Theme: Imitation of Christ
From this week’s lessons, we see that genuine happiness is found, not where the world assumes it to be, but in imitating the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” The last of the Beatitudes speaks of happiness in persecution. This is a blessedness Jesus elaborates upon, adding in verses 11 and 12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
At no point in the entire list of beatitudes is it more necessary to know precisely what Jesus says than here, for it is not just any kind of suffering that Jesus blesses. It is not persecution for wrongdoing; that should be obvious. It is not persecution for being fanatical, as some who profess the name of Christ have been. It is not persecution for being a nuisance; some believers have plagued their neighbors in an effort to witness to them and have been scorned for that. It is not even persecution for a cause, however important the cause may be. There is only one kind of persecution this beatitude refers to, and that is persecution that comes to believers from being like the Lord Jesus Christ whom they are following. Verse 10 calls it persecution “because of righteousness.” Verse 11 calls it persecution “because of me [that is, because of Jesus].” It is by being like Him and suffering for it in a world that hates Christ that we find happiness.
How is this so? How can any persecution, even persecution of this nature, make one happy? It promotes our happiness because it shows that we are united to Christ, like that great host of “saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs” that have gone before us, and that we are growing in Christ’s likeness. Jesus said, “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” (John 15:19).
Where in this great world in which we live can there be found a place for those who imitate the Lord Jesus Christ and thus in their own persons live out the Beatitudes? This is not an easy world. It is a tough, hard, grasping, evil, covetous world. Where can there possibly be a place for those who are poor in spirit, who mourn for sin, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness (of all things), who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake? There is only one place. It is the place the great of this world assigned Christ. It is the cross. That is where the imitation of Christ is practiced, and it is why that imitation of Christ is the fellowship of the cross. The world cries to us, as it cried to Jesus, “Away with them; they are not fit to live.” But as we are driven away, we are driven to Him whose very glance is precious above rubies and the knowledge of whom is life eternal.
We are driven to the fellowship of God. It is only at the cross that the gulf between a holy God and sinful man is bridged, sin is removed, and a wide channel for the fullness of God’s blessing is unclogged. As we draw near to Jesus we hear the world’s shrill cries: “Crucify him; crucify them.” But we hear Jesus as He speaks words of blessing and know ourselves to be blessed. “Blessed are you,” says Jesus. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. In the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
At the cross all tears are wiped away. At the cross we find Jesus who is the fountain of all happiness.
What are some things Christians might do that bring persecution, but for the wrong reasons?
How does suffering for righteousness’ sake produce happiness?
Application: Can you think of someone in your life who is trying desperately to obtain lasting happiness, but always falls short of finding it? How will you try to show them that it is at the cross of Christ where true happiness is experienced?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s sermon from John 13, “A Clue for Finding Happiness.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)