The following is taken from a sermon series preached at The Southeast Project. You can listen to the audio of this teaching on our sermon audio page.
A few weeks ago we began looking at the beatitudes, which are 8 statements that Jesus says at the beginning of his most famous teaching called the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s read all the way through these this morning as we close up this portion of the series.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If you look very closely at these phrases, you will notice what Jesus is doing here. He gives a certain way to live, act, and be, and then he gives a promise as a result. He says things like we will see God, be children of God, be comforted, filled, and inherit the earth. But if you look very closely you will see that the teaching opens with the promise of “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and closes with the promise “theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “
And, I don’t think is by accident. The beatitudes aren’t just bumper sticker statements that you sort of pick and choose. They are a different way of being. They call us into a different kind of life. They build on each other.
What we learned about the poor in spirit, the first beatitude, is that what that means is to have the posture of someone in need. For so many people, they spend their lives with clenched fists angrily holding onto their opinions, their prejudices, and their possessions. Jesus says, the blessed are those who let go. The poor in spirit are blessed because their hands are already open, they have let their opinions, prejudices, and possessions simply fall to the floor. Jesus wants us to identify with this aspect of being poor. He wants us to be humble and be learning.
These are not things that come easy to us. These beatitudes are things we learn, sometimes not easily, it takes a humbleness to become this kind of person Jesus is describing. This humbleness, this learning posture, is what Jesus says defines how we know we are entering this reality of his kingdom. We start there. And from that place, we grow.
But while he opens with that…he closes in a very different way.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And this is the brilliance of Jesus, as he continues to turn everything upside down, including the idea of persecution and suffering and he shows us something different.
The first word is RIGHTEOUSNESS, a word we looked at a few weeks ago. Righteousness is about right relationship. Right relationship with God, with each other, and within ourselves. Righteousness is what Jesus is pointing to in the Beatitudes. The people who live out his teaching here are living the right way with God, each other, and themselves, but, this right way of living leads to tension and the reason because sin is at odds with this right way.
There is something within us that pushes back against what Jesus is teaching in the beatitudes. This is why is sounds so upside down and so revolutionary.
The Greek word that we translate PERSECUTION is DIOKO, and it is truly fascinating because depending on the context it can be a positive or negative word. When translated positively it means to follow or to pursue. When used in the negative it means to push away.
I want you to see why this is so fascinating. When we follow Jesus and he begins to change our lives, two things will begin to happen. On one hand, as we live out these beatitudes it will captivate people because it is different until you push too far.
HUMBLENESS IS DESIRED IN A WORLD OF ARROGANCE
GIVING IS DESIRED IN A WORLD OF GREED
MERCY IS DESIRED IN A WORLD OF VENGEANCE
PEACE IS DESIRED IN A WORLD OF WAR
This is the dichotomy of the Kingdom of Heaven…because it points to what can be while pushing against the reality of what is…
HUMBLENESS IS RESISTED IN A WORLD OF ARROGANCE
GIVING IS RESISTED IN A WORLD OF GREED
MERCY IS RESISTED IN A WORLD OF VENGEANCE
PEACE IS RESISTED IN A WORLD OF WAR
Jesus is saying that as you live out his teaching you will experience tension. If you push harder against these things you will experience anger. And then, with this his life, Jesus shows us what happens when we push back with our entire being.
1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosannad in the highest heaven!”
10When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus at the Temple
12Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13“It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
The crowd was captivated by Jesus until Jesus pushed too far. When Jesus began to point out injustice, hypocrisy, and greed it was too much. And, only days later, this same crowd chants crucify him, crucify him, as he was taken to the cross and brutally murdered in front of his followers when his life of peace meets death and violence head on. Even in that death, Jesus, this prophet and messiah, condemns the ways of this world.
A few short years after the death of Jesus, a man named Paul wrote a letter to a group of Jesus followers in a roman city called Corinth. Paul, before he gave his life to Jesus, was a persecutor of Christians but he gave his life to Jesus, was radically changed, and began to live and teach about the way of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 11:23-25
23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Now, this isn’t simply about remembering something. We aren’t supposed to simply remember Jesus’s death. When Jesus is talking about remembering, it isn’t about your memories, it is what you are doing as a result of them.
Let me give an example to help us understand this idea:
Remembering my wedding anniversary matters. If you are married, you know it’s not a good thing to forget the day you were married. But it’s not enough just to mentally acknowledge that a wedding took place. You don’t remember your anniversary by stating the facts., and it’s more than buying flowers or getting a card. Remembering your anniversary is pursuing, cherishing, loving, like you vowed on your wedding day. Remembering your anniversary is something you do every single day.
Remembering what Christ did on the cross isn’t about simply remembering; it is about participating. We participate in the life, suffering, and death of Jesus every single day. Jesus said this about the expectation he had of his followers.
38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
What I don’t want to do as we close is diminish the actual suffering of Christians around the world. And this diminishing is done all the time in our country today as Christians mistake persecution with not having their way.
The reality is that as Christians in America, I don’t think the most tension, the most persecution, the most push back, for us comes from outside our lives but from within. The beatitudes should make us feel some tension, conviction, and push back in our lives. What causes those feelings for me might not be the same things that cause those feelings for you, but that tension matters. That is where you find the place to grow in following Jesus as you learn to live in this place Jesus calls the Kingdom of Heaven.