The Cost of Living Right
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Elephant in the Room
There are all kinds of persecution in this world, all kinds of suffering perpetrated by one human to another.
The news is full of people harassed, hurt, made to suffer and persecuted for all kinds of reasons such as a rage and anger, revenge, jealousy and hatred, or simply out of an evil desire to inflict pain upon another. All over the world people are hurting and being hurt.
At its core, humanity is a savage beast and, given the right circumstances, will inflict pain and suffering upon another.
To be sure, God will deal those who cause such pain and misery at the judgment. No perpetrator will ever go unpunished.
Within the realm of persecution lies a particular type of suffering addressed in this Beatitude; that is suffering because of righteousness and a desire to live for God.
“The beatitude is not simply for all who have suffered persecution. God, as the righteous judge of the earth, will deal with that as well. But this beatitude is for followers of Christ, those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. And as the next verse clarifies to the disciples, that means suffering for Christ’s sake. They have been identified by faith with the King, they carry his name, and they proclaim the good news that there is a kingdom of righteousness and peace that is spiritual and eternal. But they will find opposition.” Alan Ross
I wish I could give you some new insight on the nature of persecution and the ‘whys’ behind it.
I could try to dig out some great truth embedded in the original language of this text, such as the fact that not only is the idea of persecution for righteousness a major theme in the Scriptures with over 75 references, but also that Jesus mentions it three times in this passage making this a significant aspect of living out the Beatitudes.
I could try to impress you by telling you that the meaning of the original word for persecution is ‘dioko’, which translates as chasing and pursuing in the sense of being man-tracked or chased down.
But all of that does not address the elephant in the room and that is why on earth would anyone want to harass, attack or destroy someone as benign as living out these beautiful Beatitudes?
“In this fallen world when people try to promote peace, or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness, they find opposition. One would think that such a life would attract people to the kingdom of God.” Alan Ross
The Endearing Ones
Among the most harmless people on earth are the ‘Beatituders’; they mean no harm, they do no harm; they live quiet and peaceful lives.
The Beatituders show mercy, they seek peace and have a spiritual innocence about them. They have about them an aura of meekness and an awareness of their own spiritual bankruptcy that is endearing.
Nothing about them is arrogant or abrasive.
These are not the eye for eyers or tooth for toothers. These are the other cheekers, the second milers, the cloak givers, and the free lenders:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
These are the world’s great reconcilers:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23, 24
These are the non-lusters and non-lookers:
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27
These are the yesers and the noers, whose yes is yes and no is no:
“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37
These are the enemy lovers and stranger greeters:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. and if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?” Matthew 5:44, 47
These are the beautiful people…..the white doves…..the spotless lambs….. the endearing ones.
These are the ones who are living out the Beatitudes – who are poor in spirit, who mourn easily, who are meek and merciful, pure of heart and peacemakers and, above all else, hunger and thirst for righteousness.
These are the ones who have torn down their old houses of rot and sin as a result of being broken up over the poverty of the old place, and without resistance, allow the old place to be torn down until nothing is left except the soil on which it stood, all of which is described in the first three Beatitudes.
So they have torn it down; it is an empty lot. They did this in an established neighborhood where everyone else’s house is just as dilapidated and rotted.
Something’s Rotten in the Neighborhood
Here actually might be the problem and the reason for the persecution. You try having a house of righteousness in a neighborhood of rot and sin and see what will happen!
Friends, we live in a world where everyone is lost in sin; where rot and moth are gnawing away at people, who they are and what they have become.
So imagine for a moment tearing down your house in a neighborhood where everyone else’s house is equally rotting away.
“What is she doing? Not good enough to keep standing?” they will ask.
You will get their attention and they will get somewhat alarmed. They will wonder what’s wrong with his house that he had to tear it down, it’s no worse than mine. If she is tearing down hers, does that mean mine isn’t good either?
You know where this can go. Tearing down your old place of rot and sin will cause unease in a neighborhood where everyone’s house is equally dilapidated and rotting away.
And then to be so hungry for a new house of righteousness that you dig down deep into the soil of your heart.
And in the wellspring of life near the bottom of the soil of your heart to dig out the old dirt and contaminants, so as to lay the strong foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone, will get the neighborhood’s attention even more!
Soon a crowd will gather, and people will notice, since it’s rare for there to be a new house in the old neighborhood. Anytime you build a new house in an old neighborhood, it’s going to stand out.
Curious. Puzzled. Intrigued. Feeling uneasy. Not liking the change.
Quizzical at first, but soon replaced with alarm and then plain outrage with what is being built. Outraged enough to pick up stones to smash windows and torch the place before it’s finished.
And you wonder what can make people so angry, especially when what’s being built is a beautiful house of righteousness with raw materials of mercy, purity and peace.
What would that make people so mad? Who wouldn’t want a house that mercy, purity and peace built?
In a neighborhood where every one else’s house is rotting from the inside out, to have someone whose house was just as rotten tear down that house and build a new one of righteousness made up of mercy, purity and peace, exposes the rot of everyone else’s.
That’s at the core of the fury. Who does she think she is? What makes him better than me? Even if you invite everyone else to allow the same builder who did this for you to also do it for them, many will be offended.
Your new house exposes the rot of everyone else’s and while some will want what you have and will in fact do the same thing that you did, you need to know that this will always be a mixed neighborhood. There will always be those who will hate the new house at the corner.
That’s at the core of what Jesus meant when he said:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Mth. 5:10-12
So I ask again - why would they be persecuted, harassed, made fun of and opposed?
Right living is incredibly offensive. Right living makes you stand out in a world of wrong living. Right living exposes the wrong in others and reminds others of their wrongs.
“The lesson would simply be that people should be living for Christ in this world, living the way members of the kingdom should live, championing righteousness and justice, showing mercy, remaining meek and poor in spirit--all the things that the beatitudes praise. But they should know that genuine righteousness is offensive to many, and so they will be prepared for opposition.” Alan Ross
Paul made an incredibly sweeping statement that includes all those who live right, regardless whether they live in North Korea, or Ontario, and that is: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim. 3:12
There is such a tension between not only the message of the cross but also between the benign ways of the righteous ones and the mindset and lifestyle of the rest, that tension and conflict are inevitable.
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” John 3:20
This Little Light of Mine
So why even bother? Why not fit in? Why not stay put? Or why not move out from there and move into a gated community where your only life is with those who have similarly built houses of righteousness and where there is never any opposition, ridicule or pressure?
Hey, why not a Jesus village?
Why would Jesus imply we stay put, keep building our house and that such opposition is actually a good thing which he “blessed”?
I can think of a number of reasons why, despite being persecuted, such people are actually blessed.
But to see it that way we need a unique perspective on life. If this is only about your comfort and ease, if this is only about accommodating and fitting in, then you won’t get how this is a blessed way to be.
So with an open mind consider the following:
1. In the Company of Great Ones.
If you are persecuted for how you live your life, you will have joined the ranks of those who have done so throughout history and are among those who are suffering such in our days.
Not that we are doing this for that purpose. We are not looking to be martyrs. We don’t have a martyr complex anymore than those who have suffered throughout history or are doing so today.
“Rejoice and be glad…. for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:12
They will notice your house of righteousness, the house that mercy, purity and peace built, just like they noticed the houses of the prophets who came before you. Just like they tore down those homes of righteousness of old, they will try to do the same with yours.
You are not the first, you are not alone.
It may not be as brutal as in days of old, since ours is a more cultured and tempered world, but you will face pressure, ridicule and hostility.
Fear not when that happens. In fact, blessed are you for you are among the ranks of the Great Ones.
In some ways, when it says to build on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, it is as though you have built on the ashes of the Great Ones whose houses have stood in earlier times.
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”
Cheer up, your house of righteousness stands among these and in fact stands beside the house of the Great One, Jesus Christ, who suffered greatly at the hands of evildoers even though he was the most beautiful human that ever lived.
It was he who said, “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” Mth. 10:25
You are in the company of the great ones.
2. A Brighter City Just Ahead
That same passage in Hebrews also points to a future inheritance.
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Heb. 11:39, 40
Jesus made a similar reference when he said, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” Mth. 5:12
Your house of righteousness on earth is a prototype of the real one in heaven, the real life, and the real mansions you will get in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is as though every time a righteous person dies, the Lord takes that house up into heaven and adds it into his city so that, at the end of time, will be this brilliant, bright and holy city called New Jerusalem lit up by the righteousness of all the saints who live together.
So don’t lose heart for soon your house of righteousness will be a star in God’s heaven. Fix your eyes on what is to come.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:16-18
3. Don’t Hide It Under A Bushel
There is one more reason why facing pressure because of your house of righteousness can be a good thing.
Not only because you are in the company of the Great Ones. Not only because of what you built now is a prototype of what you will have there, but also because your house here and now can and will inspire others to do the same.
While it’s true that “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed”; it is equally true that “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:20, 21
Meaning, that for everyone who snickers at you or harasses you, there will be one who will be attracted to your house of righteousness; that mercy, purity and peace built, and they will want it too!
Your presence on earth serves as a magnet for others seeking to leave their own places of rot and sin.
If you were not in your neighborhood, whose house of righteousness would serve as a witness and a light? By neighborhood I mean your school, your place of work, literally your neighborhood, your family, the places where you hang.
You are the light of the world. While darkness may want to snuff you out, many in the darkness will be drawn to your light.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mth. 5:14-16
Every additional day on earth means one more testimony to someone else.
While it is tempting to pull all our lights into Christian ghettos and to want to build a Jesus Village, be encouraged not to put it under a bowl; but to keep your bright house of righteousness on a stand so that it gives light to everyone in the house!
Scott Street MB Church invites you to write your reflections and thoughts about the weekly messages shared by lead Pastor Jurgen Rausch.