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Eternity 113 - Persecution And The Kingdom Of Heaven - Part 1

(Matthew 5:10-16 NKJV) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. {11 } "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. {12 } "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. {13 } "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. {14 } "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. {15 } "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. {16 } "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

INTRODUCTION

Many Christians face persecution for their faith particularly in places like Sudan and Saudi Arabia, and the estimates vary between 150,000 to 300,000 martyrs per annum ! (David Barret: World Christian Encyclopedia) Persecution is a reality and even has made an impact on my own life particularly when I lived in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Jesus is very unusual in saying the persecution makes us blessed. It certainly doesn't feel very blessed! So what does He mean by "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

To answer this we have to be very honest and take a hard look at what we mean by blessing. How can physical and emotional maltreatment be a sign of blessing from God? Surely blessing means comfort and material prosperity? If this is so and blessing is merely "health and wealth" then persecution and seizure of possessions, torture and death are obviously utter disasters. However if blessedness is becoming like Christ and knowing righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit - then persecution is a wonderful sign and a great opportunity. Persecution challenges our most basic understanding of blessing and the rewards of the Christian life, it sorts out "the men from the boys" and tries the genuineness of our commitment to Christ. (Matthew 13:20-21)

WHY ARE CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED?

The Kingdom of Heaven is inevitably persecuted by the kingdoms of the world. This is due to the vast difference in the spiritual dynamic between the flesh and the Spirit, Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob. For as Paul says; (Galatians 4:29 NKJV) But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now.

Jesus Himself spoke much about the inevitability of persecution for those who truly grasp the Kingdom of Heaven, its nature, life and powers. (John 15:18-21 NKJV) "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. {19 } "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. {20 } "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. {21 } "But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.

Stephen, just before his stoning puts the situation quite bluntly as due o resisting the Holy Spirit: (Acts 7:51-53 NKJV) "You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. {52 } "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, {53 } "who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."

Much of this persecution will come from religious folk whose world-view and power-base (John 11:48) is threatened by joyous Spirit-filled believers living in love. Today it is mainly Islamic, Hindu and Communist persecution but worldly and carnal "religious" Christians have also done their share of killing Spirit-filled believers in the past.The Pharisees were among the main enemies of the early church; chasing them from house to house and even sending people to carry out their "fatwas" as far as Rome and Antioch and Ephesus. They stirred up riots in many of the cities that Paul visited (e.g Acts 13:50, 17:5) and had a hatred of him that was clearly murderous (Acts 23:12-24). Paul was so immersed in continual conflict that he wrote to Timothy his apprentice: (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV) Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

WHY IS PERSECUTION A BLESSING ?

Here are seven reasons why persecution is a blessing and a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Firstly persecution for righteousness sake was the fate of the prophets and all those sufficiently in-tune with Heaven to be counter-cultural. It is an indication that we are on the right track and a sign that we are holding to our faith as "salt and light" with real commitment. (Matthew 5:10-16, 13: 20-21)

Secondly persecution will give us great reward in Heaven - where moth and rust do not destroy or thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 5:12, 6:19)

Thirdly persecution gives us a great opportunity to pray for those who persecute us and to respond with good for evil and thus become perfected in love which is what we are created for (Matthew 5:44-48, Romans 12:14, Ephesians 3:14-21)

Fourthly persecution cannot separate us from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:35-39)

Fifthly it is a sign that we are "worthy of the Kingdom of God" in that we count it precious enough to suffer for it: (2 Thess 1:3-5)

Sixthly it was experienced by many of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. (see verses 32-40)

Seventhly it is an occasion for testimony and we will be given a wisdom our enemies are unable to contradict. (Luke 21:12-19)

CONCLUSION
Persecution is an opportunity for Christian growth and witness and for the perfection of the Christian disciple in love. It is a sign we are truly salt and light in the world and that our faith is real and deep. Understanding the value of persecution helps us keep a right perspective on "health and wealth" as the only blessings of God and reminds us that the Kingdom we serve is not of this world. Tomorrow we will look at why we should not be afraid of persecution and how to respond to it with both wisdom and courage.