Persecuted for Righteousness

Would you like to live the blessed life? Then learn the counter-intuitive way of right living!

Jesus is often described as being good, kind, a savior, a good teacher, and loving along with many other “positive” traits. I (Jonathan) also thought of Jesus this way. Then I read this passage Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy:

Here is a profoundly significant fact: In our culture, among Christians and non-Christians alike, Jesus Christ is automatically disassociated from brilliance or intellectual capacity. Not one in a thousand will spontaneously think of him in conjunction with words such as well-informed, brilliant, or smart. Far too often he is regarded as hardly conscious. He is looked on as a mere icon, a wraith-like semblance of a man, fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, perhaps, but little more… Would you be able to trust your life to such a person? If this is how he seems to you, are you going to be inclined to become his student? Of course not. We all know that action must be based on knowledge, and we grant the right to lead and teach only to those we believe to know what is real and what is best.

Jesus is smart? It seemed like a “duh” moment but carried with it far-reaching implications. If Jesus really did understand human relationships and what made the human heart tick, why would I only trust him to be my substitute so I could get to heaven? Wouldn’t I also trust him for how I am supposed to live now? If he knows how my heart works, maybe he actually has something to say about living rightly and fruitfully.

This realization began a journey which has changed the way I view the Gospels, Jesus’ message, and our end goal. As we are going through the Sermon on the Mount, this view that Jesus actually knows how life should be lived is key to taking his sermon seriously. He begins with giving a counterintuitive list of the kinds of people who live the “blessed life.”  These counterintuitive blessings point to how the rest of the sermon will unfold but, in reverse order:

Poor in Spirit - (6:19-24 Treasure God not money)

Mourn - (6:16-18 Fast for fasting sake, not for external appearance)

Meek - (6:5-14 Pray to talk with your heavenly Dad, not for spiritual brownie points)

Hunger and Thirst (6:1-4 Do good for its sake, not to be smug)

Grow up and be like your heavenly Dad (5:48)

Merciful: (5:38-48 Don’t retaliate and love your enemies)

Pure in Heart: (5:27-37 Have pure motives with women, marriage, and your word)

Peacemakers: (5:21-26 Don’t just not murder, seek peace in relationships)

Persecuted for Right Living: (5:11-20 Value Jesus’ way of right living even though it costs you)

The main point we must be looking for in this sermon is how we can actually grow up to be like our Dad in heaven. This is what it means to live the “blessed life.” We enter into this life by living rightly (righteousness). What then does it mean to live rightly?

Throughout the sermon he will contrast two ways of living. Often we think of the two ways (think broad and narrow road) as being the way of blatant immorality and the other of perfect morality. Instead, what we will see is that these two paths look a lot alike. One is the way of outward religious smugness where one can say “I’m in and they are out!” The other is the way of internal change where we become the kind of trees who produce good fruit. Jesus begins to describe this right living in 5:11-20. In this passage we see a few things:

  1. Right living is defined by Jesus (Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my sake).
  2. Right living is unmixed (like salt) and unhindered (like light).
  3. Right living is the fulfillment of the story (I have not come to abolish the Law…)
  4. Right living is to be followed and valued, not like the religious leaders.

The point of this is we should value right living to the extent that we are willing to pay a cost for it. As a result, we will have a life that allows us the fortitude to stand up against persecution (following in the steps of the prophets). It is focused and useful (salt and light). It will be line with the ancient story of God restoring humanity to their rightful vocation (fulfilled Law). It will have weight and substance (not like the empty actions of the religious leaders).

The question we have to ask is, are we willing to listen to Jesus and follow his way of living? If we are, then the rest of the sermon has a wealth of wisdom to impart into what it means live rightly so we are living the “blessed life.” We can begin to become like the man described in Psalm 1. A man who is like a tree which is renewed by the water and is not striving to be fruitful but is productive in its season. I want that kind of living and want to learn from the brilliance of Jesus about how to live