The Roman’s had brought about a ‘Might makes Right!’ kingdom. When you have the biggest stick then you rule everyone else.
Jesus turned it all on its head. God’s kingdom was not going to look like that. In God’s kingdom those who were poor of spirit would be blessed, those who mourn would be blessed, those who are gentle in their dealings with others would be blessed. Those that went hungry and thirsted for righteousness would be satisfied. Those who were rich in mercy would find themselves receiving mercy from God, those pure in heart and peacemakers would be called children of God.
Then the bombshell. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Persecution was happening all around the listeners of Jesus that day. It would continue with impunity for centuries to come.
Really Jesus? Blessed are those people?
Not all persecution is righteous persecution. You can be persecuted whenever you highlight another person’s questionable behaviour that they have justified.
Persecution for righteousness’s sake is when our lives lived out, are Jesus’ life. When we walk in righteousness and our lamp is not hidden under a basket, but on display to illuminate the world around us we will shine the light of Jesus that will inevitably bring about opposition from those who have justified their wrong actions.
Jesus did this wherever he went. So much so that the people he most offended plotted and succeeded in having him killed. Jesus words here in hindsight are those of someone who was not flippantly trying to garner a reaction from the crowd, but those of one who has his mind and eyes set on the cross coming a few short years ahead.
Stephen was one such disciple who as he died under a hail of stones from those Jews who found his testimony of the risen Jesus too much. He glimpsed heaven and who is face radiated the glory of Jesus rising to meet him. Saul of Tarsus stood by holding the coats of those throwing the stones. Must Stephens face as he glimpsed heaven before he died etched into Saul’s memory?
Not long after Jesus met with this Saul on a road and confronted him. Saul became the Apostle Paul. Somewhere in Paul’s story Stephen’s persecution and sacrifice was worth it.
I bet Paul and Stephen hang out in Heaven. What a conversation that would be.
God can use anything, good or bad. We are assured that God can turn all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28).
While most of us would not line up for persecution, God’s word is clear that if we are to become increasingly more like Jesus then we can expect that this world will not like our presence or message.
Jesus words here continue to give us hope. When we are persecuted for righteousness’s sake we will be blessed. Jesus isn’t specific if the blessing is here on earth or in the life to come with Him in the resurrection, but what a promise. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
These things and many more can lead us into a place that robs us of our joy and fulfilment.
Social media has inadvertently heightened this human vulnerability by creating a highlights reel for people’s lives where we see our friends and families’ lives posted as a ‘best portrayal of themselves’. When posting we tend to want to show the best bits of our lives not the stuff we might be embarrassed to share publicly.
There is a tendency in all of us to compare ourselves. There is something in each of us that asks the question, ‘How am I doing? Where do I fit in here?’
My lovely wife Laura on Sunday told us the simple truth:
‘There is no win in comparison’.
There is no win. You cannot win this game. There is no end. All it serves is to rob you of joy, peace and contentment with the things God has given you.
So how do we uncouple ourselves from this wagon? How do we avoid the trap that comes when we find ourselves tempted to compare how we are doing with how someone else is doing?
We all want to know we are on the right track; we do not want to come across as behind or as backward, or not doing as well. So how can we avoid the spiral that can lead us into financial debt, pushing ourselves or family and brings unhappiness and discontentment with what we have?
King Solomon, a man lauded and world renown in his time for his incredible wisdom wrote a book called Ecclesiastes, a reflection on what he noticed about life wrote and especially about the comparison trap he said this.
4 And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Ecclesiastes 4:4 NIV
I love how King Solomon, a man so widely revered for his wisdom that he had kings and queens visit him just to learn from him, said that there is no win here. It is like chasing after the wind, you will never win the comparison game.
So, here is how we can protect ourselves from stepping on this landmine to our faith.
Renewal of the mind. Replacing the lies with the truth of God. Looking at what God has blessed us with rather than what others have. There’s truth in the saying that we are happiest when we want what we have.
Celebrate the things that God has given you. Jesus said that God gives good gifts to His children. Sometimes we need to just stop and focus on God’s best for us. Not someone else’s best, but what your heavenly Father, who knows everything about you has said is best for you.
Pray for those people that you find yourself comparing with. You do not know the struggles they have faced or are facing. Yes, they may have what you want, but the reality is if we pursue that line of thinking we can build resentment that damages the relationship and once again, no one wins. Instead, try and celebrate with your friends. Turn that opportunity to compare into one of celebrating with your friends. That will build unity between you and it cuts off the caustic results you do not need of comparison.
So today, and the days ahead, are you going to let comparison rob you of your joy, peace, and happiness? Or are you going to step up and not let those lies undermine all that God has blessed you with. When we focus more on what others have than what God has given, we can say goodbye to our joy. When we relish and cherish those things that God has given, believing that at this moment it is His best for us, we will find our joy and happiness will be there in abundance.
What if we took Jesus seriously? Some of the beatitudes we have been looking at recently are more than just suggestions and more than just a list of virtues to live up to or try and obtain. They are at the heart of the message Jesus spoke to His audiences.
Matthew 25 records once such conversation Jesus had in which He describes the actions in which we show we really are His followers.
This passage is confronting and challenging and yet if we dare to look more closely at it, we run the risk of being challenged around if our heart really does point true North towards Jesus or if our love fails to extend to those around us.
Christianity has always been a bit different. Jesus showed us that the way we love God is by how we treat those around us that are made in His own image. Regardless of if they believe in Him or not, there is the divine image of God in each person (Gen 1:26). The parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25 balances this point to the razors edge.
Our Sunday meetings and life groups are great places in which to socialize and encourage ourselves. They are however the pre-match warm up to the rest of the week. Our real calling from God is to extend out His love to those around us. The trap is that the easiness of our Sunday huddle becomes the box ticking exercise that we could equate with doing ‘spiritual stuff’. That is the best place to start if you want spiritual drift to start to happen in your life.
If we asked the question, ‘Was Jesus serious?’ when he pointed to the ways in which we are called to be followers of Him by seeking him out in the lowly and downcast of Matthew 25.
Mother Teresa took this call very seriously and found herself picking up the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. Finding these people and treating them with care and dignity was the least she could do. What if our faith was challenged like Mother Teresa’s was? What if we took Jesus words seriously?
Would it invoke a sense of justice for those down and out within our community? Would it motivate our love to be shown not just for those easiest for us but into the costly getting our hands dirty people? Even to those broken souls who are paying with the currency of their life (time) in jails due to poor or selfish decisions?
Mother Teresa came from a very affluent family, and I am sure at some stage she counted the cost. We all must do (Luke 25:14-23)
In her own words Mother Teresa was compelled to love those weak, smelly, filthy, and dying in the streets of Calcutta because her saviour Jesus loved her. She determined to care for them as though they were Jesus himself.
Does the love of Jesus compel you? Enough to do the uncomfortable? Enough to seek Him out in the lonely, lost, and desperate?
Jesus cares about you. More than your loved ones do. More than anyone else in your family or your best friend, or your children.
When we let that sink in and warm our hearts, love then motivates our feet and hands to love Jesus back, not just in words and songs on a Sunday morning which is easy and does not really cost us but in the way we love His world and His children, lost or otherwise around us.