Monday, July 10, 2017

BEATITUDES - Persecution Pt. 1

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matt 5:10)

Persecution typically means "to harass someone because of beliefs." But it can also mean insulting, ostracizing, falsely accusing, legally hampering, limiting freedom, restricting access, threatening violence to even carrying out those threats, arrest, enforcement of fines, imprisonment, even death.

The word itself means: aggressively chase, like an army going after an enemy, like a hunter pursuing a catch to hunt down, not for food, but to overtake. This chase or hunting down may be to remove the influence of or drive away. Like a farmer wanting to get rid of wild hogs. Or chasing away crows from his cornfield.

But Jesus wasn’t talking about the methods of persecution. He was looking at the reason for the persecution: persecution for the sake of righteousness. It is mistreatment because of their beliefs and loyalty to Him.

Peter wrote: For this finds favor, that for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. (1 Pet 2:19-20) Undeserved and unwanted.

It’s persecution resulting from the simple fact they are Christians. Jesus said: If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. (Jn 15:20)

Now, there’s an interesting perspective in the Beatitude. He doesn’t say blessed are those who will be persecuted, thinking persecution is something unique to happen in the future. He uses the past tense – blessed are those who have been persecuted.

Why? To link something coming with what has already gone on. (12) He says: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:12) In other words, the persecution to come will be a continuation of the persecution in the past.

When a king or a people didn’t like the word of a prophet, they would have him beaten, thrown in prison, run out of town or even killed. Why? Because the man who represented God often contradicted what the king or society wanted to hear.

Jesus says if you stand in that place, contradicting someone or some group, opposing them simply because you have different beliefs—beliefs that challenge their beliefs—you can anticipate some form of persecution. Why? Because that has been the practice of the enemies of righteousness from the beginning. It’s how Satan has tried to destroy believers or diminish the testimony of the faithful since the Garden of Eden.

Okay, then, I’ll just sit down, shut up and blend in. If you aren’t obnoxious they’ll leave you alone, right? Not if you identify yourself as a believer. Paul said: Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12)

To one degree or another, all believers will be made to fear bearing the name of Christ. So, how is that blessing? By connecting the persecution with the promise—the Kingdom of Heaven.

What’s interesting in this Beatitude is that the phrase translated The Kingdom of Heaven is actually The Kingdom of the Heavenlies.

Kingdom of the Heavenlies isn’t Heaven, though Heaven is within the Kingdom. It is the realm into which God’s authority extends—from the throne room to the court room, to the very crevices on our sweaty brow and twitching nerves within our body. Like the Spirit brooding over the deep, He has the right to be wherever He chooses.

The Kingdom of the Heavenlies is anywhere the touch of God can be felt. It is the realm of God’s authority, supremacy, sovereignty.  Wherever God is doing work—that’s where the kingdom is. Whether it is called the Kingdom of God as Luke does or the Kingdom of the Heavenlies as Matthew does it represents the presence of God.

Now, regrettably, there is another realm, one in which evil reigns. It’s ruler is Satan. We once lived in that realm. And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course

of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (Eph 2:1-2)

Within that realm is great power for destruction, strong fortresses raised against our God, freedom to steal, kill and destroy, activity to aggressively accuse, condemn and devour. Satan rules the hearts of those within that realm who belong to him.

We are in that world but not of that world. We are affected by it but it does not own us nor define us.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies. [the attempts of Satan to invade the heavenlies and defeat the purposes of God] Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Eph 6:10-13)

Resist: not giving in, giving up, giving out
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” 

Stand: remain firm in your faith, confident in the promises of God’s Word.

Satan’s attacks are aimed at getting us to deny, reject or revoke the Word of God in our lives. Who we are and how we live is based upon the truth of God’s Word. Satan wants us to reject what God has said, making that Word insignificant in our lives. His goal is to make us feel vulnerable:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Matt 13:19-22)

If he can steal away a promise by making us doubt, or choke out the effectiveness of God’s truth by distracting us with the cares of the world, we will not see the goodness of God in our lives.

Ever play mercy? Someone gets you into a compromised position, bends something or presses on something until you hurt so much you cry mercy. Satan will inflict us with whatever he thinks will get us to reject our faith. We are vulnerable but not helpless.

Why? There remains the promise: the heavenlies, the kingdom of God’s authority. God will reinforce and strengthen us to stand. Not just that Heaven awaits us after this is all over but within whatever we face, we will experience Heaven. We will see God.

Story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo. Where did their help come to them? In the furnace. The furnace existed in the realm of Satan’s domain yet was within the Kingdom of the Heavenlies. God didn’t get them out of the furnace. He met them in the furnace and brought the Heavenlies to them.

The farmer is never closer to the land than when it’s being cultivated, churned, chopped and disjointed. When we enter persecution, Heaven opens up and we see God is there.

When Stephen was stoned, the Bible says: Being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:55-56)

In the promise of the Heavenlies, God is standing in our behalf, as we become faithful witnesses to His goodness and faithfulness.

But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. (Luke 21:12-13)

Lactantius, during the Roman era, explained this about Christians being persecuted: “There is another cause why God permits persecutions to be carried out against us, that the people of God may be increased.” The people were watching out of curiosity, then asked him what was so good that persecution seemed preferable to life itself, “so that neither loss of goods, nor of the light, nor bodily pain or tortures deter them.”

Toward the end of the Roman persecution, the most severe and intense efforts were used to rid the world of Christianity.

In Egypt in 312, Eusebius of Caesarea was an eyewitness of the final horrors of Rome’s persecution. He writes that “we ourselves beheld, when we were at these places, so many were beheaded in a single day, that the murderous axe was dulled, and worn out, and broken in pieces, and the executioners grew utterly weary.… others faced punishment by fire. It was then that we observed a most marvelous eagerness and a truly divine power and zeal in those who placed their faith in the Christ of God. Thus, as soon as sentence was given against the first, some from one quarter and others from another would leap up to the tribunal before the judge and confess themselves Christians.… ”

That’s what was said of Jesus: who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 11:2)

They were convinced what Jesus did for them was worth anything they experienced because of Him. But we have this treasures in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed: perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor 4:7-10)

The persecuted discover a unique dispensation for them, special provisions, unparalleled promises, the presence of God. All of this reassures them that manifesting Jesus through their lives is far better than life itself.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. (Rev 12:10-12)

They overcame, but they died. How is that overcoming? Jesus said: I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. (Luke 12:4)

They overcame because the persecutors didn’t win. They remained faithful. God accomplished things through them that no persecution could touch—as they professed a testimony of absolute confidence in Him while He held their precious souls safe and close.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35-39)

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matt 5:10)

1.      Seventy-five percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions or persecution
2.    Christians in sixty countries around the world face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus.
3.    The promise that God is prepared for that persecution tells us when we are persecuted for being a Christian, He will provide what we need to stand firm.

4.      Enduring persecution means to resist (not give up, not give in, not give away) even though the consequences are challenging and severe.

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