Sunday, March 17, 2024
Matthew 5:10-12 & 2 Corinthians 11:16-30
Rev. Dr. Troy Hauser Brydon

Share this message with a friend!

Play Video

It’s tempting to hear the beatitudes and treat them like a Hallmark card. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those hungry for good, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. I can imagine the card. On the cover — “I wanted to give you a hug, but since I can’t be there in person, this card is the best I can do. I heard that you’ve had a hard time and are sad.” On the inside — “Don’t worry. God’s got this. So, let this be a sign of my comfort and God’s. In time you’ll be okay.” (Alright, I never claimed to be qualified to write greeting cards. Not my gift!)

If we were tempted at all to treat these sayings of Jesus as wishful thinking, as pie-in-the-sky, then the final beatitudes function like a bucket of cold water tossed on our sleeping souls to the hard, cold reality of life. “Blessed are the persecuted for the sake of righteousness,” Jesus says. Then he goes further, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” 

Jesus is doing a terrible job selling us on discipleship, isn’t he? Wouldn’t it have been easier if he said, “Hey! Do you want your best life? Do you want others to see you and wish they were like you? Do you want easy street? Spend time with me and all of this will be yours!” It certainly would make my job easier if I could tell you that was the case. But life with Jesus is not like that. It’s the way of the cross, which is a way of self-denial and even suffering. It’s a way so out of step with the “normal” course of things that followers really become outsiders. Even more, Jesus calls “blessed” the persecuted — those who suffer evil for doing the right thing. If a church or book or teacher ever tries to convince you that the way of Jesus is the way to your happiest, easiest, wealthiest life, then run the other direction. The church exists to form disciples, and disciples’ allegiance is to the way of Jesus — a way that is often countercultural, a way that is out of step with the world to the extent that it is disruptive. 

Before I move into these final beatitudes, I do want to make clear what Jesus is not saying. He is not telling us to seek out persecution, particularly not so that we can somehow gain God’s blessing. He’s not telling his followers to be arrogant and loud-mouthed so that people take notice of them and revile them. No, those folks are facing the consequences of being jerks, not of humbly following the way of Jesus. There’s a difference.

Rather, Jesus is saying that a natural consequence of following his way in the world could be rejection. Not always, but sometimes. It’s part of the package, but not the goal! 

John Chrysostom, the fourth-century preacher, said, “When we suffer anything for Christ’s sake, we should do so not only with courage, but even with joy. If we have to go hungry, let us be glad as if we were at a banquet. If we are insulted, let us be elated as though we had been showered with praises. If we lose all we possess, let us consider ourselves the gainers. If we provide for the poor, let us regard ourselves as the recipients. Do not think of the painful effort involved, but of the sweetness of the reward; and above all, remember that your struggles are for the sake of our Lord Jesus.”

Notice all the ifs and whens in Chrysostom’s sermon. Suffering may happen, but it is perfectly explicable when the power grab of the world runs headlong into the humble reign of Jesus. Notice also the encouragement that the challenges we face now for the sake of living the gospel, do ultimately lead to a good end. 

As we wrap up our exploration of the beatitudes, we’ve run into the hard reality of opposition. It’s such a hard reality that I think Jesus repeats the final beatitude to drive his point home. A careful reading of the beatitudes reveals that the first and the eighth beatitude end in the same way. Jesus begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That’s number one. In verse 10 Jesus concludes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s the same result — participation in God’s reign. It’s also interesting that the six beatitudes in between end with the future tense — they will be comforted; they will inherit the earth; they will receive mercy — but the first and last are a present reality. The beatitudes taken as a whole reveal the already/not yet nature of God’s reign. Those who follow Jesus are participating at present in the kingdom, even though it’s not fully realized, and in the fullness of time, all of these other things will be realized, will be made whole. 

But for now, not everything is right. For now, striving to live in God’s way is not only out of step with the wider world, but it is also going to cause outright opposition. This should come as no surprise. There are innumerable examples in the Bible and history to reflect this reality. The prophet Jeremiah spoke the truth to power, and he was tossed in a cistern and later exiled for it. John the Baptist was beheaded. We heard one of Paul’s writings describing what following Jesus has done for him — imprisonment, countless floggings, left for dead, beatings, one stoning, three shipwrecks, cold, hungry, and naked. Not a pretty picture. And then there are the stories of how the apostles were martyred. There are stories of Perpetua and Felicity, Maximillian, and Martin Luther King Jr. The twentieth century saw far more Christians die for their faith than any before, particularly in Armenia, Russia, China, and southern Sudan. Just because it’s happening globally doesn’t make it any less of a concern for the church locally. 

This is such an issue that Jesus repeats and intensifies the eighth beatitude. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” All the beatitudes before this were in the third person, so they feel a bit less personal. But this one? It’s in the second person. You. It’s going to happen to you when you live in Jesus’ way. Surely Jesus’ disciples were experiencing persecution, so this repetition serves both as explanation and encouragement. “I told you this would happen. I am with you. Stand firm. Better days are coming,” Jesus is saying. 

But just like we don’t strive to be poor in spirit or mourners in order to be blessed, so too we don’t seek out opposition and persecution to be blessed. Rather, this is “joyful acceptance” of belonging to a community of faith out of step with the values of the times. 

So, I’m going to get brutally honest with you now. This all feels super heroic, and I really don’t feel that way. It’s somewhat easy to speak these words — stand up for your faith even though it will cost you! — but the actual living of it is hard. Even as I preach these words, even as I have dwelled on the beatitudes, I find I am fighting with myself because I really don’t love this thought. I’d rather have easy street. If I’m being honest, I might keep trying to counter Jesus. Perhaps it would sound something like this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit…but I’d rather be full of myself.

Blessed are those who mourn…but I’d rather be happy all the time.

Blessed are the meek…but I’d rather see strength staring back at me in the mirror.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…but I’d rather just enjoy life.

Blessed are the merciful…but I’d rather prove how right I am.

Blessed are the pure in heart…but I’d rather chase what feels good.

Blessed are the peacemakers…but I’d rather tell you off.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…but I’d rather avoid pain entirely.

If we’re being honest, I think we would all have a version of these. Blessed are…but I’d rather. Honesty is a good thing because it’s the first step in admitting that we can be out of step with Jesus and more in step with the values of this age. 

But if I’m also being honest, I think that Jesus is the hope of the world and that the church is the clearest expression of that hope. So, it’s in the world’s interest and ours to examine closely if we’re really interested in Jesus’ way to the point where we are walking in it. And when we do, we should expect opposition. We should anticipate it feeling like things are falling apart. Maybe not to the extent that Paul experienced, but somewhere between that and life on easy street. 

To be in step with Jesus is to be out of step with the values and attitudes of this world. But being in step with Jesus is actually the way to experience right now the eternal kind of living Jesus makes possible. And I pray that we individually and as a church strive to live in that way. It is costly, but it is precious.