October 21, 2007 INTRODUCTION There are many things that distinguish and set apart the Lord Jesus Christ from all of the other renowned religious leaders that have walked this earth. For instance:
Jesus Christ only led His effort for 3 & ½ years. For the first 30 years of His life, He basically hid; He did not give a speech, form an organization, write an essay or letter to the editor, or develop a leadership team in those years – even though He knew His time on the earth was short. Muhammed, Ghandi and the rest gave most of their adult years to their efforts.
Jesus Christ rose from the dead, appeared on the earth for 40 days after that to over 500 different credible, known people, and then ascended in front of many of them to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Muhammed, Ghandi and the rest are still in the dirt – what’s left of them.
Jesus Christ depended totally upon the internal transformation of His disciples and followers to ensure the carrying out and fulfillment of His mission, and the expansion of His kingdom until He returns to the earth. He refused to employ any kind of use of military, political or any other external force. Muhammed on the other hand….relied totally on external forces to accomplish his objectives.
One of the greatest examples of Jesus Christ’s unique M.O. is His peculiar decision to bring His fast growing movement (that was fueled initially by His amazing miracles) to a screeching halt to preach a sermon that took 3 chapters of Matthew to record on paper. That rather long winded sermon is generally referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, and it begins with 8 action steps or strategic plans or organizational principles that Jesus Christ felt were absolutely essential for His disciples to be able to carry on the work He started. They are recorded in chapter 5 of the gospel of Matthew, and………. You know as I’m looking over these – these are not action steps or strategic plans or organizational principles at all…. They’re merely attitudes or characteristics or inner dispositions! I wonder if that is why some call them “The Beatitudes”?? How does He expect them to take over and even do greater works than He did without a strategic plan??
Well Jesus knows that what we are – determines what we do. Being – – always comes before doing in the kingdom of God. Thus our being must be constantly transformed to come into conformity with His being, which amazingly enough resides within us.
Leo Tolstoy the late renowned Russian novelist, essayist, dramatist and philosopher said of the near sighted solutions of the masses, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”
By and large that is true. But do you know that not only did Jesus Christ only have 3 & ½ years to prepare His followers to carry out His mission and mandate, but within those 3 & ½ years He spent many precious hours alone with the Father – meditating upon the Old Testament scriptures, and praying and worshipping so that He could be who the Father called Him to be? You have to wonder if there weren’t times where guys like Peter were hiding behind a bush watching Him pray, and thinking – Jesus – would you just say amen and get on with leading this movement?? Do you realize how long our to do list is getting?
Jesus Christ started this sermon with a call to internal transformation of the individual because He knew that character always precedes and determines the carrying out of one’s mission and calling. The disciples very likely were thinking – look Jesus – just show us how to heal the sick, and cast out demons, and draw crowds – – write down for us the steps – – and we’ll make this thing happen. But Jesus knew unless their internal character – made up of attitudes, mindsets & thought patterns was transformed – – strategic plans were doomed to fail. Character always determines conduct. Conduct in the kingdom of God flows out of one’s character as it is transformed by the Holy Spirit of God.
That’s why we have devoted at least one sermon to each of the first seven of these beatitudes.
I’m trying to paint the big picture for you because if there was ever a need for every one of the members of Christ’ church, and of this congregation to rise up and fulfill their calling and role in expanding His kingdom in our Jerusalem and beyond – – it is now. The world around us continues to unravel at the seams, which provides the perfect opportunity for us to step in a reveal His better will and way. But you will only get in the way, if you do not embrace His internal transformation of your soul and spirit.
Now speaking of the big picture, I want to try to help you see the flow of these 8 beatitudes as we jump into the 8th and final one:
If you have become poor in spirit – that is if you truly see yourself day in and day out as one who is in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace, and that you are the chief of sinners – compared to everyone else around you…
If you mourn as a way of life over your sinful condition, and the sin of those around you, instead of criticizing others for their sin, while making light of your own…
If you walk in gentleness and meekness towards others and are slow to lose patience with them, be harsh towards them, and be judgmental of them…
If you hunger and thirst for more righteousness in your relationship with God and in all your earthly human relationships…
If as your pursue righteousness, you are merciful towards others – especially towards your weaker brothers and sisters – and those who have offended you – and who just seem to always be going one step forward and two steps backward, and who struggle to attain to the level or standard of righteousness that you have…
If you are pure in heart – always quick to confess your specific sins – striving to maintain a cleansed heart before the Lord and others…
If you are willing to give yourself to making peace on the earth in every circumstance and every relationship or organization or community the Lord of Peace leads you into – having developed the character of a peacemaker…
And If you are willing as a result of accepting your assignment to be a peacemaker – to endure the persecution and slander and insults that often come with the walking out of that role…
Then and only then will you be able to walk in the joy and happiness that has been ordained for you to enjoy in this life; then and only then will you experience all of the blessings and resources that are destined for sons and daughters of the King in this life; then and only then will you experience deep satisfaction in your daily life, then and only then will you be able to experience in your daily life an ever deepening and life impacting revelation of the glory and majesty and presence of God, then and only then will you be known as those who know and walk with God – sons and daughters of God, then and only then will you have the confidence of knowing a great reward awaits you in heaven.
Father – please increase our passion to develop this kind of Christ like character. And give us insight into this last beatitude.
Let’s read together vs. 10-12
I don’t know about you, but my prescription for experiencing joy and happiness or blessed-ness would be anything but being persecuted, insulted, slandered and maligned. Of all my many aspirations and dreams in life, being persecuted is not one of them!
So why would Jesus say such a silly thing? Well He gives two reasons why when we are persecuted we are blessed.
The first one is because it opens a door for us in a way that only persecution can to experience the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is characterized by unbridled joy, peace, power and righteousness; and our Lord’s desire as seen in the Lord’s prayer is for us to experience those kingdom resources in our every circumstance and relationship in this life. Persecution so connects us with our Lord that He is able to open that door to us.
Perhaps that is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he said in his letter to the church in Phillipi, “But whatever things were gain to me (like not being persecuted), those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
I received an email from one of the missionary couples that Anne and I have prayed for for a little over 20 years now. They serve in the Philippines, where Al Queida and other rebel groups are alive and well. One of their co-workers received a death threat about a week ago. After seeking the Lord and counsel from leaders of OMF & other community leaders, they decided to stay in their neighborhood, and keep ministering as they had been before the death threat. In a meeting that our friends shared with them after the death threat, one of the threatened individuals had this response, “This has brought us closer to God. If you play basketball, you have to accept bodily contact. We are seeking transformation, not just conversion (like their muslim enemies). If they are willing to die for their cause, why shouldn’t we be?”
Do you know that a significant percentage of the body of Christ around the world is facing similar threats as we speak? And in many of these places the church is vibrant and full of faith and expanding daily?
Well there’s another reason why persecution results in blessing. And this is the first time in these beatitudes that Jesus points us to a heavenly reward. But it won’t be the last time He mentions such things. Look at vs. 11.
The second reason why persecution leads to blessing, happiness and joy is because it increases our heavenly reward – specifically it makes our reward great!! And it puts us in the company of the hall of faith recorded in Heb. 11 and the great prophets of old. Have you ever noticed in Heb. 11 how many times as the feats of these great men and women of God are spoken of – their heavenly orientation is mentioned? Sometimes there is just a phrase or a sentence; but in the middle of the chapter there is a long paragraph that explains the longing & expectation they had for their heavenly reward. (Heb. 11:13 -16) Father break our obsession with earthly temporal things; and turn our hearts towards heaven.
Now I want to comment on the cause of our persecution – because sometimes there are things Christians get persecuted for that I’m not sure Jesus had in mind when He declared this last Beatitude. Please note that the blessing comes only to those who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” – vs. 10 and in vs. 11 to those who are persecuted “because of Me.” If you are persecuted, insulted or slandered because you defend something Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter said, or because you get in a tiff with someone over the sewer (or lack of) or the merits of Hillary Clinton (or lack of) – that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is saying, Blessed, happy, joyful are those who are persecuted because they are striving to love and follow Me, and who are seeking to proclaim the good news of the gospel of the kingdom, and who are striving to live righteously according to the word of God and the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Some of us are just darn right cantankerous as we used to say in TN. We just love a fight. Before we were saved we would fight about anything. Now that we are saved; but since we aren’t very sanctified – we transfer the energy of our contentiousness to controversies like abortion and gay rights, and because we are so obnoxious and self righteous and contentious – we get in a lot of trouble. That’s not what Jesus has in mind here.
Peter addresses this in his first epistle in chapter two in a discussion about how believers are to conduct themselves in the workplace. (vs. 18-20)
Listen – contentiousness blurs righteousness. Thank God that we as Christians have been forgiven of all of our contentiousness before we knew Christ. But that doesn’t mean we have been fully cleansed and delivered and healed of that contentiousness.
So how should we folk who live in this Coastal Region in October of 2007 respond to this passage?
1. We need to realize as the apostle Paul said, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Tim. 3:12) As we as a congregation grow in our obedience to Jesus Christ, and desire to proclaim His name and His gospel in this region, we will be increasingly persecuted. This is one of the reasons why my wife and her co-teachers spent some time earlier in the year teaching our 5th and 6th graders about our forefathers’s sufferings and often martyrdom for their obedience to Jesus Christ.
Persecution comes with the territory. It is one of the reasons why we encourage you to read missionary biographies, and the Foxe book of Martyrs. It is one of the reasons why we participate every year in the international day of prayer for the persecuted church. We want to prepare our spirits for persecution, being fully aware of all of its wonderful benefits, so when the Holy Spirit opens doors for us to be peacemakers, we jump through that door – making the most of the opportunity. ((give out copies of Martyrs magazines)
2. Because of all of the great benefits that come with persecution, we need to learn to “Rejoice and be glad” when it comes our way. The more we are familiar with the benefits through our study of the scriptures and our exposure to the example of others, the more we will be able to rejoice and be glad. The more we are aware of and looking forward to our eternal rewards in heaven, the easier this will become. The proper response to persecution is not complaining, but rather rejoicing.
Example of the apostles Vs. 12 “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; Vs. 18 – arrested Vs. 21 – council of the Sanhedrin – Senate of the sons of Israel convened Vs. 29 – Peter – “We must obey God rather than men.” Vs. 33 – infuriated and intended to kill them Vs. 34 – Gamaliel – a Pharisee spoke up – if not of God will go away; if of God… Acts 5:40,41 “They took his (Gamaliel’s) advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
3. If you struggle with the fear of man, like we all do from time to time, ask someone that you can trust to pray for you – that God will deliver you from that, and that you can grow in boldness and obedience to the nudgings and promptings of the Holy Spirit. Prov. 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” I believe this fear is far more pervasive in the church that any of us are admitting to or perhaps aware of. But King Jesus is training up an army that will not cower in the face of persecution and even death, and He is ready and able to make each one of us a part of that army. One of the best prayers you can pray for this church and this community is that we will grow in boldness and courage, so that fear can never be a snare that keeps us from fulfilling our destiny in Christ.
Rick Joyner said in his article on persecution, “The fear of God and the fear of man cannot coexist. One or the other will rule our lives.”
Jesus said in Luke’s account of the sermon on the mount, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”
4. We need to accept the fact that the more we embrace the cross and grow in boldness and courage the more we will be persecuted by our so-called brethren – or folk in so-called Christian churches. Paul said in Gal. 4:29 of Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac, “But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” They were both of the same family; they were both sons of Abraham; but as Isaac began to pursue and embrace his calling, Ishmael began to increase his harassment out of envy and jealousy.
I’m not a prophet, but if the true church in Los Osos begins to lovingly but boldly confront this town of how screwed up they are because of sin, and how badly they need the Savior, holding fast to the authority of the word of God over every area of life throughout our journey, I believe there will be a backlash from some of the leaders and members of some of the churches in this town.
Rick Joyner said in the same article I quoted from earlier, “Just as Jesus Himself was not persecuted by the more overt sinners, but by the religious community, who were His own brethren, the same has been the case for all who have sought to follow Him. A reason why one of the devil’s main titles is “the accuser of our brethren” is because one of his main strategies has always been to get brethren accusing one another. The devil seems to know even better than the church that unity increases spiritual authority. One can put a thousand to flight, but two can put ten thousand to flight. If a church in a city ever came into true unity, the devil and his evil devices would all be quickly driven out of that city.”
But I would add as we pursue that true unity, those who want nothing of it, and who want to remain part of a local congregation, but refuse to come under the authority of the word of God as it speaks to their lifestyle – will come against us.
Chuck Colson and the bitch goddess of tolerance (pluralism)
CONCLUSION – small groups of 8