I just finished working on tomorrow’s sermon, the start of a series of yet-to-be-determined length on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Like other passages of scripture, I’ve read these words at least dozens of times before, yet, as always seems to be the case when I’m digging in, the words come alive again in a fresh and relevant way.
Working my way through the eight blessings that Jesus began his famous sermon with, I was encouraged to see just how ‘blessed’ and ‘persecution’ paint a beautiful picture of the work that He was yet to do on the cross. Because of His finished work, we have been blessed with the privilege of sharing in the proclamation of the Good News, that He has made us right with God.
Right with God! Not on our own merits, not by anything that we could ever say or do, but only by complete faith and trust in Jesus. It is no wonder that this message is so offensive to others. Our world system is, and has always been, merit-based. So, to proclaim that the ultimate outcomes – justification, righteousness, peace with God – are not at all based upon our individual merits, but freely bestowed on us by our spiritual poverty, by our humility, by the mercy we show others, is an offense to those who maintain that we must work to gain God’s favor and love. It is to say that all of their external works are for nothing. The true work of godliness is internal.
Jesus’ blessings conclude with “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”
Be happy?! Yes! Consider the words of the apostle Paul:
"Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)
Yes, persecution will come, but blessed are you when it does, for God is working out something far greater than our momentary troubles would belie, something of eternal worth and value.
Someone once wrote, “There is no oil, if olives are not squeezed. No wine, if grapes are not pressed. No perfume, if flowers are not crushed.” Although this is not scripture, but a quote from an unknown source, it bears an eternal truth.
As it is written, “our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).”