Sermon: Persecuted for Christ
Scripture: Matthew 5:10-12
In this week’s lessons, we learn that persecution is to be expected when we live a distinctively Christian life after the pattern of our Lord.
Theme: The Biblical Pattern
We said in yesterday’s study that the natural implication of the wording of this beatitude is that the one who reflects Christian character will be persecuted.
Moreover, this is exactly the way in which the disciples of the Lord received the statement. Peter, who heard the Lord give this sermon, later quotes the beatitude twice in his first epistle: once in 3:14 (“But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye”), and once in 4:14 (“If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you; on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified”). It is this same epistle that most stresses the inevitability of suffering. Peter writes, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to test you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Paul, who had himself endured much persecution, says the same to Timothy when he wrote, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (1 Tim. 3:12). In Philippians he says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). And he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica after a period of persecution in that Macedonian city, “No man should be moved by these afflictions; for ye yourselves know that we are appointed to these things. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass, and ye know” (1 Thess. 3:3-4).
All of these writers would have agreed in an instant that even in the most tolerant country the cross would never cease to be a symbol for derision and intense hostility. Furthermore, they would have urged that the absence of persecution (as well as its presence) should drive a believer quickly to his knees.
Now at no point in the entire list of beatitudes is it more necessary to be careful to indicate exactly what is meant by Christ’s statement. For there is no beatitude that has been more often misunderstood and misapplied than this one. For what is the Christian persecuted? That is the heart of the statement. The answer lies in the phrase “for righteousness’ sake” and in the parallel phrase in the following verse: “for my sake.” It does not say, “Blessed are they that are persecuted,” as if the Lord Jesus Christ were sanctifying any persecution that might occur at any time and at any point in history. It says, “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” This means, “Blessed are they who are persecuted because, by God’s grace, they are determined to live like me.”
What do Peter and Paul teach us about suffering for Christ?
Why is it important to understand what Jesus is teaching in this beatitude?
Reflection: Have you ever been persecuted for righteousness’ sake? What were the circumstances, and what was the result?