, and they have been driven out of their land. Today they live in a very little small portion of the southern part of Sudan. If you look at China or India, believers are being persecuted by Hindu, Buddhist, or other government entities. According to the statistics, in over 60 countries around the world today there are believers suffering for their faith. They have lost their civil rights, or have no civil rights. Some are persecuted to the point of death. How long we will be spared from that kind of persecution here in our country? I don't know. But, one thing you should do today is remember and pray for those that are experiencing this incredible suffering around the world. Paul said in Hebrews 13 and verse 3, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them--those who are mistreated--since you yourselves are in the body also.” He also asked in, 1 Thessalonians 5 and verse 25, “Brethren, pray for us.” Therefore, pray for those you know are persecuted. Pray for those who persecute you!
The second kind of persecution is a lesser form of harassment, but it is still persecution. I am referring to the verbal abuse and reviling that comes to you because of your faith from those who do not know God. Here in our text, Jesus said, verse 11, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake.” So notice that Jesus believed verbal harassment, mocking, or false evil words spoken against you was persecution. Why do people do this? It is because you are a Christian. This persecution will happen to you from within your family, where you work, or in your neighborhood. Persecution is going to happen. Both of these forms of persecution are difficult and hard to handle. I think the physical persecution is extremely difficult, and yet for us here in our country we experience only the latter, the verbal persecution. However, many times Christians do not experience any persecution all. I think that you should be alarmed if you are not mocked or persecuted in some way. Why? It means that there is something the matter with your testimony and your witness for Him. Your light is probably being hidden under a bushel. Persecution is a reality. The more you are a light the more you will experience persecution. It is inevitable. It is not an issue of if you will be persecuted; it is an issue of when it will come. Notice here in our text, Jesus made it very clear in verse 11, “Blessed are you when,” not if you are persecuted. This is why I say, if you are not experiencing any kind of persecution, verbal mocking, or someone laughing at you; then ask yourself why. Are you being a light in the world? Are you affecting anyone with the Gospel?
Now, one balance I must bring to this topic. I am not talking about being offensive and weird with people and then claiming, “Oh, look at how I am being persecuted.” If you are being offensive, this is the reason people are persecuting you. You can only be righteously be persecuted for righteousness sake. If you are loving people, doing righteousness, and sharing the Gospel with people in an inoffensive manner, don’t think this is what Jesus was talking about. There is nothing blessed about getting fired from your job for being weird or incompetent, or for failing to do your job, or for disobeying your boss. There is nothing blessed having these things occurring at all. In fact, if you have done any of these things, you have sinned. If you are haughty, harsh, or trying to provoke people to persecute you by being weird, that is not what Jesus is talking about here. In First Peter chapter 4 verses 15 and 16 he commands believers, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evil doer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” If you are suffering because you are a murderer, a busybody, or an evil doer, then nothing is blessed about that. That is just sin. Scripture constantly makes this distinction between suffering for what is righteous or unrighteous. Therefore, consider why you are suffering?
Now, look a little further on in the Sermon on the Mount to verses 13 through 16. Jesus begins to discuss with the disciples that they are salt and light in this world. But, the question is, are we salt and a light in this world? If you don't want to experience suffering and persecution, or someone making fun of you, then all you have to do is just be silent. So, I hope you are not being silent. This is why Jesus said, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before My Father which is in heaven.” Jesus is saying here that confess Him in this world is a very important thing. Many do not confess Him before men because they fear someone making fun of them or mocking them. But, this is part of what it means to be His disciple. He was willing to be mocked, laughed at, and scoured for you. I hope you are willing to take some persecution for Him? If you are not willing to confess Him before men, you are denying Him before men. Jesus said in John 15 and verse 20, “Remember the word that I said to you, aservant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.” Again, He is encouraging them to remember that He has continually taught them that they will suffer persecution as His disciple. The Disciples were about to be tested over their willingness to suffer for Him in just a few moments from the time Jesus spoke these words to them. They were going to be tested in the garden when the soldiers came to take Jesus. What were the Disciples going to do? Were they going to stand or flee? Peter would be tested when he was questioned if he knew Jesus. Would he deny Him? Obviously, Peter denied Him several times because he was afraid. This is why Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you.”
Therefore, if you are identified with Him and are His light in this world, persecution is coming your way. He was the light of this world until He ascended into heaven. Now, you are to be that light in this world. This is why persecution will happen to you. Anyone who lives and walks in a godly way is a reproof to this ungodly world. If you speak up for Him or give verbal reproof of the unrighteousness of this world and say, “That's not right. You should not do that.” This is when the persecution will start. People will respond and say, “Who are you? Are you Mr. spiritual? Are you Mr. holy one? Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?” However, it does not bother me when people say this to me, and it should not bother you. You should stand up and speak up for righteousness. Do you do that? I hope that you do. In Second Timothy 3 and verse 12 Paul said, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” He did not say, might suffer, but will suffer. If you are living a godly life, this is why persecution will come your way. You are being identified with Christ. Peter also taught the same thing in First Peter 4 and verses 12 and 13, “Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's suffering.” Peter told the people the same thing that Jesus told him, to not think it strange if they are persecuted. Persecution is going to come your way. How are you going to respond?
Notice that Jesus also taught the Disciples how to view suffering and how to respond when they were persecuted. In Matthew 5 and verses 11 and 12 Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you… Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Why are you blessed? The word blessed means happy. The Lord is trying to get them to have a correct attitude in the midst of suffering. Now most of you are thinking right now, Is it even possible to rejoice and be happy when I'm getting persecuted? How can somebody do that? It just doesn't seem natural for someone to do this? Well, it is not natural! It is super-natural! This is a super-natural response. In fact, all of the Beatitudes require super-natural power from God in order for you to be able to do these things. God must super-naturally work in your life. Just consider how super-natural the Beatitudes really are. They are fruit of the Holy Spirit working inside of you. Each of these Beatitudes are the exact opposite of the way the world looks at life. Blessed are the poor in spirit. How does someone get an attitude of humility and realize that they are poverty-stricken spiritually? A non-Christian does not see themselves this way. They think, I'm okay. I'm a good person. People should count themselves lucky to know me. They see no need for a Savior. Or, blessed are those who mourn. It is a supernatural work, to perceive your sin and mourn. But, all our lives before coming to Christ we excused, rationalized, and justified our sin. We did anything but mourn for it. That requires a work of the Spirit inside us. How about meekness? To meekly receive from the Lord and hear His truth requires the Spirit to open our eye and heart. He is the One who gives us that hunger and thirst for righteousness. Is it not a work of the Spirit in your life to motivate you to seek after what is righteous, godly, and good? To be merciful, pure heart, and a peacemaker all result from a supernatural work of the Spirit in you.
To be able to respond, to trust the Lord, to rejoice, and to correctly respond to those who are persecuting you, it is the result of all the Beatitudes that come before. Jesus puts this teaching at the end of the Beatitudes for a reason. This attitude in the midst of suffering is in reality a revelation of how much you have been conformed into the image of Christ. Think about this, if you respond in the same manner as the person who is persecuting you, and you verbalize your hatred for them as they do toward you, does that really reveal that you have Christ living in you? Not at all! It reveals you are still controlled by your flesh. It is a revelation of your lack of being conformed into His image. It reveals a lack of all the Beatitudes. So, if you look back at the last time you were verbally mocked and you did not respond well, it is a revelation that you need some growth. However, if the last time you were mocked by someone you said, “You know what? I’m sorry you feel that way toward me. Obviously, you are not ready to hear what I have been sharing with you. God bless you.” Then you go about your business. This reveals you have been and are being conformed into the image of Christ.
The attitude of rejoicing and gladness it as a super-natural work of God in your life; it is the result of your love and faith in Him. You rejoice because you know it is all about Him and because you believe in Him. This is why people would persecute you. But, you love Him and know it is because of your testimony for Him. This is exactly what Peter said about suffering in his first epistle, chapter 1 verse 6, 7 and 8. Peter is encouraging them to rejoice in their suffering. He says, “Rejoice… though now… you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory”. Notice, Peter said that because you love and believe, you rejoice with inexpressible joy. Rejoicing in the midst of persecution is the direct result of your love and faith in Him. You count it a privilege that you can suffer persecution for His Name. Why do you love Him? You love Him because of how much He suffered for you. He took your sin upon Himself, and you love Him for that fact. Believers realize this fact and count it a blessing and a privilege to suffer for Him. This testing of your faith through suffering and your correct response shows the genuineness of your faith and the genuineness of your love.
Let me show you how the disciples are a great example of this response in the midst of suffering. The Disciples actually understood this reason for suffering, and they lived it. In Acts chapter 5 and verse 41, there is a passage that reveals the result of this work of God in the Disciple’s heart. These men were commanded not to preach anymore in the Name of Jesus by the authorities in Jerusalem. What did they do? They went right out and continued preaching in His Name. What did the authorities do? They took the disciples, they brought them before the Sanhedrin, and they beat them. Then they told them not to preach anymore in the Name of Christ. Then the Scripture declared that the Disciples “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.” Note that they were rejoicing. Why did they rejoice? They rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name. Therefore, when you realize that He suffered shame for your name, for you, all of a sudden you come to faith in Christ. You fall in love with Him, and you realize that it is a privilege to suffer anything for Him. He suffered for you. Now you get the opportunity to suffer for Him. What a privilege! This is a privilege that the Disciples understood. Do you understand and embrace this privilege?
I think I can illustrate this principle in a very practical way, especially for you fathers and mothers that have had children who have been sick with any temporary or long- term sickness. I have stood at many bedsides with families that have children that are sick and dying of cancer. Do you know what those parents usually say? “If I could get inside the skin of my child, I would gladly take this sickness on myself.” Now what makes a parent think that way? It is because of their love for their child. They care about their child so much that they are willing to take that sickness upon themselves. They can't, but they are willing to do so. They would count it a privilege to take their child’s place because they love that child. You will always be willing to suffer for those whom you love. Therefore, if you are not willing to suffer for Christ sake, then I would have to question how much you really love Him. If you love Him, you cannot be silent concerning your faith. Verbalize your faith as often as you possibly can. But, be ready for the suffering that will come your way.
Let me illustrate this principle of love and suffering in another way. The founding fathers of our country loved and believed in liberty. What were they willing to do for that liberty? At the end of the Declaration of Independence is written this statement: “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” If you look at history, you will realize what the signers of the Declaration of Independence suffered. Many of them lost their lives in the Revolutionary War. Others lost their fortunes. Their houses were burned and their family members were killed. Why did they do this? They loved and believed in liberty. So remember, you will only suffer, and be willing to suffer for what you believe in and what you love. Are you willing to allow this truth to be applied to your life? Will you suffer for Him?
The last thing I want you to consider is what are the benefits of suffering for Him? Let me give you five, very quick benefits of suffering for Him. The first is the theme of the Beatitudes. The theme of the Beatitudes is the character and attitude that God wants to build in your heart. Suffering builds character. Paul taught in Romans 5 verses 3 and 4, “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character, hope.” The word glory is the same word for rejoice. So, Paul is talking about the same issues here. Paul tells them that they must know what trials produce in their lives. Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Therefore, character is the result of tribulation in your life. I know that none us likes tribulation. None of us likes suffering. But, when it comes your way, you must remember this truth. Suffering and trials either make you better, or they can make you bitter. Some of you right now are fighting bitterness inside from the things you have suffered. If so, that means you have not received the character transformation that God has intended for your life. He wants you to be transformed. He wants to make you a different person. If you react in bitterness toward God, this character is not built. Rather, you need to say to God, “Lord, You can take all things and work them together for good for those who love You. I will trust you through this trial.” What will happen when you surrender this way? Character is built. You become a different person. However, this work only results in the life of those who respond to that tribulation and suffering correctly.
The second benefit of suffering is that it proves you will enter the kingdom of God. Notice Matthew 5:10. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If you suffer for righteousness sake, or you suffer for His sake, this only proves you are headed in the right direction. You are headed for the kingdom! Remember, the same thing is true in the opposite direction. If you never suffer for righteousness sake, I would question whether you will end up in the kingdom. In Second Thessalonians 1 and verses 4 and 5, Paul was boasting about the church there. He said, “We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.” Their suffering was the evidence for why God would judge the world, but it was also the proof of their worthiness of the kingdom, and their entrance into that kingdom. Paul also said in Second Timothy chapter 2 and verse 12, that if we endure suffering for Him, “We will also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” If you are not willing to suffer for Him, you should not expect to reign with Him in His kingdom.
The third benefit of suffering is that you will be rewarded by Christ for all that you have suffered for Him. Notice in Matthew 5:12, Jesus said, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” I believe that the more a person suffers for His sake, the greater will be his or her reward. Scripture makes it clear that there are greater rewards for some. Those who have been persecuted and have experienced incredible suffering in their lives, there is one incredible reward waiting for them. Paul believed this fact. He taught in Second Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Note, Paul looked at his suffering as being of light affliction. When you read Second Corinthians chapter 12 where he records of his suffering, this was no light thing. He was scourged five times. This is being whipped with 39 stripes. Most men did not live through one scourging. He was also beaten with rods three times. This is where they took metal rods that were heated and beat the person with them. He was stoned and left for dead. Paul said that these were “a light affliction.” Why? He saw it was nothing compared to what was coming for him. He had his eyes clearly fixed on the eternal reward that was waiting for him. Are your eyes fixed on that eternal reward?
The fourth benefit of suffering is that it puts you in the best of company. What company am I referring to? Notice the end of Matthew 5:12, “For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” If you suffer for Jesus you are in the same company as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Daniel. Wow! That is pretty good company. Eternally these will be your companions, because you will ultimately reign with Christ. In First Peter 5 and verse 9, Peter said, “Knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” Remember that you have a brotherhood of other saints who are suffering just like you. You are not the only one who is suffering. Everyone else in this world that stands up for Christ is suffering in the same way.
The fifth benefit of suffering is actually what enables you to go through suffering. Who empowers you to endure suffering? The Spirit of God! In first Peter chapter 4:14, Peter said, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, blessed are you for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon on you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” Notice that Peter calls those who suffer blessed just as Jesus did. When you experience suffering for Jesus sake, the Holy Spirit will come upon you in order that you might endure. Therefore, if you are in love with Him, take your stand with Him, and speak up. Give testimony to those who do not know Him. The Spirit of God will empower you to speak and to endure if suffering comes your way. People tell me all the time how God helped them to testify for Christ. They tell me, “I was so afraid to speak. I was so nervous, and all of a sudden, I sensed God’s Spirit, so I spoke up and started to share. All these topics started coming to my mind. I started sharing about how much I love the Lord, how He had changed my life. I walked away from that moment so filled with the Holy Spirit.” Have you ever experienced His empowering like that? If you have not, you are missing a great joy. When we go down to the pier in Pismo Beach to share our faith each Tuesday night, every time I am so tired, so I usually pray, “Lord help me, because I'm tired. It has been a long day. I need your Holy Spirit.” But, when I am driving home, I am so filled with the Spirit of God. Why is that the result? It is because you doing what is a blessed thing by sharing your faith, and if you are yelled at by someone, that is hard. However, the Spirit of God will enable you to handle someone's mocking and reviling you. So, unless you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and step up to the plate, you will never experience what I have just talked about. Ask the Lord when you see you have an opportunity to share your faith, “Lord fill me with the Spirit so I will say something that will glorify you and your truth.” Therefore, these are the benefits that come your way when you take your stand Him, and when you suffer for His name. Amen.
Let's go to Him in prayer. Father, we ask that You would just work that supernatural work in each of our lives. Take each of these Beatitudes and apply them to our lives. Give us that poverty of spirit that we might see we have nothing to give you. Bring us to that place of mourning over our sins. Help us to meekly receive from You Your truth. Give us that hunger and thirst for righteousness, and a desire for more of you. Lord, make us merciful men and women. Give us that pure heart before you. Make us peacemakers in this hostile world. And make us willing to suffer for Your sake. Enable us to speak Your words, speak Your love, and to stand for righteousness in the midst of this unrighteous world. I pray that You would give every one of us an opportunity this week to speak to others for You, and to share our faith with someone. Lord, help us not to be silent. Help us to be bold witnesses that we might truly be salt and light in this world. We believe you to do this for we ask it in Jesus Name.