Text: Matthew 5:10
Series: “Seven ‘Ups’ for the New Year”
One of the most important stages in every child’s development is when that child is able to stand up on his own two feet. Prior to that time, we celebrate the child’s ability just to crawl around, but when that child is able to stand up and take his place as homo erectus, we know that it won’t be long before he is able to develop in other ways as well that show growth and maturity.
Learning how to stand up is something that comes to us naturally. But learning how to stay up is something that requires an additional source of strength and stamina that some people always seem to be struggling to possess.
This is even the case for followers of Jesus. One of the great misunderstandings that many have with respect to Christian faith is that following Jesus is something easy and painless. To be honest, a good part of that misunderstanding stems from the unwillingness of preachers to tell their congregations the truth. Too many of us preachers are content to tell people what they want to hear, because we think it will make ministry easier for us that way. You see, even preachers are prone to choose convenience over commitment. But what the Bible would have to see is that if one is truly committed to following Jesus, that person won’t be able to avoid difficulties entirely, but in the face of them will actually be in a good place to grow from them and to stand in a better place with Jesus, which only then will bring a joy that avoiding difficulty would never give.
Such was the message Jesus was conveying to his disciples in this passage of Scripture that is before us today from Matthew’s Gospel. You know the background of the passage. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which is arguably Jesus’ most famous teaching. The first lessons of Jesus’ sermon comprise what we know as the Beatitudes, or as someone has called them, the “Be-Happy-Tudes,” because of how each one begins with the word “blessing,” which can also be translated “happy.”
For those who want a more “grown-up” interpretation of these teachings of Jesus, suffice it to say that each of these teachings describes the character and the motivation of people who would be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, Jesus knew that most of the people he was speaking to in this setting were simple people who had little worldly status. He knew that their lives were already hard and difficult. He knew that their decision to follow after him wouldn’t change their worldly standing much at all. But Jesus wanted them to know that what would change once they turned to follow him would be their standing before God. God would be proud of them. God would draw near to them. And most of all, God would watch over them so that in spite of whatever trials and tribulations might come their way, nothing would ever separate them His love or take from them their reward in heaven. In a nutshell, that’s what it means to be a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom. Nothing will separate us from God’s love. Nothing will take from us our reward in heaven.
Approaching these teachings of Jesus from such a deep and profound perspective will help us to see the wisdom behind each one of these “blessed” sayings, even this last one, which in so many ways is the most challenging of them all. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
At first glance, it may seem as if Jesus is trying to “thin the crowd” as it were by encouraging true commitment over mere interest or admiration. But that’s not what Jesus was doing at all. Yes, Jesus was being honest with his disciples about the costs behind their commitment. Jesus wasn’t pulling any punches about how they should expect their rejection of the world’s values for heaven’s values would require of them some significant bumps in the road along the way. But what Jesus was emphasizing more than anything else was the manner in which their willingness to embrace such difficulties might prove to be the surest sign of the genuineness of their faith and would in itself carry its own blessing by helping them to see that by standing on the side of Jesus they would be living in the line of so many faithful souls who through the years had chosen to stand for God in the same way and for the same reasons – faithful souls like Jeremiah and Daniel and Stephen and Jesus.
Here's how this teaching speaks to my own level of discipleship. If I’m not in the course of my discipleship experiencing at least some measure of difficulty, then it may be that I’m not adequately living as a follower of Jesus; I’m not letting my faith in Christ show nearly enough, because the values of the Kingdom of Heaven are inherently in opposition to the values by which our prevailing culture operates. And until I come to a place in my faith journey where I can stand up to that prevailing culture and say “no” to something (anything), I will never be the follower of Jesus that Jesus needs me to be and I will never know the blessing of being persecuted for the cause of righteousness Jesus is talking about in this text.
How about you? Can you say that you are in a place in your faith journey where you can show some scars and stripes for your devotion to Christ, or are you, like I am, still not at the place of maturity where you have thrown away your discipleship calculator because the costs of following Jesus just don’t matter that much anymore?
How, then, might we move in such a direction? How might we quit crawling, so to speak, and stand up for Jesus? Perhaps this story might show us the way.
Howie Childs is a retired minister who spent a good part of his pastoral ministry in Michigan, which as you know is a place that can get awfully cold, particularly in this season of the year. Evidently, he wasn’t a native to the area so that ice skating was something he had never learned to do. But as the saying goes, “When in Rome.” So, Pastor Childs figured it would be a good pastoral skill to learn how to ice skate.
As you would appreciate, he didn’t want everyone in the town to see him struggling to develop such a new skill. So, he decided to get his son to go with him to a frozen pond shortly before sunset so that no one would see him learning how to ice skate. So, off they went. Childs drove the car right up to the edge of the ice and put his skates on while sitting in the front seat of the car. When he was ready, he hollered to his son, “Are you ready to go?” even though his son, who knew how to ice skate and had already put on his skates and was waiting on his dad.
“Dad,” he said, “you go first.” It wasn’t the first time Childs had tried to learn how to ice skate. But that other time had been in an ice-skating arena, where have rails for you to hold on to until you can stand up and get your balance. But there were no rails around this pond, just the car. So, Howie says he began by holding on to the side of the car and giving himself a push, which as you can imagine was a huge mistake. Howie hadn’t gone three feet before he fall on the ice and landed flat on his backside. He tried to get up, but couldn’t, because his feet kept sliding every which way. And remember, there were no rails he could use to pull himself up.
Wouldn’t you know it, just then some neighborhood kids from the church came by to get in some last minute ice skating and couldn’t help but notice their poor pastor struggling in vain to get back on his feet. After a few moments of awkward watching, one of the boys decided to shout out some advice. “Hey, pastor,” he said, “if you want to stand up on your skates, you’ve got to get on your knees first!”
These times in which we are living are so very slippery, and it’s hard for us to master the skills that we need to deal with them. But if we begin by getting on our knees and looking in prayer to Jesus for help, he will lift us to our feet, give us the strength that our circumstances require, and show us how the struggles are confirmation that we are on the right side of it all.
I think it was Alexander Hamilton, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, who was famous for the statement, “Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.” So, pray for the strength to stand up for Jesus, regardless of the costs, and when you do, even the angels in heaven will surely rejoice at how by doing so you will show yourself to be blessed and day by day to be growing up in Christ.