All Saints' Sunday

November 6, 2022

Matthew 5:11-12

Our text for this morning is verses 11 and 12 of the Gospel Reading. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I notice a tendency among Saints today to downplay what is happening in our land because it’s not as severe as what’s happening to Saints in other lands. We aren’t experiencing levels of violence that Saints in certain parts of Africa, the Middle East, or parts of Asia currently experience, which is true. We may not be experiencing persecution under the strictest definitions. And so, it is said that we need to “quit acting as though Saints in America are under assault.” Even though it’s not to the level of violence we see and hear about in other countries, or conducted as systematically as Saints in other countries experience, what can we say about the Christian experience in America today? This morning’s text should help us see the answer, that Saints suffer various forms of persecution which is quickly on the rise… and… we need not lose hope because of it.

Jesus says, “Blessed are you [blessed are you dear baptized believer who belong to Jesus and are loved by God] blessed are you when others revile you.” Ok, so what does that mean? Jesus is talking about when others “speak disparagingly” of you, when they mock you, when they insult you, when they tease and make fun of you with intent to do harm.

Jesus says, “Blessed are you… when others… persecute you.” What does that mean? Jesus speaks of when others “systematically organize a program to oppress and harass” you. They intend to make your life difficult—make your life a struggle in a deliberate, organized way.

Jesus says, “Blessed are you… when others… utter all kinds of evil against you falsely.” What does that mean? Jesus describes those who make up lies to destroy someone else’s life and reputation, when they discredit the motives and attitudes of another.

So, really within this beatitude there is a blessing directed at three different situations. And there is one thing that ties them all together… The life of a Christian is often difficult “on [Jesus’] account.” Contrary to the prosperity heresy, which teaches that the Christian life will be all roses for those who believe, the reality is that the life of a Christian can be a life of trouble because of Jesus, because of His Word, because of His Gospel Good News. So, Jesus is not speaking of any time someone mocks you, hurts you, or lies about you. He’s speaking of those times it relates to your trust in Him for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. When you were baptized into Christ Jesus, a target was placed on your back, and the devil is aiming all his arrows at it.

The first of these, “Blessed are you when others revile you,” we definitely see and experience today, as the Church has her whole existence. There are plenty of people who speak disparagingly of Saints. They mince no words in describing their hate for Jesus, their hate for His Saints, their hate for the Good News in the Christian message. You may be called a crazy Christian, a Jesus freak, a Bible thumper, or something else—all because of the hope that is yours in Christ Jesus. A world that loves the darkness rather than the Light, that rejects the Light will insult and speak out against those who have come to the light.

Consider how others reviled, mocked, and insulted Jesus upon the cross—the criminals crucified with Him, the soldiers, the religious leaders—so many got in on the act with taunts, jeers, and blasphemies all because they hated this man even though He only ever did good. Well, our Lord says in the Gospel of Matthew that a disciple is not above his or her teacher, and so Saints should expect to receive the same for sharing their faith in Christ through Word and deed.

The second of these, “Blessed are you when others persecute you,” is not experienced on a large scale in the United States, as it is in others nations where one can be put to death for faith in Christ. Please pray for these Saints to remain firm in the faith unto death. And yet, persecution is still experienced in smaller scales and in pockets of the country. The goal of persecutors in America isn’t to harm you physically but to harm you financially and emotionally.

We know this from the story of Jack Phillips, the baker in Colorado who refused to design a custom cake for a gay wedding ten years ago, because he could not in good conscience participate in a gay wedding by creating a specific cake for the occasion. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission declared that he had violated the law. After years of fighting the harassment, Phillips won his day in the Supreme Court, and then that’s when a transgender person walked into his bakery wanting a custom cake celebrating gender transitioning. Guess what? Phillips refused and he’s back fighting his way through the court system. Again, you can’t tell me this isn’t persecution as a government entity tries to destroy this man’s life for holding to his Christian beliefs. Other Christian florists and photographers haven’t fared as well in their own court battles.

We also see milder persecution, say in the corporate world, which is more than willing to fire people for their Christian beliefs. Likewise, from the real efforts of people who are working to have the tax status of churches changed. Churches are non-profits, and—just as other non-profit organizations—our Church doesn’t pay taxes on the donations we receive. Others want to single churches out and make them pay taxes, with the hopes that such a move will bankrupt and close many churches. You can’t tell me this systematic harassment isn’t persecution.

The third of these, “Blessed are you when others utter all kinds of evil against you falsely,” we also see and experience today. I have had evil lies spoken against me by people—it does tend to go with the territory of being a pastor, so we just let it go. It might be a little more difficult and a bit more jarring when it happens to you. Just this week, I heard a story of someone in our church who was spoken of falsely by a random stranger who was eaves dropping on a conversation with someone else. Was it a super serious lie? No, the man just assigned wrong motives about doing good for others. A “you Christians only help people because it makes you feel good” type thing, but it was still a falsehood. For we give as Christ has given to us.

It's not fun to undergo any experiences when someone is making life difficult because you believe and seek to live out the salvation that you have in Jesus. I can only pray I would remain firm in the faith should someone hold a gun to my head, demanding that I renounce Christ or worship some idol. I also pray that I remain calm, cool, and collected when others make fun of or say nasty things about me or about Christ Jesus. I pray the same for you.

The world looks at the martyrs in Scripture and world history, with the view that they’re all weak and wimpy. It’s the opposite. It takes real strength and guts to stand firm when under assault without retaliation, which is what the devil wants, by the way. From the cross, in His great weakness, Jesus showed strength, authority, and control. He forgave the soldiers. He declared paradise to the criminal. He committed his mother to the care of John. And in His dying breaths, He committed Himself to His Father. Our Lord shows us what Christian witness looks like to a world that reviles, persecutes, and lies about the Savior. In the midst of these, you are blessed.

Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in great in heaven.” We don’t endure hardship and suffering for the sake of some temporary, earthly gain. We certainly don’t want to deny Christ for the sake of relief in the midst of temporary suffering here on earth. God calls and strengthens His people to endure for the sake of the promise that stands fulfilled in Christ now—the forgiveness of sins—and the promise that will be fulfilled in the age to come—the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Out of Jesus’ suffering on the cross for your sins came forgiveness and salvation for you and for all who believe. The devil and the world can throw all the temper tantrums they want, but as your eyes are focused on your Savior and His deliverance from suffering—they cannot destroy you. They may seek to ultimately destroy your body or your well-being here on earth, but they cannot destroy you eternally. For the Christ who died on the cross for you has also risen for you—the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. In Christ’s own resurrection, you see by faith the promise of your resurrection into glory, eternal bliss, and peace, comfort, and joy in God’s kingdom forever.

The very same reward Jesus speaks of that’s waiting for you in heaven, Paul also speaks of in the book of Romans. He says that the terrible sufferings Saints have experienced and do experience on earth aren’t worth comparing to what is waiting for you in heaven at the resurrection on the last day. The glory to be revealed is that much greater—that much more fantastic.

Through Christ Jesus, you are heirs of all things. What does that mean? I only know like this much, but my goodness, that’s pretty awesome that we are heirs of the Creator of all. If anything is hakuna matata—that’s it—the salvation you have in Christ.

As you suffer the assaults of the devil and the world, you can remember that you’re in good company. This is how they treated the prophets. This is how they treated your Savior. This is how they treated the Apostles. Your Lord promises to endure you to the end when you shall receive the crown of life.

The very thing the world hates, and for which they revile, persecute, and lie about God’s Saints is also the very One in whom we shall receive an awesome heavenly reward at the resurrection—Jesus, who has died for our sins and risen on high. The world hates Him, but you and I are blessed forever by Him.