MATTHEW 5:10c(part two)-12a
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:10c (part two) “. . .for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The eight beatitudes are one, a single perfect strand of godliness. By repeating in this last beatitude the promise attached to the first (MT 5:3), Jesus completes the cycle of the beatitudes, and pictures their unity. We are back where we began, at the first beatitude, called to self-emptying. When persecuted, “our spiritual need, our insufficient self, keep bobbing up like unwelcome relatives to remind us of the limitations of the human spirit. Only God’s strength can keep us steady” (Walker).
Throughout this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will command us to do deeds which are humanly impossible. Thus, we will often have to make fast tracks back to the beatitudes, and repeat their cycle of godliness. Poverty of spirit must bring about a mourning over sin which results in true meekness, God having total control over all our passions. We will then have to hunger and thirst after righteousness, yearning for God to add to our lives mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking. Once this is done, we will have to pray for strength enough to bear persecution. Apart from repeated practice of the beatitudes, we hear the Sermon on the Mount in vain.
Matt. 5:11a “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,”
The stark paradox of this eighth beatitude is so incredible that Jesus felt the need to repeat it twice and to amplify on it. The first seven beatitudes received one verse apiece, this eighth one received three. Jesus, knowing persecution would be difficult for us to bear, tried to prepare us for it. He forewarned us, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (MT 10:16). He gave ample notice. If serious about our faith we will bring out the worst in the wolves, including their scorn.
To “revile” means to malign, to chide, to provoke with words. Whom the ungodly cannot strike with their violent hand, they smite with their virulent tongue. When the world cannot do anything else, it does this, for reviling is often an effective way to prevail over an opponent. One can wear down another under the heavy burden of mean words, for cruel words hammer like a piledriver. This tactic can be a severe affliction. Being social creatures, we want to be accepted, and revilings hurt. Thus, the words of a worthless man “are as a scorching fire” (PR 16:27b NAS). He speaks words which burn deep into the essence.
If the ungodly find no fault in our character, they “revile” us, attack our reputation. Unable to find us evil, they give us evil labels, nicknames to render us odious, to make us look despicable and ridiculous. When we label someone, we nullify them, tune them out. We no longer listen to one with whom we have attached an odious title–“Radical fundamentalist, religious right, censor, book-burner, self-righteous, hypocrite, enemy of the first amendment, bigot, etc.”
Each Christian must ask, am I willing, for Jesus, to bear a label, a verbal stigma, a badge of dishonor? He bore them for us. Some called Him “gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (MT 11:19). “Many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?” (JN 10:20). The crowd reviled and mocked Jesus on the cross (MT 27:39-44). Thomas Shepherd, three hundred years ago, penned our only adequate response:
Must Jesus bear the cross alone, And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone, And there’s a cross for me.
Matt. 5:11b “. . .and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely,. . .”
“Falsely” is the key word. No blessing resides in having evil things spoken about us if we deserve them. To be blessed, the vile things said about us must be untrue, truly a slander. Jesus warned us to expect such treatment. It does happen.
This explains why a Christian should never judge a fellow believer based on reports from a secular source. Christians are at times the targets of accusations “falsely.” Reserve judgment on a fellow believer. Seek out the truth for yourself.
Matt. 5:11c “. . .for my sake.”
The ungodly attack us because we represent Him whom they really hate. The moral code of God as lived by Jesus, written in Scripture, and reproduced in the lives of believers is a standing rebuke to the wicked. Thus, people who are sold out to an unholy, profligate lifestyle target for attack Scripture, churches, preachers, and anything or anyone else connected with the idea of a holy God. The attack hits us, but is actually aimed at the concept of a righteous God of judgment who holds people accountable for their sin, and holds the keys to heaven and hell. Their anger against this concept is so great that they will “hit you in the teeth with your God” (Trapp). What is our response to be when we receive undeserved, verbal abuse?
Matt. 5:12a “Rejoice,. . .”
This seems a strange place for Jesus to break into a song of joy. When facing the worst slurs the world can give, then we must “rejoice.” I suddenly find myself rushing back to the first beatitude. Only God can take the cruel, slanderous dust and ashes of earth and turn them into heavenly joy inside me. I cannot do this. If it is to be, He has to do it in me, and He will. The Apostles, having been beaten, left “the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (AC 5:41). They counted it an honor to suffer dishonor for Jesus.
When ordered to recant, Polycarp, the aged Bishop of Smyrna, said, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” At the stake he offered a final prayer, “I thank Thee that Thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour.”
Paul and Silas, soundly beaten and put in stocks in the inner prison, sang loud enough at midnight to be heard throughout the cellblock (AC 16:22-25). This may at first seem an odd place and time to sing, but is there not in the hour of endured persecution a sense of closeness to Jesus one may never sense elsewhere?
In that moment we know we have entered “the drama of eternity” (Barclay). We have put on the gospel armor, entered the fray with all our God-given might, given the world away, and risked all for Jesus. If our desire truly is, “Nothing between my soul and the Savior,” then in persecution, for a brief, glittering moment, desire becomes reality, and yields a blessed proof of sonship.