SOM: Blessed are they which are persecuted

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

 This is the last of the beatitudes that Jesus has been using a particular formula.  Verses 11 and 12 starts with a blessing but the subject and added length makes it seem more like a final summary blessing of the previous blessings, especially this last one about persecution.  Persecution, hostility, or ill-treatment are something expected to the believer (2 Tim. 3:12).  Perhaps the previous blessing about being merciful, pure in heart, and a peacemaker have all led up to this truth.  While we seek to do good to others, it may not come back to us the same way.  This has led to many to turn away from the faith or become very defeated in their walk with Christ.  But Christ tells us to expect it and somehow has a way to use it for our good so that we can be called “blessed.”

There is a past tense wording to this phrase that implies a permissive understanding, “those who allowed themselves to be persecuted.”  These are the ones who did not flee from persecution in any form!  An outside threat normally brings out a flight or fight response from us.  We either run away or we stand up and fight when we are insulted, falsely accused, or persecuted.  Jesus, on the other hand, brings in a third option to react.  He introduces the idea that we go through persecution with neither fight or flight.  Later in this same chapter Jesus will say, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt. 5:39). Fulfiling the Old Testament the prophecy, Jesus would give us an example of this as “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Is. 53:7).  Could we really suffer shame and pain without opening our mouth or fighting back?

To deny that Christ’s true followers don’t have a target on them is to plead ignorance.  For one, we are told this is the reason we shall suffer, “because of righteousness,” and “for my sake.”  Another reason is that it is clearly visible in its many stages.  Persecution comes to believers in manner manners but typically in an ever escalating fashion.  This usually happens in the following sequence, 1) ignore, 2) humilate, 3) legally restrict, 4) confine, and lastly 5) execute.  Each of those key words can be filled with examples of each but they are pretty self-explanatory.  Still, the lesson to believers is to not fall into disbelief when it comes because it will.

The other thing for believers to learn is that when we are persecuted and go through any trial in life, we can grow from it. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” When tough times comes we can know that God will use them to mature us (Romans 8:28).  Trials teach us how to endure and when we endure our character is mature and a mature believer knows to place all their hope in Christ.  In the face of persecution will you try to fight or take flight?  Both are reactions to try and preserve your life.  Christ asks us to trust His leading and grace by going through things.  Will you hope and trust in Him

SOM: Blessed are the Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” – Matthew 5:9

It is estimated that there has been a little over 260 years of peace in all of recorded history.  While there are many causes for conflict, we still desire to have peaceful resolutions.  Now, we find Jesus referring to the blessed as “peacemakers.”  This echoes once again our previous reading of Hebrews 12:14, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” When we looked at the “pure in heart” we seen that our motivation towards others must be filled with sincerity and now we see that the people of God will also seek to create peace into all the chaos that is around them.  Something that feels easier said than done.

The foundation of the peacemakers is that they are at peace with God and thus find themselves filled with sweet peace.  They live in peace, and if possible, with all men (Rom. 12:18) and work to keep and to make peace wherever peace is threatened or lost.  James shows us how wisdom from God creates this and the other beatitudes within us, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).  It is clear that it is impossible to be consistent in this character and behavior without it coming first from God.  We are led by him and, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).  We are God’s children and we bear the resemblance of our Father in Heaven when we show mercy, love and peace toward others.  As Luke recorded Jesus saying, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35).

This is one of the most interesting thoughts then come up at this point.  We already know that Jesus is the King and this is His inauguration address for His kingdom.  In it we find the description of this kingdom’s citizens.  Now we have a promise that they are the sons of God and this is where we find out a special relationship that all the citizens have with King.  They are family.  They are the children of God and joint-heirs with Christ their Elder Brother.  This is one of the several reasons that the Kingdom of Heaven citizens portray so many traits reflective of God’s character.  They are not only His people, they are His children!  What promise and excitement that we are not only followers and friends with Jesus but we are family!

SOM: Blessed are the Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

If one thing is clear in the Sermon on the Mount, it is that the Lord is concerned with more than outward cleanliness and show. He has emphasized the spiritual life of His people in comparable ways to the physical.  Poor, hunger and thirst are just a few words that are normally physical descriptions have now been used to describe our inner man.  Now, He points toward heart purity and our future opportunity to see God.  As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  With such weighty reward, what does it mean to be “pure in heart?”

This particular idea is not something new but is a rather common expression found even in the Old Testament.  While there is some truth that the “bowels” was also a place where emotions and feelings were believed to arise from, there is plenty of consistency (probably more) that the heart in scripture is still a place of thinking, feeling, and motive, just as it is commonly used today.  This is especially true for the psalms and Jesus.  David in the psalms could write about what it takes for a person to see God upon His holy hill in Psalm 24:4, “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” After confessing his sin with Bathsheba, David requests God to, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).  There is a definite contrast in the eyes of Jesus toward those who are outwardly cleansed but have dirty, rotten hearts.  One such example is when he looks at the pharisees and says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27).  It is already clear that we, like the pharisees, can be whitewashed tombs that house decay.

To be “pure” includes so many different reference points.  This word could mean to be clean, as with clothes.  It also references produce, such as corn, which has been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all chaff.  Lastly, it could refer to an army which has been purged of all discontent, cowardly, unwilling, and inefficient soldiers, and is now a force composed solely of first class fighting men.  The basic meaning then of pure becomes something that is unmixed, unadulterated, singled-out.  The “pure in heart” then equals those who have a “singleness of heart,” they’re filled with an honesty which has no hidden motive, no selfish interest, and are true and open in all things.

This is only possible in a heart that is justified and sanctified by God.  It is only possible to approach other people with a pure heart when we have been purified by God.  We cannot see God in this life and in glory unless we have cleansed by His Word.  Remember the phrasing in Hebrews 12:14, that no one can see God without “peace with all men” and “holiness.”  Another phrasing of holiness in some circles is heart purity.  That verse combines the to approach both the vertical (God) and horizontal (Man) relationships with a pure heart.  This begins with God and spreads towards others.  God knows our heart and can cleanse us of our sin and foul intentions.  Then we can approach others with love and sincerity.

SOM: Blessed are the Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7

The first four beatitudes look towards God, the next four toward people.  These discuss virtues which mark the godly as blessed in their interactions with others.  We all come across those with a heightened sense of spiritual connection to God but behave poorly towards those around them.  It’s a surprise to many people to find out that their personal relationships and interactions with others has an impact on their relationship with God.  Most of the time it is, “Just between me and the Lord.”  Meanwhile they wonder whats wrong in their life when it’s the plain fact that they may doing acts of piety with great care (prayer, fasting, study), they are snobbish, prideful, hateful, bitter towards others and God won’t bless those foul attitudes.  Sure, your relationship isn’t dependent on others and how they treat you but your relationship with God will certainly be weak if you have the wrong approach in your dealings with people.

In this verse I think Jesus is laying the foundation to how we are to approach all people. This “mercy” is not mere mercy as it is occasionally found among men generally but mercy that grows out of our personal experience with the mercy of God.  God’s mercy toward should make us likewise merciful.  Mercy itself is pictured in the scripture with a person not receiving what they deserved, mainly judgment.  As sinners we receive mercy from God because He does not place the judgment on us that we rightly deserve.  In fact, He forgives us of all of our sins against Him.  Instead of judgment He gives us grace (unearned favor).

God’s forgiveness toward becomes the foundation in how it is possible for us to show mercy toward others.  Ephesians 4:32 says this, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you,” and is also similarly found in Colossians 3:13.  In this same sermon, Jesus connects our forgiveness of others with our own forgiveness with God as he explains the Lord’s prayer, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mt. 6:14).  This part of the sermon helps us to understand this current beatitude.  I am not suggesting that we gain salvation by forgiving others.  We only receive salvation when we become meek before Christ and seek forgiveness.  But what we see the scripture sharing with us is that a proof of our own forgiveness is that we also receive a forgiving spirit.

Many times we find it hard to forgive and we make many excuses for not forgiving somebody for something they did or said. We have a strong basis on why it is so important to have mercy and forgiveness.  We have found it from God for our sins against Him.  We try to minimalize our wrongs before God when we compare them to the wrongs that others have done to us.  All the while forgetting we were under the judgment of God and if it weren’t for the grace and mercy of God would be suffering the wrath of God.  No matter how little sin we feel we had acquired, we were still on the bad side of judgment.  So, no matter what a person has done or said, your sin before was greater and the judgment He would bring on us was superior.

Showing mercy and forgiveness toward others should be easier done than it is.  Our passions and feelings are powerful things in our life that without the transforming grace of God can trap us in bitterness and hate.  With the foundation that God forgave us of sin and we should in turn forgive others, we can begin to practice mercy and experience that transformation.  Mercy carries with it the idea of compassion for those who are in need.  Ideally, we show mercy to those that have wronged us because they stand in need forgiveness.  Still, there are many other ways that we can show acts of mercy.  It won’t take a very long trip down our roads till we see people standing in need.  We who then are able to carry the burdens and help others should do all we can to show merciful compassion on those around.  For God has done the same to us while we were in our sins.