Attitude Adjustment #8 - The Cheerful

Bible Book: Matthew  5 : 10-12
Subject: Beatitudes; Persecution; Joy in Hardship; Faithfulness in Trials
Series: Attitude Adjustment - The Beatitudes
Introduction

Today we come to the final message in a series of sermons on the Beatitudes entitled, "Attitude Adjustments." Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and began it with eight Beatitudes. As we have learned, the Beatitudes are attitudes that ought to be in the life of every believer. Today we will look at the eighth and final Beatitude that I have entitled, "The Cheerful" from Matthew 5:10-12.

Interestingly, Jesus spoke of being a peacemaker in Matthew 5:9, but then turned to the subject of being persecuted in the following verses. Jesus knew that no matter how hard we try create a peaceful atmosphere for life and service, His servants would face persecution from some people. Jesus was the perfect man, without sin, and He was persecuted; surely we must know that we are not greater than our Master and we will face persecution as well. So, Jesus spoke on this subject and shared not only the fact of persecution for His followers but the blessing that one can extract from persecution.

The following humorous story appears in the autobiography of Clarence E. McCartney. As two men were walking through a field one day, they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn't make it. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, "Put up a prayer, John. We're in for it!" John answered, "I can't. I've never made a public prayer in my life." The horrified friend then said, "But you must! The bull is catching up to us." John panted and said, "All right, I'll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: 'O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'" This fictitious story suggests a valuable truth. No matter how severe the trial, Christians should give thanks in everything.

It is difficult to be thankful for the hardships we face, especially the hardships that come from people who treat us inappropriately. When we come to Thanksgiving Day, for example, how many of us give thanks for the blessings that God has bestowed upon us? All of us, I suspect, but how many of us will give thanks for persecution or mistreatment we suffer? Not many of us will do that I’m sure.

Jesus told us to rejoice when we are persecuted. The word He used in this passage means to be cheerful. In fact, it means even more than that, which we will see in this message. So let's look at three interesting, challenging elements of dealing with persecution.

I. The Certainty of Persecution

Note that Jesus did not use the word "if" when He spoke of persecution, rather He used the word "when." There is no question about a servant of God going through hardships and a measure of persecution. Jesus said it would happen.

In 1 Peter 4:12 we read, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you." (NKJV) Jesus spoke of this in John 15, verse 20, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." (NKJV) The question is not whether a believer will face persecution but when he or she will face persecution! It is going to happen to you.

If you cannot take insults, criticism, and rejection, you will not likely be an effective Christian! Throughout my years in the ministry I have observed a great number of people who professed Christ but were not serving Him at all. When I inquired as to why these people had fallen by the wayside, I was most often told that they had their feelings hurt or got upset at what someone had done to them in the church. Dear believer, please know that you are not to think it strange when some fiery trial comes upon you! It is not a matter of "if" regarding persecution, it is a matter of "when."

Jesus originally spoke the words found in this text to Jewish followers. The Jews had the idea that when the Messiah came He would come as mighty a warrior and deliver them from the invaders - the Romans. They loved the miracles of Jesus but they did not want to hear the truth about their souls. Jesus was actually throwing cold water on the hopes and ideas these people held concerning who they thought the Messiah would be and what they thought He would do. They thought that when the Messiah came they were going to be proud, powerful, conquerors. Jesus told them they were to be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, forgiving, and ready to endure great hardship. Jesus was telling them the truth but they certainly were shocked by what He had to say.

Jesus was completely honest. Jesus did not learn his method of preaching from advertisers. He did not learn it from the politicians. He did not learn it from modern preachers. He did not read the manual on how to win friends and influence people. Jesus was kind, tender and compassionate, but He was totally honest with people, even when he had to tell them how difficult it was to follow Him faithfully. He told them that His followers were going to be persecuted. When some sought to follow Him, Jesus sought to discourage them by telling them that the foxes had holes but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.

Most of us do not know real persecution, but be assured that real persecution is going on in the world. We think it is a blessing to be relieved of persecution. Yet, we read in Acts that the disciples came back after being jailed and beaten, and rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Is it possible that we are not persecuted because we are not really worthy of such suffering? The Bible says that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

Whether in small measure or great measure, all believers who seek to truly follow Christ will suffer hardship and persecution.

II. The Cause of Persecution

The blessing which comes from being persecuted must come because you stand for righteousness in your life and you stand for Christ Himself. They did not persecute Jesus because He was good, they persecuted Him because He was different. Jesus was different and they hated Him for it. The word righteousness means to be separated. Many of us are not persecuted today because we are no different than the people in the world around us. Be different and you will be persecuted. Live like Jesus talk like Him, walk like Him and you will be persecuted. Live righteously and you will be cut out by the world!

Look at Matthew 7:13ff. We see that there is a narrow way and a broad way. We are to live in the narrow way, obeying the Word of God. Look at Matthew 7:24ff. We must build our lives on the Rock!

We will be persecuted because of our relationship to Jesus Christ. People don't like the name of Jesus unless they know Him! In many places people don’t mind you praying, as long as you don’t pray in Jesus’ name. My friend, His name is above every name! We are to stand for Him in all things and when we do, we will be persecuted!

Look at John 15:18-21. People who do not know Jesus will persecute you because of His name.

Do you know the difference between punishment and persecution? Punishment is what good men do to us when we commit wrong acts but persecution is what evil men do to us when we do and stand for what is right.

To fully understand the cause of persecution, you need to take a look at the way Jesus described it. He described three different kinds of hardships that Christians who truly follow Him will face.

A. The Physical Persecution

One way the world seeks to intimidate believers is to physically persecute them. Now most or all of us in this room will never experience physical harm because of our faith in Christ, but many believers in the world today suffer terrible hardships, physical harm and even death at the hands of evil people and many in other parts of the world. I read this past week how an elderly Christian woman in Egypt was stripped naked and made to walk through the street of a town as Muslim men threw fruit at her and cursed her. Why did they do that? There was a rumor that a Christian man was having a relationship with a Muslim woman. In addition to the horrible humiliation of an innocent Christian woman, who had nothing to do with the rumor, seven homes of Christians were burned to the ground. In the last two years over 1,200 churches in China have had the crosses removed from the spire of their churches. Christians who tried to stand in the way of the government workers were beaten and/or arrested unless they stood aside. Christians in Iraq have suffered indignities not worthy of being mentioned in this service during the past two years. Oh, how easy we have it, and yet so often we complain and whine when we things don’t go our way. Shame on us as Christians in America. We have become soft and self-centered. No wonder we are not winning our nation to Jesus.

To read the history of the church is to see a river of blood running right up to our time - the blood of those who paid for their faith with physical persecution. Right now, in some parts of the world, underground reports come to us of Christians being beaten, thrown into prison, and blown up by bombs in their churches, hacked to death with machetes or attacked wherever they may be - even when sleeping in their beds at night.

B. The Verbal Persecution

This type of persecution comes in the form of words spoken to you or words you hear that people are speaking against you. Jesus said that people will revile you! Jesus said that the world will abuse the people of God with words. There are many in our churches in America who do not witness because they are afraid of what someone will say to them or about them.

C. The Scandalous Persecution

The word persecution comes from a word that means to pursue with the idea of catching a person in an error. Do you remember when Jesus was accused of harvesting grain on the Sabbath Day? I have a question for you? What were a bunch of Pharisees doing in a cornfield on the Sabbath Day? I will tell you what they were doing, they were out there following Jesus around trying to catch Him or His disciples doing something they could criticize. The world watches Christians just so they can catch us saying something wrong or doing something amiss. If they cannot find anything, then they will make up things to say about us.

The idea of "persecuting" means someone is sneaking around hoping to find anything they can use to hurt you and harm the cause of Christ. Don't be surprised if someone does that to you - Jesus said that this would happen to us.

When Paul saw a great light and fell to the ground on the Damascus Road, the risen Lord spoke to him out of that great light. Jesus asked, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Note that Paul had been persecuting Christians, but Jesus made it clear that persecuting a believer is just like attacking Jesus! Some people who go around looking for a way to attack you or me do not understand that they are in league with those who hate Jesus. People who commit the scandal type persecution will look for any tiny weakness and then tell others about it and exploit it. They are persecuting you, but they are actually persecuting Jesus.

III. The Company of Persecution

Jesus said that we are not to be surprised at persecution, for after all you must remember that the prophets before you were persecuted. In fact, when you are being persecuted, you are in good company. Think about just a few who faced persecution by the world.

Abel was killed by his brother Cain because he offered a better sacrifice to God.

Jeremiah was imprisoned and treated terribly because he dared speak God's truth.

The three Hebrew Children were thrown into the fiery furnace for their faith.

The Apostles were beaten and imprisoned because they spoke the name of Jesus.

Stephen was stoned to death for preaching God's Word.

Paul experienced stoning, beatings, and imprisonment for His faith. And, of course, he was eventually beheaded because of his faith in Christ.

The greatest of all those who suffered persecution was Christ Himself - His crucifixion was the most horrible of all physical persecutions by the world.

When you are being persecuted, you are in great company. You are walking in the footsteps of those who followed the Lord in previous generations.

How are most of us suffering for Christ today? Our suffering is so small it is hardly worth mentioning when placed alongside the testimony of those who came before us.

In a Church newsletter the preacher wrote, "I want to thank those members who braved the rain last week to come to church." Imagine that written in Acts or in Hebrews where the people are said to have been sawn in two or skinned alive for their faith. Sadly, we are too prone to give up at the slightest hardship in the modern church. The saints of old stood up for Christ at any cost and under every kind of persecution.

IV. The Cheerfulness In Persecution

Now here is the part that really grabs our attention and makes us sit upright. Jesus said that we are to rejoice when persecuted. Wow! Why would anyone rejoice at being treated badly? And, just how do we rejoice in the midst of persecution?

Persecution and hardship in one’s life for Christ develops qualities that are so needed in the faith. Those difficulties, when faced with the joy Jesus spoke of, prove to the world that we belong to Jesus. It is interesting to note that the greatest growth the Church has even experienced always came during times of persecution.

A. Realize

There is something for us to realize. What I am about to say is the most important thing in this passage. It is a blessing to suffer for Christ because it means that you have been counted worthy of standing with Christ in His sufferings. Look at Acts 5:41, "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." NKJV The disciples who were beaten after preaching the message of Jesus, rejoiced because God had counted them worthy of suffering. What a tremendous thought. When you are going through hardships simply because you are trying to serve Jesus, don't get discouraged. Rejoice because you have been counted worthy to suffer for Him! Realize that it really isn’t about you; it is about Jesus and His kingdom. Realize that Jesus is honored when you are hurt by word or deed but you stand gladly in His service! If you don’t realize these truths, you will never suffer honorably for Christ.

B. Respond

How do we respond to people who talk about us and try to look for some weakness in our life or personality? We are to leap for joy. The word Jesus used for "exceeding glad" means to "jump up and down with joy." Let the hardship turn you more toward Him rather than turning you inward. Worship Him even more rather than fleeing in pain, anger or fear. Don't let the devil get a victory out of what someone is seeking to do to you. Confuse the enemy by being hilariously happy even in the midst of the suffering.

C. Reign

Jesus said that those who belong to Him will suffer and He said that those who suffer for Him belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. You are in the Royal Family of Christ. You are going to reign with Him. Rejoice! After all, the praise of men is fleeting but the Kingdom of God is forever. Look beyond your present circumstances and realize that you belong to the King and you will reign one day with Him in glory.

Now I know as well as anyone that being talked about and ridiculed is not pleasant. It hurts, doesn't it? But God is up to something wonderful in those hard times. That is why He tells us to rejoice.

Conclusion

Think of the process of baking a cake. It doesn’t sound appetizing when described in detail. Raw eggs, flour, milk, butter all mixed together, still uncooked, looks very unappetizing. But when it is mixed properly, placed in the oven for the right amount of time, under extreme heat, it comes out smelling so good your mouth waters. Then that cake is covered with icing, it is placed on your plate and you finally get to taste the end results! Yum! It is so delicious and tasteful. The raw ingredients of persecution, all mixed up in our lives, and placed under the fire of the world's hatred, doesn't seem too appetizing. But, when God gets through with it, and places His icing on top of it, you will discover the full joy of serving Him. So, go ahead and rejoice - the result has already been assured.

That beautiful stone worn by a bride was not always like that. It was once a crude looking thing down inside the earth covered with dirt. It had to be mined, cut out of the ground, washed, separated and rated. Then, it must be cut with many blows so that it glitters in the light when it is on the hand of the bride.

You and I are God's gems. Here we are mined, washed, cut and polished, so we can shine for Him here and with Him there. We are the bride and He is going to make us glitter one day in His presence. Don’t fear the mining, cutting and polishing process. It will be worth it all one day!

Come now! Let us rejoice! Let us put the devil to flight by praising God in the midst of life's circumstances - many of which we cannot understand. Come to Him who died in the moment of suffering but rose in the moment of victory. He is the first fruit of all who will likewise rise. Come now! Let us rejoice. No matter our circumstances, when we belong to Jesus, victory is one the way.