Matthew 5:10, "Do You Choose Suffering?"
Do You Choose Suffering?
Do you choose persecution? Here in Matthew 5, Jesus gives this Sermon on the Mount. For the last eight weeks we’ve been working our way through beatitude after beatitude, but sometimes it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. What I’d like to do is step back for a second and reorient ourselves to where we are in the text.
If you look back at Chapter 4:23, it says that
“He went throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, healing ever disease and every affliction among the people. His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, afflicted with various diseases and pains, oppressed by demons, epileptics and paralytics, and He healed them.”
So the Word spread that the getting is good up in Galilee. If you have any disease or sickness then you can be cured by the hands of Jesus. There are two groups of people following. There are those who are following him because of the miracles that He is performing, and then there are those who are following him as His disciples. To the disciples Jesus doesn’t just offer healing. He offers happiness.
As the whole crowd is gathering around him, having flocked to Him primarily to be healed of their physical ailments, Jesus refuses to touch simply on their physical ailments. He wants to address their spiritual condition as well. He begins to preach to the whole crowd and he talks about who happy people are. This last statement throws us for a loop. “Happy are the tortured?” Happy are the persecuted. Happy are those who embrace suffering for righteousness sake. How do you find happiness in this? What does he mean when he says this? And do you embrace that? Do you choose suffering for righteousness? What is this?
What ‘Persecution for Righteousness’ is not.
I’ll tell you first off what it is not. Being persecuted for righteousness cannot be equated with being persecuted for being a fool and acting in your own folly. At the same time it cannot be the same thing as being a fanatic and acting in your own self-justified zeal. I want to show you 1 Peter 4:12-17 -
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:12–17, ESV, italics added)
There is a difference between persecuted as a Christian and being persecuted as a fool in his folly and a fanatic in his zeal. So what is the difference between being persecuted for the right reasons and being persecuted for the wrong reasons?
We have here in Matthew 5 an interesting group of statements. These all stand together as one and they all fall together as one. They cannot be divided from each other. Look at verse 3.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
The promise here is in the present tense, “...theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Flip to verse verse 10 and you will see the same thing.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. It is the same promise just like the first one. As the first one, this beatitude’s promised reward is also in the present tense. Now, every other beatitude is in the future tense. “...they shall be comforted,” “...they shall inherit the earth,” and “...they shall be satisfied.” So we have a series of future tense verbs, whose promises we will receive at some point in time, sandwiched between two present tense promises that we get right here and right now. This means that the Kingdom of Heaven has not come in its fullness although it has already broken into this world. You have the statement, “the Kingdom of Heaven,” which stands as a bookend at the tail end of this passage. Within this passage you also have another item that repeats. Verse 6 says,
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...”
The last one in verse ten says,
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
You will notice that nowhere in the beatitudes does it say that you possess righteousness. What it does say in Verse 6 is that you “hunger and thirst” for righteousness. Then it picks it up again and says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” not meaning, necessarily, your own righteousness. These all come together, standing and falling together as one unit, meaning that verse 10, which says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake,” is talking about people who are no longer satisfied with their own righteousness.
It is talking about people who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. That is, that they are desperate to get righteousness’, which means that their thirst for righteousness has not been quenched. This means that they don’t have any righteousness in themselves that satisfies them. Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are being persecuted for somebody else’s righteousness. Not their own. This is exactly why Peter can say, “Let none of you suffer as a meddler or an evil doer. Let the one who suffers suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.” Peter’s understanding of the beatitudes, and he was certainly here this day and heard this sermon as Jesus preached, was that it has everything to do with the name of Jesus Christ.
What is Jesus doing?
We all know that Jesus came to do two things. The Apostle John writing in the Gospel of John says that there is not enough paper in the world to write down everything that Jesus did. The Gospels just contain a snapshot. They contain a picture of what He did. So while there’s a lot that can be said about Christ’s ministry, we boil it down to particular aspects. I want us to focus on two aspects today:
- Jesus brings salvation. He came to die on the cross, to bear the sins of the humanity, and to bear the wrath of God on Himself for the sins of humanity in order to bring atonement to all of us.
- Jesus preaches salvation. Jesus came to preach that Gospel and to make disciples. He came to proclaim the Good News of Salvation.
As we’re looking here at Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” What does this mean? I think it means two things:
- Persecution for those who are like Jesus.
- Persecution for Jesus.
1. Persecution for those who are like Jesus.
My wife was the lab director for a number of years for an entomologist at the University of Texas A&M. His name was Dr. Jim Whooly. He had received this government grant to research this microscopic wasp. It was microscopic so you could barely see it with your eye. You had to look at it under the microscope. He was given a grant to determine the degree of genetic variation in a particular microscopic wasp. So they would examine wasps to look at their DNA in order to determine the degree of genetic variation that occurs.
Now this is fascinating to me. If you know nothing of DNA, it is actually a fascinating structure. Everything that we are is contained within our DNA. The information that determines the shape of our nose, eye color, hair, whether we are good looking or not-so-good-looking. All of this information is wrapped up in our DNA. All that you are is contained in every single cell of your body. Everything that is necessary to reproduce you is contained in every single cell of your body.
DNA is composed of a backbone of phosphate sugars. Phosphate sugars then have various nitrogen bases which attach. There are four nitrogen bases commonly denoted as A, C, G, T. These are the bases that will bond to each other through weak hydrogen covalent bonds into different groupings. The way that these nitrogen bases bond together in a grouping determines specific genetic traits.
There are literally trillions of different possible grouping of nitrogen bases that determine our genetic structure. The way that DNA tells you what to do is that it unzips down the middle. It unravels and untangles and unzips. Then the opposite nitrogen bases will come in and attach, and eventually you end up with two identical strands of DNA. Then the one strand of DNA becomes Messenger DNA, or mDNA, and is ejected from the cell where it goes to the construction site where the different proteins will be built and a new cell constructed.
Some of you may be wondering where I am going with this? Okay, I am glad that I haven’t lost you yet. If you look at the Beatitudes you realize that this is the DNA of the Christian. You have four pairings, just like a DNA codon. It is very obvious here: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” is obviously a direct pairing with “Blessed are the merciful.”
If you realize that you are a beggar before God then you will be merciful towards your fellow man. You relationship with God, understood in terms of your vertical relationship, will determine how you interact with your fellow man, understood in terms of your horizontal relationship.
If you understand that God’s absence is the source of all suffering and all heartache, and you mourn for this, then the horizontal relationship is going to be “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Those individuals who mourn God’s absence in their life will be seeking to see Him again, also known as the Pure in Heart. And the pure in heart will attempt to have righteous conduct in all their dealings with those around them. This leads to worship.
If your heart condition is meekness as it says in verse 5, “Blessed are the meek,” then the corollary to that is “peacemakers.” The meekness of wisdom and understanding the truth, vertical relationship, should work itself out in a horizontal relationship where you also desire to see other people reconciled to God.
There are four pairing here. And they go together perfectly! But at the same time, we can unzip it just like DNA. In fact, in order to reproduce it from me to you, I would have to unzip it. So let’s unzip it for a second and walk this thing through.
- Blessed are the pour in spirit. Blessed are those who are beggars before God. This confronts the prevailing attitude of this world. We tend to say to ourselves, “I’m not such a bad guy. I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps! I can make myself right with God.” No, you cannot. You are created by the creator! There is nothing you can bring to the table which He, himself, did not already create and provide you with. Even if you, yourself, try to be a really good person then you are just a good person utilizing the resources, heart and soul, that God has given you! Which means that you still haven’t done anything for God.
- Next step in understanding the Gospel. “Blessed are those who mourn.” In other words, blessed are those individuals who mourn all of the heartache, all of the pain, and all of the sorrow in this world. The individuals who recognize this understand that it is our sin that has driven God from our presence. He has withdrawn Himself because He is holier than to look upon sin. Sin is an impurity. It would defile Him.
- The next step: when you mourn His absence from your life, the next step is to understand, in the meekness of wisdom, what God says about you and how horrific you are. The meekness of wisdom is embracing the sinfulness of humanity and understanding that real righteousness can only be had in the fear of God.
- When you come to this point, church, you are already hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Believe me, by this point, if you have completed steps one through three, then step four is the logical conclusion! So you embrace the Gospel. You trust what Jesus did for you on the cross. After this do you just go on living like a sinner? Do you just go on living like it makes no difference? NO! To embrace one aspect of it is to simultaneously embrace the other aspect.
- After you get saved, after becoming a Christian, you begin to live out: mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking. This is the DNA of the Christian life.
Sharing the Gospel with Your Friend
I talk about sharing the gospel with your friend. We talk about this quite a bit. I say repeatedly, “Go out and share the gospel with your friend.” I talk about it so much that sometimes people get a little irate. “Are you saying that I am not saved if I absolutely refuse to share the gospel with my friend?” Your salvation does not hinge on you sharing the gospel with your friend, but yes. At some point I do think it needs to be said, perhaps you are not saved if the heart that is in you does not have the overwhelming drive and passion to share the gospel with your friend.
Your joy in now joined with the heart of God. If you’re pure in heart then this will happen. DNA will reproduce itself. If the beatitudes are at the center of your existence then it naturally has to manifest itself in certain, shall we say, genetic traits in what the Christian life will look like.
If you are a Christian then we can expect to see certain observable outward traits in your life. This is not to say that your salvation ever hinges on anything you do, because that would defy the principle that you are a beggar before God. At the same time, once you embrace the gospel as the center of your DNA, that ought to work itself out in your life.
The Last strand of DNA: Do you choose suffering? The last little bit of what it means to be a Christian means that you will choose suffering and persecution. If these beatitudes are the heart of your existence, then you will choose suffering. You won’t have to go looking for it. You just will be tortured as a Christian. It will simply happen.
Turn with me to Luke 16:14,
“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:14–15, ESV)
Jesus has just given us a basic expression of the truth. He hasn’t pulled anybody out of the crowd. He hasn’t singled anybody out. He isn’t brow beating anyone in the group. He has just said you cannot serve two masters. You will love one and hate the other. You must choose. Again, he is not preaching at anyone specifically, but you guys know Jesus is preaching at everyone.
The Pharisees take offense. Look at verse 14. The Pharisees are lovers of money and they ridiculed Him. Because they do love money they reject His teaching. And it wasn’t enough to just reject it. They didn’t simply quietly disagree. They take it to the next level: they begin to mock and ridicule him. Why? Because their heart condition is different than Jesus heart condition. Their heart condition is, “We LOVE money!”
So you understand that whenever it comes to persecution, persecution starts first and foremost with
- A heart that values something that is false, untrue, or wicked.
- Because you value something that is false, you then have to justify your wicked heart condition.
This is what the next verse says. Jesus rebukes them and says, “You are those who justify yourselves before men.” To paraphrase, Jesus says, “You know your heart is wrong. You know, just by being exposed to the teaching of Christ, that you are in the wrong place. Because you know it’s wrong, you have to give an explanation and you have to give a justification for why what you are doing is okay.”
I’ve come to the understanding that when light shines on darkness, darkness has to submit or fight back. There is no accord between Christ and Belial. There is no fellowship between light and darkness. There is no agreement between the living God and idols. They have to war against each other. They have to go head to head.
It’s just like when you get a sickness or a cold or the flue. When you have a virus that virus that begins to impact your body. Your body can not just make peace with it. They have to go head to head. So the same is true in your life. When you embrace the beatitudes, you become like Jesus. And to be like Jesus will naturally work itself out in persecution. You will naturally just be persecuted by the world around you for no other reason than that you are like Jesus. When you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, you can rest assured in the fact that your life is reflecting and mirroring the life of Christ.
So being persecuted for righteousness’ sake is persecution for being like Jesus or having the same DNA as Jesus.
2. Persecution For Jesus
You can also be persecuted for Jesus. Turn with me to Colossians 1:24.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, ESV)
Do you choose suffering? Do you choose persecution for righteousness’ sake? Paul does. Jesus came to do two things:
- To provide salvation
- To preach salvation
So when Paul says that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, he is not saying that he is assisting Christ in providing salvation for us. You cannot add to and you cannot take away from what was accomplished on the cross. Jesus made a statement from the cross, “Tetelestai,” which translated means, “It is finished.” In the Greek this expression occurs in the pluperfect verb tense. This means that it stands forever completely finished. Whatever is necessary to make you right with God has been accomplished at the cross.
So Paul is not saying, in any sense, that what he is doing is working to provide salvation for people. So what it is he saying? This becomes a bit of a puzzling expression. Look back with me at Philippians 2:29.
“So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” (Philippians 2:29–30, ESV, emphasis added)
There is this guy that came to assist Paul from Philippi named Epaphroditus. He is doing missionary work on behalf of Philippi, and one of his jobs was to bring a financial gift to Paul in order to assist him in his work. Paul is writing a thank you letter to the church at Philippi. He makes this statement regarding Epaphroditus, “Receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men.” Verse 30 says, “He nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”
Paul says in Colossians, “I fill up what is lacking,” and here he says, Epaphroditus “completed what was lacking.” Same author. Same expression! It’s the exact same expression. So what is Epaphroditus doing? He is ministering to Paul on behalf of the church at Philippi. He is making a presentation of a financial gift from the church at Philippi. So when Paul says, “he completes what was lacking in your service,” he means that Epaphroditus completes what the church at Philippi was unable to do. What was this?
It can only be the one thing: a personal presentation. What is lacking from the church at Philippi is a personal presentation to Paul. Now, the whole church can’t go and meet with Paul. That would have been incredibly impractical. So they sent one guy, and this one guy completes what they lack which is a personal presentation and a willingness to put your own neck on the line for the sake of the Gospel. That’s what Epaphroditus does.
So you go back to Colossians. What Paul is saying in Colossians 1:24 is this:
“I am happy to suffer. I take great joy in the agony and torture that I am enduring for your sake. I am filling up in my flesh, in my body, what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
What Paul is saying is “I am doing for you what Jesus would do for you if he could be here. Because he is not, I am doing it for him and on behalf of him. On behalf of Christ, I am giving you a personal presentation of the Gospel. When I do that, and I endure suffering, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
The suffering of a personal presentation of the Gospel can be repeated by you and me. When we take the good news to others, and we endure suffering as a result, we suffering for Jesus. So there are two ways to suffer for righteousness’ sake: (1) being like Jesus, and (2) for presenting the Gospel and offending the world around you with the Gospel.
Christ’s promise from Matthew 5:10 is that when you suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed. Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. You can genuinely consider yourselves as possessing the Kingdom of Heaven if you choose suffering, if you choose persecution.
Embrace Persecution, Choose Suffering
October 27, 2008: I had been here for two months. We were invited out to the Vandean’s house. We went out there because they said that they would like to start a Bible study in their home. I had never met these people, but Donnie had a relationship with Tyson through bow hunting. We drive out there. We are sharing our beliefs. Really, I was of the understanding that they were Christians. I thought that we were just making sure that we were on the same page doctrinally before we began a Bible study. In the conversation it became pretty clear that Tyson was not a believer. So we began to share the Gospel. I could tell as the conversation progressed that Tyson was getting agitated.
He asked the question, “What about people who have never heard?”
First off, I don’t think there is a soul alive that isn’t aware. We read Romans 1 this morning. Everyone knows that there is a God. So there is no such thing as a person who has never heard. But his question was, “What about people who have never heard?” To which I responded, “If you do not trust in Jesus Christ then you do not go to heaven.” No ifs, ands, or buts. It is only in Christ.
At this point he sat up rather abruptly and said, “That gets my hackles up!” I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t envision me and Tyson having a real strong friendship after that. We finished the conversation and excused ourselves and walked out the door. There was no commitment to us doing a Bible Study in Logan Lake. There was no expectation, at least on my part, that we would ever be invited back.
Later I would find out that Tyson wanted to jump across the coffee table and punch me. Now he remained calm and collected. He was in control of himself. But not everyone controls themselves as well as Tyson does. When you share the gospel with people, it is entirely possible that you will be persecuted for it. Do you choose suffering? Do you choose persecution? Tyson and I are really great friends. I could’ve been buddy-buddy with him and never shared the gospel, but we wouldn’t have been as close friends as we are today. There would always have been a rift between us.
But by sharing the Gospel with Tyson, I’m not just his friend. I am his brother. It has been a joy to me that I cannot describe to you the day that we baptized him, the Bible studies that we have had out in Logan Lake for almost four years now, and the friendships that have been kindled and bound together, hearts that have been knit together in the Gospel in the DNA of the beatitudes. There is also the realization that this does not stop at death, but goes on into eternity.
You can do what one of two things. You can choose suffering and choose persecution and find deeper, more meaningful, more lasting joy. Or you can choose comfort, convenience, leisure, and you can choose not to suffer. I am telling you that on that day when you stand before God there will not be as much joy. There will not be as much happiness. And you will regret every opportunity that you had to tell people about Jesus but for the sake of your comfort, for the sake of your convenience, you said “no” to a deeper joy and a more meaningful friendship, and the fact that lives could have been saved. You will have all of eternity to reflect on the fact that you could have been happier, but now you’re not.
Church, I pray that you will choose persecution, that you will choose suffering, and that the heart that you would have would be to be like Jesus and to suffer for Jesus. I pray that you would desire God’s blessing more than the convenience of this world. I mean when you share the Gospel with people, and they are repulsed by it, and they are offended by the fact that they are beggars before God, and they reject the notion that there is nothing they can do to earn their way to heaven, and they reject the notion that they have to receive salvation as a gift.
They may do all number of things to you. They can take away your family. They can take away your house. They can strip away everything you love and everything that you care about. They can strip away your friends. They can put you in a prison cell. They can lock you up. More than this, they can take your dignity. They can take your reputation. They can assassinate your character. They can portray you to the world as scum and junk. Is that more valuable to you then Jesus Christ? Is it more precious to you, your comfort and convenience, versus knowing, being like, and suffering for Jesus Christ?
Do you choose suffering? Let’s bow for a word of prayer.
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.