For Righteousness' Sake

“Blessed are those who persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10


Matt had been unemployed for a year and recently landed an interview with a local company. Matt was selected for the position, but the employer told him that it was necessary for them to pay him under the table so that the company could save money on taxes and insurance. Although Matt desperately needed the money, he chose to turn down the position because his Christian faith was more important. Matt believed righteousness was better than money.  He was willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Christians face decisions every single day that could bring persecution into their life. Whether it is the college freshman who chooses not to drink, or the spouse who refuses to lie on her taxes, or the parents who choose to go to church rather than have their children play in sports on Sunday, they all face decisions that could bring persecution into their lives. Every Christian will one day be faced with a choice to either forsake righteousness or be persecuted. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) The persecution may vary depending on the society. It may be losing the opportunity of career advancement in America or losing your life in Iraq. Although the persecution may vary, the promise of Jesus Christ will never vary or change.
When we face persecution, we must remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God’s people need to resolve to choose righteousness. We do not look for persecution, but when given the choice, we should gladly bear persecution for righteousness’ sake. We may lose things in this life, but we gain the kingdom of heaven. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12) When we remain firm in the face persecution, we are still blessed.
Do not focus on what you may lose, but what you will gain. We may lose everything, but we gain Christ!! Let us consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Take the sure road of blessing by choosing to suffer for righteousness sake.

Preparing to See God

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
            My wife thrives in details. She loves schedules and plans. Before taking a long trip, she usually packs the day before while I usually pack ten minutes before we leave. Early in our marriage, we were taking one trip to visit my family in California. As we waited in the line to go through security at the airport, my wife looked at me and asked (as she has done for every flight we have ever taken together), “Do you have your driver’s license?” I reached back and patted my pocket, making my eyes big saying, “Oh no!! I forgot my wallet!!” Her jaw dropped in disbelief, “Are you serious?” Her genuine fear of missing the flight made me quickly confess that I was only kidding. Although I may not love details, even I knew that if I wanted to see my family, I had to have my ticket and my ID. My desire to see my family affected my preparation.

            Do you desire to see God? Does that desire affect how you live? Jesus makes a wonderful promise for those who desire to see God in saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” There is a requirement for someone who wants to see God; one must be pure in heart. Purity of heart means one lives with integrity, righteousness, and morality driven from sincere motives. The “pure in heart” have a single-minded devotion to live for the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. They are like the blessed man in Psalm 1 who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. He lives rightly.

            Jesus Christ is the only one who perfectly lived with a pure heart. He committed no sin and lived for the glory of his heavenly Father. And yet, he died in our place so that we would live for righteousness.  The Christian forsakes immorality and sin because they want to see God. The desire to see God overtakes the desire of the flesh. The pleasure of God is more important than the pleasures of sin. The Christian has been justified by Christ death and cleansed to walk in righteousness.

            We all will continue to battle the sinful desires of the flesh, so how do we overtake those desires? We replace our desire for worldly things with a desire to see God. Jesus Christ has said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God!!” What is better than seeing God!! If we want to change our behavior, we must to change our desires. Beloved, prepare to see God by striving to live with a pure heart for Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Desires in Death (Luke 23:26-43)

Crucifixion was an awful death. It was reserved for those who committed treason against the King. Jesus was tied to a post and was beaten and scourged with a leather whip that was interwoven with pieces of bone and metal designed to tear the flesh as it was pulled away from the skin. The beating was often so severe that many did not survive it. Jesus was scourged with the whip to ensure his death would be final on the cross. The reason crucifixion was so brutal was so that it would publicly shame the convicted criminal and serve as a warning to anyone who thought to defy Caesar. Jesus’ death was meant to be a public demonstration of Rome’s power, but it will show the power of his love for his Father and for those the Father had given him.

     Although Jesus is being led as a martyr, he acts as the Divine Judge who has the power to dispense mercy even as he experiences a death without mercy. We are going to look at the desires of Jesus throughout his crucifixion by examining his words during his last moments prior to his death. We will focus on three desires of Jesus as he approaches his death.

Jesus Desires Weeping for the Coming Destruction

After being beaten, the Roman soldiers lead Jesus up to the place called the Skull, or Golgotha, Latin for Calvary, forcing a man in the crowd to carry the cross. Luke 23:26-31,

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:26-31)

A crowd of women were following Jesus and weeping over him as he headed for the cross, but Jesus turns to them and tells them to weep for themselves. The women are representing the Nation of Israel. Jesus speaks to them with tenderness as he addresses them, “Daughters of Jerusalem.” The Nation has rejected Jesus as Messiah and therefore destruction is coming to befall them.  He warns them of the coming days that will be so bad they think it would be better off to be dead than to experience that degree of suffering. This destruction was realized in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 which is described in the writings of Josephus as horrific.

      Jesus is heading towards the cross, but is still concerned with the souls of others. Jesus quotes Hosea 10:8 which speaks of Israel being judged for their idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping something or someone other than God. Tim Keller has said, “Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God[1].” Jesus is saying that the Nation of Israel has set their heart on something other than God and the Messiah. Hosea 10:8, “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.” Jesus is tenderly caring for the Nation by encouraging them to weep over their sin and turn to God in repentance. Blessed are those who mourn over their sin, for they will be comforted.

Jesus knows the cross will be brutal, but he also knows of the joy that lies after the cross. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “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.” Jesus knew that glory awaited him at the other side of the cross so he was able to turn to these women and say, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus desires his people to weep over their idolatry, their false hopes, and their sin.

Are there sins or idols in your life that God is asking you to weep over this morning? Have you taken good things like money, career, or family and made them ultimate things which have a greater influence on you than God? How do you know if you have an idol problem? First, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you if you have idols. Second, ask yourself what you think about in you silence. Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” He means our “functional Savior” is revealed what we think about in silence. Tim Keller, again, is helpful here:

The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy day-dreaming about? What is it that occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two day dreams do not indicate idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?[2]

Jesus was walking to the cross and he tenderly told his people to weep over their idols. Beloved, I pray that you will weep over your idols and place your heart fully on the hope of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus ends his words to these women by giving them a parable saying, “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” As NT Scholar Darrell Bock comments, “If the Jews treat Jesus this way for coming to deliver them, how will they be treated for destroying him?[3] It is much easier to burn dry wood than lush, wet, green wood. Jesus desires his people to weep, for destruction is coming. It will come to you like a thief in the night unless you repent of your idols and place your faith in Christ.

Jesus Desires Forgiveness for the Current Destroyers

Jesus continues to be led to the place of the Skull. It was called a Skull because the hill protruded into the sky like a skull. Luke shows how Jesus is being led their along with other criminals to receive the same fate as the guilty. Luke 23:32-38,

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

I want to focus on two things: how Jesus was treated and how Jesus treated others.

     First, let us examine how Jesus was treated.  It said that they cast lots to divide his garments. This could have been the outer garments that were given to him by Herod when they mocked his kingship or it could have been all his clothes. It was tradition that right before the crucified died, the soldiers would strip them so that they would be exposed and naked, publicly shaming them one last time. Jesus was watched by the people and scoffed at by the rulers. He was mocked in his true identity as Messiah and the Chosen One. His charge hung above his head, “This is the King of the Jews.” In the eyes of the crowd his death was a sign of his inability to save, but we know his death was the sign that He alone is able to save. Jesus was treated awfully and did not deserve any of this treatment. 

No one has ever experienced the level of injustice that Jesus faced that day as he hung on the cross. His hands nailed to the cross, straining to pull his weight up so that he could take a breath before his body weight fell again suffocating his lungs. He hung as a cursed man for the sake of cursed men. He was in agony. No one has ever experienced that level of injustice and hatred. And in the midst of this cruelty, how does Jesus treat others?  He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus is more concerned with the souls of others than his mistreatment.

Jesus provides a tremendous example for us as we face those “destroyers” in our lives. We will face people who desire to destroy fellowship with us through slander, gossip, lying, stealing, malice, etc. If we live long enough, we are going to be mistreated. Whether it is by a close friend or a foe, Jesus shows what our desires should be in our mistreatment. We should desire their forgiveness. When was the last time you were mistreated? How did you respond? Did you desire their forgiveness or their pain? Did you want them to experience God’s grace or God’s wrath? The natural response is to demand retribution for injustice, but Jesus desires for his people to have a “supernatural” response. Jesus lives out his words from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6,

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. …. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-33; 35-36)

Beloved, are you treating people as their sins deserve or are you treating them in view of the mercy you have received?

We were the ungrateful and the evil that to whom God showed kindness. We were the mockers and the scoffers. We were the criminals who were guilty of treason against our God and King. And yet, God did not treat us as our sins deserved, but showed us mercy. He desired our forgiveness; he did not save himself so that he could save us from our sins.  Jesus chose the cross so others may live. And now, Jesus is calling us to choose cross as well so others may live.

Beloved, this is how we are to treat others. We are not called to avenge ourselves in the face of injustice, but to desire forgiveness. When we do not treat others with mercy and forgiveness, we forget how God has treated us with mercy and forgiveness. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) If you are unwilling to forgive others than why should you expect God to forgive you?

Whose forgiveness is God calling you to pray for? Who is God calling you to forgive? Remember, forgiveness is conditional. When Jesus prays to the Father to forgive them, he is praying for their repentance. God is always ready to forgive, but people must repent and believe. Not everyone will be forgiven, but only those who put their faith in Christ, which is clearly seen in these two criminals who were hanging on his right and left.

Jesus Desires Paradise for the Confession of Death

Luke returns to the two criminals that are hanging cursed alongside Jesus. In Matthew and Mark’s account of the crucifixion, it says that both criminals reviled Jesus. Luke does not provide this detail, but we can assume that while the thief hung on the cross, he finally saw who Jesus truly was, and repented and believed. Luke 23:39-43,

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Two criminals died next to Jesus that day, but only one was forgiven. One thief was forgiven because his eyes were opened and he recognized his sin before God and Jesus as his Savior and only hope in death.

In four short verses we see someone move from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son in whom there is redemption, the forgiveness of sins. First, he feared God, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” He realized that his time was coming and he was going to have to answer for his sin. Second, he acknowledged his sin, “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” Third he knew that Jesus was innocent, “but this man has done nothing wrong.” Fourth, he confesses Jesus as Christ the King, “And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Fifth, he receives the promise of eternal life and to be with Jesus, “And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Friends, we all only have two choices. We confess Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection as our only hope before God, or we choose to face God alone, receiving the due reward for our deeds. The choice is yours: which shall you choose?

When I was 20 years old this story of the thief helped me choose to follow Jesus. I was living in ways that did not honor God. I was burdened by my sin and guilt, but this man’s simple faith changed my life. After hearing a talk on this thief, they played a song by Third Day called, “Thief,” that tells the story of this man. Listen to the words and the think about the choice that is before us today,

I am a thief, I am a murderer
Walking up this lonely hill
What have I done? I don't remember
No one knows just how I feel
and I know that my time is coming soon.
It's been so long. Oh, such a long time
Since I've lived with peace and rest
Now I am here, my destination
guess things work for the best
and I know that my time is coming soon
Who is this man? This man beside me
They call the King of the Jews
They don't believe that He's the Messiah
But, somehow I know it's true.
And they laugh at Him in mockery,
and beat Him till he bleeds
They nail Him to the rugged cross,
and raise Him, they raise Him up next to me
My time has come, I'm slowly fading
I deserve what I receive
Jesus when You are in Your kingdom
Could You please remember me
and He looks at me still holding on
the tears fall from His eyes
He says I tell the truth
Today, you will live with Me in paradise
and I know that my time is coming soon
and I know paradise is coming soon.

This man’s story is a sweet reminder that God delights to save sinners.  It was a sweet reminder that God delighted to save a sinner like me. I chose to follow Christ and I have never regretted it.

This morning we have the opportunity as a church family to confess our faith again through taking communion together. Jesus established the Lord’s Supper the day before his death so that we could remind our weak hearts that God delights to save sinners. We have the great privilege to publicly proclaim our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by physically taking the bread and the cup. The bread is a reminder that Jesus’ body was broken for us. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” The cup is a reminder that Jesus has purchased and established for us the new covenant in his blood.

      The Lord’s Supper is not only a reminder for us, but it is also a declaration. We are coming together declaring and confessing our belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” As the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” we also proclaim in taking the bread and the cup for Jesus to remember us when he comes and establishes his kingdom. Taking the Lord’s Supper is an act of faith. It is a sign that you trust in Christ and desire to live in righteousness. As we prepare the Table, I would ask you to prepare your own heart, for “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Beloved, remember it is a great privilege to take communion, but also a great responsibility.  As we remember our sins, let us also remember that through faith in the death of Jesus Christ, God will remember our sins no more.

[3] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2, p. 1847). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
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