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July 29, 2020

Matthew 5
Persecuted because of Righteousness vv.10-12

Rather than do a word study on “righteousness” (which he could have done), Jesus qualifies its meaning as that which is done “on my account” or “because of me” (v. 11b). He is looking ahead and anticipates the push-back the disciples will suffer as they “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” In fact history tells us most of them died martyrs deaths “because of [him].”

They became martyrs not just because of their radical rabbi, but also because of the worldview that he taught and lived. Jesus was all about “the Kingdom of Heaven”. This worldview brought with it unheard of culture, a values “transplant”, a collateral uprooting of Jewishness, offensive to both Pharisees and Sadducees. It demanded resistance by the established order. It needed to be squashed. So start by squashing the founder and his followers. Jesus knew that the first to be eliminated would be he.

Jesus links persecution “because of me” with “reward in heaven”. Make that “great” reward. There are at least two nuances here: 1. Suffering for Jesus does not necessarily bring material gain or comfort. Most, if not all, of those who have died because of their witness for Christ in history did so penniless. This “earth” does not reward saints. “Heaven” does. 2. Reward rejects a mercenary attitude on the one hand, and the obligation of compensating meritorious service (“not by world of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy…he saved us…” Ti. 3:5) on the other hand. The ultimate reward is, and will be, entry into the Father’s presence. Any other reward is eclipsed by that ultimate prospect. And, in space and time, God’s love is the best reward for anything done in Christ’s name.