– In Iran, on July 3, 2017 Amin Afshar Naderi was sentenced to 15 years in prison (10 for acting against national security by organizing and conducting house churches, and 5 for blasphemy).
– In Turkey, a father named Byram became a Christian and had his 9-year old daughter kidnapped because of his faith. He continues sharing his faith saying, “There are 80 cities in Turkey and only 41 have a church.”
– In Kenya, 3 masked young men interrupted a church service with gunfire, killing 7 and injuring 21 others. One of those injured is a woman named Diana. For the past 3 years Diana has undergone extensive medical treatment for her injuries. She says, “Psalm 121 encourages me that I shouldn’t be discouraged in trials because God is there.” One of her friends and church members agreed saying, “These persecutions will strengthen the church if you remain faithful.”
– In a Middle East refugee camp, a man named Abraham was emboldened to speak to an ISIS fighter named Fadi about the gospel. Fadi said he had a dream of receiving an envelope with blood pouring out of it. Abraham explained that this was God’s way of sending him a letter saying that Jesus’s blood paid for our salvation and forgave our sins, and he can be forgiven. Fadi became a Christian and is now living alongside Abraham in a Syrian refugee camp.
– These and countless other stories could be read at VOM.org.
– According to another source, each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 Christian churches and properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence (beating, abduction, rape, arrest, forced marriage, etc.) are committed against Christians.
– Franklin Graham recently said, “I am sure the number of Christians who are in prison or martyred each year would stagger our mind if we really knew what the total number really was,”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released the 2016 International Religious Freedom Report and announced this week “Religious persecution and intolerance remains far too prevalent. Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root. We cannot ignore these conditions.”
Today in the U.S.A., persecution is mild but multiplying. At the moment, the majority of Christians in US are not getting beheaded, burned by fire, or breakfast to lions. It is still legal to host church worship gatherings, evangelize publicly, and to see conversions. Yet, persecution is multiplying in US. Traditional Christianity is facing increasing intolerance. Christians are being taken to court, fined, losing jobs, publicly shamed as backwards and bigots, and sometimes even imprisoned or worse, for their beliefs. And yes, some have experienced physical violence and on some occasions murdered. A few come to mind:
– Cassi Bernall & Rachel Scott in Littleton, CO
– Those at a Community College in Oregon
– Those targeted at AME Church in Charleston, SC
Today’s 8th and last Beatitude
Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
– Beatitudes are indicatives not imperatives. IOW, these are not a formula to faith but are reflect how faith is formed in a person’s life.
– Beatitudes are blessings; God blesses but sin burdens…
– Memorized 5:1-10
We must expect persecution.
Jesus speaks of persecution for “righteousness’ sake.” The idea is that the previous 7 Beatitudes lead to the 8th. Persecution is referenced by Jesus as a “when” not “if” (v.11). Further, Jesus notes that persecution was the norm for OT prophets, His entire public ministry, and certainly so for the early church.
Matthew 10:16-22 16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
John 15:18-20 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
Acts 4:19-20 “Peter and John answered, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 9:16 concerning Paul, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (cf. 2Cor 11:23-28
2Timothy 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”
Persecution was experienced and promised by Jesus, and was the pattern for the early church. Therefore, we must expect persecution to come if we are living out the Beatitudes and Jesus’ teaching.
è If you are NOT experiencing persecution, are you living out your faith? Those persecuted receive the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10). Since persecution is a sign of true faith, shouldn’t we have some level of challenge and persecution? If it were a crime to be a Christian, would you be convicted?
o While Global Christians endure hardship and experience persecution, many US Christians make excuses for why they shouldn’t live out their faith.
- Oh, I’d lose Facebook friends or no one would sit with me at lunch if I spoke about Christ.
- I’d lose ability for job promotion or my job if I shared my faith.
- I have so many responsibilities to fit in my weekend so I can’t go to church.
- I had a bad experience at church long ago… so I avoid church.
- Or we get creative theologically
- I believe in Jesus but don’t need the church.
- Church is people and my church is the friends I spend time with.
- People don’t understand me and I don’t get along with people…
- We express moral outrage at society but then return home to watch HBO & Netflix
- The pastor doesn’t wear a suit / church doesn’t sing hymns /… so I just listen to church on tv/radio.
è Christians should pray & persevere for religious protection. 1Timothy 2:1-2 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
We must embrace persecution.
This 8th Beatitude is the bookend to the first, identifying Jesus’ followers entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Even more, Jesus adds a double blessing (2x) with rejoicing for this final beatitude, saying, “your reward is great in heaven.”
So, not only should Christians expect persecution, but we should embrace it as a badge of honor for two reasons: 1) identifying with the company of OT prophets, Jesus, and the early church, but also as 2) receiving a reward. Interestingly, Matthew’s Gospel speaks frequently of rewards in heaven
4:17 / 5 – – – kingdom of heaven is kingdom of God – – – Jesus is the reward
5:46 “For if you love/greet those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even [unbelievers] do that?
6y12yv47h:1-6 Father who sees in secret (giving to needy, praying) will reward you
6:16-18 Father who sees in secret (fasting) will reward you
6:19-20 storing up treasure in heaven
10:41-42 a righteous person will receive a prophet’s reward
19:29 “receiving a hundred-fold for those who leave family & property for the gospel”;
25:21, 29 “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much… For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance”
Embracing persecution does not mean we pursue it as we do the other beatitudes. No one should go looking for trouble, or seek to be obnoxiously offensive with our faith.
– Brow-beating with the Bible and truth of Jesus. Our role is to speak truth in love and let Jesus do the judging.
– Oh, look at me suffering for Jesus. A Christian’s cross-carrying, not their complaining, points to Jesus.
– Respond with rudeness when others disagree.
- Colossians 4:5-6 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
- 1Peter 2:16-17 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
- Titus 3:2 “speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, be gentle, and show perfect courtesy to all people”
As we don’t seek persecution, we don’t see it behind every disagreement. Russel Moore describes this as having a gloomy view of culture. Moore says, “A gloomy view of culture leads to meanness. If we believe we are on the losing side of history, we slide into the rage of those who know their time is short. We have no reason to be fearful or sullen or mean. We’re not losers of history. We are not slouching to Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion. The worst thing that can possibly happen to us has already happened: we’re dead. We were crucified at Skull Place, under the wrath of God. And the best thing that could happen to us already happened: we’re alive in Christ, and our future is seated at the right hand of God, and he’s feeling just fine. Jesus is marching onward, with us or without us, and if the gates of hell cannot hold him back, why on earth would he be panicked by Hollywood or Capitol Hill? Times may grow dark indeed, but times have always been dark, since the insurrection of Eden. Nonetheless, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, the darkness will not, the darkness cannot overcome it. The arc of history is long, but it bends toward Jesus. (Onward, p.203-204)
Embracing persecution implies boldness of faith.
è What is one thing you can do, in wisdom not foolishness, that would display your Christian faith and potentially be challenging in receiving persecution?
o Take Bible out in school (classroom, lunch table, athletic break)
o Witness to a friend
è How can Christians help each other in the face of persecution?
è How can USA Christians help the global church in the face of persecution?
o Hebrews 13:3 “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
We must endure persecution
Christians who expect and embrace persecution will endure for the sake of the gospel. They understand earthly suffering is not worth comparing with eternal glory (Rom 8:18).
Paul considered his persecution of imprisonment as greater opportunity to further the gospel.
Philippians 1:12-14 “12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Peter viewed persecution suffering as a sign of God’s Spirit working in and through you to further God’s mission.
1Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you… if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
Acts 8:1 persecution came upon the church to accomplish God’s mission
Tertullian: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
When Christians endure persecution they become salt in a tasteless world and light in the darkness (Matthew 5:13-15). Enduring persecution enables the gospel to advance (Matthew 5:16). Persecution is unfair. People will insult and accuse you falsely. They will speak and do all kind of evil against you. Yet, as Christians, we must not only embrace persecution but endure it to further the gospel. As the prophets were persecuted and persevered to point to God’s truth, so Christians must today. The gospel will be revealed as truth in the face of persecution.
In my view, Christians will endure a time of intense persecution and tribulation before the return of Jesus.
Matthew 24:21-31 “21. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again. 22.If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible. 25. See, I have told you ahead of time. 26. “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 29. “Immediately after the distress [tribulation] of those days” ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 30. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
– – – Expect / Embrace / Endure Persecution
Are you ready?