“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.” 
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!” 
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.” 
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.
(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!)
 Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 141.
 Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.