Righteous is as Righteous Does

October 11, 2009

 Have you ever done the right thing only to take it on the chin. Either the person you did the right thing for reciprocated in the opposite fashion or in performing the good deed you ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know you give someone a ride home and on your way back someone runs a red light and you’re in an accident. It goes to prove the validity of Clare Boothe Luce statement “No good deed goes unpunished.”

 Most of us are familiar with the Beatitudes, you know the sayings of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount. And we find them comforting and inspiring. We love to hear that the poor in spirit and meek will be blessed. That God looks with favour on those who are humble and those who pursue justice. And who wouldn’t agree that the pure of heart and those who seek peace deserve a special place in heaven.

 There are organizations and groups who use the beatitudes as their guidelines and principles. The beatitudes have ended up on posters, bookmarks and mugs. But usually they stop before they get to the end. Because while we understand all that Jesus said about the poor in spirit, and the pure of heart and the peace makers the eighth beatitude isn’t nearly as easy to comprehend as the first seven. Compared to number eight the first seven are down right self explanatory.

 Matthew 5:10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. It’s like karma in reverse. Not only does Christ say “Happy are those who are persecuted” but he adds “Happy are those who are persecuted for doing right.” Now I think there is only one thing that would bug me more then being persecuted for doing wrong. Hey, we may know that we need to be punished but we don’t have to enjoy it, do we? What would really bug me is being punished for doing good. It would be one thing to get a speeding ticket for speeding but a completely different thing to get a speeding ticket because you were rushing someone to the hospital.

 Thank you very much we certainly appreciate the wonderful job you’ve done, off with your head. Doesn’t make much sense does it? Not only is the basic principle of unjust persecution causing happiness confusing the very idea is downright bizarre.

 But isn’t it the person with the lofty ideals, high principles and fine behaviour who draws the applause from the world? Think about it, a number of years ago at Madam Tussauds Waxwork museum, in London, 35,000 international visitors were asked over a 10 year period to name the people they admired most in history, the top five choices were, 1) Winston Churchill 2) Joan of Arc 3) Jesus Christ 4) John F. Kennedy and 5) Robin Hood. Doesn’t that prove that society recognizes and heaps honours on those who serve its causes and contribute to its welfare? Isn’t that the tenant of the Canadian dream, do right and you’ll be rewarded for it? Just think about Albert Swetzer, Mother Theresa, and Florence Nightingale. It’s a long way from Canada to Australia but every September Aussies around the country laced on their sneakers for the Terry Fox run.

 Our world revolves around those who do good and seek peace right? They are the ones who receive the rewards and accolades? Sure just ask Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Joan of Arc, Jim Elliot and Yitzac Rabin. And yet many of us still feel that if we are good enough and kind enough and loving enough long enough that the whole world will hug us. And it’s a real shock to discover that just ain’t the way it is.

 So the first thing you need to know is: We Will Be Persecuted Because Of Who We Are

 After all we have to recognize that if society, and society is just made up of people, and people is people is people. If society could persecute and eventually murder Jesus Christ, the son of God, than the same society will ultimately persecute those who follow Jesus and call themselves by his name.

 If Jesus suffered what he suffered at the hands of mankind, then it would be absurd for us to expect to escape. As a matter of fact Christ didn’t leave his disciples in the dark; he discussed in great detail what they could expect. He told them in John 15:18-21 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me.”

 Bet that’s not your favourite passage of scripture, I’d even be willing to wager that you forgot it was in the bible or you don’t think it should apply to you. Now we have to realize what Christ is saying and that is that everyone who calls themselves by His name will eventually suffer persecution. That is inevitable, so if we are going to have to suffer the key question is: what are we going to suffer for? Something that won’t cause happiness or something that will make you happy?

 We Will Be Persecuted Because Of What We Do

 Jesus states that happiness happens to those who suffer for the right reasons. In other words since we are going to suffer anyway, than it ought to be for the right reasons. Now if you suffer persecution because you are odd, strange or absurd in your conduct then it probably won’t cause happiness.

 Christians aren’t called to be exhibitionist; we weren’t called to stand out by our appearance but because of our actions. Some Christians call attention to themselves by outlandish behaviour or bizarre conduct but when they attract abuse by their absurd lifestyles they act outraged. But really aren’t they just getting what they deserve? After all Daniel may have been in the Lions Den, but he wasn’t pulling any tails. I don’t think that Jesus was calling us to look for persecution, but I think he was telling us that there’s a pretty good chance it will find us without any help at all.

 In his book “Salt for Society” Phillip Keller states “Christ called us to be gracious in spirit, humbled in heart, easily entreated and disciplined to do his will in the world with mercy, peace and good will.” Jesus didn’t say blessed are those who are persecuted for absurdity sake, but blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Or again happiness happens to those who suffer for the right reasons. And what are the right reasons? The one thing that Jesus kept going back to: the Kingdom of God.

 Persecution that comes from our attempts to establish the kingdom bring happiness because they aren’t in vain. But when we think about it we really have it easy today. Historically Christianity affected every area of a person’s life, from their work to the social life to their family life. In the generation after Christ’s death and resurrection believers literally lived in fear for their lives. Each year citizens of the Roman Empire had to pay tribute to the Emperor by offering a pinch of incense and saying “Caesar is Lord.” After you made the statement you were free to do whatever you wanted. The problem was that the early Christians refused because of their belief that only Christ is Lord and because of that their lives became very cheap.

 Those who belonged to the early church were often burnt at a stake, wrapped in animal skins and thrown to wild dogs or tortured on racks. The physical suffering they endured is beyond our imagination. If we were undergoing the same sort of persecutions today Christians would have to wear labels that said “Health Canada has determined that being a Christian is hazardous to ones health and well being”

 We might not be tortured or killed in Canada in 2009, but persecution still exists for Christians. Even if it’s the way we are depicted in the media and on television. Even if it means that you can’t advance in your career because of the moral high ground you have claimed. Even if it means you are ostracized from your peers because of your stand. Why? Why are Christians still persecuted today? Why are those who live righteous lives so often wronged? Why is it that though out history the Cains continue to attack the Abels?

 We Will Be Persecuted Because Of What They Do Josh Billings was an American humorist in the 1800’s and he said “It is a statistical fact that the wicked work harder to reach hell than the righteous do to enter heaven.” Not only do they work harder to reach hell but they work harder to justify their behavior, and don’t appreciate criticism.

 1) Good and Evil are mutually exclusive Truth and deception cannot coexist anymore then decency and degeneration, or right and wrong, or light and darkness. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?
2) The evil person, the wrong doer, the decadent individual always feels threatened by the righteous.
And the easiest way to stop feeling threatened by something is to eliminate it. And so those who are evil attempt to eliminate the righteous through outright attack, abuse or condemnation. Why do they feel threatened? Because if you live your life the way it’s supposed to be lived than your very life is a rebuke to those who don’t. Because they know that’s how they should be living their lives but they have a whole range of excuses of why they can’t live that way. It’s too hard, I can’t do it but nobody else can do it either so why worry? And then someone else does it. Hebrews 11:7 It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

 3) There Are Many People Who Aren’t Good Moral Righteous People. Regardless of what people say we don’t live in a Christian country, believers are in the minority, as a matter of fact with less then seven percent of the population attending evangelical churches we don’t even come close.

 God’s people are in the minority, facing an unfriendly majority. Now the average man on the street isn’t overly hostile to the church as much as he is apathetic. As long as the church feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and doesn’t rock the boat everyone is happy as can be. But when the church begins to do what it was called to do, and that is to challenge the world and it’s behaviour that’s when the world begins to get upset.

 And it’s at this point that we will be persecuted whether we deserve it or not. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. The world loves having the church as a lap dog, but let the puppy show it’s teeth and see how long before it’s in the backyard on a chain.

 The more godly and more righteous we are the greater the chances are that we will be abused and persecuted. Joseph was dumped in a well then thrown in prison, Elijah was hunted like an animal, Daniel was thrown to the lions, Stephen was stoned to death and Jesus was hung on a cross to die. As a matter of fact Christ warns us in Luke 6:26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets. How are men speaking of you these days?

 Persecution today may not mean being thrown to the lions but it is still around. It may affect you in your work, your social life, and your family. If you’ve been there you don’t need me to explain. And so the beatitudes end the way they began with the promise of receiving the kingdom of God.

 It is here that something strange happens, Christ does something that he hasn’t done in the previous eleven verses; he repeats himself. Every other beatitude is mentioned only once but listen to verses eleven and twelve Matthew 5:11-12 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

 Now I wonder why Jesus felt it necessary to repeat that last thought? I wonder if maybe it was for the same reason that we sometimes repeat ourselves, because we think that what we’re trying to communicate is important. We don’t want folks to miss what we’re saying. But again the emphasis is not on what others are saying about you nearly as much as why they are saying it. Christ specifically said Matthew 5:11-12 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” Did you catch the important part? What they say has to be false, if they say you’re a phoney and you really are a phoney you’re not going to get a blessing.

 And Jesus said when this happens, don’t be discouraged, don’t be frustrated, don’t get angry and upset, instead he says Be happy about it! Be very glad! the NJKV says Be exceedingly glad. Why rejoice? For three reasons, the first is It Means You are Doing Something For God. If you’re being persecuted because of Christ it is indicative that you are doing something for Christ and the enemy considers you a threat. Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher in England 150 years ago and he said “The best evidence of God’s presence is the Devil’s growl.” Does Satan consider you a threat? When was the last time you heard him growl?

 The second thing that we need to rejoice about is that The Story Is Not Over Yet. Matthew 5:11-12 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” A couple of thoughts on this, the first is that God is no man’s debtor and the second is that not all of His debts are settled this side of eternity.

 Ray Stedman tells the story of an old missionary couple who had been working in Africa for many years and were returning to New York City to retire. With no pension and broken in health, they were discouraged, & fearful of the future.

 They happened to be on the same ship as Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from a big game hunting expedition. they watched the passengers trying to glimpse the president, the crew fussing over him, and the hoopla that accompanied the president’s entourage.

 But no one noticed them. The missionary said to his wife, “Something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these many years and have no one care a thing about us? Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everyone one makes much over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us.”

 At the dock in New York a band was waiting to greet the president. The mayor and other important people were present. Reporters were there to fill the papers with news of the event. But the missionary couple slipped off the ship unnoticed.

 That night, in a cheap little apartment the man’s spirit finally broke and he said to his wife, “I can’t take this; God’s not treating us right, it’s not fair.” His wife suggested that he go into the bedroom and tell the Lord how he felt, so he did. A short time later he came out of the bedroom and his wife could tell just by looking at him that something had changed. And so she asked, “Dear what happened?” “The Lord settled it with me” he said “I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. and when I finished it seemed as though he Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, “But you’re not home yet”

 The third reason we need to rejoice is laid down in the thought Christ ends on “And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” You’re in Good Company. This isn’t a matter of “Misery loves company” but simply an acknowledgement that you aren’t unique and being picked on.

 Probably the question asked the most often when we suffer or wake up in the morning with a cold or go through persecution is “Why me?” And the answer is the same for all of the above “Why not?” The deeper answer to the first and the second is “because we are people”. And we live on a fallen earth where tragedy and suffering happens. And the answer to the third is “because we are God’s people” And don’t look around and say “well so and so doesn’t have any problems.” You will never know the problems and suffering that go on behind closed doors.

 In 28 years of pastoral ministry I have discovered that public personas don’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes it’s because people are ashamed of their problems and sometimes it just that they are private people and don’t feel the need to advertise their suffering.

 So here is a thought and a promise to finish this morning: the thought comes from Mark Twain who said “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

 And the promise comes from the Old Testament book of Isaiah where God promises his people, you, this Isaiah 43:2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.