Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 4: Persecuted Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.   
Matthew 5:10-12

Ready to review the process again?  If you want to be truly blessed, the first thing you must do is make a commitment to follow Christ -- not merely believe in Him, but follow Him (Matthew 5:1-2).  Then, comparing your spiritual state to His, recognize your spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3).  Not only is the world a corrupt, fallen mess, but so are you -- mourn that fact.  When your heart is broken, Christ Himself will come alongside you and fill you with His strength (Matthew 5:4).

Now that you have the power to change things for the better, submit that power to God's authority and control; don't try to play God, but do what Jesus did and allow God to work His will through you (Matthew 5:5).  Seeing Him in action should
whet your appetite for more until you reach a point where you are as hungry for God in your life as you are for food and water.  Don't worry; He won't leave you to starve!  Instead, He'll fill you to overflowing with His spirit and His righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

The temptation at this point is to forget that every drop of righteousness in you comes from God, by His grace and not by your own self-effort.  If you fall into the trap of self-righteousness, you have left the path of blessing.  To stay on it, you must practice the art of mercy: empathizing with others and giving them the benefit of the doubt (Matthew 5:7).  Rather than projecting your own weaknesses and sins onto others, look for the good in them, and you will begin to see God in them; in fact, since all men are created in God's image, you will begin to see Him everywhere you look (Matthew 5:8).

Which brings us to today's lesson.  Persecution.  The sad truth is that some people will not respond well to Christ's work in their lives -- or in the lives of others.  Why is this?  My own guess is that we can chalk up all the bickering in the Church to sibling rivalry, plain and simple.  It's been around since Cain and Abel.  No, on second thought, it's been around since Adam and Eve.  Remember how quick Adam was to blame Eve for the whole mess with the forbidden fruit?  "It was her, Dad!  She made me do it!  That girl you're so fond of, the one you foisted off on me, she's the bad kid, Dad!" (My rather liberal paraphrase of Genesis 3:12.)

Regardless of the cause, Jesus made one thing perfectly clear: He doesn't want His kids fighting.  "This is how all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).  I am the first to admit, I haven't done a very good job of this.  It is easy to "love" a stranger.  The "love at first sight" syndrome (LAFSS) is proof of that.  From a distance, everyone looks good.  Even New York City looks good from a distance; it's when you walk down the streets that you see the garbage lying in the gutters, the drug addicts and prostitutes standing on the corners, and the other sights that never make it into the tourism brochures.

In the Church, however, loving from a distance is not an option.  We are commanded to get close.  CLOSE.  Jesus calls us "brothers" for a reason; He thinks of us as His family.  Think of your family for a moment.  If you are the parent of more than one child, you know how it feels when those precious little people tear each other apart.  If you have a brother or sister, you can probably recall more than one occasion on which you put your parents through that same sort of heartache.  If your family is anything like mine, you understand that "peace" and "family" should be classified in the dictionary as antonyms.

One of the titles given to Jesus in the Old Testament is Sar Shalom, which means Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  The prophet Micah prophesied that Christ would actually be our peace (Micah 5:4-5a).  One of the fruits of His Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:22).  Peace, in the Hebrew sense of the word -- shalom -- is not merely the absence of fighting.  Peace is a tangible thing with a life of its own.  It must be MADE; it doesn't simply happen.  Peter put it this way: "Seek peace and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:11), and Paul said, "Inasmuch as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18).

Although peace doesn't just happen, the easiest way to make peace is by refusing to pour fuel onto the fire.  How many small disagreements and misunderstandings turn into full-fledged battles because of people jumping in and taking sides? I don't want to see my report card in this area, because those of you who know me are well aware of how far short I fall in the "peacemaking" department.  I'm a bit of a pyromaniac: adding wood to the fire is always more fun than putting it out.  Unfortunately, it's not godly.  God calls us to be firefighters, not arsonists.  Trained firefighters know how to fight fire with fire, but the only fire that can bring peace is the Fire of the Holy Spirit.

It is all too easy, in the attempt to show compassion and empathy for a friend, to make things worse rather than better.  (My close friend just found out that her husband is cheating on her, so I remind her of all the reasons she is better off without him...)  Maybe that's why this "peacemaker" blessing comes right after the one about mercy.  We need to be merciful to people on BOTH sides of a conflict.  So the next time a friend comes to you with a grievance about someone, try pointing out the good in that person, and watch what happens.  

Warning: while you're watching, duck.

I never said this would be an easy lesson.  Jesus never said it would be easy, either.  (When He tried it, they murdered Him.)  You see, if I am on the warpath and you tell me that my enemy is God's beloved child, I am going to feel betrayed by you.  I am also (if I am a Christ-follower) going to feel convicted that my anger is inappropriate, and this is going to make me even angrier.  (Am I touching any nerves here?)  The end result: I am going to turn against you.

Welcome to the world of persecution.

Sometimes, we deserve the anger that is directed at us.  If I'm being a jerk and you get mad at me for that, well, I deserve it.  That's not what Jesus is talking about here, though.  He is warning us that, if we follow all of the steps He has laid out so far, the end result is likely to be a bit unpleasant for us.  That's when we're apt to look up and cry, "God, I thought this was the path to BLESSING!  Where's the BLESSING?"  Jesus reassures us ahead of time that He hasn't forgotten about the blessing.  We just need to wait for it.

If we are following Him (step one), we should expect to end up in the same place He ended up, right?  The good news: persecution is on the path, but it is not the end of the path!  For theirs is the kingdom of heaven... great is your reward in heaven.  Jesus is not in the grave today; He is in heaven.

Everyone who does evil hates the light (John 3:19-20).
We tend to look at this last of the Beatitudes and assume it applies to persecution of believers by unbelievers, and so it does... but it also applies (and perhaps even more so) to persecution of believers by other believers.  In our culture today, unless you are the wackiest sort of obnoxious Bible-thumper, most unbelievers are just going to ignore you.  If you shove judgmental garbage down their throats, you may be persecuted, but not for Christ's will be "persecuted" for being an obnoxious jerk.  As I said before, that isn't what Jesus is getting at.  Some people seem to view persecution as a merit badge and do all sorts of unChristlike things in order to provoke it, having convinced themselves that they aren't truly a witness in the world unless they are being persecuted by unbelievers.  These same people, however, are missing out on the blessing that TRUE PERSECUTION brings with it.

Have you ever lost a friend because you acted the way Christ would act in that same situation?  Because you refused to listen to gossip?  Because you wouldn't lie for someone?  Because you extended mercy to someone who didn't deserve it?  Because you gave to the poor instead of buying Christmas presents?  Because you spoke respectfully of a certain politician and prayed for him daily?  Because you missed the family Thanksgiving feast in order to serve food to the homeless?  Because you didn't take someone's side in an argument?  Because you were a peacemaker?


  1. Blessed in the Beatitudes means much more than just being happy or materially satisfied.

    The Greek word makarios (mak•ar•ee•os) and the corresponding Hebrew word ashar (aw•shar) both refer to a happiness that goes beyond earthly circumstances. Blessed refers to a joy that comes from desiring to trust God completely. It is a happiness that transcends physical needs, and worries. It might be translated as bliss.

    The Beatitudes use of blessed is intentionally contradictory to the Greek culture and legalistic Jewish culture of that time. The Greeks used blessed, makarios, to describe a state of financial wealth that put one beyond care or need of material goods. The self righteous and pious Jews believed that mere knowledge and external keeping of the Law was what blessed, ashar (aw•shar) them.

    Blessed in the Beatitudes refers to the ultimate satisfaction in God and humility before God who provides and is all.

    The blessing comes from a changed heart attitude not from a fat wallet or a fat head.

  2. I love our chats, and love your teaching. I love how you cut right to the heart of the matter. You are amazing, just in case you forget.

  3. I enjoy the fact that reading your blog helps me to relate the Bible teachings to everyday situations. I am learning so much through your teachings ! Thank you for taking the time to post your blogs so I may learn even more !!!!!