Matthew 5:1-122018-08-09T15:46:36+00:00

Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)
Matthew 5:1-12

A Godsend!  An Inspiration!  A Safety Net!

That’s what a subscriber says about SermonWriter.  For the preacher, every Sunday is a challenge, but some Sundays are especially so.  SermonWriter can help.

We send a weekly package of materials (Biblical Commentary, children’s sermon, sermon, and more) to give you a giant head-start on your sermon preparation.  You take it from there.

Check it out!  We offer four FREE SAMPLES so you can test SermonWriter.  For more information, go to https://www.sermonwriter.com/free-sample

 

MATTHEW 5-7:  THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Matthew’s is a teaching Gospel.  He begins Jesus’ ministry with the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), the first of five major teaching sections (see also 10:5 – 11:1; 13:1-53; 18:1 – 19:1; 24:3 – 26:1).  He closes Jesus’ ministry with the Great Commission, in which Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples (matheteusate—”learners”) of all nations and teaching them to obey everything that he had commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).  So in this Gospel Jesus’ work begins and ends with an emphasis on teaching.

The Sermon on the Mount is almost surely a collection of teachings rather than a sermon delivered in one sitting:

• It is too lengthy and complex for listeners to absorb in one sitting.  It works better as a written work than as an oral work.

• Approximately half of Matthew’s sermon has parallels in Luke, part in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49) and the rest scattered throughout Luke:

Luke 11:2-4:  The Lord’s Prayer
Luke 11:9-13:  Ask and you will receive
Luke 11:33-36:  The sound eye
Luke 12:22-31:  Don’t worry
Luke 12:33-34:  Where your treasure is
Luke 12:57-59:  Settling with your opponent
Luke 13:24-27:  The narrow door
Luke 14:34-35:  Salt
Luke 16:18: Divorce

Did Luke divide one of Jesus’ sermons into fragments that he scattered throughout his Gospel—or did Matthew assemble a number of Jesus’ teachings and present them as a single sermon at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Almost certainly the latter.

This sermon is Jesus’ Inaugural Address in which he lays out his vision of life in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven” rather than “kingdom of God” out of reverence for God’s name.  The terms are synonymous.)  In this sermon, Jesus outlines the principles by which the kingdom is ruled.  It is a not set of rules for worldly success, but is instead a glimpse at rules that govern the kingdom—a mirror-image world where everything seems backwards—where the poor are blessed rather than the rich—where the meek inherit the earth.

We do not have to wait for eternity to see the kingdom, because it is in our midst. Jesus proclaims, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; 10:7; see also 12:28).  The kingdom is any place where God reigns.  The kingdom of heaven comes near whenever a person chooses to serve God.  Jesus’ disciples live with one foot in this world and one foot in the kingdom.  This world rewards selfish, aggressive behavior, but Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek.

MATTHEW 5:3-12.   THE BEATITUDES

In the Beatitudes, Jesus stands our world on its head.  We believe in personal pride; Jesus blesses poverty of spirit.  We seek pleasure; Jesus blesses those who mourn.  We see the prosperity of aggressive people; Jesus blesses the meek.  We love good food and drink; Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Each beatitude begins with the Greek word, makarios, which is usually translated “blessed” or “happy.”  “Blessed” is preferable because of its religious connotations—blessedness is a gift of God.  We use “happy” more broadly—often in ways that contradict the Beatitudes—in ways that celebrate our power or the satisfaction of our appetites.

In the original language, the “are” is missing.  For example, a literal translation of the first beatitude reads, “Blessed the poor in spirit,” giving it the exclamatory feeling of, “Oh the blessedness of the poor in spirit!”

The first four beatitudes (poor in spirit, mourn, meek, and hunger and thirst for righteousness) describe the heart of the person who is rightly related to God.  The remaining beatitudes (merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted) describe how such a person relates to other people.

Jesus models what he calls for in the Beatitudes.  He is a servant (Mark 10:45)—meek (Matthew 11:29)—mournful (Matthew 11:20-24)—and merciful (Mark 10:46-52).

Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26) is quite different from Matthew’s.  Luke includes only four beatitudes, which are shorter and more physical.  In Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor” as compared to Matthew’s version, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Luke also pairs Beatitudes with Woes—i.e., the first beatitude is paired with “But woe to you who are rich! For you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).

MATTHEW 5:1-2.   JESUS WENT UP ONTO THE MOUNTAIN

1Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2He opened his mouth and taught them, saying,

“Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain” (v. 1a).  Mountains are often places of encounter with God, the most obvious being Moses at Sinai (Exodus 19-34).  Matthew includes a great deal of Moses typology in this Gospel, although he regards Jesus as greater-than-Moses.  Both Moses and Jesus:

• Are threatened in infancy by the edict of a wicked ruler (Exodus 1-2; Matthew 2:13-15).

• Are rejected by their own people (Exodus 2:14; Matthew 13:55-58).

• Come out of Egypt (Exodus 2:15; Matthew 2:15).

• Pass through the water (Exodus 14; Matthew 3:13-17).

• Are tested in the wilderness (Exodus 16ff; Matthew 4:1-11).

• Go up on the mountain (Exodus 20; Matthew 5:1; 17:1-8)

• Are confronted with the sins/deficiencies of their followers when they come down from the mountain (Exodus 32; Matthew 17:9-21)

It sounds as if Jesus goes up the mountain, in part, to escape the crowd, and he addresses this sermon to his disciples.  However, the crowd overhears and is “astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28-29).

“when he had sat down, his disciples came to him” (v. 1b).  Sitting is the traditional posture for rabbinical teaching.  By taking his seat, Jesus signals that it is time for class to begin.  Jesus’ disciples come to him, indicating their subordinate role.

“He opened his mouth and taught them” (v. 2).  The deliberate quality of this introduction signals the importance of the message.  Luke introduces his account by saying that Jesus “came down with them, and stood on a level place” (Luke 6:17).

MATTHEW 5:3.   BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT

3“Blessed (Greek: makarioi) are the poor (Greek: ptochoi) in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“Blessed (makarioi) are the poor (ptochoi) in spirit” (v. 3a).  God began the Ten Commandments with a grace note—a reminder that God brought the Israelites out of slavery.  The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2), is foundational in the sense that the person who is unfaithful to the first commandment will have little inclination to honor any commandment, but the person who is faithful to the first commandment will try to honor them all.

In like manner, Jesus begins the Beatitudes with the grace note of blessings, and the first beatitude is as foundational as was the first commandment.  The poor in spirit, those who stand in total dependence before God, are also disposed to mourn for a Godless world—and to approach others in a spirit of gentleness—and to hunger and thirst for righteousness—and so forth.

Ptochoi means abject poverty.  True poverty is a cruel thing.  It breaks people.  They suffer.  Confronted daily with their own helplessness, they know the difference that even a small act of mercy can make.  They watch eagerly for a gesture or a glance that might promise help.  They long for a bit of kindness.  They crave a bit of dignity.

Standing before God, the poor in spirit are like that.  They know that they bring nothing in their hands that God needs and nothing in their hearts that compels God to accept them.  They bring their poverty, hoping for sustenance.  They bring their brokenness, hoping for mending.   They bring their sin, hoping to receive forgiveness.  They bring their grief, hoping to be comforted.  They bring their illness, hoping to be healed.  They do not come bargaining, because they have nothing to offer.  Their ptochoi—poverty of spirit—has broken them, making them fertile soil to receive God’s blessing.

Jesus says, “a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty” (19:23).  God pulls us Godward, but wealth and power pull us inward.  The greater our wealth, the more we love it—the more we trust it—the less we feel the need for God’s help—the more prideful we are as we come into God’s presence—and therefore the less likely to receive God’s salvation.  And yet, when the disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answers, “For men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19:25-26).  We must take care, therefore, not to canonize the poor or to demonize the rich.  There are poor people who are wicked to the bone and wealthy people who are generous to a fault.  It is the heart rather than the pocketbook that matters to God.

“for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (v. 3b).  In beatitudes 2-7 (vv. 4-9), the promise is future—”will”.  In beatitudes 1, 8, and 9 (vv. 3, 10 and 11), the promise is present—”is”.  The poor in spirit (v. 3) and those who are persecuted (vv. 10-11) possess the blessing now.

MATTHEW 5:4.  BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Greek: paraklethesontai)

“Blessed are those who mourn” (v. 4a).  This beatitude finds its roots in Isaiah 61:1-2 where God anoints a person “to bind up the brokenhearted… (and) to comfort all who mourn.”  The setting was Jerusalem.  The Jewish people had just returned from their lengthy exile.  While God made it possible for them to rebuild Jerusalem, he had not made it easy.  Local people opposed the rebuilding of the temple, and the project ground to a halt (Ezra 4; Nehemiah 4-5).  The Jews were mourning the devastation—and the disobedience of the earlier generation that had brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and their long exile.

Tom Long tells of a television commercial that shows windblown litter and cast-off garbage alongside a highway.  Then the camera pans to the face of a Native American.  “As he looks solemnly upon the spoiled landscape, a tear falls from his eye, his grief marking the distance between the world as it is and the world as it should be” (Long 48-49).  That image captures perfectly the grief of the Godly mournful who live in a world despoiled by sin.

The promise is that “they shall be comforted” (paraklethesontai) (v. 4b).  This Greek word is related to the word parakletos (Holy Spirit) that is usually translated Counselor or Comforter in the Gospel of John (14:26).  The Paraclete is a helper or comforter in times of need.

The person of faith grieves for the world as it is now but not for the world as it shall be.  The person of faith lives under the promise that the kingdom will come and that God will make things right.  The person of faith will be comforted in the future when God sets things right, but is also comforted in the present by God’s promise of it.

MATTHEW 5:5.   BLESSED ARE THE GENTLE

5“Blessed are the gentle, (Greek: preis—from praus) for they shall inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are the gentle” (v. 5a).  The word “gentle” (“meek” in some translations) suggests a timidity that Jesus did not intend to convey.  To understand this beatitude, we must look to the original Hebrew and Greek words in context.

Jesus quotes Psalm 37:11.  In that Psalm, the faithful have lost their land to the wicked, but the Psalmist assures them that the wicked “shall soon be cut down like the grass” (v. 2).  He calls them to “Trust in Yahweh, and do good.  Dwell in the land, and enjoy safe pasture” (v. 3).  He promises, “For yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more….  But the humble shall inherit the land, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (vv. 10-11).  This Psalm promises vindication for those who are faithful in adversity.  Their land will be restored, not by their own strength, but as an inheritance from God.

The Hebrew word translated “humble” in Psalm 37 (translated “meek” in many translations) is anawimAnawim is used to describe Moses:  “Now the man Moses was very anawim, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).  Moses demonstrates his anawim at the burning bush.  He is afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:6).  He protests, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Exodus 3:11).  He says, “Behold, they will not believe me, nor listen to my voice” (Exodus 4:1).  Finally, in desperation, he says, “O Lord, I am not eloquent, …for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

BUT, humble though he might be in God’s presence, Moses is hardly timid when he appears before Pharaoh.  He does not hesitate to act, even though his actions bring about plagues to devastate the Egyptians.  His gentleness resurfaces when the Israelites make the golden calf and Moses pleads to God for their lives (Exodus 32:11-14).  On that occasion he is not timid even in God’s presence, but argues persuasively that God should spare the people.  His heart is gentle toward Israelites who face God’s wrath.  But then he breaks the tablets in anger when he finds the people dancing at the foot of the mountain.  He forces the Israelites to grind the golden calf to dust, mix it with water, and drink it—effectively converting gold to dung.  He was anawim, but hardly weak or indecisive.

The Greek in the Beatitudes is praus.  Jesus describes himself as “praus and lowly in heart” (11:29).  Matthew describes Jesus as a king, “praus, and mounted on a donkey” (21:5).  Jesus models praus at his trial, where he refuses to defend himself.  He is poised and in control, but he refuses to make claims for himself or to mount a defense.

However, we can hardly call Jesus weak or timid.  He upends moneychangers’ tables and uses a whip to drive animals from the temple.  He lashes Pharisees with his tongue.  He exercises authority over illness and demons.  He teaches with authority.  Hardly meek as we usually think of meek!

If Moses and Jesus are models of anawim and praus, their behavior suggests the true meaning of these words.  Neither Moses nor Jesus was ambitious in the pursuit of personal enrichment.  Both, however, were forceful when upholding a principle or protecting the vulnerable.  We might conclude, then, that anawim and praus should be translated “not self-seeking,” rather than “meek.”  But more important still was the source of their strength.  Both Moses and Jesus knew themselves to be working, not by human strength, but by the power of God.  Such a person can work quietly—confidently—certain that they, with God’s help, will prevail.

“for they shall inherit the earth” (v. 5b).  The surprise is that the praus will inherit the earth.  We assume that God will give them heaven, but Jesus promises them earth.  The word, “inherit,” is the clue.  God gives them the inheritance as a gift—a gift that they could never win for themselves.

MATTHEW 5:6.   BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The words “hunger and thirst” mean less to affluent First World Christians today than to the people of Jesus’ time.  When we are hungry, we eat.  When we are thirsty, we drink.  We refrigerate water to cool it and food to preserve it.  We shop in supermarkets stacked high with foods flown fresh from the four corners of the world.  In restaurants we order food one minute and receive it the next.  We are less likely to express wonder at this abundance than to express frustration when the system fails to work perfectly.  When someone asks if we are hungry, they mean only “Are you sufficiently hungry to eat now if I put food on the table?”

It was very different in Jesus’ day.  People seldom ate meat and were often hungry—sometimes starving.  Hunger and thirst are compelling!  A hungry person can think of little but food!  A thirsty person can think of little but water! To hunger and thirst is to be totally focused.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (v. 6a).  Blessed are those who are totally focused on righteousness!  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for personal holiness!  Blessed are those who ache to live in a world where people live in right relationships!  Blessed are those who long for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven!

“for they shall be filled” (v. 6b). God will give them that for which they long!  Their dreams will come true!  And when their dreams come true, the dreams will not be hollow, as realized dreams so often are.  They will not find life still empty!  They will not be at loose ends!  They will not ache for more!  “They shall be FILLED!”  What a promise!

MATTHEW 5:7.  BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL

7“Blessed are the merciful (Greek: eleemones), for they will obtain mercy.”

“Blessed are the merciful” (eleemones) (v. 7a).  The word translated “mercy” is eleemones, which begins with sympathy but then moves to action.   Jesus pronounces a blessing on the person who feels the other person’s pain and takes action to relieve it.

Jesus promises, “for they shall obtain mercy” (v. 7b).  When we examine this Gospel further, we will discover that mercy-receiving is dependent on mercy-giving.  Only those who show mercy can expect God to show them mercy.

• In this Gospel, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (6:12).

• He twice quotes Hosea 6:6, which calls for mercy rather than sacrifice (9:13; 12:7).

• He gives the parable of the unforgiving servant, with its condemnation of the person who fails the mercy test (18:21-35).

• He condemns the scribes and Pharisees for scrupulous attention to tithing while neglecting the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith (23:23).

If it is true that the merciful will receive mercy, it is also true that those who have received mercy are more inclined to give mercy.   Having needed mercy, they can sympathize with those who need mercy.  In that sense, mercy is cyclical, so the question is how to jump-start the mercy-cycle.  God did that by loving us when we were yet sinners (Romans 5:6-8).  Having shown us mercy, Christ sends us into the world to keep mercy alive.

MATTHEW 5:8.   BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART

8“Blessed are the pure (Greek: katharoi) in heart, for they shall see God.”

Jesus adapts Psalm 24:3-4:  “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.”

“Blessed are the pure (katharoi) in heart” (v. 8a).  Katharos, the Greek word for purity, has two meanings that are similar but different:

• It means clean—not dirty.  Jesus warns, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual sins, thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies” (15:19), and blesses the pure heart that is unsullied by these evils.

• It also means unadulterated—unalloyed—not mixed with foreign substances.  The pure heart is devoted completely to God.  It finds a treasure in a field and sells all that he has to buy the field.  It sells all that it has to buy the one pearl of great value (13:44-46).  The person with a pure heart does not just claim to have faith, but possesses the kind of unwavering faith that leads to faithful living.

The opposite of the pure heart is the divided heart.  A divided heart will try to serve two masters, only to end up hating the one and loving the other.  Jesus warns, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon” (6:24).  James says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

“for they shall see God” (v. 8b).  The promise that the pure in heart will see God is a fitting reward for the devoted servant of God.  C. S. Lewis notes:  “We are afraid that Heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested.  It is not so.  Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire.  It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

MATTHEW 5:9.   BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, (Greek: eirenopoioi—from eirene) for they shall be called children (huios—sons) of God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (eirenopoioi—from eirene).  Eirene is the Greek word for peace, and Matthew recorded the Beatitudes in Greek. Jesus, however, spoke Aramaic, a form of Hebrew.  The Hebrew word is shalom, and it is to that word that we go to understand this beatitude.  Shalom is more than the absence of strife; it is the presence of harmony and brotherhood.

Jesus pronounces blessings, not on those who avoid confrontation, but on those who make peace.  The avoidance of confrontation may simply allow evil to rampage unfettered.  The making of peace, paradoxically, may involve force.  Two examples:

• Hitler killed six million Jews and caused the deaths of millions more.  Chamberlain’s appeasement simply whetted Hitler’s appetite.  Allied soldiers carrying rifles were necessary to drive Hitler’s soldiers from countries that they had enslaved—to liberate prisoners from Hitler’s death camps—to establish peace.

• During the civil rights upheaval of the 1960s, a member of my congregation criticized Martin Luther King for causing trouble.  He said that trouble followed King wherever he went, proving that King must be a troublemaker.  It was difficult for him to understand that King might be a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker—and that the true evil might lie on the side of the segregationists.

“for they shall be called children (huios—sons) of God” (v. 9b).  The title, “sons of God” or “children of God,” is high praise.  These peacemakers will share God’s character, because God is the ultimate peacemaker.

John promises, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him” (1 John 3:2).

MATTHEW 5:10.  BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN PERSECUTED

10“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10a).  Early Christians were persecuted for a variety of reasons.  Jews, Saul among them, persecuted Christians as heretics.  Jews and Romans accused Christians of immoral practices.  The words of the Last Supper, “This is my body….  This is my blood,” led to charges of cannibalism.  The Agape (Love Feast) and the kiss of peace led to charges of sexual immorality.  Apocalyptic literature led to charges of sedition.  Christian refusal proclaim, “Caesar is Lord,” led to charges of treason (Barclay, 108-110).  At the time that this Gospel was written, Christians were being persecuted.  This Gospel helped them to put that persecution into perspective.

Jesus offers a blessing, not to all who are persecuted, but for “those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  If we experience persecution, we must ask whether it is because we have been righteousness or simply obnoxious.  It is wise to invite the church’s counsel in such matters, because it is difficult for us to be objective regarding our own behavior. Still, it is clear that, when opposed, evil will use every trick in the book to win the day.  True righteousness invites persecution.  Jesus says that such righteousness also ends in blessings.

Note the parallel between “for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10) and “for my sake” (v. 11).

The promise is that “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (v. 10b). Again, this repeats the promise of verse 3.

MATTHEW 5:11-12.  BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN PEOPLE REPROACH YOU

11“Blessed are you when people reproach you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great (Greek: polys) is your reward (Greek: misthos) in heaven, for that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“Blessed are you” (v. 11a).  Jesus changes the form of the beatitude to address his listeners directly.  The “you” is plural, suggesting that Jesus is directing this blessing at the community of faith (the church) rather than an individual.

“when people reproach you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (v. 11b).  The Christian can expect opponents of the Gospel to use every weapon at their disposal:  Ridicule (using humor as mockery)—persecution (physical or mental torture—even murder)—and slander (false accusations).  Often, these weapons appear to defeat the Christian, but God continues to work in the hearts of those who witness the faith of the Christian in adversity.  For instance, there have been a number of accounts of churches springing up spontaneously in the wake of a missionary’s death.

Persecution was no academic matter for the church of Matthew’s day.  Here Jesus puts their suffering in context by linking it to the great prophets.  The prophets’ faithful proclamation brought them persecution. A recent example was John the Baptist, beheaded for opposing Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. The penultimate example was Jesus.  The church cannot expect to be immune from suffering if it opposes evil, but it can expect to be blessed.

“Rejoice (chairo) and be exceedingly glad” (agalliao) (v. 12a).  Chairo and agalliao are two words that mean rejoice.  Agalliao is the stronger of the two and means “to leap for joy” or “to rejoice with song and dance.”  We could translate this verse, “Rejoice and leap for joy!”

“for great (polys—much or many) is your reward (misthos) in heaven” (v. 12b).  The word misthos is sometimes used to refer to wages—compensation for work—quid pro quo.  For instance, Paul says, “Now to one who works, wages (misthos) are not reckoned as a gift but as something due” (Romans 4:4).  In 1 Timothy 5:18, he quotes Deuteronomy 25:4: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain”—and then adds, “the worker is worthy of his reward” (misthos).

But most frequently in the New Testament, misthos refers to spiritual rewards received for faithful discipleship.  For instance, Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward (misthos); and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward (misthos) of the righteous” (Matthew 10:41).  Paul says that our spiritual work will be tested by fire on the Day of the Lord, and then adds, “If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward” (misthos) (1 Corinthians 3:14).

In verse 5:12a, Jesus promises persecuted disciples a heavenly reward.  Heaven is the dwelling place of God, the angels, and those who are faithful.  A heavenly existence is both present and future.  Those who have accepted Christ have received the Holy Spirit and have begun their heavenly citizenship—a citizenship that will continue through time and eternity.

While heavenly rewards are not always apparent in life as we know it, they are nevertheless present.  I have known countless Christians who have borne illness, grief, and other hardships with grace.  They have relied on God for strength and comfort, and have often become pillars of strength and comfort for others who are less afflicted.  These faithful Christians have already received a portion of their heavenly reward.

But Jesus surely intends us to understand that our heavenly reward is not limited to this life but will extend into the life to come.  Jesus doesn’t tell us exactly what the heavenly rewards will be, but says only that they will be great (polys)—many or much.

“for that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12c).  Who did Jesus have in mind?

• King Nebuchadnezzar threatened Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with death (Daniel 3).

• King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, sought to kill Elijah (1 King 19).

• King Jehoiakim killed Uriah (Jeremiah 26) and beat and imprisoned Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32, 37-38).

• Antoichus IV Ephiphanes profaned the Jerusalem temple and persecuted Jews (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; 1-2 Maccabees).

Persecution of the early church began soon after its founding at Pentecost.  The high priests and Sadducees arrested apostles, imprisoned them, tried to intimidate them, and had them flogged (Acts 5:17-42).  The council had Stephen stoned (Acts 754 – 8:1).  Saul persecuted the church (Acts 8:1-3), and Jews plotted to kill him after he became a Christian (Acts 9:23-25).  A number of Roman emperors required their subjects to worship them—and persecuted Christians who refused to do so.

Persecution of Christians is widespread in the world today.  John Allen, CNN’s senior Vatican analyst and a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter noted that “80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.  According to the Pew Forum in Washington, Christians face some form of harassment in 137 nations, two-thirds of all countries on earth.”  Allen cites another study that claims that “an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed for the faith each year for the past 10 years” (John L. Allen, Jr., “The Pope’s Four Biggest Challenges,” CNN, March 17, 2013).  In the past, Communists were the main offenders, but today Muslim extremists are responsible for most persecution.

While Jesus promised blessings to Christians who are persecuted for his sake, we should not assume a passive posture when it comes to the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters.  We need to pray for them and keep their names before our congregations.  We need to provide persecuted Christians with financial support.  We need to demand that our government use its influence to stop the persecution of Christians.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

COMMENTARIES:

Abbey, Merrill R. and Edwards, O.C., Proclamation, Epiphany, Series A (Fortress Press, 1974)

Allen, Ronald J. in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary:  Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text.  The Third Readings:  The Gospels  (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2001)

Barclay, William, Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1  (Edinburgh:  The Saint Andrew Press, 1956)

Bergant, Dianne with Fragomeni, Richard, Preaching the New Lectionary, Year A (Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 2001)

Blomberg , Craig L., New American Commentary:  Matthew, Vol. 22 (Nashville:  Broadman Press, 1992)

Boring, M. Eugene, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1995)

Brueggemann, Walter;  Cousar, Charles B.;  Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching:  A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year A (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)

Bruner, Frederick Dale,  Matthew:  Volume 1, The Christbook, Matthew 1-12 (Dallas:  Word, 1987)

Burgess, Joseph A. and Winn, Albert C., Proclamation 2: Epiphany, Series A (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1980)

Craddock, Fred B.;  Hayes, John H.;  Holladay, Carl R.;  Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge:  Trinity Press International, 1992)

Gardner, Richard B., Believers Church Bible Commentary:  Matthew (Scottdale, Pennsylvania:  Herald Press, 1990)

Hagner, Donald A., Word Biblical Commentary:  Matthew 1-13, Vol. 33a (Dallas:  Word, 1993)

Hamm, Dennis, Let the Scriptures Speak, Year A (Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 2001)

Hare, Douglas R. A., Interpretation:  Matthew (Louisville:  John Knox Press, 1993)

Hedahl, Susan B.,  Proclamation 6:  Epiphany, Series A  (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1995)

Johnson, Sherman E. and Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1951)

Keener, Craig S., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Matthew, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997)

Long, Thomas G., Westminster Bible Companion:  Matthew (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1997)

MacArthur, John Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary:  Matthew (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1985)

Morris, Leon, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1992)

Pilch, John J., The Cultural World of Jesus:  Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 1995)

Senior, Donald, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)

Soards, Marion; Dozeman, Thomas; McCabe, Kendall, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Year A (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993)

DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS, LEXICONS & ATLASES:

 Aharoni, Yohanan and Avi-Yonah, Michael, The Macmillan Bible Atlas (New York: Macmillan, 1993)

Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)

Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)

Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)

Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)

Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)

Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)

Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)

Lockyer, Herbert, Sr. (ed.), Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)

May, Herbert G. (ed.), Oxford Bible Atlas (Third Edition) (New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2006)

Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)

Pfeiffer, Charles F., Baker’s Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 2003)

Rasmussen, Carl G., Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1989.

Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)

Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol.  (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008)

VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)

www.sermonwriter.com

We welcome your feedback! [email protected]

Copyright 2009, 2018 Richard Niell Donovan