Blessed are those who are persecuted
by Jack Wald | May 22nd, 2016

Matthew 5:10-12

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a video?

In this last of our series of sermons on the beatitudes in Matthew 5, we come to:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When I was a new follower of Jesus in university and read this, I thought about people who were critical of my choice to follow Jesus. A professor might not agree with me when I talked about having a personal relationship with God through Jesus. But no one attacked me. I was not kicked out of university because of my belief.

There is some rejection in the West for those who declare they are followers of Jesus, but it is mild in comparison to what we read in Hebrews 11:35-38.
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.

It is mild in comparison to what Jesus said would face those who followed him. (Luke 21:10–19)
Then [Jesus] said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

We don’t experience that in the West. We read about it in history, but we do not experience it. But for many people in the world, this persecution is their present experience.

This morning we are going to watch a video that tells the story of Iraqi followers of Jesus.

Victory in Christ, produced by Kings School of Media in Jerusalem. [This is a 29 minute video. Please watch before proceeding.]

I want to make four brief comments before we pray.

First, the Bible talks about the Tribulation, hinted at in Daniel, referred to by Jesus in the Gospels, and spoken of in Revelation 7:14.
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

In the West we speculate about when this seven-year period will come: before or after Jesus draws the church to himself. In Iraq and other countries where Christians are being taken to prison, beaten, raped, and killed, now is the Tribulation. It is not a future event.

Speculation about when the Tribulation will come is a Western luxury. For many parts of the world the Tribulation is a present reality.

Second, those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed because this is a temporary condition, not a permanent one.

This is how Dallas Willard understood the beatitudes. The poor, those who mourn, those who are merciful in an unmerciful world are blessed because they are here on earth for just a short time and then will be in a world where (Revelation 21:4)
There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Peter wrote to those who were being persecuted and said, (1 Peter 1:6)
In all this (a new birth into a living hope) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

A little while. Those who are persecuted are blessed because they suffer but it is a temporary suffering and an eternal peace lies ahead.

Third, those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed because this suffering is used by God to develop great faith.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote at the beginning of his letter, (James 1:2–4)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Faith, however much you wish otherwise, does not grow by lying comfortably in the quiet of the garden while sipping a cool glass of ice tea. Faith grows through hardships and suffering.

In 2010 150 foreign Christians were deported from Morocco. This was an incredibly stressful and painful year. And yet, that was a year in which faith developed. I noticed a deepening or our worship experience at RIC at the end of that year. My own faith deepened in that year.

Fourth, those who are persecuted are blessed because Jesus is present with them in their suffering. This is the promise of Scripture. (Hebrews 13:5) “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” When we suffer, Jesus is present with us, suffering with us. In fact, it is Jesus who suffers when his daughters and sons are persecuted and we have the privilege, when we suffer, of sharing in his sufferings. There is an intimacy with Jesus that comes from the experience of persecution.

I cry at the end of the video we watched every time I see it. I cry because of the joy of seeing these people who suffered so much speaking of love and forgiveness. Their deep faith radiates and I am in awe of them. The woman who wanted to kill herself shines in worship and that fills my heart with joy.

I don’t wish persecution on anyone. I am suspicious of anyone who wants to experience persecution. But what is celebrated in this video is the power of God to bring great good out of such malicious evil.

We are going to be led now in prayer for those in the world who are being persecuted.