Saturday, December 23, 2023

2023.12.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 5:10–16

Read Matthew 5:10–16

Questions from the Scripture text: What is the condition of those described in Matthew 5:10a? What is done to them? Why? What do they already possess (verse 10b)? Who are the blessed in Matthew 5:11, the described in Matthew 5:13-15, and the commanded in Matthew 5:12Matthew 5:16? What three things will be done to them (Matthew 5:11)? Why? What two things are they commanded to do in Matthew 5:12? For what two reasons? What is the size of this reward? Where is this reward? Whom else did they persecute like this? What does Matthew 5:13 call them? What might be the condition of the salt? What can’t be done with it? What is it good for? What two things does Matthew 5:14 call them? What can’t be done to this city? What isn’t done to the light (Matthew 5:15)? What is done to it? So that it does what? What are they commanded in Matthew 5:16? What should men see? Whom would they glorify for this? Where is this Father?

How should we respond to persecution? Matthew 5:10–16 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we should rejoice and keep shining, whenever we are persecuted for Christ.

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:10 is the final beatitude, third-person declaration about who the blessed are. In this case, they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We must be careful not to appropriate this to ourselves through self-righteousness. It is possible to read a verse like this as vindicating us for others’ distaste for that which actually proceeds from our remaining sinfulness. No, when the Lord Jesus says “righteousness’ sake” here, He can only mean real righteousness. That which God calls righteousness, not self-perceived righteousness. 

But the blessedness named here is the same as in Matthew 5:1. How can those who are “poor in spirit” be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”? Because of the only way that someone becomes either righteous in their standing before God or righteous in their character and conduct: union with Christ. Union with Him through faith by which we are counted righteous with His own righteousness. Union with Him in the ongoing shared life that we have in Him. Union with Him from which His Spirit reproduces His character in our character. Union with Him that thus transforms our conduct. 

But it is just because it comes from union with Him that “righteousness’ sake” in Matthew 5:10 is “My sake” in Matthew 5:11. Those who reject the true and living Christ will more and more reject a believer, as that believer is more and more conformed to Christ. So, let the believer seek Christlikeness from Christ Himself by His Spirit. But there will be much that He produces in us that the world will despise—especially the worldly in the church. Confidence before God. Liberty, zeal, and freedom of life. Actual obedience to God being worked out in the life. Love of God that is in contradistinction to the superstition and sentimentalism of manmade religion. Love of neighbor that is not according to the neighbor’s definition of love but God’s. For such things, we can expect not to be commended but denounced (reviled, Matthew 5:11). Not to be treated kindly, or even to be left alone, but actively harassed, hindered, and attacked (persecuted). Not to be spoken of truthfully but slandered as evil with no regard to actual facts.

Your reward in heaven. Notice the switch from “those” and “theirs” in Matthew 5:10 to “you” and “your” in Matthew 5:11-12. This is very personal. Jesus now speaks directly to those in front of Him about themselves. And by His Spirit, He addresses all believers who receive and read and hear this Word. They have the kingdom already, because they have the king (note the present tense in Matthew 5:2Matthew 5:10). But our Redeemer now turns to us and tells us what we should expect to experience now, as those who have Him. Persecution of genuine believers comes not because of what we will have, but because of what we already have. We already belong to His kingdom. And competing kingdoms are not pleased with this.

“You” in the immediate, original context meant those on the mountain with Him. Separated from the world. Receiving instruction. Literally set on a hill at the time that they receive this word. This changes the speech from instruction (blessed are those) to benediction (blessed are you). Our Lord, our King, our kingdom, smiles His own blessing upon us now.

At the same time, He gives us instruction. At first the instruction is implicit in the phrase “falsely for My sake.” Don’t give them a legitimate reason to speak evil against you; see to it that these “all kinds of evil” that they say against you will be (a) false, and (b) for Jesus’s sake. 

Strive to do everything you do according to God’s Word. God defines what is righteous (Matthew 5:10) and what are good works (Matthew 5:16). We aren’t blessed when we live according to our flesh, using Jesus’s Name, and then are spoken against. So let us do that which God says is right. Let us do works that God says are good.

And strive to do everything for Jesus’s sake. If we are doing what is right, and we are doing it for Him, and people say all kinds of evil things falsely against us, then we are those upon whom Matthew 5:11 is pronouncing this benediction. Of course, doing all things for Jesus’s sake means that we aren’t seeking some other blessing than Jesus Himself. 

Whereas Matthew 5:11 is a benediction, Matthew 5:12 is a commandment: rejoice and be exceedingly glad. What a merciful commandment! This isn’t a stoic, “chin up.” This is much more intense. Rejoice! Be exceedingly glad! 

But a joy so great must have a great cause, and this one does. “Great is your reward in heaven.” Not “great will be you reward,” but present tense: it is already great. If you have the Son, you have the Father. And if you have God Himself, what loss is it for men to attack you? The prophets of old (Matthew 5:12b) refused to appease men, because they had God. God spoke to them; God called them; God sustained them; God made their words to stand. Now, the one who has the Lord Jesus, and who is being made like the Lord Jesus, possesses God as his reward just as those prophets did. When the believer (who has God) experiences the same attacks that those prophets endured (for the sake of having God), this is cause indeed for rejoicing and exceeding gladness!

Your Father in heaven. Still, we might shrink from that persecution. Can’t I just enjoy having God as my great reward without having to be reviled and persecuted and slandered? No, you cannot. If you’re not salty, you’re not salt. “loses its flavor” in Matthew 5:13 is actually a word that sounds like (and means something like) “moronic.” It’s fool’s salt. And, the verse says that it is analogous to fool’s gold. It’s only useful for trampling. It’s not actually “Christ’s-kingdom-ly” salt but “Satan’s-kingdom-ly” earth/dirt. To be un-salty may be enticing because we would not be persecuted. But we would not be rewarded. We would not be blessed. And we would have neither the Father nor the Son as our reward, either now or in the future (cf. Matthew 7:12–27).

Finally, let believers not shrink from where their Lord brings them to shine. If they are in Christ, they already are light, just as they already are salt. For these to whom Jesus was speaking, He has brought them up the literal hill. Perhaps they could already catch glimpses of sneering looks from others below.  But He uses the analogy of the placement of a city or the placement of a lamp to remind them that it was He Who had positioned them. Cities don’t crawl down off of hills, nor do lamps off of stands. Let not believers, who find themselves sticking out as Christians where they are, shrink from either being Christians or being where they are.

Jesus arranges us where we are in His world so that just by being what we are and where we are, we will be seen by whom He wants us to be seen. As they persecute us for good works now, they bring glory to the Father Who has shown His heavenly character in us on earth. And there will come a day when they can no longer persecute, when their own knees bow and tongues confess, and when God’s justice and God’s people are vindicated (1 Peter 2:15, 1 Peter 2:19–20). When believers suffer for conformity to the Son and the family resemblance of their Father, let them not give in to shunning the circumstances but rather lean in to shining within those circumstances. (cf. Acts 4:29, Acts 4:31; Acts 5:40–42).

By whom are you reviled? By whom are you persecuted? By whom are you slandered? How have you been focusing upon the joy of your reward in the midst of it? Where has the Lord placed you to shine? What does shining look like there? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for giving Yourself to us in Your Son. And thank You for the honor of being counted worthy to suffer for the Name. Grant unto us to rejoice and to keep shining, as those who already have You as our reward, in Christ, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP73C “Yet Constantly, I Am with You” or TPH2B “Why Do Heathen Nations Rage”

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