Matthew 5:11-12, Blessed and Happy are the Persecuted
“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.”
(Matthew 5:11–12, ESV)
The Devil in Pew 7
In 1969 there was a family with the last name Nichols. Bob and Ramona Nichols moved with their family to Sellerstown, North Carolina while being one month pregnant. Her little girl would take the name Becky. Bob Nichols moved his family to Sellerstown in view of a call to become the local church’s pastor.
It was a farming community. It was a rural community. There was a recession that took place at this time. Farmers were not able to get the loans that they needed to by the materials necessary to farming. Because of the economic recession that was occurring began to clamp down on loans to the farmers. There was a man in town by the name of Mr. Horry Watts. He was a wealthy man. He served as the county commissioner. He attended the church where Pastor Nichols served. Watts began loaning money to the farmers in that community at confiscatory rates. It was just a matter of time before he began to snatch up all the farms, all the homesteads, and began to destroy all livelihoods in Sellerstown.
Watts was a religious individual. He attended church every Sunday, along with all of the farmers whose homes he was taking. Watts was not a believer in Jesus Christ. As a result, one day Pastor Bob Nichols approached Mr. Watts and began to share the gospel with Mr. Watts. Mr. Watts’s response was, “That’s the biggest load of garbage that I have ever heard. I am not going to surrender to Christ.”
It offended Mr. Watts deeply that this young pastor would have the audacity to tell him that he, Mr. Horry Watts, County Commissioner, owner of everything in Sellerstown, was not good enough or righteous enough to go to heaven. But Mr. Watts didn’t leave church. He continued to attend faithfully, sitting on the back right side in pew number 7. But Mr. Watts made it his mission in life to infuriate and frustrate the pastor so much that he would eventually leave that church.
It started out small at first. He would make rude noises during the sermon, coughing loudly. After about twenty-five minutes he would begin holding his watch in the air, pointing at it… like some of you do… NO! No, I’m just joking. It started out subtle at first. Just rude coughing, clearing his throat. It was small annoying antics such as this… at first.
Then one day, Pastor Nichols received a phone call.
“Hello?” to no answer. The only sound was heavy breathing. The calls continued. Then he received an anonymous letter which stated, “You will leave this town, crying, laughing, walking or in a casket. One way or another, I promise you, you will leave this town.” Again, Nichols blew it off. He knew what God had called him to do. He continued to pastor this church and to serve the church. People loved him, the church was growing, and thing were going well. But one man was determined to have his way. So the Devil continued to sit in Pew 7.
From there it escalated. They would come home and find that their house had been broken into and things stolen. The harassment continued until one day, at about 10:30 at night, as the family was laying down and preparing to go to sleep, Mr. Watts planted a stick of dynamite in the ground about twenty feet from the house. A stick of dynamite contains the explosive force of about 2.1 million joules. Some of you, that doesn’t really mean anything. A joule contains the force required to lift an apple about four feet off the ground. So at 10:30 one night, twenty feet from a bedroom where a little girl was sleeping, a stick of dynamite threw the energy equivalent of 2.1 million apples at their house. All of the windows were blown out, shards of glass went flying, and everything was cut to ribbons. By God’s grace, no one was injured. Unable to hear, with nothing but the ringing in their ears, they huddled together in the family room and prayed.
Pastor Nichols went to this man and said, “Mr. Watts, I don’t know what I’ve done to offend you. But I want you to know that Jesus Christ loves you, and I forgive you.” That did nothing but to further infuriate the man. The dynamite became a weekly event. Their home was pockmarked with the brick exterior completely shredded. They routinely had to replace windows in their house every month. Six foot craters surrounded the house.
More than the physical effects of dynamite, the psychological effect is overwhelming. This family lived day by day in terror of dynamite blasts. Pastor Nichols continued to witness to Mr. Watts.
One night, Mr. Watts hired a fellow to come screeching to a halt outside of the home, step outside of his vehicle with a high powered hunting rifle and begin to shoot bullets through the windows into the house. This is a family that endured moment after moment of persecution. They continued to serve this church and love this community. They continued to witness and share the gospel even in the threat of certain death.
One night they welcomed a guest into their home. A lady came to stay with them who had left her husband because her husband had beaten her severely. Her husband was in over his head in debt. He owed Mr. Watts. The frustration and the anger, the fact that he was not a Christian, all of this bubbled up into a fit of rage. Escaping from her home she stayed with Pastor Nichols. His departure infuriated her husband. This combined with the fact that Mr. Watts made him an offer that he could not refuse. Mr. Watts promised to forgive the debt if this man would go into Mr. Watts’s house and shoot them.
As the intruder stumbled into the house, he began to curse. Pastor Nichols stood up and said, “Son, we don’t tolerate that kind of language in this house. If you will be civil, we will welcome you to dinner.” In response to this, the gunmen pulled a loaded .38 pistol from his back pocket and shot Pastor Nichols in the chest. Having missed all major organs, Pastor Nichols stumbled towards the gunmen in order to disarm him. The gunman shot Nichols again in the hip, shattering his hip bone. Nichols fell to the ground and was unable to move.
His wife, Ramona, stood up and began to pray. “Jesus, protect this house.” The gunmen turned and shot her at near point-blank range. The bullet pierced straight through her heart. The children, little Becky and her 3 year old brother Daniel, had become so accustomed to gunshots and explosions that they knew instinctively to go for cover. So they hid beneath the kitchen table and watched their mom die, while the gunman grabbed his wife and their infant son and dragged them into the back bedroom down the hall.
Pastor Nichols rolled over and said, “Becky, run down the street and tell Ms. Pat to call the law.” Dragging her baby brother, Becky Nichols ran for all she was worth. She would watch the news report on the television set that said her mom had died that night. She made her way back to the house. She saw paramedics and police who were marching the gunman out to a squad car. She watched as her mom was loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher with a sheet draped over her. She began to cry and say goodbye to her mom. As she followed her mom towards the ambulance, she looked across the street. And their stood Mr. Watts just outside the Police tape, laughing and smiling.
In the months that followed, Pastor Nichols recuperated. He spent months in the hospital and then spent six months in bed rest after that. Multiple pins had to be placed into his hip so that he could walk again. He returned to Sellerstown, he returned to his church, and resigned his position. They buried her mom and moved from North Carolina to Mobile, Alabama, where his family lived. The years of stress, psychological torment, and the fact that your children were always in danger took irretrievable toll on Bob Nichols mind. He eventually began to go crazy. He would stand up randomly at dinner and see invisible gunmen walking through the door, and he would begin to wrestle these invisible gunmen while his mother and father had to calm him down. His children didn’t understand and didn’t know what was going on. He went through of psychiatric treatment was on multiple forms of drugs, and over time he just continued to lose his grip on reality, until eventually, when Becky Nichols was twelve years old, she came home after school. Her dad was sitting in a drug induced comatose state with drool running down his chin. She said, “I love you, Daddy.” Nichols snapped out of it for a second, and he said, “I love you too, Becky!” She knew her dad was going to have to go back into the hospital the next day for more treatment, more therapy. As she came home from school the following day, her grandmother pulled her aside and said, “You Daddy died today. His heart gave out. He just couldn’t take the loss of his best friend and help mate, his wife.”
Becky Nichols and her brother Daniel were adopted by her Aunt Dot. This is a girl who would go diving under the table whenever a door was slammed or a car would backfire. When her friends would tease her about it, she would shrug it off and say, “That’s just how I was raised.” When she was 18 years old, living in Mobile, Alabama, trying to put the pieces of her life back together, the phone rang. She picked it up and she heard heavy breathing. The Devil in Pew Number 7 was still hunting her.
In the midst of all that trauma, In the midst of all that tragedy and in the midst of all that heartache, you lost your Father, you lost your mother, and all along this family has been standing up representing Jesus, in the midst of the fact that her whole childhood was stripped away from her and she had to grow up overnight and become a mother to her young brother… in the midst of all that heartache, and all of that agony, do you know what Jesus says?
Don’t be sad. Be happy.
Blessed and Happy are the Persecuted
You may think that you could never find any reason in any of that to be happy. But Jesus response here to people like the Nichols or you and me, if we have ever endured any kind of persecution or heartache for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ, is “Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
So when you stand up for Christ and share that truth with people and they persecute you Jesus says, “You’re blessed!” We’re shocked when we hear that. I don’t see any blessing. I read this book about the Nichols family, and the number one thing that I took away from this story of the Nichols family was that I don’t think I would ever want to be a pastor anymore if I were to ever encounter something like that. I am sure that for those of you who are here today, if you were to endure that kind of persecution, you would not get up the morning and go tell that man that you loved him, you forgave him, and you probably would not tell him about Jesus Christ. That’s probably not going to be your heart condition or my heart condition.
But that is what Jesus is calling us to do!
Here in Matthew 5:11-12, he says “You’re blessed when that happens.” I’m not trying to diminish or downplay the persecution that some of us face. Some of us face more persecution than others. Some of us don’t ever get persecuted. I can’t rationalize why this person should suffer so much and this person suffer next to nothing at all. I couldn’t explain any of that to you. I can tell you that the Scriptures are speaking to us today: if you have the DNA of a Christian, if you have the Beatitudes in your heart, and the joy of your heart is a relationship with God, then you will find joy in being persecuted for the sake of Christ’s name.
How does this really work? The beginning term here is, “Blessed.” We’ve kind of touched on that term blessed. But this is the key to getting it. This is the key to understanding how you can find joy and happiness in the midst of terror. This word, “Blessed” comes from the Greek Word, “Makarios,” and really what it means favor and happiness that comes from God. It is the joy in knowing that God approves of you, is pleased with you, and is happy with you.
So when Jesus says you can be happy because God is happy, He is trying to connect your joy and your happiness with the happiness of the Father. That’s really how we ought to be living the Christian life.
Most of us, when we attend church or Bible Study, tend to do it on more of a contractual quid pro quo basis. This is a form of moralism. Or it’s a form of legalism. If you do this then God will be happy with you, and if you do this God will be happy with you and you will be saved. That is not the Gospel message at all! The Gospel message is: Jesus Christ freely forgives you of all your sins. He pays the price that you owe on the cross. But here’s the catch: to truly receive salvation, to truly become a Christian means that your heart has to match up with the Father’s heart.
You don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to go to Bible Study because that will make God happy and then I can go to heaven. I’m not going to go to Bible Study because that is my duty and I am contractually obligated to do it.” What you should say to yourself is, “I am going to go to Bible Study and participate in Youth Group and worship God on Sunday morning, because it would make God happy. It would please Him. And if I please him then I also will be happy.”
A Father’s Day Tangent
I’m going to take a bit of a tangent here, because it matches with our sermon. I think it will suit our purposes well. Men, this is that day of year in which every other man in the world outside of Jesus Christ says, “You know what? This is a day that is all about me! I am going to sleep in. I am going to make my family cook me breakfast in bed. I am just going to have a lazy kind of day. This is the day in which everyone says, Go dad! Because he is awesome and amazing.” It’s a day in which Fathers just puff ourselves up a little bit and make ourselves out to be more than we actually are. That’s the world’s man.
Let me tell you what the Christian man should be doing on Father’s day. The Christian man on Father’s day says, “I take great joy in my family. I love my family. My happiness is grounded in the happiness of my family. On Father’s day, what would make me happy is knowing that my family is happy.” That’s the Christian Father. The Christian man is no longer selfishly pursuing his own happiness, pursuing his own joy at the expense of others. Rather, what he does is, he sees other people’s happiness as providing a foundation for his happiness.
Men, how many of you have ever had this conversation happen to you? You’re sitting and chatting with your wife, and she says, “I don’t feel like there is any romance left in this relationship?” And all of the guys in the room are thinking, “Oh my gosh, here we go again. We’re going to have to talk about this all over again.” For the guys in the room, they are thinking “I dated you, I wooed you, I wooed you, and then I proposed to you, and you said yes. I wooed and I wooed, and now I’m saying Whoa! Enough is enough, you know? Let’s just embrace the fact that we’re married, and that’s it!”
Gentleman, I know a lot of you have these conversations with your wife. And I would bet money. You may not admit it here, because your spouse is sitting right next to you right now, but I know those conversations have happened. I know some of you, as soon as your wife brings that up, you think to yourself, “Ohhh… okay, here we go again. I’ve got to deal with this all over again.” That’s the wrong perspective to take! Let me tell you why. What your wife is trying to say to you… In fact, let me translate this into Guy-Speak, okay? Let me break it down for you here. What your wife is saying is, “I want to make you happy! I want to bless you, but you are not giving me the proper motivation to rock your world.” That’s what your wife is saying. When she says, “there is no romance in the relationship,” when she is saying, “when was the last time you bought me flowers, when was the last time you did something nice for me,” what she is really saying is, “I want to make you happy!”
Think about it. Guys, how many of you have ever bought your wife flowers, or done something really sweet for her, or, you know, she comes home from work and you draw her a nice hot bath, and you do something really romantic, and then she’s like, “oh, thanks! I appreciate that.” And she just blows you off. How many of you have ever had your wife do that to you? None of you— !
Gerry… Gerry, Gerry. It’s Father’s day, men. Word of advice: this is not the time for confession, okay? Do you want your wife to bless you today? Then let’s keep that stuff to ourselves. And besides, I know that Charlene takes great care of you, draws your bath and all of that.
So marriage’s greatest happiness is when both parties in the marriage are happy. The worst thing in the world is to go home and have spouse who refuses to be happy and they are just grumpy all the time. It’s a drag on you. You don’t want your spouse to be grumpy and vice versa. The same is true for you: your spouse doesn’t want you to be grumpy, either. What really brings happiness is when both people in the relationship are happy. Why? Something happens in marriage. It comes about through a spiritual process. If you are Christian then you know that God is doing something in your heart and in the heart of your spouse. He’s knitting the two of you together and drawing the two of you together. Now, your joy and happiness are deeply connected to the happiness of your wife, and vice versa. It’s no longer just about you. I have not met a man who could honestly look me in the face, and honestly say, “I don’t care about my wife dying. It’s all about me. I’m fine. It’s just about me being happy.” And any man that would say that, if you were to really press him on the issue, he would also acknowledge that it is completely wrong to look at it that way.
We all instinctively know that our joy and our happiness should be joined to the happiness of our spouse. And when you are a Christian, it’s the same way between you and God. When you are a Christian and you have a relationship with God, your happiness is conjoined with the happiness of the Father.
True Christian Happiness is Conjoined with the Happiness of God
I shared this quote a couple of weeks ago, but I will share it again. This is from David Brainerd. On January 24, 1744 David Brainerd, missionary to the Native Americans of New England, wrote,
“In the evening, I was unexpectedly visited by a considerable number of the people, with whom I was enabled to converse profitably of divine things. Took pains to describe the difference between a regular and irregular self-love; the one consisting with a supreme love to God, but the other not; the former uniting God’s glory and the soul’s happiness that they became one common interest, but the latter disjoining and separating God’s glory and man’s happiness, seeking the latter with a neglect of the former. Illustrated this by that genuine love that is founded between the sexes, which is diverse from that which is wrought up towards a person only by rational argument, or the hope of self-interest.”
The question from an unbeliever is always the same: “I have so much fun doing things my own way. I live my life however I want, and I enjoy this. Why would I ever want to walk away from all of that and surrender to Jesus Christ and begin a relationship with God?”
Brainerd’s response is here: “Took pains to describe the difference between a regular and irregular self-love.” What Brainerd is saying is that there is a way to love yourself, that is self-interested, that is still glorifying to God.
If I say to an unbeliever, “If you don’t trust in Jesus Christ then you are going to die and go to hell!” then the unbeliever’s response will ultimately be, “Oh. Well, I don’t want that to happen, so I will believe in Jesus.” You have not truly converted in that moment. You are not truly a Christian if your only motivation is to escape the fire of hell. The Gospel says that God loves you, wants to have a relationship with you, and He wants to be a Father in your life. True Conversion recognizes the beauty of who He is, surrendering yourself into His hands, and believing that what you want is whatever God wants because what God wants is true happiness, and if I join my happiness to His happiness, then I will know the deepest possible happiness there is. That’s true conversion. That is true Christianity. It is not doing things out of a sense of duty, but doing things out of a sense of delight.
When you married your wife, nobody in here was forced to marry their wives. No wife in here was forced to marry their husbands. And none of us in here, when we were dating out spouses, looked at them and said, “I really find nothing desirable about this person. You know, ahhh, I don’t find them attractive at all. But you know, this person deserves to be married, so I guess I’ll be the one to take one for the team. I’ll do the dirty job here. I’ll marry this person.” None of us look at marriage that way! When you were dating your wife, and you were going to marry you wife, you looked at her and thought to yourself, “I like this girl! I want to be with this girl. So I have a love and a desire to be with her because she makes me happy.” So you proposed.
The exact same is true with God. It isn’t a sense of duty. “Well, I guess I have to be submitted to God because, after all, He is God.” That’s not the Christian life. So many are living the Christian life this way, and it is horrific! This is completely antithetical to what God demands of us which is the response of our heart.
God is a Happy God: Your suffering makes God Happy
I’m going to throw two scripture verses at you right now.
Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases.”
In other words, God is a happy God, and He does whatever He wants. There is nothing that stops Him from accomplishing His purposes. There is no way that you can throw a monkey wrench into the works and mess things up. There’s another verse here:
Psalm 33:10-11 “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:10–11, ESV)
It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how clever you are, or how scheming and conniving you can be. There is no way you can ever thwart God’s plans. He brings the counsel of the nations to nothing. He frustrates the plans of the peoples. If you’ve got a plan and God has a plan, and your plan doesn’t match up with God’s plan, guess whose plan is going to work out at the end of the day. It’s not going to be your plan. It’s going to be His plan!
This means that even now today, in this moment, God is in complete control. He’s happy. He is doing what makes Him happy, and He is working all of human history together according to His purposes. Now what that means is that when we come to God, the Father, we don’t have to worry that He’s some sort of moody, grumpy kind of God, or that He had a bad day at work or something like that. We can always draw near to God, and we know that He is always going to receive us, and He is always willing to accept us because He is a happy God. And He wants us to draw near to Him.
Now if God is in complete control, and if He feels about you the same way that you ought to feel about Him (where He loves you and delights in you, and He wants what makes you happy because it makes Him happy, if He has the same heart for you that –guys- you ought to be having for your wives) then in Matthew 5, when you endure suffering and agony and torment, it is because it makes Him happy.
Your suffering makes Him happy.
When you are hurting for the name of Jesus Christ, He is happy. You’re not happy, but He is. When he says, “You’re blessed, I will give you blessing for the persecution that you are enduring,” it is because He delights in the fact that you are standing up for the name of Jesus Christ. He delights in the fact that you are persecuted and tormented for the sake of His name.
Now knowing this doesn’t necessarily make suffering any easier. It doesn’t necessarily make torment any easier to deal with. It still rips us to shreds. There’s no bringing back Becky Nichols mom and dad. Her childhood is gone! It is irretrievably lost. There is no way to fix that. But the Scriptures allude to the fact that Jesus is happy that this family, in the midst of all this carnage, stood up for Him.
How does this play into the rest of the Beatitudes?
As we’ve been walking through the beatitudes, we’ve understood that it is not the righteous that go to heaven –because none of us are righteous. It is the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Specifically, the righteousness that is in Jesus. So when we come to a point where we agree and say, “Yes, I want what God wants for my life,” and we pray and yield our lives to Christ, and then, having embraced the Gospel, we walk away from it as though that is the end of it all. There is nothing else to accomplish. But what this passage is saying is the Gospel not only saves you, but it also sanctifies you.
Look the tail end of the passage: “Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.” What happens in heaven? When we get to heaven, we are glorified. All of the sin in our lives is stripped away from us. We have desired, as genuine Christians, to live a holy and pure life for God. When we get to heaven we no longer have to worry about sin entangling and ensnaring us to desire to do things we don’t really want to do.
So when you get to heaven you are glorified.
Now, what this is saying here is that “When you are persecuted for the sake of my name rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven.” That could be alluding to several different things. Possibly there are additional benefits that are given to you when you get to heaven for suffering for the sake of the Name. But what does it do for us in the here and now? What difference does having something extra in heaven make for my life in the here and now? Why would Christ focus your attention on the promise of eternal rewards to motivate you in the here and now?
I conclude that the Gospel not only saves us from the penalty of our sins, but it saves us from a heartbeat and a desire to continue in our sins. The gospel not only saves us for all of eternity, but it also sanctifies us. If the end-goal and the end destination is to be glorified and free from sin, then it is also this message that God is going to use to purify us. We look at suffering and we say, “Okay, if I want to be happy then I’ve got to stay away from suffering. I am not going to place myself in a situation where people are going to be blowing up sticks of dynamite in my yard.” That’s our mentality.
Persecution Possesses Redemptive Value
Yet Jesus is saying that you are blessed when you do that. God delights in your suffering when you suffer for the sake of the name. For some of us this is a hard teaching. But the Scriptures bear witness to the fact that suffering does have a redemptive quality.
There are three major metaphors within the Scriptures that speak to the reality of suffering and persecution in our lives in terms of sanctifying us and growing us deeper in our walk with Jesus.
Metaphor Number 1: God is described as a Father who disciplines as a Child
Deuteronomy 8:5, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5, ESV)
When you endure suffering and heartache, all persecution has a two-fold purpose in your life. Satan is using it to break your faith. Satan is using it to get you to step off of the path of joyful obedience. But God is using it to strengthen your faith, to get you to trust more in Him and to rely on Him more. When the going gets tough, trust and rely that God is still with you in that moment. HE uses those circumstances to discipline you.
Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11–12, ESV)
When you endure persecution or suffering and heartache, though we don’t like it, the Scriptures bear witness to the fact that God as a father is discipline us, and to help us grow deeper in our faith.
Metaphor Number 2: God is described as a Metal Worker Hammering away at Silver and Gold to refine the Silver and Gold.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6–7, ESV)
Metaphor Number 3: GARDENER PRUNING HIS VINE
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2, ESV)
Now of us like the idea of having a part of our body chopped off. You are thinking, “What good could come from that?” From a spiritual sense what He is saying is, “When you are good, when you are bearing fruit- there is nothing wrong with that, I like that, and that is awesome – I am going to put a little more hurt in your life, I am going to snip out a little bit more to cause you to trust in me a little bit more completely, so that you can continue to bear even more fruit.
When you share the Gospel with people, and you tell them that Jesus Christ is the only way, what invariably happens, especially if they don’t like what they just heard, they mock you and slander you. Whenever you stand up for Christ the people who are offended will then tell their friends, and then their friends will be offended. More and more, people come to despise this thing that you believe in. More and more as you continue to face the ostracism and the ridicule and the scorn, the Scriptures say that is all from God and is intended to prune you.
Sharing the Gospel: Gut Check Moments
When you share the Gospel with somebody, the response is always, “Well, I am glad that works out for you. But I believe in Buddha, or Allah, or anything else.” The subtle implication is that there are multiple paths to reconciliation with God. The Scriptures say there is only one way. When you’re having that conversation and they throw that back at you, that is a gut-check moment. I don’t care how long you’ve been walking with Jesus Christ, it never gets any easier. You have to make a choice in that moment. Am I going to speak the truth? Or will I let that comment slide? On a deeper more fundamental level, do I really believe this?
You trust in the Gospel for your salvation, but the proclamation of the Gospel is doing something in your heart. You can go to all the Bible studies you want. You can go to all the Youth Groups you want. You can attend every Sunday morning worship service. I can sit here and pick little pieces of the text apart. I can explain all these things for you. You can get a wonderful grasp on the truth intellectually. You can learn a lot about the scriptures mentally, but you will never grow in your faith unless you step out and take Beatitude Number 8, and the expansion of it which is listed here in verses 11 through 12, and you actually begin to proclaim that Gospel –knowing that it will lead to rejection and ridicule; knowing that it will lead to persecution; knowing that in the most extreme situation some crazed madman is going to detonate dynamite outside my house. You can know about Jesus all day long. But there is a difference between knowing about Him and trusting in Him and relying on Him no matter what the storm.
Jesus statement here is, “You’re blessed. Your happiness and God’s happiness, these things are happening in your life when you are persecuted.” So are you persecuted?
Let me ask the question in a different way: are you actually maturing in your faith? Not what you know about the Bible. But are you maturing in your ability to trust God? There is only one way that happens. It doesn’t happen in Bible Studies. It doesn’t happen in Sunday morning worship services. It happens when you step out and trust God to look after you even though there is no promise that you will come out of the situation safe and sound. Are you willing to throw yourself into the fire because you love the name of Jesus Christ, and you know that the person you are talking to will never know true happiness without Christ? When you embrace that and throw yourself into that fire, you are blessed!
He says, “Rejoice and be happy.” Take great joy in it.
Join with the Prophets: Be Rejected by the World
Jesus says that when we are persecuted for the sake of His name that we are being persecuted in the exact same manner as the prophets who came before us. When you are persecuted for the sake of the name, you are not special. You are not going through something that hasn’t happened before. You are suffering like all of God’s people all across time have suffered.
Hebrews 11:13-16 “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13–16, ESV)
I just want you to look at the tail end of the passage. We will pick it up in Verse 37.
“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—.” (Hebrews 11:37–38, ESV)
When you embrace persecution, when you embrace torment do you know what the world is saying to you? The world is saying, “That’s right. You’re not one really of us. If you were one of us, we would like you.” So the world gives testimony to whether or not you are a believer in Jesus Christ.
So you come to Bridge Baptist Church, you come to a Bible Study, and you say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian.” I may pat you on the back and say, “Yeah, you are a Christian.” But who really cares what I think? What does the world say about you? I am not saying that you should deliberately look for persecution, but if you are following the beatitudes all the way through then the natural out-working of that the world will agree that you don’t belong here. They’ll let you know by persecution.
The Devil in Pew 7 Becomes a Child of God
Becky Nichols grew up continuing to receive harassing phone calls. You look at her story and the things that she went through, and you say, “I don’t see any redemptive quality in any of that. That’s just terror. That makes no sense.”
In 1988 evidence was finally found linking Mr. Horry Watts to multiple blasts of dynamite. He was tried and convicted. He was sentenced to a measly five years. He served five years, came out, and had one more phone call to make.
Becky Nichols answers the phone one day in 1988. Almost twenty years have gone by.
“Becky, this is Mr. Watts. When I was in prison, a man that your father lead to Christ was doing prison ministry. We realized we had a mutual acquaintance. This was a man that he loved and a man that I hated. I just want you to know that I decided to surrender it all to Jesus Christ. And I am very sorry for the things that I did to you, and I ask for your forgiveness.”
Becky replied, “Mr. Watts, I forgave you a long time ago. I never held a grudge. I just wanted you to stop calling me and breathing on the phone.” That’s the power of the Gospel. You may not think there is any purpose to your suffering or persecution. That’s wrong. It is causing us to trust in God more, but more than that when you suffer for the sake of Christ’s name, God is using that to continue to draw a broken and fallen world to Himself. There is nobody beyond the power of the Gospel. Nobody.
The Devil in Pew Number 7, after twenty years, became a child of God because of one family’s willingness to endure for the sake of Jesus Christ. Are you willing to endure? Will you embrace 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.