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Unexpected Results

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
March 10, 2024 7:00 pm

Unexpected Results

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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March 10, 2024 7:00 pm

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This morning, we're finishing up our study of the Beatitudes. As we're making our way through the Sermon on the Mount, we come to the 8th and final Beatitude this morning. So our text is Matthew 5, verses 10 through 12. If you would turn there with me, we'll read it together. Matthew 5, verses 10 through 12.

And as you turn there, would you stand with me in honor of God's Word? Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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. Let's pray. Lord, you have ordained that the pathway to heaven is a road that leads us through great valleys of persecution. Thank you for the promise that we've just read, that when we walk through those valleys, we are blessed with indescribable joy and overwhelming glory. So, Holy Spirit, we need grace this morning to embrace the difficult truth that persecution will be a part of our Christian walk. So we ask that the backdrop of heaven would be so prominent in our minds and hearts today that our courage might be stirred to the point that we would be able to sincerely rejoice and be glad even in the face of suffering. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

You may be seated. An author that I really enjoyed in high school was O. Henry. I don't know if you remember O. Henry or not, but his stories always had a surprise ending.

You tried to anticipate what was going to happen, but somehow he was able to pull off the surprise every time. Well, the Beatitudes have essentially an O. Henry ending. Christ has been describing virtue after virtue, blessing after blessing, and we've seen the disciple in these descriptions blossom from someone who was in the depths of spiritual poverty and grief, but eventually has become pure in heart and a peacemaker, someone who sees God and is called the very Son of God. Then we come to verse 10, the climax.

We discover the culmination of it all, the grand finale, the zenith. We expect to read about the admiration and the esteem that everyone will have for this mature disciple of Christ who has grown to become such a model of virtue, this person who was able to even show mercy and make peace. We expect the world to stand back and praise this righteous person for his virtue, but the world doesn't.

In fact, the world does just the opposite. Instead, our text says that the world's reward for righteousness is persecution. When you expect others to lavish honor and accolades, instead they despise and they hate and they lash out at those who are righteous. I've entitled this sermon Unexpected Results because this final beatitude is just that. It describes the results, the consequences of living life according to the previous beatitudes. While we expect that result to be positive and full of joy, it turns out to be very difficult and even painful.

It hurts. Ultimately, the final outcome is one of joy and happiness. That's why all of these beatitudes begin with that word blessed, which means happy. But the immediate temporal consequence of living a faithful Christian life is not always peaceful and calm. The immediate consequence, Jesus says, is oftentimes persecution. This is the unexpected result of Christian faithfulness. So why does faithfulness to God lead to persecution?

And if that's what faithfulness leads to, why would anyone want to pursue faithfulness? These are some of the questions that this last beatitude answers for us. As we walk through these verses, there are three characters that play a role in our text. The world, the righteous ones, and God himself.

So we're going to take a look at these three characters and we're going to discover three very unexpected responses from each of them. Let's begin with the world's response. The world's response to the righteous person is persecution.

Now this really doesn't make sense until we understand exactly what it is the world is reacting against. You see, the world does admire those who exhibit goodness and nobility and good morals. Whenever someone comes along that is kind and self-sacrificial, the world usually applauds. The world admires. The world praises that person. Think of the Mother Teresa's of the world or first responders that run to the rescue during a crisis or when someone is in imminent danger. The world loves acts of benevolence and heroism. It loves sacrificial people, even religious people.

So what's the problem? Why is the world responding here with persecution? Well, Jesus didn't say blessed are those who are persecuted for being good or blessed are those who are persecuted for being benevolent or heroic or sacrificial or religious. He said blessed are those who are persecuted for being righteous. You say, so what's the difference between goodness and righteousness? Well, being righteous is far more than being merely good. Righteousness is something that anyone can aspire to and imitate to some extent, but righteousness isn't something that natural man can conjure up within himself.

To be righteous is to be like Jesus Christ, and to be like Jesus Christ is to be radically different from anything this world can produce. The pastor acknowledged that this was precisely why the Pharisees and the scribes hated our Lord. It was not because he was good. It was because he was different. There was something about him that condemned them.

And I think that's exactly right. There is something about a righteous person that condemns those who are not righteous. To be righteous is to be in right relationship with God. And when someone is in right relationship with God, it makes those who are alienated from God feel uncomfortable. You see, the world's animosity against righteous people has nothing to do with social, political or ideological differences.

It's not rooted in economics or racial distinctions. This hatred springs from a fundamental difference in character. A truly righteous person is a person who desires to live in harmony with God's will, and because of this, their very character is an affront to the world. Everything they stand for is a constant protest against the character of the unrighteous. And for that reason, the world hates the children of God.

John Stott described it as the clash between two irreconcilable value systems. And it's this hatred that underlies the persecution of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 5.10. Now, having said that, we need to be clear. The qualifier that Jesus uses for righteousness sake does not refer to the world's imitation of moral virtue or goodness, but neither does it refer to things that we do to bring persecution on ourselves. In other words, we can't claim the blessing of this beatitude when we've brought suffering on ourselves through wrongdoing.

We're prone to that sometimes. And Peter addressed it in his epistle. He said, this is a gracious thing when one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. But then he says, for what credit is it if when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?

There's no reward for being persecuted for being contentious or fanatical or foolish or self-righteous or offensive. You see, there's a difference between causing offense because we're righteous and being offensive because of our temperament or our attitude towards others. Peter goes on in his letter to say, let none of you suffer as a murderer or as a thief or as an evildoer. But then notice what Peter includes in that same category as murderers, thieves, and evildoers.

He includes or busybodies in other men's matters. When we suffer for our own faults, we need to be very careful not to call it persecution for righteousness sake because at that point we're really just suffering for our own sinfulness. Now notice that verses 11 and 12 in our text are really an elaboration of verse 10. Jesus says essentially the same thing over again, but he gives more detail. Persecution for righteousness sake is explained in verse 11 in terms of persecution for Christ's sake.

And that really is the crux of the matter. When we suffer in order to exalt Christ, when we suffer to advance his kingdom, his righteousness, his standard, his love, that's when we're truly being persecuted for righteousness sake. That's when the promise of this beatitude belongs to us and that is when we will receive the full wrath of the world. Our text speaks of three specific ways in which the world will express its hatred of righteousness. First it speaks of insult. Blessed are you when others revile you. This means they reproach you.

They heap insults on you. We see this happening to Jesus in the New Testament. We hear the Jewish leader saying things to him like are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon and you were born in utter sin and would you teach us? These are insulting words intended to revile and when we're like Jesus, we will be insulted. We will be reviled. Secondly, our text speaks of persecution. It says blessed are you when others persecute you.

So if insults are maybe words intended to wound us psychologically and emotionally, persecution would be deeds intended to wound us physically. A few chapters later, Matthew 10, we have a vivid description of this kind of treatment. Let me read Matthew 10 beginning at verse 17. Jesus says beware of men for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

He continues in verse 21, brother will deliver brother over to death and the father, his child and children will rise against parents and have them put to death and you will be hated by all for my name's sake but the one who endures to the end will be saved. That's persecution. Thirdly, Jesus says blessed are you when others utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. So not only does the world insult and persecute the righteous, it also hurls false accusations against the righteous and we call this slander.

It's very interesting to read accounts of the early Christians in the first couple of centuries. Christians were often referred to as atheists by their pagan persecutors because they didn't worship a visible God like everyone else. So they must not believe in any deity.

They're atheists. They were called immoral because they would meet in secret places and have love feasts and certainly anyone having a secret love feast must be committing fornication. They were accused of being unpatriotic because they confessed loyalty to Christ as their king and refused to worship the emperor.

Folks, every one of these accusations hurled at the early church were false. This is slander. It's speaking all kinds of evil against you falsely. So this is the world's treatment of righteous people. Insult, persecution, slander, hate, scorn and the world reacts this way because the sheer character of the righteous person condemns them for not being righteous themselves.

Well that's the world's response. What then should our response be to this persecution and rejection by the world? This unexpected payback for being God's righteous ones. Jesus mentions several things that should characterize our response and just like we've discovered an unexpected response from the world towards our righteousness, here we see Christ wanting his disciples to respond in an unexpected way to the persecution. We're to view ourselves in the midst of persecution as those who are blessed of God, happy in the face of insult and slander. Notice again how verses 11 and 12 shed more light on the meaning of verse 10. Verse 10 puts it in the indicative.

It states a fact, a reality. We are blessed when we're persecuted for righteousness sake. But then verse 12 puts it in the imperative.

It's a command. He says rejoice and be glad. We are blessed and therefore we are to respond to this persecution with gladness and even joy. The phrase rejoice and be glad is the only command in the Beatitudes.

It's the only imperative that Jesus gives us in these Beatitudes. Rejoice and be glad. Now the word rejoice here in verse 12 is a fairly common word in the New Testament. It simply means to be full of joy. But the word for be glad is much less common and is actually a much stronger word for joy. It's a compound word from two words and it means much jump.

Much jump. We are to be so joyfully ecstatic when we get to suffer for Christ that it makes us want to leap for joy. In fact I came across one translation that rendered it rejoice and keep on leaping for ecstasy. It's a privilege to get to suffer for Christ. This is the kind of gladness Abraham experienced when scripture says he saw the day of Christ and rejoiced. John 8 56 is the kind of jubilation that David had when he learned that the Lord would not abandon his soul to shield but was constantly at his right hand. Acts 2 26 is the kind of thrilling rapture with which the Philippian jailer and his entire household praised God when salvation came to their house. Acts 16 34 is the overwhelming happiness that Peter says floods the souls of Christians when they think of their saint savior whom they've not yet seen but one day will see face to face. It's the kind of eternal bliss that the book of Revelation uses to describe the great multitude in heaven as they respond to the sight of the bridegroom coming to his bride at the marriage supper of the lamb in Revelation 19 7. And it's this kind of joy that we are supposed to have when we are maligned and misrepresented and insulted and ridiculed and hated by the world.

It's another Oh Henry ending. We don't see it coming. And so we're forced to stop and give some reflection. How is it that Jesus can can call his persecuted disciples blessed. What's the nature of this unreasonable illogical happiness in the face of suffering. Well let me point out that it's only illogical if we think Christ is saying the persecution itself is the blessing. It's only paradoxical if we see persecution as the end to which the Christian life leads.

Let's all make a commitment to live faithfully so that we can all get persecuted. But church persecution is not the blessing. Persecution is not the end of the Christian journey. The end is joy. The end is gladness. The end is pure delight in the heavenly reward. Persecution is merely a means to that end.

Now why do I even need to say this. Well because I've known some Christians who have this notion in their mind that we are to rejoice at the mere fact of persecution as if persecution is the goal. I had a friend who used to mechanically give thanks whenever something would go wrong because he said the Bible says in everything give thanks. So the vehicle would break down and he would thank God for the broken vehicle.

Someone would mock us for being Christians and he'd thank God for the scorn. Whenever something bad would happen he'd stop and thank God for it. Now I appreciate my friends desire to be grateful to God in all circumstances and I understand the need for us to give thanks in everything. That's biblical but I'm not so sure that means we're to give thanks for everything. We don't thank God for sin in our life although we thank him for how he so often uses our sin to bring us closer to him.

We don't thank God for evil and wickedness although we should praise him for his ability to turn the purposes of evil beings and wicked men against themselves to fulfill his own purposes. In the same way Christians are not to rejoice in persecution for its own sake but to rejoice in what that persecution will bring about in what that persecution is revealing about our identity in Christ but not on the persecution itself. A few weeks after Ethan our firstborn was born Laura and I decided to brave the great art door outdoors with our new little baby and go on a walk around the neighborhood and there were a lot of folks outside that day and you know how parents are about their little babies they want everyone to notice an ooh and ah over their child well as we were walking I noticed a lady walking towards us and watching us and coming our way and she had joy all over her face as she approached us and she said to us what a beautiful stroller.

And Laura and I looked at each other and kind of said thank you wondering to ourselves why she would notice the stroller and not the baby in the stroller she made a big deal over the means over the tool and missed the main thing. Folks suffering for the believer is just the stroller it's a tool God uses the reason we rejoice is because of what this suffering is accomplishing in us because of what it verifies about us. One preacher said that this this tendency towards a martyr complex is the spirit of the Pharisee and is something we should never do he said if we rejoice in the persecution in and of itself if we say I rejoice and I'm exceedingly glad that I'm so much better than those other people and that is why they're persecuting me immediately we become Pharisees said a Christian ought never to rejoice in the fact of persecution as such but only in what it produces. And there are so many good things that persecution and suffering can produce Romans five talks about it producing hope that does not disappoint.

James tells us that trials lead to proven character so that we will be perfect lacking nothing. The book of Job shows us how God uses suffering to refine us and enlarge our vision of who he is these are these are just some of the reasons that we can respond to persecution with joy and gladness that overflows and causes us to leap for joy. Well there's one more twist one more unexpected turn in this final beatitude and it has to do not with the world's response or with our response but with God's response. God responds to the righteous with a reward blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Now perhaps this doesn't surprise us so much that we've we've grown accustomed to the idea that God's nature is eternally gracious.

He is a God who delights in helping the oppressed the poor the outcast. But when we read these words through the eyes of Jesus's original hearers we begin to realize that what Jesus was saying was a huge reversal of their world view. This was a culture that had embraced the idea that all suffering was an indication of God's displeasure if you behave wickedly God will pay you back with suffering.

But if you behave righteously God will give you a prosperous life based on that understanding of reality one could deduce how close a person is walking to God by looking at how prosperous he is. And one could deduce how wicked a person is based on how much suffering he's going through. The story of Job illustrates this sort of thinking in Job 4 7 Eliphaz rhetorically asks who being innocent has ever perished.

Where were the upright ever destroyed. He's convinced that Job's ill fate is due to some personal sin in Job's life. We see the same attitude illustrated in John 9 2 when Jesus's disciples came across a blind man and their immediate response was to ask Jesus who sinned this man or his parents that he should be born blind. So this was the frame of reference for Jesus's hearers. If you're suffering or persecuted or revived by the world there's something wrong with you. God isn't pleased with you.

But Jesus draws a distinction and says if people are suffering for the right reasons it's not an indication that God is displeased with them in fact quite the opposite is true. God is in fact very pleased and will reward them for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You'll recall that this blessing here in the last beatitude is identical to the one that accompanies the first beatitude in verse 3 Lester the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Now it's been a few weeks now since we considered that first beatitude so let's just quickly review what was said about the kingdom of heaven. First of all remember it's a spiritual kingdom not an earthly or material one. Jesus said in Luke 17 the kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed for behold it is within you.

The kingdom is a spiritual realm and this makes sense doesn't it. These righteous ones are despised and rejected they're hated by the world and yet they're able to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Why because their citizen citizenship is not of this world they're citizens of heaven.

They're not vested in this world system but in the next. We also considered a few weeks ago the fact that the kingdom of heaven is both at hand and at the same time not yet fully revealed already not yet. The persecuted Christian has tasted some of the blessings of heavenly citizenship but has not yet experienced all that awaits him. And then finally we define the kingdom of heaven as the realm in which God's blessings are experienced to possess the kingdom of heaven is to be in the realm of God's blessing. All of this means that we cannot measure a person's status in that kingdom merely by observing the temporal blessings or lack of blessings that they experience in this world. I very quickly noticed that verse 12 expounds further what it means to possess the kingdom of heaven. To possess the kingdom of heaven is to possess the rewards and the company of heaven.

Jesus said your reward is great in heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Our rewards are not of this earth they're heavenly rewards. You know the Bible is not very specific about what these rewards will be.

We certainly have clues here and there but we are told that these rewards will be incomparable to anything we've ever known. All said in Romans 8 18 for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 2 Corinthians 4 17 he describes our heavenly rewards as an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So the rewards of heaven belong to those who suffer for the sake of Christ but also the company of heaven belongs to those who suffer for the sake of Christ. Jesus says for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Now why would Jesus close the Beatitudes with this statement. Well he's associating suffering Christians with the prophets of old in order to encourage his followers to be faithful through persecution.

We've all heard it said that misery loves company. Well folks glory loves company as well. And when we are persecuted for righteousness sake we are included in that great host of godly saints who have gone before us. Saints who have proclaimed with their very life blood that Jesus is more glorious and more satisfying than anything this world has to offer. The writer of Hebrews put it this way said they were stoned they were sawn into they were killed with the sword.

They went about destitute afflicted mistreated of whom the world was not worthy. And all these though commended through their faith did not receive what was promised since God had provided something better for us that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus when we endure persecution for righteousness sake.

We become a part of that great cloud of witnesses witnesses that declare the supreme sufficiency of Christ. One of the crucial questions to ask when you're trying to understand the meaning and application of God's word is why did God inspire and preserve this particular passage of scripture. What did he included in his word what is his purpose in including this in his written revelation of himself.

The answer to those questions contain the application of any given passage. Sometimes a scripture tells us explicitly why God includes a particular passage of scripture. Other times we have to infer the answer in today's text we have to infer why God would include what he what he did include regarding our being persecuted for righteousness sake.

So let's ask the question why did God include these comments about persecution and our response to persecution and his reward for the persecuted. Well evidently we are prone to having incorrect unrealistic expectations when it comes to faithful Christian living. We evidently have a tendency to think that if we are faithful the world will notice and admire.

If I do the right thing then everyone around me will be pleased and will follow my example in doing the right thing along with me. And in a perfect world that would certainly be the case right. But this isn't a perfect world. No this is a fallen imperfect inconsistent unfair unjust world.

A world that persecutes rather than praises righteous people and their righteous deeds. Ours is a world that crucifies its savior rather than enthroning him. And if we aren't aware of this feature of a fallen world then we run the risk of discouragement and disappointment and disillusionment when we are reviled and insulted and slandered and rejected. It seems then that this last beatitude is really about perseverance isn't it. And false expectations of instant results is the enemy of perseverance.

We need to have a healthy awareness of the opposition we face so that we won't grow weary in well doing. Christ is not calling us to some naive Pollyanna outlook that pretends all is well when all is clearly not well. No he is calling us to a realistic recognition that people will hate us for our association with Christ and will actively demonstrate that hatred and painful hurtful ways. He's calling us to be realists so that we will persevere in the faith.

But if we stopped there we would go out our front doors every morning with chips on our shoulder expecting to be mistreated by the world and bitter about it. But that's not the response God is calling us to know. He says be realists about life in an unjust world but do it with joy. Now why does God have to tell us to endure with joy. Because evidently even though we may have come to expect persecution we often get disgruntled by it when it happens.

And why is that. I suspect it's because we love to be praised by people. Not only are idealistic expectations the enemy of perseverance love of praise for men is also an enemy of perseverance. And so this final beatitude and in fact all of the attitudes are a call for us to live for God's approval not man's to measure ourselves by God's standard not the world's.

To find our greatest delight and sense of self identity in Christ not in our own achievements and egos. These are the qualities that identify and authenticate a true follower of Christ. And if these qualities are growing and increasing in you then you truly are blessed. You are one of God's happy ones. So are these qualities true of you.

That's the million dollar question isn't it. Are these qualities true of you. If not you have every reason to question the validity of your standing before God.

I cannot stand here and tell you it is well with your soul. If your life is full of pride and self-sufficiency. If you're able to dismiss your sinfulness without remorse without sorrow or if you lack meekness in your dealings with others because your own desires and aspirations are the driving force of your life. Or if you have no taste or hunger for a life well lived before God. Or if you lack mercy towards others or lacking in purity toward God or lacking in a desire to be at peace and make peace with others. You can neglect all of these things and the world will love you and praise you and affirm you. But God will say I never knew you.

Depart from me you workers of lawlessness. If on the other hand these qualities are present and growing in your life no matter how small they may seem at the moment then God says that's my child. He's mine. You are blessed. You are happy. If you bear the marks of one who belongs to Christ. And brother sister take comfort take courage. It is well with your soul. If you lack the mark of one who belongs to Christ then Christ himself invites you to come to him this morning.

And the first step in that journey toward him is recognizing that you have nothing to offer him and he has everything you need. Let's pray. Father we commend our souls to you the one who judges righteously. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-10 14:14:11 / 2024-03-10 14:25:53 / 12

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