Monthly Archives: December 2010

Blessed #8

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 (NIV)

I think that I can say, without fear of contradiction, that nobody really enjoys being persecuted.  So how can Jesus say that those who are undergoing persecution are blessed.  I mean, isn’t persectution, by defintion, all about being mistreated, tortured, even killed?  But here is Jesus saying that, if that is your situation, you are absolutely blessed.

Although it might seem strange to us, Jesus really does mean what He is saying here.  Today, in America’s secularized society, an undercurrent philosophy exists, even among churchfolks, that this life really is all that there is, and so, if God is going to bless you for your righteousness, then it must come here in this world.  And some have even added to this that if He can’t for some reason get all of your blessings in during this life, then there must be away for you to be reincarnated so that you can get the good things coming to you in the next life.  Such a world view rankles at the idea that being persecuted for righteousness is any kind of blessing, but is more an indication of something gone terribly wrong.

But all over the world today people are being persecuted merely for loving Jesus and obeying His commandments, such as preaching the gospel freely and making disciples of all nations.  In fact, right now, there are over 50 countries in the world where people are regularly persecuted, tortured, financially discriminated against, and even killed for being a Christian.  I regularly read the Voice of the Martyr’s magazine, and some of the stories are really heart-wrenching.  But what is amazing is that, underlying all  of the stories of pain and suffering and general angst during the persecution, there is also a strong note of faith, trust, hope, and a profound sense of God’s presence in the midst of all of that.  Many of the people testify how their faith has been strengthened, and their sense of calling to be a witness intensified by their sufferings.  Many also testify to how they have been moved by God to pray powerful prayers for their tormentors, and how they long for them to find forgiveness and eternal life.

Even though it might seem strange to consider, I think that these folks have something, a depth of faith and experience, that those of us who have never experienced that level of persecution, such as the American Church, are lacking.  It seems to me that there is a depth of blessing that they experience that we can’t even begin to identify with.  But it all goes to show that God really is faithful in delivering what He has promsed, even when it is counterintuitive.

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Blessed #7

Blessed are the peacemakers,
     for they will be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

Peace these days is usually interpreted in terms of either noise or warfare, and is usually characterized by the absence of one or the other, or both.  When we have peace in the house, we attribute it to a lack of noise (from the kids or the neighbors), or a lack of warfare (between the kids, or between us and the neighbors).  When we have peace in the nation, it means a lack of unrest or warfare.

The peace that is spoken of in this verse is more about warfare than noise.  (As far as I can tell, heaven is actually a fairly noisy place, with thousands of angels and billions of redeemed souls all shouting the praises of God simultaneously.  Not exactly a recipe for quiet!)  Before we come to Jesus in repentance and surrender, we are in a state of war against God and against His ethical requirements.  We are the center of our universes, and we are the bosses of ourselves (although we may allow God a say from time to time, as long as His will meshes with what we want to do!).  Now, when we have that attitude with our parents or our teachers, it is a cause for concern, as it shows a rebellion against authority.  But when we have that attitude against the God who made, and therefore owns and rules, the universe, it is a declaration of war against the rightful ruler of our lives.

The only way to get peace in this war is for each of us to lay down our lives, and give an unconditional surrender to the King of kings and Lord of lords; to admit and renounce our rebellion, and to pledge undying allegiance to our rightful Ruler and Lord.  No half measures will do.  We either totally surrender, or the war continues.  And laying down conditions for our surrender will also cause us to remain at odds with God; because He is the absolute sovereign, and because He owns all things, He won’t allow us to set the terms for our capitulation.

But, if we will actually lay down our weapons through repentance, come out with our hands lifted high in acknowlegement of Who God is, and acknowledge God as our only King and Ruler, committing ourselves to follow Him completely all the rest of our lives, then and only then can we experience the peace of God that passes all understanding.  (People who have never taken this radical step of complete surrender really can’t understand the peace that we who have can experience on a daily basis – it really is beyond all understanding and rational explanation!)

The next step in the process, though, is essential to lasting peace.  We must help others find the same peace with God that we have, through the same process of repentance and surrender.  When we actively engage in the process of winning people to the Kingdom of Heaven, we are engaged in the work of God on earth.  The work of God here and now does not consist of building church buildings, or mowing the church grounds, or coming to worship services.  (All of these are good things to do, but they are not the work of the kingdom!)  The work of the kingdom is to GROW the kingdom the only way that it can be grown:  by each of us becoming ministers of reconciliation, bringing more and more people into relationship with Jesus, and helping them to find the same peace that we ourselves found when we came to the Lord.

When we are engaged in this vital work of the Kingdom, then we will be acknowledged by God as His children.  But, especially in the Hebrew language (which Matthew most likely thought in, even though his gospel has come down to us in Greek), the words “son of” means something like “resembling” or “having the character of”.  (That is why Jesus referred to the Pharisees as “sons of snakes” (KJV “brood of vipers”).  He was saying that they resembled or had the character of the serpent, satan, in the way that they conducted their business.  It was NOT a compliment!)  So when we become peacemakers, we are also “sons of God” in the sense that God gave His all to help reconcile people to Himself, all the way to sending His one and only Son to die on the cross.  So, when we help people to be reconciled, even when it costs us in time, energy, money, and reputation, we not only keep the peace that we received from God, but we start to resemble the God we serve, and we become legitimate sons.  And that’s a very good thing!

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