Character that Advances the Kingdom: The Beatitudes, Part 3 (Matthew Sermon 9 of 151)
February 28, 1999 | Andrew Davis
Brotherly Love, Persecution
Take your Bibles and turn in them to Matthew chapter 5. And while you do that, I would like to tell you that of all the ages of human history to be alive, this one is the greatest. I would not choose any other, because God is doing more to fulfill prophecy now in our age than in any of the ages past. I sense a great acceleration to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and we are on the crest of that wave and we have a privilege here at First Baptist to be here in this place to do ministry which is so strategic. That was not in my planned notes, but I just wanted to say it to you because it is an exciting time and I am thrilled to be here on International Sunday.
I. Peace in our Time?
"When Jesus looked out at the crowds, He had compassion on them," this is not in Matthew 5, so you'll look in vain to find it there. "When Jesus looked out in the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." What does it mean to be harassed? I remember talking to my kids about this recently. I used to have some woods that I traveled in and would walk around. It was a place of peace and quiet, a place that I would like to pray and meet with the Lord and it was a beautiful place with woods, but in the summer, there would come deer flies. Have you ever heard of deer flies? Do you know what deer flies are? They are incredibly persistent, demonically inhabited flies which are going to get in your ears and your eyes and will not leave you alone. You can shoo them away, but they are genetically designed to come back and back and back. And that is the word that is used in Matthew chapter 9 to describe people apart from Christ. They are harassed. They are harassed by unseen demonic forces which harass them every day. And they are harassed by their own sinfulness.
My father is from Miami, Florida and when I was a child we went down to the Florida Keys. I don't know if you have ever been to the Keys down there. The water is beautiful, isn't it? It is a different color blue than I have seen anywhere else in the world, so clear. And my dad bought me a mask and a snorkel and I remember looking at all the tiny little fish that had the courage to get in close to where we were swimming, and there would be rocks and stuff and it was so clear. But then I noticed when I would swish my hand around in the water, silt would rise up into the water and it would totally block any view I had of the fish. All this kind of mire and mud is churned up and it would take maybe as much as five minutes for all to settle back down again, so fine was the silt. Isaiah talks about this, he says in Isaiah 50:20-21, "The wicked are like the tossing sea which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked." “There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.”
The world can counterfeit all kinds of things but it cannot counterfeit peace. Only Jesus Christ can bring peace. And what is fascinating is in the first passage I cited to you in Matthew chapter 9, what He does when He sees the crowds and has compassion on them because they are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, you know what He does? He turns to His disciples and He tells them about it. He says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." And then in Matthew 10, He sends out His disciples as evangelists.
And so I say, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God." This is where the Kingdom of Heaven advances, moves out, when people just like you and me become peacemakers and we move out with that peace to seek to make peace in the lives of others. St. Augustine, around the year 390, wrote about his own conversion in a great book called Confessions. It is just an autobiographical account of his own thought process which led him to Christ. He wrote these immoral words. He said, "You have made us for yourself, O God, and the heart of man is restless until it finds its rest in you."
Do you feel restless in your soul today? Do you feel restless inside? Jesus Christ alone can give you the peace. But you know what He is going to do? He is going to do it through people just like you and me, peacemakers. Peacemakers who sow in peace and raise a harvest of righteousness. You know, I love history and I love moments of irony in history, like the one when Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of England, came back with a little piece of paper which had Adolf Hitler's signature scrawled on it. I read it earlier today. And all it said was that England and Germany would use their influence to try to solve their differences by peaceful means. Less than 12 months later, Germany invaded Poland and started the greatest armed conflict in the history of the world. And Neville Chamberlain, at that time said, "We have peace in our time," holding that piece of paper. "Peace in our time." What a facade was shredded and ripped by Hitler's Panzer tanks and units as they went into Poland and said, "There is no peace in our time and there can never be until the Prince of Peace rules in this world."
Peace in our time comes only through the work of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Jesus claims to be able to give peace, unlike the peace that came on that piece of paper at the Munich Accord. And Jesus Christ says, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid." Jesus Christ is able to give the peace which ministers to the entire world from people of all cultures, all races, and all languages. It is a peace that only Christ can give. It is a heart peace.
In these last two Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, we see a completion of a whole, which Jesus is erecting in our minds. It has to do with the heart. It has to do with character. What kind of person, what kind of heart is in the Kingdom of Heaven? So we have looked at these Beatitudes. He begins by surprising us and saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." And He ends by surprising us, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." You see that bracketing. I've been contending all along that all of these attributes are meant to fit together beautifully inside the heart of every Christian, all the time. That is His goal. And so, He is constantly surprising us and constantly challenging us. He begins by saying, "Blessed are the, [what I said, ‘Spiritual beggars’] for theirs is the Kingdom." What a shock, what a surprise. I was talking last night about that expression that we have in our culture, "beggars can't be choosers." Ever heard that expression, beggars can't be choosers? What does it mean? A beggar can't expect the best. Isn’t that what that means? But here Jesus says, if you are a spiritual beggar you are going to get the best. The Kingdom of Heaven will be given to you as a gift. Isn't that marvelous?
All the way through these Beatitudes, Jesus has been surprising us, hasn't He? And here at the end, in the last two, He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, [those characterized by peace and who move out in the name of peace to make peace,] for they will be called sons of God." And then He said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted” Peaceful, persecuted ones. Can you really have a heart of peace while you are persecuted? Yes, you can. But why would the world want to persecute you? Those are some of the mysteries that we are going to look into today as we finish our study on the Beatitudes.
As I look across human history, I see the quest for peace is one of the unifying themes here. At the very beginning of human history, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked in perfect harmony and perfect peace with one another and with their Creator. And at the end of the story in Revelation 21-22, when we see the new Heaven and the new earth set up, in that eternal state, there is nothing but harmony, peace, perfect relationship, one to another and to our Creator. That is the alpha and the omega of human history. But what about in between? There is nothing but strife, discord, turmoil, lack of peace. And no League of Nations, no United Nations, no amount of Munich Accords is going to change that, only Jesus Christ can do it.
Why is it that our human history has been so characterized by strife and conflict, by war and rumor of war? It really has to do with the human heart. That is the whole thing, isn't it? It really comes down to what we are truly inside. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 talks about that. It says that all of us “were by nature objects of wrath”, that we are following “the ways of this world, and the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” that is Satan. We are following satanic ways, that demonic influence around us which harasses us like deer flies, and churns us up inside, and because of our sin nature and being in league with him, we can have no peace. We cannot experience it from within. We are “by nature objects of wrath.”
When I think of that expression, "by nature objects of wrath," you know what I think of? I think of Ben Franklin out in a rainstorm, a thunder and lightning storm, doing experiments on lightning. Have you ever heard that story? And you know what the outcome of all that experiment was? It was a lightning rod, the development of a lightning rod. Now, if lightning strikes a house, there is a very good chance the house going to burn to the ground. What is a lightning rod? A lightning rod is something that is specifically, intrinsically designed, made, to attract a lightning bolt and then to channel that current, all that energy from the lightning bolt, down safely to the ground, so it does not burn the house.
Do you know that you, apart from Christ, are a lightning rod for the wrath of God? You are built to attract the wrath of God. All of your thoughts, all of your actions, selfishness, the way that you act apart from Christ naturally attracts the wrath of God. That is what Ephesians 2:3 talks about. Is it possible to walk in peace when that is your situation? No, it is impossible and you will never know peace apart from Christ. It is impossible to know peace, because we are “by nature objects of wrath.” Therefore, Isaiah 57:21 says rightly, “There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.”
The world tries to sedate itself into peace. It can do that. It can cover over the pain, cover over the sin and the strife and turmoil, but it cannot manufacture true peace, because only Jesus Christ can do that. Christ is the Prince of Peace, as it says in Isaiah 9. He came to rule over a kingdom of peace. And as He invites us into it, He invites us into His peace and to go out in the name of His peace. And so He calls us peacemakers. But first He lived it, didn't He? Jesus Christ practiced and preached and purchased peace.
First, He practiced it. He practiced peace, because He says, "My peace, I leave with you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Peace I leave with you, my peace." What kind of peace did Jesus have? You cannot even understand what kind of peace. You have never known a moment of peace the way Jesus had peace. It was a perfect peace, because it was perfect relationship with his Heavenly Father. He always obeyed God, never troubled by conscience, never uncertain about what to do, total unity with His Father, following step by step what His Father wanted him to do. Perfect peace. And He says that peace is what He lived in. A beautiful picture of that is Jesus asleep in the boat during the midst of the storm. You remember that story. Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat, at perfect peace, while His disciples thought that they were going to die in a boating accident, but Jesus had that perfect peace and trust in His Heavenly Father.
Jesus practiced peace. But Jesus also preached peace. He did it here in the Sermon of the Mount, of course, when He says that we are to be peacemakers. But He says that everywhere. In all of His preaching, there is preaching of peace in the relationship between us and God and one another. We are going to get to it later in Matthew 5 when we talk about reconciling ourselves to our brothers before we offer a gift to God. Jesus is all about that and He preached it. It says in Ephesians 2:17, "He came and preached peace to you who are far away and to you who are near. For through Him we both have access to one Father by the same spirit." Ephesians 2:17. So we who are gentiles, we are far away, and Jesus preached peace to us. Those who were Jews were near, Jesus preached peace to them.
Jesus preached peace, but ultimately Jesus purchased peace, didn't He? At great cost on the cross, for it says in Romans 5:1, "Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Peace with God, at great cost. Therefore, Jesus is for us a lightning rod, isn't He? Jesus attracted the wrath of God and channeled it safely to the ground away from us and through our faith in His atoning sacrifice, we do not have to stand under the wrath of God where no one can stand. Peace with God purchased at great cost through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Here in Matthew 5, Jesus commends to us a ministry, doesn't He? "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God." Peacemaking is the essence of what I call the Gospel ministry. We are to move out in the name of peace, move out in the name of the Prince of Peace. After Jesus was raised from the dead, He went to His disciples, and they were in a room with the doors locked, it says, for fear of the Jews. Then Jesus moved through the walls, and stood before them, and you know what He said to them? "Peace be with you." And then “He showed them His hands and His side, [and] the disciples were overjoyed when they saw [Him].” And then again He “said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me even so am I sending you." He has committed to us a ministry of peacemaking, based on His hands and His side, based on his death on the cross.
Paul puts it this way, he says in 2 Corinthians 5:18, God has given to us, committed to us, a “ministry of reconciliation." As though God Himself were making His appeal through us, “be reconciled to God,” “have peace with God.” And so we go out in the name of that ministry, in the name of the One who purchased that peace, and entreat with people, beg them to come into a right relationship with God in the name of Christ. And so another blessing comes to us, Isaiah 52:7, I love this verse. "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim," what? "Peace." Isaiah 52:7. So I'm very happy today. You know why? It is because I stand in a double blessing. I stand in a blessing of the Beatitudes, “blessed are the peacemakers” because I am standing here proclaiming the Gospel of peace to you. Also Isaiah 52:7 gives me another blessing, as my beautiful feet came up these steps to preach to you a message of peace. And so also is the same for each one of you.
As members of First Baptist Church, you also have been committed the ministry of reconciliation and you can stand in the same double blessing, as a peacemaker. But I think peacemaking here goes beyond just the ministry of reconciliation, preaching the Gospel. I think it really has to do with every human interaction. We are the only ones who know the peace of Christ. Isn't that true?
I think about society, a bunch of non-Christians trying to get along. I worked for many years, over 10 years as an engineer in a secular setting, watching non-Christians try to get along and do a job together. It was very interesting. And I often thought about an engine with no lubrication. As the gears clash together, little bits and pieces are broken off. How long do you think you could drive your car without an oil change or with no oil? I am trying to find out how long I... [laughter] We are up to 8,000 miles and counting. That is going to come back on me, I know it. But that is what I think of society apart from the ministry of peacemakers. And I often saw myself in the setting of my job as being a peacemaker, trying to create good relationships, for example, between the engineering department and the purchasing department. It wasn't easy, it really wasn't. Or between our department and the administration department. But there are all these little fiefdoms, these little kingdoms in a company, and people with their pride, they are challenging one another. It affects everything. I think Christians are called to be, in human society, the lubrication between non-Christians. Some of them will never accept this ministry. But it keeps society together and keeps it moving ahead as we are able to spread the Gospel.
Talking about this general aspect of ministry, St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century put it beautifully. He said, "Lord, make me an instrument, a tool, of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy." Make me an instrument of your peace. That is what a peacemaker is.
I think of it in terms of the ministry of the gentle word. It is hardest, the hardest way to make peace is when someone is upset at you. When they think you have done something wrong. What do you do in that kind of situation? How do you deal with that kind of conflict? Proverbs 15:1 has been a blessing to my marriage and to me, in our home. Proverbs 15:1 says this, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." The ministry of the gentle word: When your spouse is upset at you, do you say, "You know, you're right." Or, "I'd like to pray together with you." Or, "I'm very capable of that and even worse." Do you have a gentle answer, or do you put a log on the fire? Try to put the fire out with kerosene. It doesn't work. A harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 should be written on a little card and put in the mirror. We had one for the longest time, "A gentle answer turns away wrath." That is called the ministry of peacemaking. Peacemaking.
James 3:18 says, "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." Your home should be characterized by peace, the peace of Christ as it rules in your heart. But then you should be spreading it out as you preach the Gospel, and as you advance. Now the ultimate reward of that is that peacemakers are called or owned to be the sons of God. I think there is a subtle difference between being called "a child of God" and being called "a son of God," just in the way that the Hebrews use that expression. To be a son of God meant that you took on the attributes of God, you were being like God, you behaved like God. God is a God of peace, isn't He? And then “may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep,” etcetera, it says in Hebrews 13, our God is “the God of peace." And so when we are peacemakers, we are very much like God at that time, aren't we?
From eternity past, God has existed in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, without even once a hint of controversy or difficulty between Father and Son, Son and Spirit, Spirit and Father, never once. And do you know it is your destiny if you are a Christian to end up just like that? Jesus prayed so in John 17. For He prayed, "Holy Father protect them by the power of your name… that they may be one as we are one." Can you imagine being as one as the Trinity is one? Well, that is your destiny in Christ, isn't that beautiful?
II. The Beatitudes: Persecuted Peacemakers
The irony of this whole thing is the way these two Beatitudes fit together, because Jesus is very honest. He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God." Then He said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Isn't this very interesting? Jesus makes a very honest promise, and it seems to contradict what He is calling us to, but the more we understand about the world, we won't see it that way at all. In Matthew 10:34 and following it says this, "Do not suppose," listen to this, this is fascinating, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword." How does that fit together with “blessed are the peacemakers?” Jesus is just telling you what the effect of your peacemaking ministry will be. What is the effect of your peacemaking ministry? Division. Division. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I [currently came] to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man's enemies will be the members of his own household." Now, this is talking about the effect of the Gospel ministry in separating people. Some will believe. Some will not. As a matter of fact, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that many are on the road to destruction, where only a few are on the road to life.
So most people are not going to accept our ministry of reconciliation, are they? And so you have to be ready, as you go out in the name of the Prince of Peace, to receive persecution. Jesus is very honest about this; in numerous places He prepares us to be persecuted. And history has borne it out, hasn't it? Each of the Apostles who listened to Jesus this day were persecuted and all but one, John, were martyred for their faith in Christ. History records a long list of martyrs.
Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, is one of my favorite martyr stories. 86 years old, stood up in front of the governor of his area, Smyrna, and he was charged to curse Christ, and to turn his back on Jesus. "Swear and I'll set you free, curse Christ," said the governor. And he said, "For 86 years I have served Him, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?" What courage. And then the Governor said, "I have wild beasts." "Bring them on," said Polycarp. Isn't that great? Bring them on. And he said, "Well, if you make light of the beasts, I have fire, I'll burn you." And he just smiled. And he said, "The fire you threaten burns for a short time and is soon extinguished. There's a fire you know nothing about, the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you hesitate? Do what you want." This answer so enraged the governor that he ordered that Polycarp immediately be burned, and so he was. As a matter of fact, this kind of thing was so prevalent in the early stages of the church, that one of the advocates of the church, Tertullian, had time to think about the effect of martyrs on the life of the church. And in defending the church against the Roman audience that he was writing for, he said, "You can't defeat us this way, for the blood of martyrs is seed for the Church. The blood of martyrs is seed for the Church. As people have been willing to give up their lives for Jesus Christ, more have come to faith in Christ. And then they also have been martyred, and it has multiplied and grown." It is exactly in that way, that the Christian faith conquered the Roman Empire. The blood of martyrs is seed for the Church.
But notice what he says here. He does not say, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for politics," or, "Blessed who are persecuted because of race,” or “blessed are those who are even persecuted because of obnoxiousness." There are all different kinds of ways to be persecuted. For example, politics, there are lots of new democracies or democratic movements growing in nations around the world. Some of them are being strongly resisted by the government who wants to keep power. It would be a mistake for us to link together a democratic form of politics with the Kingdom of Heaven. The two are separate, they are two different things. Now, there may be many Christians involved in that, but that's in some respects being persecuted because of politics. Now, I think what we ought to do is look at the word righteousness and put in the word Christ-likeness there. Put in the word Christ-likeness. Because Jesus was endued with righteousness, He was baptized because of righteousness. He said we must “fulfill all righteousness." “Blessed are those who are persecuted, [because they are like Jesus Christ, because of Christ-likeness,] because of righteousness.”
There has also been persecution because of race. Perhaps very few of you realize that right before World War I, 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks. The world was largely indifferent to their fate. Very few people even know about that. There has been this kind of racial slaughter and persecution for generations and God will judge it, He hates it. But that is not what is being discussed here.
For young Christians who are zealous in their ministry, they ought to know that it is also not a matter of persecution for obnoxiousness’ sake. I can testify to this because I was obnoxious early in my Christian life. I broke all good rules of communication etiquette. No one could see love in me. I had to see 1 Corinthians 13 written down on my forehead at that early stage, because I was not living it. Willing to give my body to be burned, but it was not done in love. It is not persecution for obnoxiousness' sake. There was a missionary once to a Muslim country, who stood in the downtown square and every day said things that he knew were specifically offensive to Muslims to irritate and provoke them into martyring him, because he wanted to die a martyr's death. Eventually he got his wish. It's not persecution for obnoxiousness either.
No, it is persecution for righteousness, for Christ-likeness. John 15:18 says, "If the world hates you keep in mind that it hated me first." And He says in another place, "If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household." If this is how they treat me, how do you think they're going to treat you? If you live according the rules of the household you are going to get persecuted. Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy, we have already read that. We can count on it.
I have been thinking about this this week. I think if you are good, the world will apply to you and will fancy itself able to reach up to your standards in its better days, if you are good. If you are righteous, the world will persecute you. What is the difference? Because righteousness exposes wickedness, it exposes sin, and the world hates that, and it will lash out at the messenger. And so Jesus rightly puts these together. "Blessed are the peacemakers” and “blessed are those who are persecuted," because they go together. Do not think that everyone will receive your peacemaking ministry.
What is the reward? It says, "Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Note the bracket, the first and last Beatitudes go together. Both those who are poor in spirit, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” and those who are persecuted, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”. All of these go beautifully together. But what I would like you to do in your ministry as witnesses for Christ is to look at all the Beatitudes and put them together. It is impossible for Satan's kingdom to stand against spiritual beggars who mourn over sin, who are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are characterized by mercy, who are pure in heart and who go out in the name of the Prince of Peace, unafraid of persecution. You cannot stop a church like that. It is impossible. That is the church that defeated the Roman Empire. That is the church that has been accepted in Irian Jaya and in the Stone Age tribes of the Amazon. That is the name of a Christian that can advance the Kingdom of Heaven. Put them all together and that is the kind of witness that will advance God's Kingdom through First Baptist Church as well.
In verses 11 and 12 Jesus just elaborates on this persecution because it is so important. He says, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in Heaven. For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Now, in this way Jesus intensifies the whole thing. He narrows the audience. He says, "Blessed are you." Up to this point He is saying, "Blessed are those." But now He says, "Blessed are you." Blessed are you, and you, and you, when you are persecuted because of righteousness. Blessed are you, and you, and you, when you are insulted and slandered because of the name of Christ. He brings it right home to you. Isn't that beautiful? He intensifies it, and then He highlights the issue. He says, "Those who are persecuted because of me, “because of me." Before it was “because of righteousness.” Here it is clear it is because of the name of Jesus Christ. To be persecuted because you wear the name Christian, because you are a Christian.
Realize that here Jesus is clearly claiming to be God, isn't He? He said, "Just as the prophets went out in the name of God and were persecuted and receive a prophet's reward, so you, my disciples, who go out in my name and are persecuted, will receive the same reward." Jesus claims to be God, because you are going out in His name. And then He broadens the scope of persecution. You may think of persecution in terms of death or the losing of your house or your job. But all He says here is, even if you are just insulted, if people just insult you, “rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in Heaven.” Isn't that beautiful?
You may think that the whole issue of rewards is a faulty one, that we should not think about rewards. I have heard Christians say that. "We should not be considering a reward or be concerned about rewards." Do you know that that is unbiblical? Jesus clearly is appealing to our desire to be rewarded. There is nothing wrong with it. As a matter of fact, in Hebrews 11:6 it says in order to please God you must believe two things about Him. Number one, “that He exists,” and number two “that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." And I think a confidence in the reward of Jesus Christ for those who are persecuted gives us courage to stand firm, even under the most dire persecutions. Hebrews 10 says this, "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” Go ahead, take my house, go ahead, take my car, go ahead take everything I own. Praise God that I can stand here and testify to the grace of Jesus Christ. All you did is you took it and converted it into heavenly currency and it will be waiting for me when I get there. Praise God and thank you very much. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven.”
Some of my greatest heroes in the Christian life have been Chinese Christians who have stood in the face of communist persecution. I think only once we get to Heaven are we going to see the kind of courage that these men and women have shown in the face of some of the harshest persecution that this modern age has ever seen. The Chinese communist party during the Cultural Revolution sought to eradicate Christianity, to erase it from the face of the earth. It is impossible to do, but they tried. And there was a story of a Chinese doctor, an elderly man, who stood firm in his faith in Christ. And they persecuted him and he said, "My Christ is bigger than your Chairman Mao." And that infuriated them. And the more he said it, "My Christ is bigger than Chairman Mao. My Christ is bigger," the more angry they got. And after beating and trying to get him to change his attitude, they decided that they would stand him up on a small plank and have him stand at attention. And they said, "If your Christ is so strong, show that He's stronger than Chairman Mao because Chairman Mao can get you down off that plank. All you have to do is swear by him and we'll let you go." And he said, "Well, the same God that saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the king of Babylon will strengthen me here." Isn't that powerful? And after one hour, this old man was still standing at attention. After two hours, not one of his muscles was twitching. After three and four and five hours, he still stood there. He began to be an embarrassment to the Red guards. They didn't know what to do. This went on and on, seven and eight hours. They were screaming at him, yelling at him, but they would not touch him. They wanted to see him fall of his own weakness, but he never did. It went on to 15 hours and, finally, enraged, they pushed him off the bench and they said, "We'll have our day and we'll have it soon." His final words that day were, "My Christ is bigger than your Chairman Mao." A week later, they hanged him. And when he was hanged and his spirit separated from his body and he went up to Heaven to receive the reward that Jesus is talking about here, if all of you who are witnesses to Jesus Christ could see the look on Christ's face right at that moment when He received that doctor, you would lose your fear of persecution forever. And you would seek to redeem every day, every moment, as a witness for Christ with no fear of persecution because you cannot lose. Great is your reward in Heaven.
That kind of church, this kind of church here at First Baptist Church, can change the world because of who God has brought into our midst and who is around us even now. As we live out the Beatitudes, we will see a transformation such as you cannot imagine. By way of application, would you say that your life is characterized by peace, or are you harassed and helpless within? Have you ever given your life to Jesus Christ? Has there ever been a time in your life that you looked up at the cross and saw His death on the cross as atoning for your sins and said, "I want the peace with God that only He can give?" If not, today is a day of salvation for you. Give your lives to Jesus Christ. We are going to have an invitation in a minute. Come forward and say, "Pastor Davis, I want to give my life to Jesus today."
If you are a Christian, is your life, is your home, is your marriage characterized by peace? If not, Colossians 3:15 says, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." Ephesians says, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace." And when those demonic horseflies start buzzing around, send them away with such scripture verses and maintain unity in your relationships. And are you advancing the Kingdom of God as this kind of a Christian? Are you going out in the name of the Prince of Peace or are you stymied by persecution? I have one question to ask you, if that is the case. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you because you are a Christian? Because of the name of Jesus Christ? Just answer that for yourself. What is the worst persecution you have personally ever received because you are a Christian? And then just think about the stories that I have shared today and trust in God and step out in faith, and see if you can get something worse happen to you as you preach the Gospel.