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2015-06-07 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at some of the things it takes to thrive in the kingdom of God.

Most everyone I know wants to get the most out of life. God somehow wired us with an internal drive—an inner motivation—to do more than merely survive.

You can survive in a prison cell, but that’s not thriving. You don’t need to read the Bible to know that there’s more to life than eating, drinking, and breathing.

You can survive trapped on a desert island, but there’s far more to life than that. Remember Tom Hanks in the movie, Outcast? After a plane crash, he had everything he needed to survive, but he was starved for companionship—for relationship. He learned that he needed much more than just food and water. That’s why, you may recall, he eventually took a Wilson volleyball from the plane wreck and drew a face on the ball. He spent hours talking to Wilson.

Surviving is good, but God meant for us to thrive. You can live a long time on beans and water—but once in a while, it would be nice to have a sizzling 14-ounce sirloin steak. Thriving is better than surviving.

Jesus didn’t come just to help us survive; he came so we could thrive. When Jesus came into this world, he came to give us life—real life.

He came to show us how to do more than merely survive. He came to show us how to really live—how to thrive. Jesus came to save us from ourselves—from our sins, of course, but also from our substandard, mediocre lives.

He said things like, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)—“more abundantly” in the old KJV; “till it overflows” says the Amplified.

Jesus came to introduce a new way of life—not life as usual, following the same old ways and customs and ideas like the rest of the world. Jesus came to introduce a radically different kind of kingdom—the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven turns conventional wisdom on its head. It puts right the things the world or the devil have made wrong. It’s not really the “upside-down” kingdom; it’s the “right-side-up” kingdom.

There’s a story about two thieves who broke into a jewelry store, but instead of stealing the jewels they simply switched the price tags. They put high-priced tags on cheap jewelry and low-priced tags on valuable gems. At first, no one noticed. People bought cheap jewelry for exorbitant prices, thinking it was worth something. At the same time, others bought rare jewels for the price of costume jewelry. [Credit: Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard: http://www.markbatterson.com/uncategorized/switch-the-price-tags/]

In the same way, we sometimes have difficulty discerning between what is valuable and what is worthless—because the world has switched the price tags! God tells us what is truly valuable and most important, but the world came along and tampered with the price tags.

So Jesus came to turn things right again. He came to show us how the world had messed up our values, to show us how the kingdom of God is supposed to work—to show us how real life and genuine blessings come in far different ways than the world would lead you to believe.

In Matthew 5—Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—we read the Beatitudes, a list of blessings in the kingdom of God, which are totally opposite from the way the world sees things. In fact, Jesus says that that the people whom the world would consider unlucky or unfortunate are actually the ones who are most blessed.

  • The world says it’s the rich who are happy and blessed; Jesus says it’s those who are poor in spirit.
  • The world says it’s those without problems who are happy and blessed; Jesus says it’s those who mourn.
  • The world says it’s the powerful and influential who are happy and blessed; Jesus says it’s the meek and humble.
  • The world says it’s the beautiful, well-groomed, fancy-dressed people who are happy and blessed; Jesus says it’s the pure in heart.

We say we believe all this, and yet we’ve lived in this world until its values have been imprinted on our hearts. We’ve been raised in and influenced by a culture that has constantly distorted the things of God.

So it’s a stretch for us to start thinking and acting according to the values of the kingdom of God. It’s easier to say we believe this than it is to do this.

In fact, we can’t make that shift on our own. We only start thinking with kingdom values when we are transformed from deep within. When Jesus changes our hearts and our minds, then we can begin to see things differently.

And as we see things differently, we can begin to act differently. For instance, Romans 12 tells us to give ourselves—sacrifice ourselves—to the Lord. If we surrender to him, we can stop conforming to the ways and the thinking of the world and instead we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Rom 12:2 (Phillips). Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within…

Today, however, we come to what may be the most difficult Beatitude to grasp—even with new minds:

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

First, notice you’re not blessed merely because you’re persecuted. Persecution does not guarantee a blessing. You can be persecuted for the wrong reasons—and there’s no blessing in that.

Some people are persecuted because they act like jerks. Maybe they have a masochistic personality. Maybe they just enjoy stirring up trouble. They’re not persecuted because of their righteousness but because of their anti-social behavior.

If you’re trying to be persecuted, it’s usually not that hard to find someone who will be happy to oblige you. You don’t even have to be Christian; you don’t even have to be righteous.

I think some Christians specialize in being jerks because when they are persecuted, it makes them feel special. It’s like a badge of honor to them: “Look at me. I’m God’s favorite because I’m being picked on.”

Second, don’t be surprised if persecution comes from unexpected sources. It’s not just the world that persecutes. It’s not just the liberal media or godless Hollywood writers who mock and ridicule. It’s not just atheists or the anti-religious who may malign your character or say false things about you.

Sometimes the insults and false accusations can come from very religious people. In Luke’s account of the Beatitudes, Jesus says: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” (Luke 6:22)

Have you ever felt hated? Have you ever felt excluded? Have you ever felt rejected—like a social leper—only because you were passionate about Jesus?

If you’ve ever felt any of those things, let me ask: Was it a Muslim who excluded you? Was it a Hindu who rejected you? Was it an atheist who hated you or accused you of something?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most of the time you’ve been insulted or your reputation has been damaged or you’ve felt hated, excluded, or rejected, it was by someone who would consider themselves Christian. Remember, it was the religious people who persecuted Jesus!

If you love Jesus, don’t be surprised if people—even religious people—may misunderstand, or worse. And that leads me to my next point…

Be careful you’re not persecuting others. There is a very fine line between being religious and being righteous. If you can be persecuted by religious Pharisees, be careful you don’t become a Pharisee yourself—and fall into the same pattern of behavior.

I suspect that there’s something of the Pharisee in all of us. We want to do what is right, but when we try, we run the risk of depending on good works. We tend toward legalism. We can become judgmental toward others who don’t seem as concerned about those works.

Have you ever persecuted someone? Have you ever excluded, rejected, or hated another believer? Have you ever gossiped about someone or accused someone of something without cause? That’s persecution.

You see, our attitude toward other believers should be one of humility and grace—not judgment or condemnation. What does the Bible say?

…if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently (not harshly or in a condemning, judgmental manner). But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Gal 6:1)

1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (Matt 7:1-4)

Anything less than an attitude of humility, and we might find ourselves excluding or rejecting or accusing other believers. We might find ourselves persecuting others instead of helping or restoring them.

Next, you better check your heart if people flatter you.

Luke’s gospel compares the blessings of the kingdom to the woes of the world: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man… that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23) [but]Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. (Gal 1:10)

If you’re never insulted, mocked, excluded, or rejected, then you’re probably not living “out there” as much as you should be. If no one ever challenges you for your faith, maybe it’s time for a gut check.

Someone has said, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Do others know about your faith? Are people aware that you’re part of a different kingdom? Could you be a bit more outspoken? Could you live closer to the edge, with more purpose and resolve? You don’t want the charges dismissed for lack of evidence!

…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… (2 Tim 3:12)

Think about it: that’s a promise! When you’re challenged for what you believe, you’ll find opportunities to introduce others to the kingdom of God. That’s an added blessing that comes when you are persecuted!

…if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Pet 3:14-16)

Voice of the Martyrs (quote from p 5, June 2015):

Surrounded by church walls still blackened by the flames, Christians in Niger overcame the fear in their hearts to worship the God they were attacked for serving.
“I cried, but God encouraged me,” [the pastor] said. “I saw a woman—all night long she didn’t sleep. She cried.”
From the time of their mourning, however, a sense of hope was born. They realized the attacks actually united the body of believers. Before the attacks, they were preoccupied with their own lives, but afterward they visited and took care of each other. They experienced a new level of community.
They also gained a deeper understanding of forgiveness.
“A lesson I see for us is that God encourages us to continue to love the Muslims despite what happened,” [the pastor] said. “It’s not easy, but God is encouraging us to forgive and to love…”
A Muslim woman who happened to be with [the pastor’s family during the attacks…later asked how she could follow Jesus. The mob’s anger pushed her to accept Christ’s love.”

Finally, maintain a kingdom perspective: You are blessed! (1) Persecution proves that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. (2) You have a great reward waiting for you in heaven. (1 Pet 1:4)

Slammed for Your Faith