We now come to the eighth and final beatitude. (It may also be considered a double-beatitude.) The podcast (14 minutes) also includes a brief summary of the 8 beatitudes in Matthew.
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"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men speak abusively of you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because great is your reward in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt 5:10-12).
- By the second century, it was a capital offense merely to be a Christian.
- Tertullian (around the year 200) writes, “You put Christians on crosses and stakes. ...We are cast to the wild beasts. ...We are burned in the flames. ...We are condemned to the mines. ...We are banished to the islands.” Tertullian, Apology 12 (ANF 3.28).
- Lactantius adds, “They torture, put to death, and banish the worshippers of the Most High God—that is, the righteous. Yet, those who hate us so vehemently are unable to give a reason for their hatred.” Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.1 (ANF 7.135).
- The world may consider us to be losers, but in fact we’re on the winning side. We are on God’s side!
- "Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy (Isa 61:7).
- We may excluded now, but a reversal is on the way—if not in this life, then surely in the next. Oppressors misuse their power—but ultimately ours is the kingdom of heaven (where the real power is, in submission to our sovereign Lord).
For the right reason:
- Jesus doesn't say the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are persecuted because of their wickedness or because of embracing a false religion.
- It must be "for righteousness' sake."
Kingdom of heaven:
- Matthew’s preferred term for the kingdom of God.
- It is the domain of the Lord, the realm in which his will is obeyed.
- The kingdom is on earth and in heaven; it is past, present and future; it is not an institution or church, but the reign of Jesus Christ.
When we're misrepresented:
Blessed are you when men speak abusively of you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you for my sake (Matt 5:11).
We're not blessed when we are needlessly offensive, or when we equate opinion matters or political positions or eccentric doctrines with Christianity. Jesus specifies that the persecution must be "for my sake."
- Consider the slanders against Christians in the early centuries: The three most common false accusations current in the early Christianity were atheism, incest, and cannibalism. Athenagoras, A Plea for Christians 3 (ANF 2.130); Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 10 (ANF 1.199).
- Theophilus writes: “Godless lips falsely accuse us, ...alleging that we hold our wives in common and use them promiscuously. They even allege that we commit incest with our own sisters.”
- Tertullian reprimands the Romans: “Monsters of wickedness! We are accused of observing a holy rite in which we kill a little child and then eat him. It is said that after the feast, we practice incest. ...This is what is constantly laid to our charge. Yet, you take no pains to investigate the truth of what we have been accused of for so long.” Tertullian, Apology 7 (ANF 3.23).
How are we often misrepresented as Christians today? Christians are often called;
- Arrogant—think only you are right—because you share your faith. We are sharing God’s word, the good news, a cure, an opportunity, a message of the greatest importance.
- Cultic—because your local church expects more engagement than just showing up on Sunday
- Homophobic—even if we do love gays et al.
- Judgmental—even if all we are doing is taking a stand where Jesus took a stand
- Prudish or Puritanical—because we accept what God says about sexual purity
- Unpatriotic: Refuse to kill enemies in warfare—unpatriotic (doesn’t love his country), or is cowardly. Quite the opposite!
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because great is your reward in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5:12).
- This is how early Christians responded. After the apostles had been imprisoned and threatened with further punishment by the Sanhedrin, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).
- Why should we be joyful about being slandered and persecuted?
- If we faithfully endure persecution, our "reward in heaven is great."
- We are like the OT prophets, who challenged the system.
- How’s our conviction?
- Do we ever question or challenge the system?
- Do we even see the need for prophetic voices to bring the Word of the Lord to the modern church?
The Beatitudes: the world's response
- Poor in spirit: We should please ourselves.
- Mourning: We should stay upbeat. Don’t overreact—sin is no big deal.
- Meek: Power is exalted! Trample the meek (the "losers").
- Hungry for righteousness: It's okay to support righteous causes—like cancer research—but don’t overdo it. A little corruption is no big deal. Look our for yourself.
- Merciful: Mercy is selective. No need to think about the pressing needs of world poverty etc.
- Pure: Who's to say what counts as purity? Don’t judge!
- Peacemaker: It's a good thing—though an even higher premium is placed on standing up for our rights.
- Persecuted: No way! We seek approval, cringing at the thought of being considered fanatical or extreme.
- Leadership: Again, as suggested, this isn’t a bad checklist if we’re seeking a spiritual leader. We may view the beatitudes as elements of a portrait of a godly man or women who will influence others for Christ.
- Memory: P-M-M-H-M-P-P-P. Learn the 8 beatitudes in order.
We're about 1/8th of the way through the SOM (12/91 verses). Next: Salt