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Blessed Are They Which Are Persecuted

"1And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:  2And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,  3Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  4Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.  5Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  6Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.  7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.  10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11Blessed are you, when men shall revile and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.  12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."  Matthew 5:1-12
Ah, we have reached the last Beatitude!  The culmination of the review of Christian Character.  Do you remember how we began this journey?  We stated it in terms of Character plus Conduct equals Influence.

C+C=I

So, we can say that out of character (who we are) comes conduct (what we do), and out of conduct comes influence.  Jesus is giving us in these eight Beatitudes a rundown of the Christian's character.  Our character will lead us to act in a particular way and so influence those around us.  Let me give you an example from this chapter in Matthew.
"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven." Matthew 5:16
There it is!  Character shines.  Conduct is the result of that light, which is good works.  Then, look at the influence.  Men will glorify your Father!  POWERFUL!  Your works will be done in such a way as to glorify your Father, not you!  Hallelujah.
The final Beatitude to cap it all off is Persecution.  Yes, this is one of the greatest, most astounding of all!  At first sight it appears that this Beatitude is just a result or what we can expect from what has been stated before.  But looking at it, you will see that it is a further description of the Christian in that it is persecution for the sake of RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Right living - right being.  We do not have to go looking for persecution.  Persecution seems to find us.  Why?  Because of whom we have become!  Because of how we walk!  Remember, our previous beatitude was Peacemaking.  Well, some will not accept your effort to share with them the glorious truth that can give them the same peace you have, and they will chide you for it.  They may come after you with strong words of disdain, and even anger.    This is happening to someone reading this lesson right now.  You wonder what to do, or how to handle it.  Remember, true persecution is the direct result of peacemaking.  You need to know that.  It is because you have a passion to see one of your fellow human beings come to know Christ and experience the same peace you have that this has come upon you.  Let me add that all persecution is not of the "blessed kind".  It may be persecution, but the promise will not apply because it is for the wrong reason.   More of that later.
The word persecute in the Greek text of the New Testament is the word dioko.  It has the meaning of press, pursue, or follow after.  Is that not what persecution is?  It is like someone who constantly follows you, pursuing you trying to cause disturbance and upset.  
In Paul's letter to the Philippians chapter three, he tells us these words:
"Concerning zeal, persecuting the church...."   Philippians 3:6
This is what Paul did prior to his salvation.  And then he tells us the following in the same chapter  
"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 3:14
Do you see the two words in BOLD print?  They are the same in the Greek.  Persecute and Press.  Before Paul was saved, he pressed the church, pursued the church, followed after the church, and wouldn't let up 'til he put them in prison for their faith.  But then, after he surrendered his life in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ, he says I now PRESS, or pursue, or follow after the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus and I will not let up 'til I apprehend that for which I have been apprehended of Christ Jesus!  Hallelujah!  In the same manner he persecuted, pursued after the church to do it harm, he now pursues, persecutes, or follows after the Lord Jesus Christ to gain the prize of this wonderful, dynamic high calling of God!  WHAT A GREAT CHANGE!
Soon after Paul was saved, his opponents then pursued HIM to persecute HIM.  They followed him, hounded him, surrounded him, pressed him in order to stop him and undermine the message of Christ and Him crucified.
You will find this word persecute in other places in the scriptures in both a positive and negative way.  In a positive way Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, is telling us to follow after that which is good.  There it is.  Follow after.  Persecute that which is good.  I find it also in Hebrews 12:14 telling us that we need to follow peace.  Follow hard after peace.  Persecute and press after it.  But he then says, "and holiness, without which no man shall see God."  Wow!  I must ask myself at this point if I am doing that.  1 Corinthians 14:1 says we should "follow after charity and desire spiritual gifts..."  What is he really telling us?  He is trying to press home to us the great need to pursue these things without letting up.  We do not stop until they are ours!  Oh, what a word!  I am so moved right now with conviction and excitement at the same time.  Why?  Because I see my need to pursue Him, to pursue what I know to be my very need.  I see that I have been slacking in my relationship with Jesus and that I am not pursuing that which is good.  I am not following hard after peace, or love, or spiritual gifts as much as I follow after other things that have no eternal value.   Are you pursuing the Lord?  Are you following hard after Him?  We get concerned when someone is "stalking" us, or following us, or pursuing us.  We see their effort to cause us grief.  However, have we been pursuing the Savior as tenaciously as our enemy has been pursuing us?  Maybe the word persecute has caused me to think a bit more.  Hmm.
One old preacher from England used to say; "you will never outgrow persecution."  Christian man or woman of God, you may as well get used to it.  In other words, we may never reach the place where the world will greet us with open arms.  Jesus said, "If the world hates you, don't forget they hated me first."  If we are looking for the "easy" life, let us not hold our breath.  It is not going to happen.  Jesus told us we would have tribulation in this world, but not to be afraid because He had overcome the world.  He also told us that if we live godly in this present world, we will suffer persecution.  So, there it is.  And what do we run into here?  It is this.  The word BLESSED.  It is the word that describes those who are persecuted for the RIGHT REASONS.  And then, the promise.  "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven".  Notice, that the result of the first beatitude and the result of the last beatitude are the same: "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Notice also that the first beatitude is about the Poor in Spirit, and the last one is about the Persecuted.  Whoa!  The poor and the persecuted.  The kingdom of heaven.  How true it is that Christ does not use the same scale as the world in determining who is blessed and who is not.  But then, the bible is clear about this when it says, God's ways are not our ways.  He sees not as man sees.  His value system is not like ours.  So, cheer up!  It is what God thinks that matters and not anyone else.  Again, Hallelujah.  I am feeling better already!
So, let us begin and follow this outline:

                I. The Recipients of Persecution
               II. The Reasons for Persecution
              III. The Reaction to Persecution

I. The Recipients

Who is Jesus referring to?  It makes a difference, does it not?  Yes, because the blessing is a real blessing if you are one of the recipients!  I look at the scriptures and see that those who receive this persecution, and are blessed because of it are:
1. Born after the Spirit.
"But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now".  Galatians 4:29
So, the recipient of this persecution is he or she that is born after the Spirit.  In other words, born again by the Spirit of God.
2. Living godly in Christ Jesus.
"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution".  2 Timothy 3:12 
Whoa!  Look at that.  All who will live godly.  What is it to live godly?  That would be a great study for you after you finish this lesson.  One may need to look at it negatively in order to see it positively.  Who are the ungodly?  Some good places to search are the book of Jude in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament, Proverbs 16, and Proverbs 19, as well as the book of Psalms.
3.  Not of the world.
"If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you".  John 15:19
Oh, my.  This is great stuff!  I hope you are seeing what I am seeing.  Who are we?  Friends, we are NOT of the world.  Not only that, but we must not love this world.  What is of the world?  
Look at 1 John 2:15-17.
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof:  but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever".
To love the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life is to love the world.  Why should we not love the world?  Look at the reasons in 1 John 2:15-17 above.
a. Because the world is contrary to the Father.  It is incompatible with God!  Notice, all that is in the world is not of the Father.
b. Because the world is temporary.  It is passing away!  It will not last.  It is all going to end someday.  But notice, He that does the will of God ABIDETH FOREVER.  That is being NOT of the world.  Yes, living within the confines of the will of God has a tremendous end result.
4. Servants of the Lord.
"The servant is not greater than his Lord.  If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you". 
 John 15:20
5. Ministers, Preachers, Prophets of the Lord.
"Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience".   James 5:10

"And now, behold I go bound to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me".  Acts 20:22-23

"Which of the prophets have your fathers not persecuted?"  Acts 7:52

II. The Reasons    

1. Because of the Word
"And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended".  Mark 4:17
Now this is interesting.  Have you ever been persecuted because of the Word or for the sake of the Word?  Jesus says that when these people who are shallow in their faith face this kind of thing, they get offended.  The word "offended" is the Greek word, "skandalizo".  It means to stumble, or to put a stumbling block in the way of someone in order to cause them to fall or trip.  To stumble.  Dear fellow believer, persecution will come because of the Word of God.  The fact that you have heard the Word, believe the Word, and obey the Word, makes you a target.  When His Word finds a place in your heart, the pharisees will follow after, pursue, hound, press, persecute you because of it.  This is what happened to Jesus.  Do you remember?  Listen to it:
"I know that you are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you."  John 8:37
They sought to kill him.  They pursued him in order to kill him because the Word he preached was not welcome in their hearts.  Fellow believer, the servant is not greater than his master.  They will want to undermine it and create pressure upon you.  Because of the way I preach, I will have to endure the fallout.  Stephen was stoned because of his preaching under the power of the Holy Spirit.  But Stephen was not deterred.  He did not compromise.  However, it did bring conviction and resulted in slander and an unjust verdict which ended his life.  Listen, whatever you do, do not allow any persecution to stumble you.  Do not allow it to trip you up on your journey to the heavenly city.  I have made up my mind that nothing will stumble me.  I am going through.  How about you?
2. Because of righteousness
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake..."  Matthew 5:10
What does this mean?  What does it NOT mean?

A lot of persecution is the result of our own doing.  Some Christians claim they are being persecuted for just about everything.  LOL.  Yes, they may be persecuted, but the promise will not apply!  Our text does not say that we are blessed if we are being persecuted for our lack of wisdom; our argumentative spirit; arrogance, or putting our foot in our mouth, or for bringing shame to the name, or behaving in an obnoxious, un-Christlike manner.  Our testimony, especially those who bring the word of God, must be one that is of good report.  Listen to it:
"A bishop...must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."  1 Timothy 3;1, 7
Good report = "Excellent Testimony"
Those without = "Non-Christian community"
It does not say we are blessed if we are persecuted or suffer for being a busy body.  Listen to it:

"But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.  Yet if any suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this behalf."  1 Peter 4:15-16
There may be suffering for being a busybody, but the promise and blessing does not apply.  The word busybody means someone who is self-appointed to oversee in other men's matters.  To meddle in the affairs that are not his or hers.  They set themselves up as the overseer to push others to conform to their Christian standards.  Whoa!  That hurt.
So, what DOES it mean?  Ah, this is good!  Are you getting something?  Say, yes!  Good.   Well, the answer is found in the text.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for RIGHTEOUSNESS sake."  Matthew 5:10
There it is!  Righteousness.  Right living.  Being right.  Being like Jesus.  Not perfect and not sinless, but righteous.  Oh, my friend, this is most glorious!  It does not get any better than this.   The righteous are persecuted because they are not of this world.  It is not because we are good, or noble, or deserving.  It is because we are different.  We are not better than anyone else.   We are better off, yes.  David was persecuted by King Saul because he was of a different spirit.  There was something about David that convicted Saul.  It was not because David was valiant, or gutsy, but because he was upright.  Daniel was thrown into the Lion's den NOT because he was better, but the Bible says an excellent spirit was found in him.  Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the King's meat.  Yes, Daniel was different, not better.  Daniel was righteous.  His actions were the result of character and made his enemies angry.  You may remember that Daniel prayed three times a day in his room.  Doing this made others in high places look bad.  Daniel did not make a big show of his righteousness and prayer time.  He did not parade it in front of the leadership.  No, he was quiet and unobtrusive.    Sometimes you may do something that is completely the result of your love for God and your hunger and thirst after righteousness.  If this results in being followed or pursued as was Daniel, then, rejoice!  You are in good company.
Even Christ was persecuted and killed for this righteousness.  There was something about Jesus that condemned the Pharisees.  He would walk into a room and because of who He was, the Pharisees and others could not engage in certain behavior.  I recall one episode in the gospels that the Pharisees had sent some men to take Jesus and bring Him in.  They returned without Jesus.  Why?  They told the Pharisees that "never a man spoke like this man."   Wow!  They were prohibited from doing what they had every intention of doing!  Oh, what could Jesus accomplish in me if I could sense that very same presence that would restrain my behavior!
This beatitude says that a Christian is like his Lord, not the world.  When the world gives accolades to the church and comes into popularity with them and never offends the world but is easy to get along with, then the church is in dire straits.  I ask you, if the world is consistent to be the world, and the church is consistent to be the church, will the two entities be closer to one another or farther apart?  The answer is FARTHER APART!  What has happened to the righteousness the church claims to have?    I am reminded of the words of D. L. Moody, that great evangelist, who said:
"Christians should live in the world, but not be filled with it.  A ship lives in the water, but if the water gets into the ship, she goes to the bottom.  So, Christians may live in the world; but if the world gets into them, they sink." D.L. Moody
Let us remember the words of Jesus:
             
"Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you!  For so did their fathers to the false prophets."  Luke 6:26
Yes, righteousness is the word that reinforces, or upholds all the other beatitudes.  In fact, Jesus will tell us a bit more of what He means by it (righteousness) in verse eleven.  Listen to it:
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake." Matthew 5:11
For my sake means because of me!  Isn't Jesus the personification of righteousness?  Absolutely.  Any righteousness we have comes from Him, and because of Him.  It is imputed righteousness.  Imputed means that the righteousness of Christ is treated as ours by faith.  Christ"s righteousness is designated or placed into our account; it is given to us and we are constituted righteous because of our repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus and what He did at the cross.  Hallelujah!    Persecution is what happens because you have chosen to associate with the King of Kings.  Excuse me, one more HALLELUJAH!  Have you ever heard that phrase "I feel your pain"?  Well, when we are persecuted for righteousness sake, because of HIM, we are feeling what He is feeling.  Our right living has caused others who do not know Jesus to vent their disapproval of our God!  It is not with you they are so angry, but it is JESUS in you!  Remember Jesus said, "they hated me before they hated you".  So, "righteousness" is the real reason for this persecution.  Do not take it personally.  It is Christ they are angry with.  And may we not forget that it is the persecution which comes upon us for living right and for being accused falsely because of Him.

III. The Reaction

As to our response to this persecution, Jesus does not leave us in the dark.    How should we react?
1.  Rejoice and be exceeding glad.
Well, there it is!  Listen to it:
 
"Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."  Matthew 5:12
Dear friends, we are not to bring persecution upon ourselves.  We avoid it without doing injury or violation to our conscience.  But plain and simple, when it happens, REJOICE!  Why?  There are three words that come to mind from this verse that explain why.
1. Compensation - Great is your reward.
             2. Destination - In heaven
              3. Identification - For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Hey, this is proof of who you are!  You are identified with some of the greatest men and women of all time.  It is also proof of where you are headed and what you will receive when you get there!  Do not despair.  Look up!  It is all coming to a glorious conclusion.  Do not back off now.  Do not give up now.  Do not become a slacker now!  You are closer than ever to the heavenly city whose builder and maker is God!  Why rejoice?  Listen to it:
"And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." Acts 5:41
It is a sign of a person who is walking worthy.  Woo!  Like I said, it doesn't get much better.
2.  Love your enemies.  
Listen to it:

"But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."  Matthew 5:44

"If you love them that love you, what reward have ye?  Do not even the publicans the same?"  Matthew 5:46
3. Bless them that persecute and curse you. 
How I respond when I am reviled is very important.  Listen to it:

"Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not...therefore if thine enemy hunger feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head."  Romans 12:14, 20
Bless is the Greek word eulogeo.  It means to speak well of.  In other words, be true to your testimony.  Blessing him is the same as quenching his thirst and satisfying his hunger.  And some say that kindness is as effective as coals of fire.
4.  Do good to those who hate you. 
Matthew 5:44 (see above) 
5.  Pray for them.
Matthew 5:44 (see above)
6. Fear not.
I love this.  I have to say, this is grand.  What an honor.  Listen to it:
"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul..." Matthew 10:28

"But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake.  And it shall turn to you for a testimony...and ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.  But there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls."
 Luke 21:12, 13, 17
There it is!  Do not fear!  Ladies and gentlemen, our testimony is about to rise to the next level! 
 
Excuse me - Hallelujah.

Look What the Lord Has Done!

The Testimony of George A. Young
(19th Century)

Little is known of George A. Young.  In fact, the exact date of his birth and death are uncertain.  To earn a living, he did carpenter work, but his call and passion was to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who would listen.  Few people heard of him during his lifetime, he made no "claim to fame."
Finances were very tight in the Young household.  Most of the time the family had enough money for just that day.  It was a real struggle for George to support his wife and family, but he did not back down on his call to preach the message of Jesus Christ.  And through the years, the Lord provided for them exactly what was needed.
George's call to share the truth of God's Word with the lost did not make him friends.  In fact, some turned against him because of the conviction that the Word of God worked in their hearts.  They did not want to change and therefore did not want to hear about the Lord Jesus Christ and what He wanted and could do in their lives.  In rejecting the Lord, they rejected the message and also rejected George himself.
After many years of scrimping and saving, George was able to build, with his own hands, a simple little house for his family to call their own home.   They were thankful to the Lord for everything that He had provided for them.  One weekend, George was to preach in a church a few towns away.  His entire family went with him and they stayed in that town through the entirety of the meetings.  When they returned home, they found that some of the towns people who hated George and his message of Jesus Christ had burnt their new little house to the ground.  They lost everything but their lives. 
Here is the beauty of this "tragic" story.  George continued in his service to the Lord.  He continued seeking Him and serving Him.  He did not allow the deeds of the lost to hinder his call by the Lord to share truth of the power of Jesus' blood to forgive sin.  In fact, George took the persecution and struggles he faced because of his obedience to the Lord, and he wrote a song.  This song is still sung today, all these years later.  George's song speaks of the care of God, the leading of God.  It speaks of the difficulties of life that the Lord leads his children through, but always returns to the faithfulness of God to stay with His children through the difficulty and out the other side.  It is a song that reminds us of Psalm 23 and the care of the Shepherd for His sheep, giving rest and comfort to the tired.  Its words remind us that the Lord will give songs in the night seasons (difficult times)-– songs of hope that minister strength to the hurting heart.  George reminds us of Isaiah 43:2 "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." And his message is that through it all, God is always leading those who are willing to be lead.
Are you being persecuted for your stand for Christ?  Are you facing times of difficulty because of your obedience to His Word?  If not today, you will tomorrow.  Remember dear Christian, none of this is a surprise to God.  He is with you through the fire.  May George Young's song help you keep your focus on the Lord and His plan for you.  May it encourage you to trust Him as God leads you along.

God Leads Us Along

George A. Young

In shady green pastures, so rich and so sweet,
God leads His dear children along;
Where the water's cool flow bathes the weary one's feet,
God leads His dear children along.

Chorus
Some through the water, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.

Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright,
God leads His dear children along;
Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night,
God leads His dear children along.

Through sorrow befall us and evil oppose,
God leads His dear children along;
Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,
God leads His dear children along.

Away from the mire, and away from the clay,
God leads His dear children along;
Away up in glory, eternity’s day,
God leads His dear children along.

Info Referenced From: https://wordwisehymns.com/2011/12/14/god-leads-us-along/, The Cyber Hymnal, Robert Cottrill, 12/14/2011, Info taken 3/8/2021

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