Stephen was one of
the first deacons in the church at Jerusalem. They
were men who were well-attested, full of the Spirit
and of wisdom. Stephen is described as "full of
grace and power and the Spirit was with him as he
spoke." When it came time to give witness to Jesus
Christ he did not appease the politically correct
crowd. He spoke before the Jewish Council in
Jerusalem and gave one of the finest presentations
of how God is sovereign over the affairs of the
Jewish people (Acts 7:1-53).
The listening crowd
"became furious and ground their teeth at him. But
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently
toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus
standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55)
Stephen spoke up, "Look!" "I see the heavens opened,
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of
God!" (Acts 7:56). The crowd responded by covering
their ears and shouting out with a loud voice, and
rushed at toward him. They drove Stephen out of the
city an "began to stone him." They continued stoning
him while he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my
spirit!" Then he fell to his feet and cried out with
a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against
them!" (Acts 7:57-60).
"There is a happy land where saints in glory stand,
There's a land that is fairer than day,
by faith we can see it afar:
the Father waits over the way,
prepare us a dwelling place there."
Another chapter was
written in the Book of Acts.
Jesus said, "Blessed
are those who have been persecuted for the sake of
righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute
you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you
because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward
in heaven is great; for in the same way they
persecuted the prophets who were before you"
PROSPEROUS PEOPLE ARE PERSECUTED
The person describe
as "blessed" is in a right relationship with the
LORD God through Jesus Christ. He is being conformed
to the image and likeness of Christ (Col. 1:27-29;
Rom. 8:28-29). He can be described as being after
God's own heart. It is a serene and untouchable
self-contained joy that is beyond the chances,
changes and circumstances in life. This spiritual
prosperity has its root, not in outward
circumstances, but in inward condition of character.
It is a life lived in a right relationship with God.
This kind of life is absolutely secure and
impregnable. It comes from walking in the presence
of the Lord Jesus Christ and being conformed to His
image and likeness.
Jesus gives us a
well-rounded portrait of His disciples. It begins
with a humble admission of spiritual poverty and
mourning over sin and depravity. This produces an
attitude of gentleness in his relationships. He is a
Spirit-controlled person who hungers and thirsts
after righteousness. This hunger causes him to grow
in grace and knowledge of God. He has a humble
transparency in his dealings with God and men. He
has experienced the mercy of God and treats others
with the same mercy. He has experienced God’s peace
in the inner most part of his soul and now he wants
others to experience that same peace. The disciple
of Jesus experiences the same hostile treatment as
Such a person is
approved of God and as a result is in direct
antagonism to the values of the world system. It is
because the values and standards of Jesus Christ are
in direct conflict with the commonly accepted values
and standards of the world. We have heard much in
the news and media publications about values, family
values and clarifying our values. It is the "in
thing" in the media. "Values" is a word you can
throw around and have it mean anything you want it
to mean and make everybody else think you mean the
same thing they do. It is a politician’s catchall
word. But what you are not being told is there are
clearly two opposing standards of values––one that
is distinctively characterized by the righteousness
of Jesus Christ and the other standard that is set
by the world. Like water and oil they do not mix.
Jesus said you will love one and hate the other. You
cannot serve God and the world system at the same
time. In fact, the world won’t let you do it. You
cannot serve two masters. Because of your
identification with Christ you will be persecuted.
Jesus said the
"persecuted" are blessed. Theirs is the "kingdom of
heaven." We have come full circle. "Blessed are the
poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"
(Mat. 5:3). The spiritually poor and the persecuted
have one thing in common.
The word "persecuted"
means to pursue with hostile intent; thus,
ridiculed, denounced, ill–treated, injured,
threatened with death, inflict injury upon you. It
is the imagery of being hunted down like an animal
and killing it. In our context it means being chased
or driven away. In the New Testament it is used of
inflicting pain and suffering on people who hold
differing beliefs. This is the kind of
persecution Jesus has in mind.
The tense of the verb
suggests those "who have allowed themselves to be
persecuted," or "have endured persecution." The idea
is that they did not flee from it, but willingly
submitted to it when it came to them.
In verse eleven, Jesus
said, "Blessed are you when people insult you and
persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil
against you because of Me" (Mat. 5:7). Jesus said
they will "revile you" meaning reproach, revile,
heap insults upon you, upbraid them in violent
language, will call you evil and contemptuous names,
ridicule you because you are Christians. The enemies
will try to capitalize on hostility toward you and
use verbal abuse, reproaching, and abusive and
offensive language. However, believers are to live
above reproach so they never rightly deserve this
kind of abuse as a form of punishment.
Believers can expect
that they will "say all kinds of evil against you
falsely." These are a great variety of hostile
accusations, lying, deliberately inventing the most
improbable lies. Every conceivable harmfulness in a
hostile sense, such as hostile speech and hostile
accusations are intended.
A number of years ago
newspapers in a Latin American country deliberately
printed disinformation on Quechua Indian
ministries and mission directors, pastors, etc. On
one occasion an embassy manufactured poll results,
surveys, interviews, and documentaries and provided
them as exclusive interviews for a very popular
radio station to broadcast. This disinformation was
provided to sway voters and turn the election. When
confronted with the evidence they confessed up and
said it had been going on over a long period of
time. They just happened to get caught that time.
Even a professing Christian, the pride and joy of
evangelical outreach, and the head a large news
department in a prestigious radio station of high
integrity "doctored" the news to reflect an
anti–Christian, communist viewpoint when President
Allende was assassinated in Chile. The news director
deliberately rewrote the news and gave it a
procommunist slant. Persecution comes in many ways
and varieties. Sometimes it is focused on
individuals or churches or mission organizations,
and at other times it is broad anti-Christian
persecution (Mat. 5:10-11)
Jesus is specific as
to the cause of persecution. The important thing
Christ emphasized is "for the sake of
righteousness," and "on account of Me" (Mat.
5:10-11). If you are a disciple of Christ this
is what is going to happen to you. The believer is
persecuted because he is a certain type of person
and because he behaves in a certain way. This what
is going to happen to you because you are a
People will suffer for
doing evil things, but such suffering is punishment,
not persecution. Jesus is not saying that people in
general will receive a blessing because they are
persecuted for whatever cause. Those who receive the
blessing for being persecuted are those who are
identified with Christ and persecuted because they
are like Him. Reproach, persecution and slander are
occasions of blessings, not punishment for
Jesus will not
compromise His standards to accommodate the world’s
values. And neither can or will His true disciples.
Thus we are thrown into a sharp conflict of values.
The result is a cosmic spiritual warfare.
Who will be
persecuted? Those who are characterized as having
Christian character will be persecuted. They are
"righteous," i.e. they are those who have a right
standing before God based upon the death and
resurrection of Christ. They are dikaiosune
"righteous." They are like Christ. They are
persecuted because of the character and quality of
their lives. They uphold God's standards of justice
and refuse to compromise with paganism. In the
process they are being conformed to the image and
likeness of Christ.
Because of our
identification with Christ we are "salt" and "light"
and the world cannot tolerate that standard.
"Anybody who enters into fellowship with Jesus must
undergo a trans valuation of values," said
Thielicke. It is like sprinkling salt into open
putrid sores and shinning a light on to the
corruption in a dark pagan world.
The gulf is between
the disciples and the people. Jesus refused to be in
tune with the world or to accommodate to its
standards. Jesus did not fit into the politically
correct crown. The world has always rejected the
disciples of Jesus for the same values. Things have
not changed. They are unwelcomed guests in a world
that is diametrically opposed to the values of
Christ. Just like the first century apostles they
are disturbers of peace by the world’s standards.
The New Testament is
full of examples of persecution and how the early
church dealt with her distinctiveness. Here are a
few for you to checkout: Hebrews 11:33-38; 2 Cor.
11:23ff; Acts 6:8-15; 7:54-8:1; Jn. 15:18-25; 1
Peter 4:13, 14; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12.
Cross-reference these with other Scripture passages
and I think you will be amazed at how major a theme
this is in the Bible.
Jesus said this
persecution is "on the account of Me." It is because
you belong to Christ.
Not because they
This persecution comes
not because they deserve it. It is not because of
power struggles with others. It is not because of
selfishness, martyr complex, paranoia, or because
they are hostile, critical, and judgmental and are
now getting back what they have been giving out to
others. The Christian is not to give them a reason
for punishment by the very character of their
character affects every aspect of our life: our
work, social life, home, politics, etc. And we
become salt and light in those crucial areas of our
There came a time in
the history of the Rome Empire that it became
compulsory for its citizens to pinch a small piece
of incense and throw it on the altar and say,
"Caesar is Lord." This is what the believer of the
Lord Jesus Christ refused to do. Jesus Christ is
Lord and none other. God the Father has "highly
exalted" Jesus Christ "above every name." Every knee
will bow to Jesus Christ in heaven and on earth and
under the earth. One day "every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to be the glory of God
the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
Modern day Christians
would quickly brand the early Christians
narrow–minded bigots and extremist. In a day when
tolerance is taken to the extreme to mean you cannot
have any deeply held personal convictions it is in
vogue to be intolerant of those who are committed
Christians. The most intolerant people you see and
hear in the media are those who are intolerant of
Christians who desire to be like Christ.
The apostle Peter
concluded one of his greatest messages saying, "And
there is salvation in no one else; for there is no
other name under heaven that has been given among
men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The
religious leaders of his day did not like what he
said, and they hounded him like a wild animal. The
words of Jesus were fulfilled once again.
THE RESPONSE OF
SPIRITUALLY PROSPEROUS PEOPLE TO PERSECUTION.
Attitudes of the
Jesus describes our
attitudes by saying, "rejoice and be glad" (Mat.
5:12). The original word for "be glad" is from the
verb agalliasthai meaning "to leap
exceedingly." It is a joy that "leaps for joy." This
joy does not leave them when the circumstances in
life change. We can translate it "exult, be glad,
overjoyed, be exceedingly glad," or literally "jump
This is not our
The typical response
of the world is to sulk like a child, to lick our
wounds in self–pity like a dog, or just grin and
bear it like a Stoic or pretend we enjoy it like a
masochist. Jesus said, "But I say to you, love your
enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so
that you may be sons of your Father who is in
heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil
and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and
the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you,
what reward do you have? Do not even the tax
collectors do the same? If you greet only your
brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do
not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are
to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"
Worthy to suffer
The apostle Paul
demonstrated in his life that mature Christianity
rejoices while being persecuted. Paul and Silas were
in the inner dungeon in the Philippian jail after
having been severely beaten with many stripes. Their
feet were secured in stocks with chains on their
feet and at midnight Paul and Silas were praying,
and singing praises unto God. They were having a
worship service in the jail! Jesus said, "For where
two or three have gathered together in My name, I am
there in their midst" (Matt. 18:20). They were
rejoicing in His presence counting it a privilege
and opportunity to suffer for Him.
Acts chapter five
tells us about "great fear came upon the whole
church" in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit purged
Ananias and Sapphira from it. The church was filled
with the Holy Spirit, but the high priest and all
his associates "were filled with jealousy, and laid
their hands on the apostles, and put them in a
public jail" (Acts 5:17-18). An angel came during
the night and set them free. At daybreak the
apostles were in the Temple preaching! Someone
reported it to the authorities and they were once
again confronted. "We gave you strict orders not to
continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have
filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to
bring this man's blood upon us" (Acts 5:28). They
still whine that same tune. Peter, filled with the
Spirit of God said, "We must obey God rather than
men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom
you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He
is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a
Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel,
and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:29-31). That didn't
calm things down. "But when they heard this, they
were cut to the quick and were intending to slay
them" (Acts 5:33). Finally the Sanhedrin listened to
Gamaliel and "after calling the apostles in, they
flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in
the name of Jesus, and then released them." What was
the response of the apostles after another flogging?
Verse forty-one reads, "So they went on their way
from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that
they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for
His name" (Acts 5:40-41).
Believers in the early
church could rejoice and be glad because they were
persecuted because of the Name of Jesus. The joy of
the believer under fire is to be, not in spite of,
but because of persecution. It is a indication of
You are in good
persecution is completely contrary to the world’s
way of thinking. Persecution is the evidence of
genuineness. It has been described as the
"certificate of authenticity" of the true believer.
Jesus and the writer of Hebrews reminds us we are in
good company––they killed the prophets before us. In
the great hall of faith chapter the writer tells us
of those who have walked by faith down through the
centuries who "experienced mockings and scourgings,
yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned,
they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were
put to death with the sword; they went about in
sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute,
afflicted, ill–treated (men of whom the world was
not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and
caves and holes in the ground" (Hebrews 11:36-38).
Jesus said, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in
heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted
the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:12). If
we are persecuted today we belong to a noble
succession of believers. In the early church
persecution for the true believer was as widespread
as universal popularity was of the false prophets.
If we have the privilege of being persecuted we are
in good company. We are in a fellowship that is
rejected by the world system. It is the badge of
Salt and light
Jesus went on to
describe the penetrating power of the gospel in
people who are transformed by it as likened to
"light" and "salt" (Mat. 5:13-16). "You are the salt
of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless,
how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good
for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled
under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A
city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone
light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the
lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the
house. Let your light shine before men in such a way
that they may see your good works, and glorify your
Father who is in heaven."
Christians must be
salty. We need to pour a lot of salt on that which
is corrupted, and we need to focus the light of
God’s Word in on spiritual darkness. We are to live
Christ before a watching world. We are to live it
out as salt and light.
You are "salt" (Mat.
5:13). Salt preserves from total corruption and
destruction. It preserves and gives flavor to life.
It also stimulates the appetite.
We are to be a moral
disinfectant in a world whose standards are low,
constantly changing, or non-existent. We are to have
a preserving effect upon the community.
Pure sodium chloride
does not deteriorate. Jesus is probably emphasizing
adulteration of character. It would be unthinkable
for the disciples to lose their character just as
for salt to become salt less.
Moreover, the world is
absolutely dark spiritually; light penetrates and
illumines that darkness. Jesus said told His
disciples, "You alone are like the light of the
In the same way a
small well-placed lamp lights everyone in the one
room house. Let your light shine before men. Our
Christian life should be perfectly visible to all
men, at work, at play, at home.
You ask, what has this
to do with persecution? Everything. What is your
light? It is our daily life style and witness. It is
where you live out your Christian values. If you
live Christ before a watching world there is a price
to pay. The cause of persecution is salt and light.
The world does not like salt rubbed into its open
putrid sores and rottenness. It detests the Light of
Jesus Christ exposing its corruption in a dark and
Don't miss the
important message in this beatitude of Christ. We
live in a day where the emphasis is come on down
cast your vote for Jesus. Come on sign up here today
and we will guarantee you a life of your dreams.
Christ will give you all your desires if you just
come on and vote for Him today. We have a prosperity
plan for you. We will guarantee you with eternal
security and joy and happiness and fulfillment.
Give me a break! Jesus
promised none of the sort. He did promise, "Blessed
are those who have been persecuted for the sake of
righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute
you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely,
on account of me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your
reward in heaven is great for so they persecuted the
prophets who were before you." Does that sound like
a Madison Avenue ad campaign and multimedia blitz?
REWARD OF THOSE WHO
ENDURE PERSECUTION (Mat. 5:10, 12).
Those who undergo
persecution for God's cause and not for any fault of
their own receive a blessing –– the kingdom of
heaven is theirs.
The reward is not
salvation. The disciples are already saved. This is
a blessing that is in store for those who follow
Christ in persecution because of His righteousness.
God sustains the persecuted with His grace today.
But He also rewards them in the future for the
persecution they endure in the present.
You are "blessed"
because you submit to the will of God. Because of
persecution you are being conformed to the image and
likeness of Christ. Note in verse one this is the
same underlying attitude and the same ultimate
reward. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven." Now Jesus says, "Blessed
are those who have been persecuted for the sake of
righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
. . Blessed are you when . . ." Perhaps it is even a
"Theirs is the kingdom
of heaven" (Mat. 5:10). "Your reward in heaven
is great" (Mat. 5:12).
I like the reminder of
John R. W. Stott: "We may lose everything on earth,
but we shall inherit everything in heaven––not as a
reward for merit, however, because the promise of
the reward is free."
principles and practical applications
When you hunger and
thirst for righteousness you will suffer for the
righteousness you hunger after. This has been true
in every age of Christianity. It is true today. We
should be surprised if anti–Christian hostility does
What is my life and
witness like when the heat is on? What are our
reactions to the pressures of life? Do we
compromise and give in? Do we stand alone?
Do we face the battle? Are we prone to
compromise and therefore become adulterated? Have we
become worthless salt?
Am I like salt and
light to the community? It is the nature of
light to illume––to shine.
Do I rejoice and am I
glad when I am persecuted because I am like Jesus?
Are my attitudes and
behavior being conformed to the image and likeness
of Jesus Christ? If so, we can expect to
be persecuted (Mat. 5:12).
Am I quick to
compromise even on little things? Am I quick to seek
"peace at any price"?
In second century
Christianity a businessman went up to Tertullian
discussing business affairs. He ended the
conversation by asking, "What can I do? I must
live!" "Must you?" replied Tertullian. "Must you!"
We too are faced with choices of loyalty and living.
Polycarp was bishop of
Smyrna in the early church. He was dragged before
the tribunal of the Roman magistrate and given the
choice of sacrificing to the godhead of Caesar or
die. The old venerable preacher replied, "Eighty and
six years have I served Christ, and he has done me
no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
They proceeded to take him to the stake and as the
flames leaped upon his body he prayed, "O Lord God
Almighty, the Father of thy well–beloved and
ever–blessed Son, by whom we have received the
knowledge of Thee. . . I thank thee that Thou hast
graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this
May He give us courage
to do likewise.