I just returned home from teaching a session on Missiology based on the Sermon on the Mount. I have decided to continue writing on this subject. This is an amazing message because it sets in contrast the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God. The characteristics of the righteousness of God have been covered in the previous articles. Once a person encounters God and is transformed, he begins to seek to help other people make peace with God, becoming a peacemaker. As he sets about to do this, he will have opposition because most people love the darkness instead of the light of a personal relationship with God. Many times, this process of making peace with God forced people to examine their own righteousness, discovering that their righteousness is not that of God, instead, that of men being handed down to them in the form of rules and regulations (traditions in many cases). People prefer the empty traditions of men because it keeps them in control, in the driver’s seat instead of having to turn over complete control to God. Because of this, many people will end up persecuting the peacemakers, calling them intolerant heretics ect. etc. This is not my observation. These are the Words of Jesus Christ, the One who offers the righteousness of God to us.
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great ; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I. The first line of persecution generally comes from the religious leaders who have power yet teach people the righteousness of man rather than that of God
While in Poland, many of the students admitted that they had experienced persecution from some of the leaders of the Catholic church. Unfortunately, the Catholic church, for the most part, does not teach the righteousness of God. Instead, the people are taught rules, regulations, and rituals that are supposed to make them right with God. Jesus teaches us to be poor in spirit and come to God through Jesus Christ as a beggar with noting to offer. The church teaches people to come to the church and the priest will intercede with God on behalf of the worshipers. There is a list of rules and regulations very similar to the Pharisees’ list during the days of Christ.
- Get baptized as a baby
- Take first communion around 13
- Get married in the church
- Take communion throughout your life
- Receive last rights and then be buried according to church tradition
There is not much emphasis on a personal relationship with God through Christ. There is not much emphasis placed on being born again. People are not taught how to study the Bible for themselves. In many cases, they are forbade to read and study the Bible on their own. This is very similar to the Orthodox church in Moldova. As people who have made peace with God go out and make disciples, teaching others how to make peace with God through Christ, they are persecuted by the leaders of the church. They are accused of stealing the members of the organized church. All they are doing is sharing the Good News of the Gospel and being obedient to Christ by making disciples. Jesus was accused of doing this while He ministered on this earth before going to the cross and dying so that we could have a personal relationship with God. Are you suffering for the sake of righteousness? Are you actively seeking to help other people make peace with God? The two go hand in hand. If you have made peace with God then you will want to help others do the same. You have received a calling to help others make peace with God.
II. The second line of persecution will come from those who like sin rather than righteousness
As believers, we are called to be salt and light to the world around us. These are two metaphors that help us understand the calling that God has given to us. Believers are not to be spectators and consumers. We are called to be directly involved in society. In the Bible, darkness is a synonym for sin. We have the light of the Gospel in us and we are to take that light to the dark world around us. Why does this cause persecution? It is because people love sin and darkness more than the light of righteousness, even though they are enslaved to their sin. Most addicts get sick of their addiction but do not want to take the necessary steps to break that addiction. It is the same with sin. When believers begin to take a stand, a Biblical stand, on what is sin and what is not, then we can expect to be persecuted. You will hear all kinds of lies about Christians being hateful and unloving, intolerant bigots. As believers, we are not surprised because Jesus told us that this would be so. When we stand as light, we will also be like salt. Salt was used during Jesus’ day mainly to stop decay. Sin causes a society to decay and as believers we are called to stand against and stop it. It we do not then we will be like the salt that is no longer salty, good for nothing but road making, fit for nothing but to be stepped on. One of the worst set of sins that destroy a society is sexual immorality. When sexual immorality thrives, people suffer and societies break down. As you look throughout history, you can see the fall of empires going hand in hand with the moral decline of the society, especially in the area of sexual immorality. People cannot make peace with God until they come face to face with their depravity because of sin. Only then will they be able to come to God being poor in spirit. The minute one begins to condemn sex outside of marriage, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, adultery, porn etc., persecution begins. Just look at what people say about Christians who condemn comprehensive sex ed classes because it promotes promiscuity or those call homosexuality immoral. The Words of Christ are fulfilled right before our eyes.
III. There is nothing new under the sun because the prophets of old were persecuted in the same way
Instead of going through the Old Testament situations, I will appeal to Hebrews 11 which is a summarized version of what happened to the prophets of old who lived by the righteousness of God instead of the righteousness of man.
32 And what more shall I say ? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection ; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection ; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword ; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins , being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy ), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
Persecution for following God is nothing new. This will be around until Christ returns. Jesus explains why we will be persecuted.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child ; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household !
When people persecute believers, they are persecuting the Spirit of Christ in us because they cannot attack Him, they attack us. Persecution does not scare us. It does not catch us off guard. We know that it is coming and it does not stop us. Persecution actually causes the Gospel to spread further and faster. During the first 8 years of the early church, the Gospel stayed mostly around Jerusalem and then in Acts 8 a great persecution began and the Gospel spread to the corners of the known world. People have always tried to stop the Gospel with persecution and it is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Why is it that most American Christians do not face persecution in the 21st Century? Could it be that few are actually seeking to be peacemakers? This is something that I ask myself constantly, not that I want to be persecuted or actually seek it out but I face it because I actively seek to make disciples, to be a peacemaker. What about you? Are you being salt and light, an active peacemaker?