Rejoice and Be Blessed!

“Rejoice and Be Blessed!”

Matthew 5:1-12 (5:11-12) – September 4, 2022

We are at the last of the Beatitudes, and another challenging two verses to consider this week. When people talk about the sayings of Jesus and how “nice” or how “sweet” are the words of Jesus, I wonder, are they aware that most of the words Jesus spoke were divisive? Even arresting? Many of His words are not to provide encouragement and comfort, but instead are to be counter-cultural and challenging to the status quo!

As we come to an end of an extended Gospel reading of the words of our Lord Jesus, I am reminded again and again that Jesus was often counter-cultural and provocative. He wanted to mix it up with the comfortable, settled leaders of His day.

            Let us consider this last Topsy-Turvy Teaching: Jesus said “‘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.’” Challenging words, indeed!

            Just think about it. Looking at His whole ministry over three years throughout Palestine in the first century, the Rabbi Jesus said and did some pretty audacious things! He upset the status quo and the Roman military leaders. Jesus very much disturbed the settled, privileged religious elite of His day. And, the common people, the voiceless and powerless and helpless of His day, flocked to hear what the Rabbi Jesus preached. They were hungry for His counter-cultural message of peace and love and caring for all people, no matter what.

            As we listen to this final Beatitude, we find it is the only Beatitude that Jesus explains in a little more detail. All of the other Beatitudes are a single sentence. Some of them have challenging words, true, but this last Beatitude is particularly difficult to swallow.

            Sure, you and I can TALK about people being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, but to actually experience being persecuted because we are doing the right – and difficult – thing? Persecuted and ridiculed and sometimes even thrown in jail for following Jesus can be an extremely difficult thing to hear. Jesus does not make it any easier by telling us that this kind of persecution was common for the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, too. And, we are to “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.“ Challenging words. indeed!

            We know that people can ordinarily be mean and nasty to one another. That is part and parcel of being human, I am sad to say. Humans make mistakes, step on other peoples’ toes, and sometimes fight and persecute other people simply because of our fallen, fallible, human nature.

            But, in following Jesus Christ, we Christians are fundamentally changed from the inside out. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, we Christians are a new creation! The old has passed away, and behold! We are new from the inside out!

            We can think of a lowly caterpillar. Caterpillars are perfectly functional insects, crawling around, crawling, eating and existing in their environment. Except, have you ever seen a caterpillar spin a chrysalis around itself? After some time, the caterpillar goes through an amazing transformation, and becomes a beautiful butterfly!   

            We Christians have gone through this butterfly process! We are no longer caterpillars, like some other people surrounding us. Butterfly Christians are essentially different, with a completely different nature from the inside out! And, that is a huge reason why following Jesus is such a huge deal. We are as different from people who do not follow Christ as butterflies are different from caterpillars. Non-Christian people recognize this fundamental difference, and thereby revile, speak all kinds of evil falsely, and even persecute Christians, just as the Hebrew prophets were reviled, had all kinds of evil and insults thrown at them, and were even persecuted and jailed for standing up for God and God’s ways.

            But why, Jesus? Why do we have to go through this persecution? That’s a great question, and Jesus gives us an answer right here. He says, “Rejoice and be glad! For great is your reward in heaven!” We know that non-Christian people sometimes behave in a nasty and even devilish manner! We butterfly Christians feel our hearts breaking “at the effect of sin in others that makes them do this. So, [Christians] never rejoice in the fact of persecution.” [1]

            How often do you think of heaven and rejoice as you think of it? I am sorry to say that I do not think of heaven as often as I ought to. Yet, this is exactly what our Lord Jesus tells us to do. Because, when you and I are persecuted, we receive the proof positive that we belong to Christ, that we are going to be with Him in heaven and share in all the joy that heaven can hold!

As we come to the end of these Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus, it is good to consider what Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, these few short but important verses. Let’s summarize: “We are poor in spirit and recognize our need for a savior. We mourn over our sins and meekly submit to the Lord. When we do these things, we begin to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. God gives us the kingdom of heaven, he comforts us and tells us we’ll inherit the earth, and he fills us with his righteousness. After all the brokenness, we begin to grow in our ability to love others. We become merciful and pure in heart and peacemakers. When we begin to do those things, we will be persecuted. And that’s okay, because we gain the kingdom of heaven!” [2]

As we “work to bring God’s kingdom on earth, you can expect there to be people who react harshly. Even though this is really hard to face and experience, Jesus tells his followers persecution is a normal part of living out God’s love. You are actually blessed as a result of people persecuting you.” [3]

If there is one thing I want you all to remember from the past weeks we have considered the Beatitudes, it’s this: God blesses us abundantly when we follow God. So, we do not need to be afraid to stand up for Jesus. I ask again, as I have in most weeks: what would Jesus do? Or, how would Jesus act? What would Jesus say? Go, do that. Speak like Jesus. Walk like Jesus. Go, do that. And be richly blessed, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.   

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I have been using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 141.

[2] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-nine/

[3] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43-48 – February 19, 2017

matt-5-44-love-enemies-pray

“Love Your Enemies”

Rules are good things. Rules help us to know what are good things to do, or prudent actions to avoid. Rules—or laws—or commands give us guidelines for how to behave, and what is or is not acceptable. You all know the rules of the road, and traffic laws we need to follow. We have codes of conduct and ethical guidelines for different professions. All of these are rules, laws, codes. Commands.

Moses talked about commands, too. The Ten Commandments, and an elaboration of the big ten, too. That’s what we have for our Old Testament reading today. We used a modern translation, Eugene Peterson’s The Message, to give us a fresh understanding of this important part of God’s rule book, or God’s guidelines for living.

There are 613 laws—or rules—or commands—in the Law of Moses, in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the last few weeks, our Gospel readings have Jesus starting with a big law from Moses’s Law Code, and then elaborating on it. Not reciting the law by rote, like some child at school, but much more than that. Jesus transcends the Law of Moses, every time.

Like last week. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21? “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’” He quickly followed with Matthew 5:22—”But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Transcending the Law of Moses, with additional information. Jesus was talking about the inside job, about how people’s feelings translated to their outward actions. Today’s reading from Matthew 5 goes even further. How does Jesus begin? In verse 43: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that.”

We all know how children scuffle and argue together. Imagine a playground or the park in your mind, with a group of kids. Two of them start arguing. The argument escalates. Soon they are name-calling, first one, then the other. Then, they start pushing one another. They push harder, and more vigorously. Before you know it, punches start flying. Maybe the friends on both sides get involved, and we have an outright brawl on our hands.

What did Jesus say, again? “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that.” And then, Jesus goes a step—or three—further. He adds: “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer.” This may well be the hardest thing that Jesus ever told us to do.

We can tell, from specific examples in the surrounding verses, that Jesus was thinking about the occupying Roman forces. He gave several examples of how His listeners ought to act when confronted by Roman soldiers, and made some recommendations on how to respond. Positively, courteously, and not in a retaliatory way! Turn the other cheek; don’t hit back. Give the soldier your cloak, and the shirt off your back, too.

Jesus said—in extremely plain language—we are not to retaliate. Not to escalate things, or make things bigger, or worse, or to blow things out of proportion. Jesus said “Love your enemies.”

Here is the parallel passage from Luke 6:32-33, where Jesus is also preaching. “27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.”

I know this may be difficult for us. But—what part of this rule do we not understand? Or, is it just really, really challenging for us to live up to this particular command of Jesus? This is part of God’s rule book. This is the ultimate. The pinnacle. This is the last of the laws from the Law Book of Moses that Jesus quotes here, and then goes even further in His interpretation.

We sit, in our safe, warm church, looking back at the first century. We consider Jesus, talking about the occupying Roman forces. They had the whole nation of Israel under their collective thumb. But, we aren’t under occupation, being crushed by enemy forces or living under martial law. However, the nation of Israel was. What’s more, Jesus knew it, very well. Even more than that—Jesus gave these commands, or rules, for believers to follow, with full knowledge of the land of Israel being under occupation.

One of the commentators I consult regularly had this example listed for the Gospel reading today. Carolyn Brown describes a children’s book called The Christmas Menorahs: How A Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn. She tells us, “A hate group threw a rock through the bedroom window of a Jewish boy in Billings, Montana.  There was a menorah lit in the window.  In response, the children of the town drew menorahs to put in their own windows.  The local newspaper printed a full page menorah for other families to color in.  It was the community’s way of standing up to a bunch of bullies.” [1]

Thus, a loving, non-violent, empowering way of standing up for someone being bullied. Of loving one’s enemies, just like Jesus said.

“The book includes the legend about the King of Denmark wearing a yellow star when the occupying Nazis decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow star.” [2]

I remember what a dear senior friend of mine told me, who grew up in the hilly region of France not far from Switzerland. She was a child during World War Two. A number of unaccompanied Jewish refugee children were being housed in their small town. A very devout, Christian town, let me add. The occupying Nazi forces demanded that the Jewish children wear the yellow stars of David, indicating they were Jewish. My friend’s mother sewed yellow stars for every child and young person in that town. They all wore the yellow stars, every day, whether Jewish or Christian. That is how they combatted the Nazi occupying forces, using peaceful, non-violent means. (And, they saved the lives of every Jewish child in that small town.)

Remember what Jesus said in response to the question: “But, who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Jewish people could not stand the Samaritans! Jesus knew that! Yet, that was just His point.

Is it difficult to show love to our enemies? To those who hate us? Yet, this is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. This is right up at the top of God’s rule book, right next to “Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Including our enemies. Including whomever is a Samaritan to each of us.

Yes, loving our enemies is difficult, and challenging. It’s difficult for me, and I suspect it’s a challenge to a number of others here, too. But, God will help us. All we need to do is ask God for help with loving others who are difficult for us to love.

Listen to the words of Jesus, finishing this Gospel passage: “48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.” We already know what to do and how to live. Let’s go out, and live like it.

Alleluia! Amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-seventh-sunday-after-epiphany.html Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 7, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014. 2011.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-seventh-sunday-after-epiphany.html Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 7, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014. 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)