Please find below the teaching notes for Pt. 9 of BE: The Kingdom Here and Now- Blessed are Those Persecuted Because of Righteousness.”
This is the final part of the “BE” series. As we’ve looked at the Beatitudes, obviously Jesus is telling us what our lives ought to BE like. He’s trying to give us a picture of what the best of us can look like! That if we could live this kind of life, it would not only reflect the very heart, character of the Kingdom, but would be the best way we could engage the culture in a pursuit of such a life, of Jesus Christ!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers…”, and: Mt. 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!”
Jesus isn’t interested in marketing to consumers- the beatitudes aren’t a very good marketing campaign to start a movement! But Jesus is much more interested in you understanding the authentic nature of what it means to entrust Jesus with your life and Jesus being the one who shapes your future…
He brings the Beatitudes to a close with this “persecution” statement and it’s almost as if he’s saying that if you’re going to follow them then things aren’t always going to go great for you! You’d better be into deferred gratification! The power and wonder of following Him will only be found in eternity!
But, Jesus wants us to know the kingdom of heaven can be accessed in the here and now, and that “persecution because of righteousness simply means you are most likely functioning in the spirit of the Person and purpose of the Kingdom!
Are We Actually Persecuted?
When you hear the word “persecution” it is almost always used in the wrong context, implying that “we are actually being persecuted!”
In the western cultural context, most of us aren’t really being persecuted; we’re just getting what we already deserve! People talk about being persecuted on their job or in some other situation, when in reality you’re being treated with skepticism or criticism because that’s the way you act! Consider what was “represented” in Jesus’ name in this past election!
Then there are those people who use this “faith language”- “Oh, I’m being persecuted at work!” No, you’re just lazy or arrogant or something else… Sometimes we experience the harshness of life because of our own bad attitude and actions- our arrogance!
Church folks can be and most are, extremely arrogant when it comes to their particular brand of “Christianity!” Jesus isn’t talking about being right, but about being in right standing! We have this misconceived idea that righteousness is about proving everyone else wrong and we are somehow validated when others lose or are wrong, according to us! That’s not what Jesus is talking about!
“Blessed are those who are persecuted… because of righteousness!” Not for arrogance or stubbornness or dogmatism! It has nothing to do with politics, or our idea that legislation is being formed against “us” and therefore we are being persecuted. That’s not persecution when we are endeavoring to use political power against others and then they in turn use it against us…
Making the Right Choices!
When it comes to “persecution because of righteousness” Jesus is talking about making a “choice” that reflects the highest virtues fueled by love! Jesus is not saying everyone who is persecuted is blessed, but blessed is the person who is persecuted because of righteousness- because they are making the kind of choices that reflect the highest virtues; making the choices that come hard at times and sometimes they bring the hardest of circumstances, but they’re the right choices!
Illustration: Jo Ann not empathizing with me for playing ball and getting hurt when I shouldn’t have… Jo Ann asking me, “Did you know your neck hurts?” You knew it, so deal with it!
We go to God with this idea that our life is so hard, that we’re being persecuted! “I’m living out this beatitude, God!” No we’re not! It’s just the consequence of our own stupidity, or stubbornness or arrogance etc. But there are consequences you experience because you’re making decisions that are based out of love for what is right.
Fueled by Love for God and Love for Others!
What fuels your passion for what is “right” and motivates you to make right choices, is a love relationship with God through Jesus Christ! That righteousness in its simplest definition is “loving God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself!” (Mt. 22:37-38).
Jesus, as he tells these beatitudes seems to repeat himself. He begins with “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom…” and he ends with “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for they will inherit the kingdom…” He’s really saying that this thing needs to come full circle! The beatitudes are a “360 degree picture!”
This is the story coming full circle! If you’re going to live your life fully here and now, then you have to live for more than just this moment! That there’s more than just this! That even when you choose good things, the best things and make right choices, and are motivated righteously, that life is still going to come at you hard and surprise you! Jesus wants you to know that!
Jesus isn’t promising you that everything is going to be great and wonderful and never have any problems… He’s saying that life is still going to be filled with times of mourning and conflicts and challenges and where you’re going to need mercy and need to give mercy and times of desperate longing for something deeper than what’s on the surface and times when you sense that fulfillment because you had to dig down deep and truly trust God…
That life is real and you don’t cease to be “human” but you can be the best of humanity because you live a life fueled by love for God and for others!
Jesus Tells You Up Front What to Expect!
Remarkably, choosing to BE a follower of Jesus and to live for what is right and best will bring “persecution” and Jesus is telling you that up front!
This is the only beatitude that Jesus expands on- note vv. 11-13. He’s telling them what’s coming down the road… but he’s also saying that this isn’t new! (They persecuted the prophets…)! That if you choose to live the life that God created for you to live, and truly follow the example of, and be the embodiment of Jesus and to walk a journey that elevates what it truly means to BE human, then yes, believe it or not, there’s going to be times when life comes at you hard!
Why? Because this Kingdom life is a violation of the status quo of what it means to be human! If you don’t want to be persecuted, want everything to be controlled, to not have to deal with any risks or trouble, just don’t do anything extreme. Just be average; be common…
If you want to make your mark in the world, to accomplish the most good that you can, the most difference that you can, then you’re going to press against the status quo of what it means to be human, and you’re going to disrupt everyone in the world around you because you’ve chosen to elevate your life to live a life of love and reflect the beauty of Christ, you will inspire and agitate the people around you!
Some will come at you with gratitude and some will come at you with hostility! Jesus says don’t be surprised when people begin to insult you! If you live a life of these “beatitudes” shouldn’t you be surprised when people insult you??? But Jesus is saying that in actuality you are going to be the “agitator” of the meaningless human condition because you’re going to be painting a picture of what the ideal human condition should be- to BE people like Christ!
And you will be insulted! But you will also become an inspiration to others to live that life! And Jesus goes on to say while people are saying insults and horrible things about you, listen to what I say about you…
Revealing the Highest Possible Standard of BEING!
Here’s the thing: you are persecuted for righteousness sake because you are revealing the highest possible standard for living…
Note Matt. 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
You are salt, you are light…. You are the example of the highest level of living…
Consider, these folks knew the 10 Commandments! Jesus didn’t spend time teaching these! Because the 10 commandments are the minimal standard to be human! But the Beatitudes are the highest standard to BE human. And Jesus is saying instead of living your life to simply settle for the minimum, we can aspire for more- salt of the earth and light of the world and bring life and hope everywhere we go!
Simply put, BEING people of the Kingdom is living by the highest standard, not merely settling to live at the minimum of what it means to be human! The Beatitudes bring the kingdom into the here and now as we live them out in our lives and present moments!
If you were to only live out these things that Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes, your life would BE truly blessed!
And the persecution that comes with that is the result of choosing to not live your life in the middle, or simply to be average, or exist in the commonness of humanity; but to rather live it at the extreme of what can BE, and should Be, to BE the best of humanity!