As we continue our series through Matthew’s gospel, we come now to the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the longest recorded message Christ Jesus preached at one sitting, covering three chapters – five through seven – of Matthew’s gospel. For the sake of time, I will focus our attention on only a handful of statements the Lord makes in His sermon. Today, for context, we will at the first 11 verses of the so-called ‘Blessed be’ statements, and then focus on verses 10 through 12:
“When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Now, for today’s text, verses 10-12: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
At the outset of my message, I want to tell you that this message will be a comforting message, an encouraging message, a message to generate and nurture great confidence in God's promises and His unmatchable power – all of which will result in a maturing conviction that we can and we WILL stand for Christ – whatever may befall us for our faith in Him.
Christians familiar with the New Testament AND Church history, both past and current, we know persecution is the normal Christian experience. Think of what’s happening right now, today, to our Christian brothers and in places like North Korea, China, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa, and Russia. And if you are aware at all of what is happening with increasing rapidity in America, persecutions of varying degrees are already taking place in our country.
After all, Jesus told us: “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 . . . If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household.” (Matthew 10:22-25)
St Paul added: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)
And St Peter wrote: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Now, I need to make it clear – while persecution is the normal Christian experience, SO IS God's supernatural comfort and strength for endurance. And that is why I must make it clear as I can, that even in the midst of horrible and even deadly persecution – the Christian who clings to Christ WILL BE victorious.
I need to repeat that last statement for emphasis. The Christian who clings to Christ will be victorious. Be certain of that truth. And why can you and I be certain? Because God promised it to be so.
Let me tell you a quick story that I hope will illustrate – perhaps to a small degree – the point I am trying to make. Last year, when Bichon was only a few months old, we were sitting on our porch as a storm rolled into the area. Lightning lit up the sky around us. Thunder rattled the windows. Torrents of rain pummeled the roof. It was Frenchie’s first thunderstorm, and he barked and whimpered and literally shivered with fear. As soon as I noticed his distress, I picked him up and held him tightly to my chest. As I stroked his neck and along his back, I said softly, “It’s okay, Frenchie. I’m here. It’s okay.”
That helped, but only a little, so I soon brought him into the house and that helped quiet him.
We experienced several more thunderstorms over the next few months, and with each one, I held Frenchie close and said softly, “It’s okay Frenchie. I’m here.”
I hadn’t thought much about those incidents until a few weeks ago when another particularly loud thunderstorm passed through our area. I was on the couch in the living room, and Frenchie was dozing on the carpet at my feet. Suddenly a flash of light lit the sky overhead, followed immediately by one of the loudest thunderclaps I’d heard in a long time. It was so loud I almost jumped to my feet.
But Frenchie? He lifted his head, looked at me for a few moments, and went back to sleep.
So, my point? During storms around our house, Frenchie is now at peace. And I think I know why. He knows I love him. He knows I will protect him. But he does not know that there are a bazillion things against which I CANNOT protect him because, well, I am human. I have my own severe limitations. I am not omnipotent or omniscient or omnipresent.
But God is all those things. And I know God certainly loves me – Calvary demonstrated that truth. And I am certain God is fully capable of protecting me in any and every storm and circumstance. And – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT – if bad things happen to me, it is ONLY because God has permitted it and will use it for my ultimate good and His ultimate glory. Many of you are familiar with that promise, for example, in Romans 8:28.
So, Christian, how many storms has God brought YOU through? How many times has He embraced you through the deluge? And even if you could not sense Him, you know in retrospect that He WAS embracing you. And though you could not hear it, you know now that He was whispering to your heart, “It’s okay. I’m here. It’s okay.’
Christian – I don’t care WHAT KIND OF STORM is yet on your horizon or on mine. You and I WILL stand because we know His promises are inviolable and immutable. And much more importantly, God promises to give us His SUPERNATURAL help to trust His promises.
What promises? Certainly, this one: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Let me paraphrase that one for you: Persecutions and trials and disasters and calamities come to everyone. But God vows to the Christian that He will never permit a storm to come upon us that we cannot – in the strength of His might – overcome. That’s why not everyone undergoes the same storms and disasters. The storm that would overwhelm me won’t be but a forced detour in someone else’s life journey. And what trial would overwhelm someone else will hardly bother me at all.
Our Creator knows what we’re each made of. He knows how far He can permit the devil to attack us – just as God knew how far His righteous servant Job could be pushed before he completely lost heart and faith.
And that is also why you and I WILL stand firm in the face of whatever persecution He permits to come to us. We WILL continue to proclaim Christ as mankind’s ONLY savior, our ONLY redeemer, the ONLY name by which humanity must be saved.
We will stand for Christ even in the face of death because we KNOW we are engaged in a fierce supernatural war and, in the words of Martin Luther, ‘did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.”
The weapons of our warfare are not at all derived from our own strength and skills and talents and wealth – but are ONLY of DIVINE supernatural power. As the prophet Zechariah reminds us: It is not by strength, or by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6)
And because we know that we can only be strong “IN THE LORD and in the strength OF HIS MIGHT – the Holy Spirit will remind us at the right time to all out to HIM for the strength we need to endure for Christ and to stand for Christ.
That is why the Holy Spirit even NOW reminds us through St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “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.” (Ephesians 6)
This is a lesson I personally had to learn, and that now very long ago – three and a half years ago, to be precise. When Nancy lay in that ICU bed with a stroke – I learned that I don’t have the strength, or the perseverance, or any other resources necessary to successfully stand against the onslaught of dark evil. Up to that point in my Christian walk with Christ, I always thought, “I got this”, or “I can fight this fight.”
But in January 2019, I knew I did NOT ‘got this.” I could NOT fight this in my own strength. And, by the way, it ought not surprise any of us that God told the great apostle Paul the SAME thing that He tells each of us: His strength – meaning God's strength – is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12). And once Paul finally recognized that truth, he responded: “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So, my brothers and sisters, please hear this again. And may the Holy Spirit Himself remind you that You WILL be able to stand and persevere in whatever storm God permits into your life because – and only because – you will recognize at that moment that you are too weak for the storm. And you’ll turn your eyes to Jesus, the author, and the perfector of your faith.
Do NOT expect to recognize it NOW to its fullest – because you don’t NEED to recognize it now to its fullest.
Still wondering if that can be true? Here’s a story you might have heard or read in the past:
Corrie ten Boom, once a prisoner of the Nazis in the infamous Ravensbruk concentration camp, and author of The Hiding Place, tells of a conversation she had with her father when she was a child. She told him that she was afraid of death and was quite sure she did not have the strength to be a martyr. Corrie’s father said to her:
“"When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?"
"No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train."
"That is right," her father said, "and so it is with God's strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength . . . He will supply all you need just in time."
God‘s strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness because when Paul thought he was strong, he became a hindrance to the work and the power of God in his life.
Likewise, when I think I am strong, then I hinder God's work and power in my life. And you do the same when you think you can handle it all. Just think of Peter’s promise to the Lord at the Last Supper: I’ll follow you even to death.” And we all know how THAT turned out only a few hours later.
You see, God says it’s all about HIM. His strength. His purpose. His plan. It always has been about Him. It always will be all about Him. And that’s the way it should be – all about Him.
One Bible commentator wrote of this passage in 2 Corinthians 12: “For my strength is made perfect in weakness; for my Divine power, in upholding and supporting my people, is never so glorious as when they are under weaknesses in themselves. When they are sensible of the greatest impotency in themselves, then I delight most to exert and put forth my power in them and for them, my power then is most evident and conspicuous, and will be best acknowledged by my people.”
One or two more words of PROMISE as I bring this message to a close. The first is from John’s first epistle. He writes: “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) Another way of saying that is, “Greater is He who is in us, then he who is coming at us.”
The second promise is from Peter’s first epistle: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” (1 Peter 3:14-15a)
And the third promise is bound up in these song lyrics by Jeremy Camp. The song is titled: The Same Power. I have given you a sheet with the lyrics so you can follow along as I play the song for you in a moment – and be reminded again of God's power IN YOU.
And I quote: I can see/Waters raging at my feet/I can feel/The breath of those surrounding me/I can hear/The sound of nations rising up/We will not be overtaken/We will not be overcome.
I can walk/Down this dark and painful road/I can face/Every fear of the unknown/I can hear/All God's children singing out/We will not be overtaken/
We will not be overcome
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave/The same power that commands the dead to wake/Lives in us, lives in us/The same power that moves mountains when He speaks/The same power that can calm a raging sea/Lives in us, lives in us/He lives in us, lives in us
Greater is He that is living in me/He's conquered our enemy/No power of darkness/No weapon prevails/We stand here in victory
(End of quote)
The Lord Jesus told us: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Persecution is all part of the supernatural warfare Scripture tells us about. And that warfare is not to fought on our terms or in our abilities. Remind yourself every day of that unimpeachable truth. And when – if – the time comes that we find ourselves in our own catastrophe, our own heartbreak – remember, it is not by our might or by our power, but by God's spirit alone that we are victorious – whatever that victory looks like.
And all God's people said – Amen.