Matthew 5:10-12

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

10You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes
persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's
kingdom. 11-12Not only that--count yourselves blessed every
time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about
you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for
comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that
happens--give a cheer, even!--for though they don't like it, I do!
And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company.
My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind
of trouble.      

MSG The Message Bible

10Blessed are those who suffer for doing what is right. The
kingdom of heaven belongs to them.  11Blessed are you when
people make fun of you and hurt you because of me. You are also
blessed when they tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of
me. 12Be joyful and glad. Your reward in heaven is great. In the
same way, people hurt the prophets who lived long ago.

NIRV New International Readers Version

Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause
of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs! And what
happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you
and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake!
Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad--for your reward in
Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your
time in exactly the same way.     

J. B. Phillips Translation

10 O the bliss of those who are persecuted for their loyalty to
God's way of life, for the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven are
theirs here and now. 11Yours is this bliss, when men shall heap
their insults on you, and persecute you, and tell every wicked kind
of lie about you for my sake.  12When that happens, rejoice and
exult in it, for you will receive a rich reward in heaven, for it was
thus that they persecuted the prophets who lived before you.

Translation by William Barclay

People who give up their own comfort so that others can be helped
know what heaven is all about.      

Source not known to me.

Those who renounce possessions, fortune, rights, [traditional
or false] righteousness, honor, and force for the sake of following
Christ, will be distinguished from the world. The world will be
offended at them, and so the disciples will be persecuted for
righteousness' sake.      

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

"Are ye able," said the Master, "To be crucified with me?"
"Yea," the sturdy dreamers answered, "To the death we follow thee."
            Lord, we are able. Our spirits are thine.
            Remold them, make us, like thee, divine.
            Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
            A beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.
Are ye able? Still the Master whispers down eternity,
And heroic spirits answer now, as then, in Galilee.
            Lord, we are able. Our spirits are thine . . . .

We sang that song when I was a teenager, and it is still in hymnbooks
today. There was something about the music and those verses
which always sparked a surge of idealism within me. As I sang,
I could feel the power. I stood tall and ready to be counted. I wanted
to be included with those sturdy dreamers who swore allegiance
till death!

But I found out in the many years since then, that I am neither sturdy
nor loyal. More likely I would run and hide than stand up and be counted.
Which means I have no credentials for teaching about the joy of
suffering persecution for the sake of Jesus.

Yet I will go on in faith, believing that God can use me regardless of
past failures. When the disciple Peter failed Jesus by denying that
he ever knew him, Jesus came back to Peter with this forgiving and
going-forward question, "Peter, do you love me?" I can answer with
Peter, "Lord, you know that I love you."

With these beatitudes, Jesus is calling disciples out from among
the crowd, to be a different kind of person. They are to be people who
know they need God in their lives, all the time. People who mourn
for the sorrows of the world. People who claim no rights for themselves
and allow God to direct their lives. Their one over-riding goal in life is
to know the righteousness of God. They show mercy to everyone just
as God has shown mercy to them. They are whole-hearted, their
inner life as clean as the outside. They practice peaceful living on a
daily basis, and teach peacemaking wherever they have influence.

I believe there were some who listened to Jesus' words that day
and said, "Yes, that's what I want for my life." They stood tall and
dreamy-eyed, ready to march into life with a "bring it on" attitude.
Others would be more cautious and let someone else try it first.
Some would go home and call the message nonsense.

The beatitudes are about those choices in life that make us whole
and happy. Choices that give us purpose and meaning. The qualities
of life which Jesus lifted up and challenged us to live by, are not
what we are accustomed to hearing. They are uniquely different.
They belong to God's kingdom, and seem somehow alien here on
earth. Like joy amid persecution, for instance; it's just not how we
live here on this planet. Mixing persecution with joy is about as
unnatural to us as the lion and lamb who lie down together in peace.

Jesus topped off his beatitudes with a reality check. The kingdom
of heaven is no piece of cake, no pie in the sky. Kingdom life will not
be easy. It will be abundantly good, full of joy and peace, but it will
not be easy. You will be swimming up stream, against the tide,
all the way.

Jesus began the last beatitude the way he started all the others.
"Blessed are those who . . ." And then the message about persecution
struck like a lightening bolt. He started with a general statement--
Those who are persecuted because of righteousness belong to the
kingdom of heaven. OK, we can swallow that. We don't want to be
persecuted but those who are, definitely belong in God's kingdom.

But Jesus didn't stop there; he went on and got personal--Blessed
are you when others persecute you. Blessed are you when people
tell lies about you and insult you and strike you because you follow
me and belong to me. When people treat you badly for my sake,
rejoice! Be glad! Sing a song; do a dance! Persecution of the righteous
is par for the course; its been that way forever.

Those eager smiles must have faded. Others said, "That's it. Goodbye."
Why would Jesus spoil such a glorious moment with such a dreadful
finish! It seems there are two sides to the kingdom coin, and he needed
to show them both.

The kingdom of heaven, while we can know and experience it on
earth, is not of this earth. It is of God; hence, from a totally different
realm. It can be found only where God reigns, where people believe,
follow and obey the ways of God. There will always be conflict when
the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world collide. We on
earth spend much of our lives grabbing for our piece of the pie and
defending our space and positions The doors to the kingdom of God
do not open for grabbers. They do open for those poor in spirit and
humble enough to knock.

Because we want to do our own thing and continue struggling and
fighting and competing our way through life, we do not want to hear
the voices of those who tell of God's eternal kingdom. So we fight them
too, with insults, with laughter and lies, with whatever means available
to us, just to make them shut-up.

Over the centuries, horrible things have been done to people in order
to make them be quiet and conform to normal standards. Men, women
and children have been brutally killed because they would not recant
their faith. People have lost jobs, possessions, land and homes because
those with power declared them unfit for their society. In America we
take religious freedom for granted. It doesn't occur to us that anyone
would lose their life or suffer physical mistreatment because they
belong to one religious group or another. Yet there are plenty of places
in the world, and some even in our own country, where Christians
and people of other religions suffer persecution and torture. It doesn't
make the evening news, but it happens just the same.

We can't accuse Jesus of giving a false picture of discipleship. He
made it very clear. We will not be praised, recognized, and honored.
Instead we will be rejected, ignored, and belittled. Welcome to the
fellowship of the cross. Don't be surprised when the things you do
or say are not popularly approved or properly understood. You will be
criticized and rejected, because people do not want to hear the
message of the kingdom. This is a sobering climax to the beatitudes.
It is a hard decision. Being grouped with the prophets may sound
honorable, but when you learn what they went through, it is a position
not to be coveted.

With this beatitude Jesus is teaching us how to deal with pain and
suffering. The secret is in our mind and in our thinking. And where
the focus is. People of the kingdom concentrate, not on their pain and
suffering, but on Jesus. Sing and be joyful. Celebrate. Think about
heaven and the prophets, those great people of the past that we look
up to and take inspiration from. Don't focus on fear. Focus rather on
faith, and the source of our strength, Jesus.

Your feet may be in the mud, but you can still lift your head to the
stars. You who dare to take a stand for Jesus will feast with the
prophets in heaven. Those prophets who once stood alone and took
a beating, have grown into a great, rejoicing company. "Are you able,"
cries the Master? "Yes!" the sturdy dreamers exclaim enthusiastically,
"To the death we follow You!"

Jesus has laid the choice before us. Will we choose the kingdom of
heaven where God reigns. Or the kingdom of humanity, where whoever
and whatever reigns and much of it is not good. In closing I'll use the
words of Robert Frost and ask you to finish the sentence.

            Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
            I chose the one . . . .

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