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 Smyrna

Persecution

John Hoole July 092, 2006


WHAT IS THE FIRST MARK OF A TRUE AND LIVING CHURCH?

It is LOVE.

IF LOVE IS THE FIRST, WHAT IS THE SECOND MARK OF A LIVING CHURCH?

I don't know if it is second, but a willingness to suffer for Christ will be near the top. Actually, the one is the consequence of the other. A willingness to suffer proves the genuineness of our love. We are willing to suffer for those we love.

Unlike the church in Ephesus, who had left their first love, those in the congregation at Smyrna still had their pristine love for Christ. They were willing to suffer and die for Him. Like Peter and John, in Acts 5:41, they were "rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Christ."

Today, we are going to look at this aspect of the church in Smyrna.

Revelation 2:9 NKJV

9 I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

As we have noted in previous lessons, the church at Smyrna experienced severe persecution. The Bible mentions that this will be part of the life of one who follows Jesus Christ. The enemies of the faith were aggressive and cruel. It was a dangerous thing to be a Christian in Smyrna. Jesus says to them, and also to us, "I know your tribulation, your affliction." That fact is the source of much comfort. One of our greatest needs during troubling times is someone with whom to share it. We long to unburden ourselves to somebody who understands.

Jesus Christ is the world's greatest confidant. No friend can bring to us the peace and the relief that He can bring. We can accurately sing with the old plantation slaves: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen; Nobody knows but Jesus."

He knows because He walks among the lampstands (the churches). His knowledge is not a distant acquaintance with our circumstances. It is a close, personal understanding of us as people. His presence is never withdrawn. However deep our sorrow or how great our suffering, He knows and cares. The letter to Smyrna holds a special message for all believers, no matter what their circumstances.

Although Smyrna was a beautiful seaport town must 35 miles north of Ephesus, it was a city full of hatred against Christians. The church in this city was plagued by severe physical persecution at the hands of evil men and false teachers within the city. And the Jews in this city were very vocal against the Christians.

While Christ was still on earth, and then later through the writings of the apostles, we are told that persecution would be a common situation for His followers. Let me take you now to a Passage in the gospel of Matthew, where we are told what should be the characteristics of a follower of Christ. It is called the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:3-10

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

WHO IS BEING DESCRIBED IN THESE 8 BEATITUDES?

The beatitudes set forth the well balanced and multi-faceted character and life of the followers of Christ. These are not eight separate and distinct groups of disciples of Christ, some of whom are meek, while others are merciful and yet others become peacemakers. They are rather eight qualities of the same group, who at one and the same time are meek and merciful, poor in spirit and pure in heart, mourning and hungry, peacemakers and persecuted.

In addition, the group of people exhibiting these marks is not an elitist Christian group. They are not a small spiritual aristocracy remote from the common run of the mill Christian. On the contrary, what we find in the Beatitudes are Christ's own specification of what every Christian ought to be. All these qualities are to characterize each of his followers. Just as the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit which Paul lists is to mature and become evident in every Christian character, so the eight beatitudes of which Christ speaks describe his ideal for every citizen of God's kingdom.

There are some general observations to make about these beatitudes before examining any one of them individually.

WHAT DOES THE WORD "BEATITUDE" MEAN?

Dictionary: Supreme Blessedness; Exalted Happiness.

The word "beatitude" is a rough transliteration of the Latin beatus or beatitude. Some Christians call these beatitudes "macarisms." This is not an English word, but a rough transliteration of the Greek word MAKARIOS which is the Greek word that is translated 9 times in this Passage as "Blessed."

The next general thing we need to notice is that two of the beatitudes promise the same reward. The first beatitude reads, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The last one says, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." To begin and end with the same expression is often thought to be a writer's stylistic device called an "inclusion." This means that everything bracketed between the two can really be included under the one theme - in this case, the kingdom of heaven.

For me this all makes sense, when you keep in mind how Matthew portrays Christ in his gospel. Each of the gospels portray Christ in a unique manner.

HOW DOES MATTHEW PORTRAY JESUS IN HIS GOSPEL?

He shows Jesus as the King. In the very first verse of the Book, he establishes that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David. And the Sermon on the Mount is a proclamation by King Jesus of how he wants his subjects (followers) to live. He wants us to realize what his kingdom is, and how to live as members of it.

The beatitudes paint a comprehensive portrait of a disciple of Christ. And as you proceed through the eight beatitudes, you will undoubtedly notice that some of them focus mainly on your relationship with God. Some, however, are very pointed in their reference to our relationships with others. Still others seem to address our relationships to both God and people.

We are told that the first step to living like a child of the King is admitting our spiritual bankruptcy and having a humble, honest attitude toward myself. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" applies the ax to the very root of pharisaical pride and hypocrisy. The first beatitude sees t5he Christian on his knees before God, acknowledging his spiritual poverty.

The phrase, "Blessed are they that mourn," is not speaking of how we feel at the loss of a friend. Rather, it deals with my attitude toward my sin, instead of criticizing the other person, for what we see them do. It speaks of judging myself of whatever hinders my relationship with God. The child of God truly mourns over his sins.

"Blessed are the meek" deals in part with my attitude toward God, where I am submissive to Him and do not try to impress Him with who I am or what I have done. Meekness is not weakness - but power under control. How controlled are we when we know we are right and yet others disagree? Is it that important that you point has to be proven.

When I "hunger and thirst after righteousness," then God provides that righteousness in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. We sing Psalm 42, which says, "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee." That is this beatitude.

Next, we see the child of the King with others, out in the human community. His close relationship with God does not cause him to withdraw from society. Nor does he allow himself to be insulted from the world's pain. On the contrary, he is in the thick of it, and, having received the righteousness of God, and beings to manifest the very character of the King Himself.

The follower of Christ becomes merciful instead of condemning. Pure in heart means he maintains integrity in his dealings both with God and man. He seeks to play a constructive role as a peacemaker, instead of a troublemaker. Yet, for all these things, he is not thanked for his efforts, but rather opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted. As you and I exhibit the qualities of the Beatitudes - becoming more like Christ, we are told that we will be persecuted on account of the very righteousness for which we stand.

Now we turn our attention to the eighth beatitude. This is probably the one beatitude that people will struggle with. But "persecution for righteousness' sake" is as much a part of the multi-faceted character and life of a Christian as is being meek or hungering and thirsting after Righteousness.

True persecution "for righteousness' sake" comes as a result of a believer who dares to live what the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount teaches. The world's philosophy is exactly opposite of that which Jesus expresses in this Sermon and these differing viewpoints lead to opposing ways of life.

Let me review a couple of diagrams. What do you and I normally picture in our minds when we think of the illustration given by Christ later in this Sermon on the Mount, about the "Two Ways" - the broad way and the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14).

I used to picture this Passage as all humanity coming to a point - a sort of "Y" in the road,….where they must make a decision which road to take, and whatever their decision, it will lead them off in opposite direction, like this diagram.

Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV

13 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.
14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

I do believe the Christian and non-Christian are going in opposite directions, but I think it could be depicted in a better way. I would like to suggest that we depict the narrow road running right down the middle of the broad road, but in the opposite direction - as depicted in the diagram you see now.

If a person decides not to accept Christ, they continue to go the same direction they have been traveling. If you are an unbeliever, the choice of destination - heaven or hell - is yours, and yours alone. To go to hell, all you need to do is absolutely nothing. To go to heaven, you must decide to choose Jesus Christ as Savior, but that decision has to be made before you die.

For the person who accepts Christ, they repent of their sins.

WHAT DOES REPENTANCE MEAN?

It is asking God for forgiveness, and then turning and going in the opposite direction.

If you are a Christian, you are walking or running against the current - against the crowd. Many more are on the broad road. We are walking in one direction, and the world is walking in the other, and it is impossible not to collide at many points along the road. Sometimes that collision is good. You have a friend or an acquaintance, and you share the love of Jesus Christ with them. They listen, and they respond to the tug of the Holy Spirit, and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior too. Then they turn around and begin walking the direction you are.

At other times, the person rejects the Christ you live for. And some will very strongly resist the love you show to them. They may even hate you or persecute you, or spread false rumors about you and slander you. Many will hate the moral standard taught by Jesus Christ. They will call you and I a bigot or a prude. When we voice our opinion for honesty in business, chastity before marriage and fidelity after it, they may call you old fashioned or say you are out of touch with reality.

The point of the 8th Beatitude is that it teaches us persecution is the lot of all Christians. The righteous have always suffered for their faith in one way or another. It began with Abel being killed by Cain - and Cain was a religious man. Moses chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God (Hebrews 11:25) than to compromise his position in Egypt. Jesus told us that the prophets were persecuted, and warned that it would happen to His followers as well.

The Book of Acts and all of church history since then verify our Lord's predictions. In an earlier lesson, I mentioned a number of Christians who were persecuted, and even gave their life in horrible deaths, defending their Lord and the Word of God.

People like:

o Stephen
o 250-261 AD - Decade of Horror
o Peter Waldo - Pre-reformer - 1200's - driven into the French Alps
o John Wycliffe - totally ostracized
o John Huss - burned alive in 1414
o Martin Luther - was hidden to save his life - early 1500's
o William Tyndale - strangled and burned alive for smuggling Bibles into England - 1536
o Thomas Cranmer - 1st Archbishop of Canterbury of the Church of England - burned alive for preaching justification by faith in Christ alone.

The same is happening in many places around the world today.

Lets read the eight beatitude again.

Matthew 5:10-12 KJV

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

In the NIV, it reads,

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It is important to notice that this reference to persecution is as much a beatitude as the other seven. Our understanding of this beatitude, as stated in verse 10, is expanded in verses 11 & 12, and, really, becomes a double beatitude. Jesus first states it in the third person, just like the other seven. "Blessed are THOSE who are persecuted because of righteousness." And then He repeats it, or expands it - this time in direct speech of the second person. "Blessed are YOU when people insult you and persecute you,..." Now He is no longer speaking of someone else. He has made it personal. It is you and I that Jesus is talking to.

Since all the beatitudes describe what every follower of Christ is intended to be, we can rightfully conclude that the condition of being insulted and rejected, slandered and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of the Christian as being pure in heart or merciful. Every Christian is to be a peacemaker...and every Christian is to expect opposition. Those who hunger for righteousness will suffer for the righteousness they crave.

We should not be surprised if anti-Christian hostility increases. In fact, in Luke, we find Jesus again mentioning some of the points found in the Sermon on the Mount. Notice what He adds there to the end of this beatitude.

Luke 6:22-26 KJV

22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake.
23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.

Universal popularity was as much the lot of the false prophets as persecution was of the true prophets. Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master.

Returning now to our text in Matthew 5:10-12, let me ask you a question.

IN THESE VERSES, WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR PERSECUTION?

The reasons for persecution are not difficult to understand. Jesus names two:

1. For righteousness' sake
2. For His sake

The difference of persecution

We must be careful in distinguishing between those things we are persecuted for and those we are NOT.

First, we must take note of the difference between persecution and punishment. We are punished by good men for doing evil, and we are persecuted by bad men for doing good. Peter describes the difference in 1 Peter 4:14-16, which reads:

14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.
16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

In Matthew 5:11, Christ uses the word "falsely." If we are accused and punished for something we actually did, it is one thing, but it is another to be accused falsely.

The second difference we need to be aware of is: There is a difference between being offensive in our actions, and "the offense of the cross." By that, I mean there is a difference between being what Galatians 5:11 calls a "witness for Christ", and being prosecuting attorneys against someone. If I get into trouble because I talk too much or because I meddle or because I try to force my faith on other people, that is NOT persecution. If I am promoting my own cause and men reject me - that is NOT persecution. If I am arrogant and abusive in my attempt to witness for Christ, and people want nothing to do with me, that is NOT persecution. If we endure the ridicule of the world because we're foolish or square or snobbish, this is not suffering for Christ. But if I seek to do His will and honor His name and as a result I suffer, then that IS persecution.

This beatitude does not say, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are objectionable, or because they rave like wild-eyed fanatics, or because they pursue some religio-political cause." The blessings promised here are restricted to those who suffer "persecution because of righteousness," or because of "His name's sake." The believers described in this passage are those determined to live as Jesus lived.

WHAT FORMS CAN PERSECUTION TAKE?

1. Ridicule
2. Being ostracized
3. Avoidance
4. Slander/Lies
5. Being despised
6. Rejection
7. Physical harm
8. Death
9. Insults

Persecution can take many forms. And it is not limited to fellow-believers that happen to live in certain repressive countries. And it is not limited to those who lived centuries ago and gave their lives for the cause of Christ. We in America have long been, relatively speaking, protected from legal persecution. I thank God for that, but the wicked old Serpent has so many ways in which God's people are persecuted. And there are still place all around the world that do not have it as fortunate as we have.

Algeria: Muslim extremists persecuting Christians

Bangladesh: Less than 1% are Christians; they are not allowed opportunities for education and good employment.

China: There are still places where Christians are in jails and prisons, and personal & business possessions are confiscated.

Indonesia & East Timor:

Muslim fanatics want to purge Christians from the country and greatly restrict religious freedom.

Iran: Christian faith is perceived as an instrument of the West for subverting Islam; Christians are persecuted with imprisonment, torture and even death.

Kuwait: Because of death threats, Christians are forced to maintain a low profile; some still face persecution

Morocco: Islam is the state religion; Christians are arrested, interrogated, threatened, and tortured.

Myanmar (Burma): Christian minority are driven away from their villages, people that remain are killed; many are facing starvation.

North Korea: The number of Christians in prisons and labor camps because of their faith is unknown. Christians are fined, arrested, tortured and sentenced to labor camps.

Saudi Arabia: Small number of Christians are forced to practice their faith in secret because of the extremely repressive policies of the regime.

Somalia: Because this country has no laws or government, the Muslim majority have a license to kill, and Christians are one of their targets.

Sudan: Christian villages are raided, and the captured are tortured, killed, herded into camps, sold into slavery.

A Christian in the West who practices righteousness may be ridiculed by their family. They may be ostracized by their relatives. Even the Christian who comes from a secure and understanding home will face flak somewhere. The fact that it is included as one of the beatitudes says that it is normative for all Christians.

The basic principle of this beatitude reappears again and again in both the Old and New Testaments. The Christian lives in a sinful world - therefore, if he or she exhibits genuine, transparent righteousness, they will be rejected by many. Men and women are either repelled or drawn to our Savior. Jesus himself taught:

John 15:18-21 (NIV)

18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
20 Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

The good news is that Jesus Christ knows our struggle and what we suffer. When a businessman loses his job because he will not lie, cheat or manipulate the books, Jesus knows about it and has promised great reward in the future. When a student refuses to take drugs, or get involved in illicit sex, and suffers rejection and mockery because of it, Jesus knows and will one day reward that young person for their courage. That is what is promised by the eight beatitude.

Make no mistake - the world will hate us. A line has been drawn in the sand. Sides have been taken. And war will be declared. Hell is in direct conflict with Heaven.

Paul adds, in Philippians 1:29 (NIV)

29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,

To Timothy, Paul says, "...all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." 2 Tim 3:12

When a person is faithful to the calling of Christ, they will be assailed at times - sometimes fiercely. This has always been the experience of God's servants. Moses was reviled again and again (Ex. 5:11; 14:11; 16:2; 17:2). Samuel was rejected (1 Samuel 8:5). Elijah was despised (1 Kings 18:17)…and he was persecuted (1 Kings 19:2). Micaiah was hated (2 Chron. 18:17). Nehemiah was oppressed and defamed (Nehemiah 4). The Savior Himself was put to death. Stephen was stoned. Peter and John were cast into prison. James was beheaded. John the Baptist was also beheaded. Paul's entire Christian life was one long series of relentless persecutions.

Let a person announce that they belong to a religious group - be it Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or what have you - and few people, if anybody, will get upset. But let them announce that they are a Christian - let the name of Christ come into the conversation - and war is declared. Persecution is a normal part of the life of a dedicated Christian. I might go so far as to say, "the level of persecution is a measure of how much we are like our Savior."

HOW SHOULD THE CHRISTIAN RESPOND TO PERSECUTION?

As believers, we must respond to persecution and not react. We need to be prepared with the right attitude of mind.

1 Peter 4:1 (KNIV)

1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.

A proper attitude of mind is a great weapon against Satan. We do not react, then resent, and then retaliate. That is the way the world often acts when difficulties come. The believer is to respond in a positive way, not because he seeks persecution, but because he expects it and is not surprised when it comes.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that there are three proper responses:

1. We need to respond as one who reigning as a king. (5:10)

2. We are to rejoice and be glad (5:12)

3. We are to release love (5:43-48)

Matthew 5:10 says, "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This simply means that the believer reigns in life in the midst of persecution. It is not simply talking about some kingdom in the future but is promising a blessing now. Just as we do not have to wait for the eternal kingdom to be filled with God's righteousness when we hunger and thirst for it, or to receive comfort when we mourn, neither do we need to wait to enjoy the kingdom of heaven when we are persecuted. When you know you are the child of the King, and will eventually reign with Him, your attitude towards events and things will be different.

For instance, on March 11, 1830, a British girl was doing her lesson with her tutor, and the lesson that day had to do with the royal family. As she studied the genealogical chart in the book, the astounding fact suddenly dawned on her - she was next in line for the throne. At first she wept, then she looked at her tutor and said, "I will be good!" The fact that little Victoria would one day be queen motivated her to live on a higher level.

And the fact that you and I are already kings should motivate us not to retaliate against our persecutors. We are to act like kings, not slaves.

The more King Saul persecuted David, the more David reigned in life through faith in God. So he acted like a king. When he could have killed Saul, David exercised self-control and let him go free. When David could have slain Shimei for his stones and slander, David ignored the man and left the matter with God. When you know you are a king, it is beneath your dignity to retaliate, because that only makes you like other people.

There are only three levels on which we can live - the demonic, the human, and the divine. Satan returns evil for good. Men return good for good and evil for evil. But God returns good for evil.

Believers who know they are kings are so filled with God's riches that it is beneath their dignity to retaliate. Jesus could have summoned legions of angels, yet He willingly let sinful men slap Him in the face, spit upon Him, pluck out His beard, mock Him, and then crucify Him.

Our first response is to reign, and our second is to rejoice. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad (Matthew 5:12). Rejoice and be glad -- in the middle of persecution and suffering? How is that possible? Isn't it a lot better to try to avoid all this trouble? How can abuse ever make us happy?

The disciples did this in Acts 5:41 (KJV)

41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.

How is it possible for suffering people to rejoice. To begin with, we realize that it is a privilege to be persecuted for Jesus sake. The very persecution is evidence that we are living like Him and glorifying Him, and that ought to make any Christian rejoice. We can rejoice that in the midst of the furnace, the Son of God is there with us.

This is where the Christian has an opportunity to be an even greater witness for Christ. Even though the persecution you may be living is because of unbelievers, when the world sees a godly believer rejoice during it, it realizes that the Christian life is something more than a mere religion. The greatest opportunities we have for witnessing come when the stones are flying.

We respond to persecution by reigning and rejoicing. But a third way is to release our love.

Matthew 5:44 (KJV)

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

This is a consequence of reigning and rejoicing. Christian love is an attitude of the mind and heart that leads to definite actions of the will. Christian love means that I treat you the way God treats me. If we have sincere Christian love, it will reveal itself in our prayers and our actions. We should be patient, forgiving, and willing to sacrifice for their good. That is exactly what Christ did for us.

WHAT ARE THE REWARDS FOR BEING PERSECUTED FOR CHRIST?

There are definite rewards for the believer who suffers persecution in the will of God. Some may believe that rewards are a poor motive for obedience, but Jesus did not think so. To be sure, character is reward enough. But in His grace, Jesus was willing to add something extra. After all, whatever rewards we receive only bring greater glory to Him, both here and hereafter.

There is a PRESENT reward.

It says, "For theirs IS the kingdom of heaven." He was not talking about entering the kingdom some day, he was talking about enjoying the kingdom now. When you are able to exercise self-control in the midst of persecution and pray for your persecutors and do good to them, then you have entered into the secrets of the throne and the riches of His glory.

Another reward in our present life is our identification with Christ and the prophets. It says, "For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:12). What a holy band of saints to belong to. Here were believers "of whom the world was not worthy," according to Hebrews 11:38. A man's company is a great revealer of a man's character. And we are privileged to fellowship with the prophets of old. I added that we are identified with Christ, because, while He was ministering on earth, Jesus was identified with the suffering prophets of old.

Matthew 16:14 says,…

"Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."

All the men named here were persecuted because of their faith and their faithfulness.

There is also a FUTURE reward.

Matthew 5:12 says, "for great is your reward IN HEAVEN." Never minimize the present power of a future reward. Moses turned his back on Egypt and suffered for it because "he was looking ahead to his reward." (Hebrews 11:26 NIV). Abraham walked by faith as he looked for that city God had promised him.

Jesus encourages us today by promising us heavenly rewards tomorrow. 2 Timothy 2:12 teaches us: "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." It is easy for the comfortable saint to despise promised rewards, but let him go into the fires, and he might change his mind.

CONCLUSION:

It is difficult to believe that men would persecute people who are humble and meek, who are seeking after righteousness, who are merciful and trying to make peace. But they do. And the dedication of the saints to the Lord only magnifies the depravity of the sinners.

In some respect, this final beatitude is a measure of all the others. As we are growing in Christian character, we will experience more and more conflict. It is impossible to have one without the others.

In the Beatitudes Christ says those who follow Him must:

1. recognize their spiritual poverty
2. mourn deeply over sins committed
3. humble themselves before both God and man, submitting to that which is good
4. hunger and thirst for that which is righteous
5. be merciful and gracious
6. display integrity
7. promote peace.

Then He goes on to tell them that for all their labor they will only get trouble. Just as the thief on the cross next to him turned to Jesus and reviled him, for no good reason at all, so men will say all manner of evil against Christians unjustly today. It is not that Jesus wants to tell us that it is better to have enemies than friends, but rather that this will be the normal lot of all Christians.

You can make the argument that you and I will never really ever be alive until we have found something we are willing to die for. Have you found that something yet? If so, what is it? Country? Family?

What about Jesus? Would you be willing to die for the gospel or for Christ? Would I?

How do you think Jesus would want you and me to answer that question? We really don't have to speculate. We have the answer in the letter to the church in Smyrna. Christ says, "Be faithful unto death,…."

You and I may as well make up our minds. If you do not want to be a Christian, then go out and take the world's side. No one will persecute you for the sake of Christ. But if you want Christ and the gospel, then you and I can expect insults, and, potentially, injury. Since this is normal, don't lose heart or become impatient. You are standing in His strength, not yours.

He has promised you who suffer for his name's sake "the kingdom of heaven." Strange as it may sound, it isn't the rich, the successful, nor the troublemaker, nor those who skate around adversity that are the favored ones. Nor do they find happiness that way. But you will. You will be comforted and obtain mercy and be called the children of God. You will even inherit the kingdom of God.

   
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