Blessed Persecuted Ones

“Blessed Persecuted Ones”

Matthew 5:1-10 (5:10) – August 28, 2022

Have you ever stood up for what is right? Even when everyone else was voting against you? That’s a difficult stance to take, for sure. Many prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures stood up and told the people of Israel that they were going the wrong way, or that God was angry with them. And what did the people of Israel do, more often than not? They chased the prophets out of town, or jailed those unpopular prophets. And sometimes, they even killed the prophets of God.

I know the Rabbi Jesus was thinking about some of these same prophets described in the Hebrew Scriptures when He gave the eighth Beatitude: “10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This is a difficult position to take. A difficult position to be in, too! Followers of Christ are persecuted because they are a certain type of person and because they behave in a certain type of manner. Isn’t that what our Lord Jesus is saying?

Our summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus is almost at an end. But, that doesn’t mean that we stop listening to Jesus after next week.

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 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 message of peace and love and caring for all people, no matter what.

In today’s world, not much has changed. Powerful, power-hungry people are still just that – powerful, privileged, usually uncaring about the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. We see it every day in the news, splashed across social media. Who are the downtrodden of today? Those without jobs, without opportunities, without money, without a voice to speak out about injustice and inequality. And, overwhelmingly, these are people below the poverty line, disabled people, persons of color, LGBTQ people, persons who are marginalized in any number of ways. These are often the people who now flock to hear what the Rabbi Jesus (now our Lord Jesus Christ, after the resurrection and ascension) preached to one and all.  

But sometimes, the powerful people of today’s world are not only powerful. They are also satisfied with how things are. After all, they have got theirs! Many people today do not want the world turned topsy-turvy. They want the status quo to continue, very much. Sometimes they will do anything in their power to cause everything to remain exactly the same.

Things were exactly the same in Jesus’ day. The Roman rulers wanted to kill Jesus because they did not want change in their government or their power. They liked making all the decisions, getting richer and more powerful, and did not care what happened to everyone else. [1]

In this eighth Beatitude, Jesus gives His followers fair warning. “Jesus foreshadowed the problems his followers would face if they lived out this upside-down kingdom where the powerless are blessed. Sometimes when we make courageous choices, we will endure criticism, scrutiny, mockery, and sometimes even retaliation from people who do not desire change.” [2]

            Let’s look at this topsy-turvy topic another way. One of the most impactful ways that Jesus taught was through parables. Out of 39 parables in the Gospels, 11 of those parables are about money. In fact, Jesus talked about money in the Gospels more than He discussed faith and prayer combined! Our Lord Jesus really considered money and people’s relationship to money to be of high importance.

            So, why am I pointing out this focus on money? Because talking about money is certainly one way to disturb many, many people today! And I am sure this was true in Jesus’ day, as well. I am sure many people here can remember the FBI or CIA having files or dossiers on “radicals” or “rabble-rousers” who were publicly known for raising a ruckus, for disturbing the peace with their wacky, or way-out speech. Some people even are reminded of the Red Scare of the 1950’s, with the McCarthy hearings in Congress, blacklisting so many people in this country.

            Is the fear and disturbance of the powerful ones today much different from the fear and disturbance of the powerful people of Jesus’ day? I think not. And, what is one way to disturb people today? Start talking about money. How it’s used, how it’s saved, and how it’s spent.  That is sure to get many, many people riled up! Just like Jesus did.

            Talking of money is just one striking example of how Jesus upset the status quo in the first century. But, if we consider the wider picture today, around the world, countless followers of Christ are being actively and bitterly persecuted. It’s happening right now, in dozens of countries, usually sanctioned by their governments. “But will we stand with and pray for those who do [face life-threatening persecution]? Will we choose to stand firm in our faith when we face any form of persecution in our own lives?” [3]

            It does not matter whether we are talking about the first century or the twenty-first. When people challenge powerful people and worldly systems, they face a fight. “Sometimes Jesus’ followers were put in jail, made to leave their country, or shamed by their communities. This is persecution. It’s when people are treated badly and unfairly, especially because of their race, identity, or beliefs.” [4]

            Jesus is very blunt. These are stringent words. He says His followers will face persecution for righteousness’ sake. And, we can thank God for this persecution. This is proof positive that we are indeed Christians, followers of God. Jesus Himself tells us to rejoice! “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” We are indeed citizens of heaven. We are looking forward to our heavenly home!

I ask again, as I have in weeks past: what would Jesus do? How would Jesus bring about righteousness in a tangible way? Go. Do that. And, be blessed, for yours is indeed 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 will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


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

[2] Ibid.

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

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

Blessed Poor People?

“Blessed Poor People?”

Matthew 5:1-5 (5:3) – July 3, 2022

What do you do when a friend or loved one has big feelings? I mean, when someone you love is super sad, or super upset, or super angry?

So many of us feel overwhelmed sometimes. Feelings can be oversized, huge, bigger than big! Overwhelming emotions and feelings can make a person feel like a ton of bricks has just fallen on them. What is a person to do? Does your family have a special remedy for this kind of huge, overwhelming emotional impact? What do you do if your child – or grandchild – is feeling really down and has huge feelings they don’t know what to do with?

Our Lord Jesus talks about just this kind of feeling when He gives us His first Beatitude. You remember the Beatitudes, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, early in the Gospel of Matthew. The Rabbi Jesus has just been getting a lot of press about being a miracle worker and a marvelous teacher, and people have been flocking to hear Him and see Him from miles around.

When the Lord Jesus has the big opportunity to teach a large crowd, what does He lead off with but “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, wait a minute, Jesus! I kind of know what blessed means, and I understand that there are poor people in the world, but what kind of a topic sentence is that? What do you mean, leading off Your big sermon with a confusing idea like this? What gives, Jesus?

Our summer sermon series is called “Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus.” That title certainly applies to this first Beatitude! How on earth are poor people blessed? But, wait. Jesus didn’t say “poor people.” He said people who were (are) “poor in spirit.”

Have you ever had a time when you were down and just wanted things to feel better, for just a little while? I suspect we all feel poor in spirit sometimes.

Our Lord Jesus was well aware of the hurts and pains of the people listening to Him. Not only their physical hurts and pains, because Jesus was a marvelous, miraculous healer! But, also their mental, emotional and psychological hurts and pains, too.

Our Lord Jesus did not place these Beatitudes in a random, haphazard manner. He was very deliberate in the order, in His placement of the different blessings God bestows. We may say there is a logical order in these Beatitudes. Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and this first blessing is a key to all that follows.

We can think of a “kingdom” as the way the world (or the country) works or is set up. In God’s kingdom, there is abundance! Everyone has more than enough honor, and food, love, power and resources for everyone – that means every single person – to live and thrive.[1] What’s more, according to our Lord, all who enter into the kingdom of heaven are poor in spirit. That means an emptying of sorts.

As the wonderful theologian and preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us, being poor in spirit “is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven.” [2] In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows His listeners how to be filled with the manifestation of heaven – of God. But, how are we to be filled with heavenly things if we are not first emptied of worldly things? The worldly, self-centered, all-for-myself attitude?

Jesus and the other citizens of Palestine of the first century were definitely oppressed. The Roman empire was ruling over them, and the people in charge of the local and regional government demanded a lot of taxes. This was not only the money the common folk earned, but also the crops the Jewish people grew and a share of the animals they raised. People were already struggling to provide for themselves and their family. Plus, when they could not pay the taxes the Roman government expected, the Jewish people lost most of what they owned. [3] They were an oppressed nation under an oppressive regime.

Have you ever felt trapped, sad, worried things might never get better? Worried that tomorrow would be just like today, or maybe even worse? That sounds so much like what the people in first-century Palestine were dealing with, every day! Little wonder so many people flocked to hear the message of hope, healing and blessing from the Rabbi Jesus!

This Topsy Turvy Teaching of Jesus is just the beginning of the Beatitudes. Sure, Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit are truly happy, the ones who are truly blessed by God. Not the people who in this world seem to have it all, know it all, or have all the power. Those worldly, puffed up, self-centered, power-hungry people are going to be skipped over by God.

Try clenching your hands to make fists. A fist is a sign of power and strength, isn’t it? But, when our fists are closed tight, we cannot receive anything new, anything of positive value, anything to nurture and to help grow. However, let us open our hands on our lap with palms facing up. This is a physical way to remind us all that we are open to God. [4] We depend on God, and need to be open to learning, growing and changing. We need to empty ourselves of worldly, puffed up, self-centered and power-hungry attitudes that are so common in the world today.

What would Jesus do? Would Jesus be selfish, self-centered and grasping for power and attention? How would Jesus treat the people on the edges of society, the single moms, the elderly without children, the outcast ones, and the friendless? How does Jesus treat you and me? Jesus welcomes the poor in spirit. Jesus welcomes you, and He welcomes me, too.

For ours is the kingdom of heaven. Alleluia, amen!

@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 will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


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

[2] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 42-43.

[3] Illustrated Ministries.

[4] Ibid.