This past week marked the opening of Washington's newest museum. Its actual name is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum down on the mall. And there was a lot of hoopla, but you know of course the museum is there to remind the world of the horrors that Nazi Germany did to the Jewish people. Killing in less than five years over six million Jewish people, and of that five million, one and a half million were children, if you can imagine that. Not only did they systematically kill them, but they made their skin into lampshades, they made their fat into bars of soap, they made their hair into rope and into mattress stuffing, and even used their hair to knit socks for Nazi sailors that worked on the U-boats.
Unbelievable what went on. I suppose when we think about persecution of a people, the Holocaust has to stand out as the quintessential example anywhere in human history of persecution. And yet we need to remember that these were not the only people who have ever been persecuted. By the way, the Nazis, you know, killed almost 12 million people.
They did not only kill six million Jewish people, but they killed almost that many Slavs and Poles as well because they weren't German. But if you go back through history, you'll find that persecution is a very common thing in history. We see it even today. In Bosnia, we see Serbians that are persecuting Muslims. In India, we see Hindus that are persecuting Sikhs.
And it doesn't even have to be ethnic. A lot of us here today may even be in a situation where we feel persecuted by our boss or by our neighbor or by some teacher. I don't know about you, but in school, you know, there was always that teacher who, for some reason, she had her favorites, you know, and then she had us folks that no matter how many apples you brought her, it just didn't make any difference.
You could bring her a bushel of apples and you just didn't make any difference. My whole educational career was sort of like that. I don't know why, but I felt persecuted by teachers or by maybe a relative. Does Jesus have anything to say to us when we're being persecuted? Well, of course he does, because Jesus has something to say to every issue of life that's important. And what he says to us is this, that no matter how badly you're being treated here on the earth, if you're willing to come and give your life to me and trust in me, I'll give you a peace that overrides any amount of persecution that you're facing here. Jesus said, Matthew 11, come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, who are burdened down, and I will give you rest.
You'll find peace for your soul. You say, well, Lon, that's great, and that's good, and I understand that, but does Jesus have anything to say specifically about persecution? Yes, he does, and that's what we're going to look at here in Luke chapter six. Of course, Luke chapter six forms part of a bigger collection that we often call the Beatitudes. Blessed are you, blessed are you, blessed are you. Found in Matthew's gospel, I'm not going to go through all of them, even here in Luke's gospel, because I've done that before.
We've got a whole series of tapes up in our tape shack that you can get on the Beatitudes, but I did want to do this one because I think it has some real practical value for 20th century living, so I hope you'll listen. Verse 22, blessed are you, Jesus said, when people hate you, when they exclude you, when they insult you, and when they reject your name as evil. Now look at the kinds of things Jesus is talking about. He says, first of all, when people hate you, meaning when they feel animosity towards you, when they exclude you, when they feel ostracism towards you, when they insult you, when they give you verbal abuse, and when they reject your name as evil, when they assassinate your reputation and your character, usually, if not always, behind your back, by the way. When people do this to you, Matthew's gospel says, blessed are you when you are persecuted, and this is persecution, ostracism, animosity, verbal abuse, character assassination.
You say, Lon, it sounds just like what I'm facing. And so what you're telling me is that God here promises me a blessing. God promises to supernaturally bless me and reward me if I'm willing to put up with that kind of treatment, right? Maybe. So what do you mean maybe? Look, it says right here, blessed are you when men hate you and exclude you and insult you and reject your name. No, it says that God's going to bless me.
What do you mean maybe? Well, wait a minute. We have to read the rest of the verse, right?
We can't just read half of it. Blessed are you, Jesus said. When people hate you and exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, here it comes, because of the Son of Man.
Because of the Son of Man. You see, all of us at some time or another in our lives are mistreated. That's nothing unusual, and there is no intrinsic spiritual blessing in just being mistreated. God is not going to come along and give you some special supernatural blessing just because somebody's mistreating you in some area of life. Usually it's your fault or my fault.
Usually we've done something that made them angry. This kind of blessing Jesus is talking about, a supernatural blessing, is for people who are mistreated, but they have to be mistreated for the right reason in order to qualify. And the reason is because of me, because of the Son of Man, because of Jesus Christ. Because we're not willing to deny the truth of the Word of God.
Because we're not willing to negotiate in an area where the Bible says there is no negotiation. When that's the reason that people are doing these nasty things to us, then Jesus said, I'm willing to bless you with a supernatural blessing for taking a stand for me. See, if you've got a friend at work, and that friend at work is treating you badly, but if you could fix it by going to that friend and apologizing for the fact that you stole their idea and gave it to the boss and you got the credit when it was their idea and they feel you wronged them and did something unethical and that's why they're mad and that's why they're doing these nasty things to you, you're not suffering for Jesus. You're suffering because of you.
That doesn't qualify for Luke chapter 6. If your neighbor's all upset and saying all kinds of nasty things about you in the neighborhood because you let your kids practice drums at 1130 at night with the windows open right across from their bedroom window when they're trying to get to sleep and they don't appreciate it and consider it rude and offensive and that you're a nuisance to the neighborhood and if you could fix it by making your kid practice either at a better time or even more ideally in the woods, you're not suffering for Jesus. What Jesus is talking about here is suffering that comes because of our stand for Christ. You say, well, Lon, how am I going to tell if I'm suffering for Jesus or if I'm suffering because of me? Very simple.
It's easy to tell. You're suffering for Jesus Christ if the only way you can bring the persecution you're facing to an end is for you to deny or to compromise some truth out of the Word of God. Do you understand what I'm saying? Not a matter of personally apologizing or changing your habits or doing something that's more sensitive and kind to others, but if the only way you can fix the alienation between you and that other person is for you to deny the truth of the Word of God, then you're suffering for the sake of Christ. And, folks, when we're willing to take those kind of stands, we are going, no matter how nice we are, no matter how gentle or how loving or how compassionate we are, we're going to feel some backlash from the world because the world is not going to want to hear the truth of God. Now, when that happens, Jesus said, don't worry about it. Don't worry about it.
Verse 23, rejoice in that day and leap for joy. Let's play a little mental association. Ready? I'll say the word.
You think of a mental picture. Here we go. Everybody ready?
Leap for joy. Here's what you got. You got anything? You know what I get? I got the Price is Right. Really? Any of you guys ever watch the Price is Right?
That's what I got. You ever watch when they call out that name? You know, he comes on, you know, the guy that wears the weirdest suits in the whole world.
I don't know where he gets those things from, but he'll come on and he'll go so and so. Come on down. You're the next contestant on the Price is Right. And what happens? Well, if it's a man, usually he'll just kind of stand up and walk on down. But if it's a woman and you say, this is horribly sexist and I really don't like where this is going. Well, now, wait a minute.
I've got some figures on this. Now, occasionally there's a man that'll do this, but particularly if it's a lady. They will jump up and everybody around them jumps up and they all hug each other and they all kiss each other. And they get to the aisle and they run down the aisle and they slap and high fives when they're coming down the aisles. And they're yelling and they're screaming and they hug everybody on contestant's row.
And I was watching the other day. This woman came down and she stood in contestant's row and she was so excited. She couldn't even stand still. She was just hopping all around like this. And she said, oh, Bob. You know, Bob Barker. She said, I've waited my whole life to be here. Your whole life?
To be on the Price is Right? And she was squeezing and hugging and kissing everybody. And Bob Barker said to her, look, the only thing I ask is if you get up here on stage, don't do to me what you just did to everybody coming down the aisle.
When I think of leaping for joy, that's what I think of. Jesus said, when people mistreat you because of your stand for me, rejoice and leap for joy. Why, Lon? Well, look what it says. Because, verse 23, great is your reward in heaven.
Here's why. Great is your reward in heaven. You see, even though God says that he's going to give us blessing in this life for standing for him, the real basis for our hope as Christians is not in this life. It's in the life to come.
It's in heaven. Everywhere we look in the Bible, folks, we find God holding out this promise of heavenly reward as a way of motivating us to be true to him in this life. The Bible says that Jesus himself, for the joy that was set before him, you say what joy? The joy of being raised from the dead. The joy of ascending to the right hand of God. The joy of being given a name that was above every name so every kneel down and every tongue will confess to that name. For that joy, the Bible says, who for the joy that was set before him in heaven endured the cross. You see, it was the promise of future blessing and reward that gave Jesus Christ even the strength to stand and do what needed to be done here on earth. Listen to Paul. Paul said, for our troubles here are achieving for us an eternal glory in heaven that far outweighs all our troubles.
So then, he says, we're fixing our eyes, not on the things that we can see, which are temporal, but on the things that we can't see, which are eternal. And even Moses, the Bible says, regarded the disgrace that he suffered for the sake of Christ, not even worthy to be compared to the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward. There are some folks who really don't like this kind of teaching. They say, no, no, it's completely improper. For us to be trying to motivate people to stand for the Lord here by telling them they're going to get a reward in heaven. That's mercenary.
That's not right. I beg to differ with you. Everywhere I look in the Bible, I find God, without apology, telling us that this is the way it is and using this as a way to motivate us. God wants us as Christians to think about heaven. God wants us as Christians to meditate on heaven. And God wants us as Christians to draw comfort from the fact that no matter how much people may persecute us down here for our stand for Christ, you and I as Christians are going to a place where nobody will ever persecute us again.
And more than that, where God will reward us in eternity for being willing to be lightning rods for Christ in this world. You say, well, Lon, what are these rewards? Have you got any idea? What are they? I don't have a clue.
No idea at all. But I'll tell you this. When God gives out rewards, you want them. Trust me, you want them.
So do I. Whatever they are, you and I are going to want as much of them as we can get. And friends, we dare not minimize the present power of a future reward. This is what inspired Moses and Paul and even the Lord Jesus himself and kept him going. And God offers it to us so that it will be something to motivate and inspire us to stand firm for him here, because he's got something really special for us there if we do. Now, that's our passage. But it leads us to ask the question, so what?
That's right. Last week, after one of our services, I had a lady come forward. She's a Jewish lady and she's not here this morning. She's from out of town. Don't try to go figure out who she is and say, oh, I think I know who that woman was because you don't.
She's a visitor. But she came forward and she said, I've got a question to ask you. I said, OK, go fire. She said, you know, all those people in the Holocaust, I mean, the museums being opened this week. And I said, yeah, sure. She said all those people that were so horribly mistreated and were treated like animals. I said, yeah. She said, are you telling me that every one of them that didn't know Jesus Christ is their personal savior is in hell today?
Is that what you're telling me? What would you have said? I said, well, ma'am, it doesn't make me happy to tell you this.
But in light of what God tells us in the Bible, every one of them who did not know Jesus Christ is their personal lord and savior is in hell today. And she said, I for a minute, I knew she was just searching for what to say. And she said, I am so offended.
I am so upset. I can't believe that you would say that. These were hardworking people. These were good people. These were people who loved their children and provided for their children and took a stand for their religion. And you're telling me that they're in hell today because they didn't trust Jesus Christ? That is so offensive to me. And that's kind of how we parted.
You said, Lon, that's terrible. We're not supposed to make people walk out of church angry. We don't want people walking out of here offended and mad.
I agree. We don't. But, folks, listen, there is a big difference between our being personally offensive and the offense of the cross. There's a difference between our being personally offensive and the offense of the cross.
And if you're not sure you understand the difference, I'm going to explain it to you right now. You see, the Bible says that we're not to be offensive people. For example, in Colossians chapter four, the Bible tells us that our conversation is to be full of graciousness. The Bible tells us in 1 Peter chapter three that we're to be always ready to give an answer to people who ask about the hope that's in us, but with respect and gentleness. We are not to be offensive people. However, no matter how kind, how gracious, or how non-offensive personally we try to be, the message that we're giving out, the message of the cross, is an offensive message. It offends people. You say, why?
The reason is that it rankles their pride. Human pride says, I can do it. I can make it. I don't need any help. I'm okay. I've got the whole thing under control. I can handle my own problems. I can work my way through this. I can deal with it. Whatever God's asking of me, I can take care of it.
I don't need any help from the outside. I'm okay. Leave me alone. The message we're giving out says, you can't fix it.
You're not okay. Every one of us is a sinner in the sight of a holy God, and no amount of works that you can do can fix it. You can attend Sunday school class, sing in the choir, give money to the church, be a good person, cut your neighbor's yard. You can do anything you can think of. You can't fix it. You need help from the outside.
We all do. And the reason Jesus Christ came and died on the cross and shed his blood was to pay for the penalty of our sin that we can't pay for ourselves. We're helpless. That the only way for our sin to be forgiven and paid for is for us to stop trusting ourselves, stop relying on our own pride, humble ourselves, admit that we need help, and embrace Jesus Christ and what he did for us. Now that offends people's pride.
They don't like to hear it. And folks, there is no way for us to escape the offense of the cross if we're going to remain true to the word of God. Now we can escape the offense of the cross if we want to change the message of the Bible.
But if we're going to remain true to the word of God, there is no way to remove the offense of the cross from the message you and I have to deliver to our friends and our neighbors and our relatives. And when we understand the offense of the cross, it explains why people treat us the way Luke chapter 6 said they're going to treat us. It explains why when we tell people the truths of the gospel, we get ostracism, rejection, verbal abuse.
Look at what Jesus says here in the end of chapter 6 verse 23. For this is how their fathers treated the prophets. All of God's real prophets were treated in the same way. When they told people the truth about God and the truth about themselves and the truth about their sin, people didn't like it.
And people reacted the very way Luke 6 says they're going to. They whipped Jeremiah and threw him in an old well and didn't feed him for days. They stoned Zechariah to death.
Jezebel ran Elijah out of town. Tradition says they sawed Isaiah in half. You know these magicians who come and they put the lady in the box and they saw her in half. And then, boof, the lady comes out and she's all in one piece. Well, when they did this to Isaiah, he came out in two pieces.
They nailed Jesus Christ to the cross. And the people in our world today, when we try to give them the same message, are going to treat us the same way. Jesus said, don't worry about it.
You're in good company. And it's really not you that they hate. It's the message that I've been trying to deliver to mankind ever since mankind began that they hate.
And as long as you keep trying to deliver the same message, people are going to keep responding in the same way. You know, I'm old enough that there's some things in life that I regret. When you get older, you have time to look back and the regrets that you carry with you. I regret that I didn't try out for my high school baseball team. I think I could have been pretty good. But I was so afraid of getting cut and of the rejection of being cut that I didn't have the courage to face that and go try out, so I never did. I'm too old now. They don't let you in high school at 44. You can't go back.
I'd like to, because I think I could be pretty good on the team, but I can't do it. It's over. I regret that I didn't tell my father that I loved him more before he died. He's dead and been gone for years. But I regret that when he was here, I didn't take the time to tell him more how much I felt about him and how much I appreciated him. I regret that I didn't get to my mother's burial service down in Portsmouth, Virginia last fall when it was held.
He said, well, now, Lon, wait a minute. You could have fixed that. You should have been there.
Why didn't you go there? Well, I'll tell you why. My mom has one sister.
Well, that's all. No brothers. One sister. My aunt, obviously. And when my mom passed away, my aunt took it upon herself to coordinate all of the events of the service. Now, you've got to understand, a Jewish funeral is different than a Gentile funeral. We come here to a church or a funeral home, we have a big service, and then we have a fairly small graveside event. Jewish people do it the other way around. They have a very small graveside event and then somebody opens their home and all the friends, all the relatives, all the neighbors, everybody who knows the person that passed away comes in and they all schmooze and they eat and they console themselves. It's called sitting shiva in Hebrew.
Shiva is a word which means seven. And tradition is that you do this for seven days. You receive friends for seven days. Well, my aunt delivered the message to me through my stepfather, she didn't call me herself, that I was not welcome at her house where they were sitting shiva. If I wanted to come to the grave, that was my business. But where all the family and friends would be gathering for the rest of the day, I was not welcome.
Persona non grata. You know, you would think at a time like this when it's your mother, and this was my mother, that you put aside differences. You know, I mean, you put aside petty things. But not her. You say, Lon, what in the world did you ever do to this woman? That she would do something like this. Did you slash her tires? Did you sabotage her husband's career? Did you attack her children? Did you poison her cat? What did you do to this woman?
I didn't do any of those horrible things. All I did was to tell this woman several times over the last 22 years that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah, that apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ, she's lost, and that her rabbis are leading her straight down the road to hell. That's all I told her. Maybe I should have poisoned her cat.
Maybe that was better. And she called and said, none of that's coming into my house. You're not welcome. Look, I know how to make peace with my aunt. It's easy. My aunt and I can be bosom buddies in no time.
All I have to do is call my aunt up and say, you know what? I was wrong about Jesus Christ. He's not the Jewish Messiah. I was wrong about where you stand as a Jewish person in relationship to God. You're in great shape. No problem.
Hunky-dory. Don't worry about it. I was wrong about this Christian thing, and I was wrong about hell, and I was wrong about the need for personal faith in Jesus Christ. I was wrong about all of that. You're doing fine. And you know what?
We'd be good friends. But I can't do that because that means denying Jesus Christ. And I can't do that. And so I missed my mom's funeral. But it's OK, because the Lord knows. And you know what, folks? There's a very searching comment right here in Luke six that I want you to look at.
It's down in verse 26. Woe to you, Jesus said, when everybody speaks well of you, because that's how their fathers treated the false prophets. We saw how they treated the real prophets, but this is how they treated the false prophets.
See, a false prophet will say anything you want to hear in order to get into your good graces and have you like him. So if everybody speaks well of you, Jesus said, something's wrong. If you're really standing up for me and bearing the message for me and telling people not what they want to hear, but what I need for them to hear the truth of the word of God, the truth about salvation, the truth about their sinfulness, the truth about their need for Christ, somebody somewhere is not going to like you. Somebody somewhere is not going to appreciate what you're saying. Somebody somewhere is going to make it their business to try to shut you up. Woe to you when everybody talks well about you. And so I have a question for you, a searching question. Can you think of anybody in your life, a mother, a father, an aunt, an uncle, a sister, a brother, a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend, I don't care, anybody, anybody who's alienated from you today simply because you've told them about Jesus Christ, you've told them the truth about their personal need for Christ and salvation.
Can you think of anybody anywhere who that's what they have against you? Think for a minute. See if you can come up with anybody. I know you're scrolling down.
I can see you're scrolling down. Anybody? I'd like to suggest to you if you can't think of anybody, that's a problem. Because if you and I are telling enough people about Christ the way we should, we're going to run into some people like this somewhere.
And if we haven't, I'd like to suggest it may be that we're not telling enough people about Christ the way we should. Say, Lon, what is this? Are you a masochist? I mean, you're trying to convince us God wants us to be masochists. We should go out here looking for persecution. Is that what this is all about?
No, not at all. God did not call us to be masochists. God called us to be true to his word. And when we are, folks, we won't have to go looking for persecution. It'll find us.
You'll get plenty all by yourself. You won't have to go looking for it. And when it does find you, Jesus calls us to stand firm for his truth and he promises us that if we will, not only will he bless us in this life, but he'll lay up some exciting rewards for us in the life to come. As Christians, I hope that you've got a long range view of your life and not a short range view. I hope that you're farsighted, not nearsighted. A farsighted person says, you know, this life is just a vapor.
Boom, just like this. It's going to be gone. And then all the things that people did mean to me because I tried to stand for Christ won't make one bit of difference. It'll just be a fading memory. But the rewards of heaven that I earned by standing for Christ will stay with me forever.
Remember what Paul said? I'm not looking at the things that are seen because they're going to go. I'm working for the things that are unseen, eternal. Short sighted people say, nope, I want it all here and now. I want to be friends with everybody.
I want everybody to like me. Don't be short sighted, folks. I thought many times when I get to heaven, it's not my aunt who's going to open the door to heaven and invite me in. It's not my aunt who's going to sit me down and say, now Lon, let's conduct a performance review and see how you did down there as a Christian. It's not my aunt who's going to hand out rewards that that I'll carry with me for the rest of eternity. No, Jesus Christ is going to be the one to do all that. And so if I have to make a choice between being true to Jesus Christ or getting along with my aunt between a far sighted choice and a near sighted choice.
Which is the smart choice, friends? I've got a poster at home on my wall and that serves as a good reality check for me. It says this work for the Lord. The pay may not be great. But the retirement benefits are out of this world.
Don't you like that? The pay may not be great. And by the way, may I say God will never owe you a cent here. Don't worry about that.
God will not be your debtor. The pay may not be great here, but the retirement benefits are out of this world. Don't worry about the pay here.
Focus on those retirement benefits. And sometimes when I'm feeling beaten down and feel like giving up, just like you feel sometimes when I'm saying, I don't know if this is worth it. I look at that poster and I say, God, it's worth it. Dear friends, God give us the grace to be soldiers of the cross. And if we're good soldiers, we worry more about pleasing our commanding officer than we worry about getting along with the people around us. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for reminding us today of issues that we need to be reminded of.
Lord, out there in the world, we slug it out every day and we do get worn down. It's easy after a while to just back off from telling people about Christ. Back off from being a good soldier for you because we just get tired of taking the backlash and the abuse that we take when we do. But I pray you would use what we've studied this morning to change our lives and remind us that every little bit of abuse we take because we're willing to stand for you is a piece of abuse that is going to bring us incredible reward on the day when we meet Christ. And that you're going to bless our life right here for being willing to stand for you as well. Father, I pray as a church, as a group of people, that you would make us true to the word of God, true to the message of salvation, true to the cross of Christ. Help us not to play games with it just to get along with people in our community here, but help us to present the real message that you've given with love and with affection, but not twisting it in any way so that you might have the freedom to move through this community and change people's lives and bring people to Christ in reality. Make us a church full of men and women and young people who have the courage to stand for Christ. Lord, make us soldiers of the cross. We commit ourselves to you in Jesus' name. Amen. .
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