How to Painfully Gain Heaven

by Erin Bird

What a WONDERFUL day we had this past Sunday – wonderful weather, wonderful food, wonderful friends, and a wonderful Worship Gathering. If you want to see a few photos of the day, head over to our Facebook page.

Today on the blog, we conclude our series on the Beatitudes. We tie it all up by combining the last two beatitudes, which make one point. Here they are:

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:10-12

Going through Hell to gain Heaven

Nobody enjoys being mocked and insulted. When someone lobs a verbal grenade our way, we often want to retaliate with our machine gun of witty retorts.

But here at the end of the Beatitudes, Jesus seems to be saying, “Take it.”

When someone makes fun of you for following Jesus, when someone insults you because of your faith, when someone arrests you or beats you for proclaiming Jesus as your King, He says you are blessed. When you endure harsh treatment because you bear the name of Jesus, you gain the Kingdom of Heaven.

But can I be honest? If I sat in a prison, wearing physical and emotional wounds and scars for my faith, it would feel more like hell than heaven.

If you live with a “this-earth-is-all-there-is” mindset, then yes, this sort of persecution and mockery is hell to go through. But if you live with a Kingdom mindset that says, “This earth is not my home,” then you can endure the pain of persecution because you know something better awaits.

Look to Jesus

We see this very clearly in the life of Jesus. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says it very beautifully and bluntly in the first two verses of chapter 12:

“…[L]et us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1b-2

The cross was the pinnacle of persecution. The jealous Jewish leaders tried to quell the movement of Jesus by insisting He be executed. The Roman government wanted to send a message that any “King” would be conquered by the mighty Caesar.

Jesus endured this intense persecution with a deep sense of joy, because of what He knew awaited Him on the other side.

And yet Jesus endured this intense persecution with a deep sense of joy, because of what He knew awaited Him on the other side. He did it for love, knowing His sacrifice would free us from the shackles of sin, bringing us back into a relationship with our Creator.

And this knowledge of his love and sacrifice changes us. It makes us more like him, which means it impacts how we respond to persecution:
[list type=unordered extra=]
[list_item]That’s why we see in Acts 4 the Jesus-followers rejoicing that they were found worthy of persecution.
[/list_item]
[list_item]It’s why we find Paul & Silas singing songs of worship to God from inside a jail cell in Acts chapter 16.[/list_item]
[list_item]And it’s why Jesus says to you, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you…on my account.”[/list_item]
[/list]

A Disclaimer

Before I let you go, let me make one disclaimer here.

Oftentimes I hear Christians talk about being “persecuted” because the cashier at the store isn’t allowed to wish them Merry Christmas or the valedictorian wasn’t allowed to pray at the end of her speech at her public high school graduation.

These instances aren’t persecution. No one is being physically beaten. Most likely, no one is being ridiculed for their faith. We live in a free secular society that allows for people to worship however they want, and so the promotion of just one faith isn’t welcomed in these arenas. So to call these situations “persecution,” is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting to our brothers and sisters in Christ who live around the globe and face intense persecution for their beliefs.

But back here in America, sometimes when a Jesus-follower lives out his faith, and his faith naturally comes out in his interactions at the store or in his acceptance speech, he might be ridiculed or mocked on Twitter, he might be gossiped about around town, or he might not get hired because of his faith. That WOULD be persecution, but not on the level of what some of our brothers and sisters in the faith endure day in and day out.

Let me encourage you to not worry about persecution. Like the writer of the book of Hebrews said in the verse we looked at above, just keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep looking to Him whether you face persecution or not. But if you do receive persecution because you proclaim the name of Jesus, may you realize you are blessed – for the Kingdom of Heaven is yours.

Building Peace to Find Peace

Last Sunday’s chilly morning temps may have forced us inside the High School, but it was still a great morning! I hope you are “being purple” this week giving grace. (If you missed the message, you can catch it here.)

This coming Sunday, we launch into chapter 6 of Matthew in our #Unexpected study from the Sermon on the Mount. Feel free to take 26.8 seconds to read the first four verses and prepare your heart to think about how you individually and we as a church can bless the needy.

Those four verses from Matthew 6 tie in perfectly with our series here on the blog as we come to verse 9, which reads…

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Matthew 5:9

Here in America and much of the West, we are mostly linear thinkers; A leads to B.

But today, rather than start with A (“Blessed are the peacemakers”), I want to begin with B (“for they shall be called sons of God.”) and work back to A.

Be like the Prince

Several years ago, I remember getting a call from Mike. During his lunch break at a local park, he got into a spiritual discussion with a young adult who had been skating at the park. Mike had to head back to work, but this young man seemed very interested in the spiritual conversation, so Mike wondered if I could come down and pick up where he left off.

So I headed downtown to the park and found Loki (no, not Thor’s brother). I began to get to know Loki, and learned he’d never been to church. During our conversation, I asked Loki if he knew who Jesus was. He said, “God’s Son?”

I couldn’t help but ask, “Yeah, how’d you know that?”

“Mike told me.”

Mike was right, which made Loki right. If I asked you, “who is the Son of God?” there is a super high probability that you would say, “Jesus.”

Jesus is the Son of God. Another title he carried was “Prince of Peace.” He came as a mediator to help make peace between us and God, as well as between people.

So when Jesus calls us “sons of God,” He is giving us the same role as him, to help bring peace between God and humans (by sharing the gospel with them), as well as build peace between humans.

And when you seek to bring peace to others, you reveal that you are a son (or daughter!) of God.

So let me ask you: who do you need to help find peace with God?

How to See God

I don’t know about you, but I had a blast last Sunday, worshipping Jesus with so many of you, sharing from the Scriptures, and honoring the Moms and future Moms among us. And I find myself already getting excited about this upcoming Sunday as well. I’m looking forward to being at the amphitheater at Kohlmann Park (pray for great weather!) and looking at the next section of the Sermon on the Mount with you. If you want to look ahead at next week’s passage, read Matthew 5:38-48, contemplating the idea of grace.

But here on the blog, we’ve been going through the Beatitudes. This week we come to verse 8, which reads…

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Matthew 5:8

Longing to See God

The famous theologian and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, believes that humans long to see God. In what has become known as his “God-shaped vacuum” quote, Pascal wrote:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” 

We can see what Pascal was talking about by the number of religions that have existed through time. We see it in the vast array of philosophies and worldviews. We see it in the pursuit of happiness that every human engages in.

But as Pascal points out, this longing that is in every human heart can only be filled by God. We long to see Him.

Who is Pure in Heart

Jesus points out in this sixth beatitude that the only people who are going to actually see God are the pure in heart.

But this poses a problem. The Bible states over and over and over that no one is pure, no one is righteous, no one can see God on his own merit. If sinful mankind actually saw the Perfect God, he or she would die.

So let me get this straight… According to Jesus, in order to see God, you have to be pure in heart. But according to the rest of the Bible, no one is pure in heart, so if they saw God, they would die. Is this some bizarre Catch-22 or contradiction?

This conundrum is why Jesus came to earth. He knew mankind was sinful and therefore separated from God. And he knew that humans couldn’t see God or else they’d die (and its difficult to be in a relationship with a dead person!). So Jesus came to earth to pay the penalty for sin, so that we could be forgiven of our sin against God and be given a pure heart.

So if you want to see God, you have to place your faith in Jesus. Because only He can give you a pure heart.

So let me ask you, if you haven’t fully surrendered your life to Jesus, what is holding you back? Because I truly want you to see God.

How to Receive Mercy

We are continuing in our walk through the Beatitudes here on the blog. This week we come to verse 7, which reads:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Matthew 5:7

When the Merciful Don’t Receive Mercy

As we are seeing in our #Unexpected series on Sunday mornings, many of the things Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount are a bit unexpected. But to me, verse 7 isn’t all that strange. It seems logical that if you give mercy, you’ll receive mercy.

This past Monday night, I had the chance to hear a pastor from Minnesota share about what he has learned in his 30 years of pastoral ministry. He had some encouraging stories, but he also had some sad stories. Such as the guy who recently ripped him to shreds in a letter for using a different Bible translation than the one this guy preferred. The pastor shared how he has given nothing but mercy and kindness to this guy, and yet he gets told that he has failed as a pastor and should be removed from the pastorate for not using the “correct” translation.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like that. You showed extreme kindness to someone only to have them treat you like trash. You showed mercy – but you didn’t get mercy in return.

So was Jesus wrong?

Mercy for the Long Term

Paul says in Galatians 6:7 that you will reap what you sow. Just as a farmer who sows corn will reap corn, a person who sows discord will reap discord, or a person who sows mercy will receive mercy.

But just as a farmer has to wait for his corn seed to beget corn, sometimes we have to wait to receive mercy. Sometimes, we will sow mercy, bestowing it on others, and we may not see an immediate return. The other person might take advantage of our mercy or just not appreciate our kindness.

We shouldn’t be looking for mercy from others, we should be looking to the mercy that God offers through the cross.

That is why we shouldn’t be looking for mercy from others. Rather, we should be looking to the mercy that God offers through the cross. The fact that Jesus-followers get heaven despite their sin is evidence of God’s lavish mercy. The fact that Jesus’s followers receive the Holy Spirit despite their rebellious hearts is evidence of God’s extravagant mercy. The fact that we receive such love from God despite the fact that we can’t earn God’s love is evidence of God’s amazing mercy.

So if you want to receive mercy, give mercy. But realize, that you may not receive mercy from those upon whom you bestow mercy. Rather, you have already received mercy from God. And THAT’S why we can give mercy to others.

(By the way, the pastor who shared about getting ripped to shreds in that letter about Bible translations went on to share how the guy who wrote the letter had a tragic event happen two days after he sent the letter to the pastor. And who was the first person he called? You got it: The pastor.)

So who do you need to give mercy to today?

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