The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost July 1, 2007

INI

The Difference of Christ

Matthew 5:7-12

Scripture Readings

Genesis 18:20-33
Acts 8:26-38

Hymns

14, 331, 357, 50

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

When a person gives an acceptance speech after winning an award he usually has a series of people whom he thanks—people who have been influential in shaping who he is. If you were to give such a speech, whom would you pick out as someone who made a difference in your life? Some obvious choices to come to mind: your spouse, your parents, maybe a teacher or employer or some other mentor that helped inspire you to achieve what you have.

I would hope that we would not exclude our Savior from this list. The difference that He has made in our lives in immeasurable. In fact, the difference that He has made has ramifications even beyond the grave. Today we are reminded of the difference that Christ has made in our relationship with our fellow man. He has changed our attitude toward others, given us compassion and love where we had none before. But we will also find that people will view us differently if they know that Christ is in our life. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive His message this morning.

I.

Some people who appear to be the most confident are actually the most insecure. Those who bully others are probably the least secure of all. Christ makes a difference in the lives of God’s children by giving them security. He makes us secure in our relationship with our Lord. You have a very special gift in knowing that God loves you, and you know that He’s always there for you. Even if the rest of your world is crashing down around you, God’s love for you does not change. Consider the second half of the phrases in our text this morning: “…they shall obtain mercy…they shall see God… they shall be called sons of God…theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What great confidence and security you have in Christ!

This confidence will give you a completely different view of people in your life. You don’t need to worry about keeping a record of wrongs. You can be forgiving. You can be patient. You are able to view people not as those who are for or against you, but who are blood-bought souls of Christ, people for whom Jesus died and whom wants in Heaven with Him. Such an attitude can come from Christ alone. That is not our natural tendency or view of people. These last four Beatitudes shift from explaining Christian character to explaining that character put into action by our treatment of others.

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. [v.7] First, we should define mercy. Mercy is active compassion. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. There were those who saw a man beaten up and lying in the ditch and felt sorry for him, but the Samaritan man was truly merciful because he not only felt sorry for him, but he did something about it. God’s mercy toward us is His action of compassion. He saw our sinful state and helplessness, and didn’t just have feelings of pity. He went the distance to save us. He showed mercy.

That is the same mercy that we are to show our fellow man. It is the difference that Christ makes. This is very similar to the Fifth Petition where we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Similarly, we may be happy in showing mercy to others, knowing that God has shown mercy to us. Without Christ our first inclination is to put ourselves first and not to take action to help the spiritual, physical, or emotional needs of others. Today’s first Scripture reading showed Abraham praying for his nephew Lot. Though Lot had not shown that much kindness to Abraham, Abraham had mercy on Lot. The difference that Christ makes is to make us merciful and for us to know that we may blessed in that mercy.

We are told next of the happiness of a pure heart. [v.8] That again could only happen because of Christ. Our hearts are so corroded with sin that it would be impossible to cleanse them. There’s no kind of bypass or angioplasty that will work. There’s no blood transfusion that will spiff up an unclean heart. The difference that Christ makes is giving us a pure heart and promising that we can approach God here in time, and also in eternity.

Having a pure heart leads us into verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Being a peacemaker is knowing when to open your mouth and perhaps even more importantly when to close it. Being a peacemaker is more than being a mediator between two parties that are fighting. It is making peace between you and others in your life, and also showing others how they may have peace with God. Today’s second Scripture reading concerning Philip and the Ethiopian was a good example of this.

To be a peacemaker you need to view every situation in the light of the Gospel. That is to say that you would know that Jesus loved this person and died for this person. When you look at a person in this way, it will change your whole attitude toward him. Viewing a situation in the light of the Gospel is to have forgiveness and unconditional love such as our Lord has for us. Being a peacemaker means being selfless, lovable, and approachable. It is a mark of those who are the children of God. It is the difference of Christ.

The opposite is that if you are not a peacemaker then whose child are you? If you love divisiveness and arguments, being selfish, unloving, and unapproachable these are marks of Satan rather than of Christ. Christ makes the difference in our treatment of others leading to mercy and peace which flow into us and come out of us.

II.

You would think that if we are treating others in this manner then great accolades would be given to us. You would think that we would be popular and have many friends. You would be wrong. Having Christ in your heart and in your life will lead others to mistreat you and persecute you. Jesus tells us that the servant is not greater than his Master. If the world mistreated Christ, it will mistreat Christians. If the world loves you then that’s the real problem because it would mean that you are too cozy with it. Persecution is a fact that Jesus warns us about. He tells us to count the cost of becoming a disciple. He doesn’t put this in the fine print but tells us right away that as long as we’re in this world we will be put to the test for His sake. But He also tells us that it’s worth it. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.[v.10]

Note how He says “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” If you are persecuted because you’re a bully and a real beast to live with, that’s on your own head. There’s no need to find happiness in that.

Nor do Jesus’ words mean that you should go seeking out persecution. If you are wearing Christ on your sleeve, if you are condemning sin for what it is, if you are doing the right thing, if you are proclaiming Christ as your Savior and the only way to heaven, persecution will find you. If you proclaim creation instead of evolution, then your intelligence will be called into question. If you say, “no” when propositioned with temptation by your friends, then you will lose friends. If persecution has not reached you, then I would suggest that perhaps you are not outwardly proclaiming your faith.

Now, persecution does not mean that your house will be burned down or that you’ll be thrown in jail—at least not at this point in our country. That does happen in other parts of the world. It happens much more frequently than you and I can imagine. Look at various websites such as Voices of Martyrs and you’ll realize how precious freedom of religion is. Persecution might mean that you are ostracized by your family, or that you’re called a kook or a Jesus freak or you might be called a fanatic or a liar. Yet, Jesus says, “Be happy in this.” Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [vv.11-12]

If all these negative things are happening to you because you are a Christian, then it shows you are on the right track. You are following in the footsteps of many before you. Abel was killed because of his faith. David was dogged by Saul for many years because he followed God. Elijah and Jeremiah are two more prominent examples in the Old Testament of those who suffered because of their faith. The New Testament provides many more examples. If you are suffering for Christ, then it is a badge of honor that He would count you worthy to suffer shame for His name in order that He might be glorified.

Persecution is a reminder that you belong to the kingdom of heaven, not to the kingdom of this world. You will be vilified on this earth because you are an enemy of the world. Your reward is not here. Your reward is in heaven. Don’t get the wrong idea with the word reward. It is not as if we’ve earned it. It is a reward of grace. It is a gift of God. In heaven we will be so overwhelmed by the joy that the persecution of this earth won’t even be remembered. Is it worth it to be persecuted in this life and keep your faith rather than giving up your faith for a life of ease? Of course it is.

Jesus Christ has made a difference in your life. He’s made a difference in your future. He’s made a difference here in time. He’s made a difference in your heart. He’s made a difference in your attitude and treatment of others. He made a difference in the way that others look at you and treat you. Whenever Jesus makes a difference, it’s good. You are blessed. Amen.

—Pastor Michael M. Schierenbeck


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