Mercy – 5:7
Most human beings are not merciful by nature. Although the Jewish law taught mercy, by the time their Messiah arrived, it was considered one of the least of the virtues. The Romans considered mercy to be a soul disease—the supreme sign of weakness. “While the Romans spoke of cardinal virtues such as wisdom, justice, temperance and courage, mercy was not listed among them.” (William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973, 276). Jesus teaches that people must extend mercy to others, for it is a chief characteristic of God Himself.
Our English word “mercy” is derived from two Latin words: miserans (pitying) and cor (heart). Misericordia supposes two things, a distressed person and a heart disposed to respond to that distress. The Greek word for “mercy” (eleeo) is found over 350 times in the Bible. We are assured that God is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), but that does not define it. The closest English kindred term for eleeo is “empathy.” Pity observes a problem, but eleeo gives opportunity for participation. Eleeo includes the concepts of patience, loyalty, faithfulness, forgiveness, affection, an aversion to being judgmental, the inclination to help diminish misery, an unwillingness to allow another to hurt, kindness, goodwill, an undeserved, outward manifestation of pity and a concern manifested by gracious, beneficent action. Whereas compassion is based on sympathy, mercy is based on empathy. Compassion recognizes a need, but empathy acts on that knowledge. By way of illustration, sympathy is mercy held in my hand: empathy is mercy extended from my hand. Eleeo seeks a way to perform an act of kindness that alleviates a felt need which exceeds mere sentiment or emotion.
In this verse, Jesus’ uses of the word “merciful” is based on the root of the same word: i>eleemon. A closely associated Greek term is splanchnizomai: “compassion”. It is best illustrated by Jesus’ reaction, “seeing the great multitudes, He was moved with splanchnizomai.” Acting on what He saw, He then “healed their sick” (Mt. 14:14). In Mark 1:41, Jesus, “moved with splanchnizomao, put forth His hand” to heal the leper. The same word is also found in Mark 6:34: “Jesus…when he saw much people was moved with splanchnizomai toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd…and began to teach them many things.”
Mercy involves showing pity to one in need by deliberately demonstrating compassion. It is not merely the awareness that another person is hurting, but assumes affirmative action after the fact. In Matthew 23:3, we are warned not to be like the scribes and Pharisees “who say…but do not.” James affirms that “those who extend no eleeo can expect none” (2:13). The Pharisees, preoccupied with the trifles of the Law, had overlooked more serious matters, including mercy (cf. Mt. 23).
The fact that one asks for mercy assumes one has need of it, and that the one who can extend mercy has the resources necessary to meet it. Mercy originates from a concern that prompts positive, practical action, for the compassion and empathy of God never sleeps. Because He is ever faithful to meet our needs, He demands His disciples demonstrate this same attitude. But divine mercy is not purchased by acts of human mercy. When Jesus stated, “Give, and it shall be given unto you” (Lk. 6:38), He does not mean that we are to give in order to receive. We are to be merciful, for it is a defining attribute of the Father (Lk. 6:36). Jesus did not teach mercy as a contemporary genre, but as an eternal operative principle.
In His parable of the debtors (Mt. 18:20-35), Jesus taught the dynamics of mercy. Consider this story in 21st century terms:
“This man had credit card debt and begs the collection agency to reschedule his payments. He dared not ask for mercy, for he knew he didn’t deserve it. His request was unreasonable, for the amount he owed was great (v.24). But in this parable, the master didn’t put him on a payment plan, he wrote it all off, without liens on his home, car, boat, or motorcycles. But as he leaves the collection agency, he spots a guy who owes him a few bucks. This man can’t pay him so he has him thrown in jail, without bail and without mercy. The creditors hear about it and recall him. In anger they exclaim, “We cannot believe your hard heartedness! We wrote off all your debt, yet you incarcerate another man who owes you a smaller amount. Because of this, you will face a long prison sentence for defaulting on your loan!”
Consider the contrast between extravagant mercy and extravagant mercilessness. Note that the Master did extend mercy in the beginning. The unjust steward received no mercy in the end because he did not demonstrate his Master’s compassion and chose not to extend it to another. At the end of this parable, Jesus makes His point: “If you don’t forgive everyone, your Father will not forgive you.” Whatever makes us unable to give mercy makes us unable to receive it.
The emphatic pronoun “autos” (they) is a qualifier: only the merciful can expect the same. The reward of blessed happiness is promised exclusively to the merciful. Before one asks, “How much mercy must I extend?” he or she must ask, “How much mercy have I received?” God’s heart is open to those whose hearts are open to others.
The Old Testament is filled with examples of those who demonstrated empathy, but the greatest act of mercy was performed on Calvary. Jesus knew we could not pay for our sins, so He paid the debt with His own blood. The cross of Christ was in the mind of God the Incarnation; it was planned eons before the world began. This fifth Attitude does not teach that mercy to others guarantees mercy from others, but that mercy to others promises mercy from God. Jesus is “our merciful High Priest” (Heb. 2:17). His last words from the cross include the plea to the Father to forgive His murderers. Mercy to others has the supernatural consequence of mercy from God, for He always reciprocates with interest.
Purity – 5:8
As the Torah attests, when God began communicating with the Hebrews, He spoke in terms of ceremonial purity, demanding freedom from anything offensive to Himself. But the Pharisees had distorted the Pentateuch so completely, God’s original intent was reduced to endless ceremonial cleansings. They had tortured the sacred texts until their interpretations became more authoritative than the Scriptures themselves. The common people swam in an ocean of frustration and guilt due to their confusing and complicated religious system. Observing and obeying this flexing genre was impossible.
Jesus made it plain that the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees caused them to be preoccupied with cleaning only the outside of their vessels (Mt. 23:25-26). “This beatitude is the internal law of the Spirit of Life, cleansing first the inside of the cup.” (M. F. Sadler, The Gospel According to Matthew, With Notes Critical and Practical, London: George Bell and Sons, 1882, 55).
Here Jesus takes us from ritual cleansings to the higher plane of His moral law. As a Messianic mandate, this Attitude aims straight for the heart. God demands more than correct external actions, for though man looks on the outside, God looks into the heart (cf. I Sam. 16). Christians are to take the initiative to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1) Our Lord came to deal with heart problems.
The word “pure” is the Greek adjective katharos. Its basic meaning is to make something free from dirt, filth and contamination. Katharos is further defined as something which has been purged, cleansed and cleaned out—but also carries the connotation of honesty, sincerity and moral uprightness. Catharsis is a psychological term used to refer to a cleansing of the mind and/or emotions. In Latin, the word is castus (chaste), thus to chasten is to punish in order to cleanse one from wrong behavior. It is worthy of note that while this Attitude is not restricted to sexual purity, Jesus gives instructions regarding moral defilement soon after (vv. 27-32), making His disciples aware that adultery can be committed in the heart.
Katharos also carries the idea of purity as opposed to a contaminated mixture. The term comes from the concept of the purity of metals, with nothing blended in. It is a word used for steel needing refinement, until all impurities are removed. Applied to believers, it refers to freedom from defilement and undivided devotion to God. God seeks sincere individuals who think, speak and act without hidden agendas, without mixed motives. Because there is a direct correlation between inner attitudes and outward behavior, katharos refers to one whose internal attitude is in harmony with their external actions.
Purity of heart involves a total consecration of one’s entire life to God, to the exclusion of everything else. God demands that both our minds and motives be pure. Many people fear that a holy life will destroy all the fun in life, but Jesus teaches it is the way to happiness. Holiness and happiness are married.
In Jesus’ era, both Jews and Gentiles considered the kardia (heart) to be the center of one’s character, mind, emotions and will. At the core of our being, God demands purity. We are to guard our hearts, for out of it flows the vital issues of life (Pv. 4:23). David pled for God to create in him a clean heart (Ps. 51:6). Since one’s kardia is the seat of all thoughts, to be pure in heart means to live a holy life. The pure in heart have a one-track mind – to love the Lord with the entire heart, soul and mind (Mt. 22:37). Out of the abundance of the kardia, the mouth speaks, and treasures good or evil can be stored there (Mt. 12:34-35). The Spirit of God desires to probe deep down within our souls, for the pure in heart worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24). Because “as a man thinks in his kardia, so is he” (Pv. 23:7), our heart condition determines our relationship to God.
To see something is a Hebraism signifying possession of it. To “see someone’s face” meant to be admitted into their presence, to gain an audience with some important person. Jesus clarifies the phrase in John 3:5 when He emphatically states that the unregenerate “cannot enter the kingdom of God.” He told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3). Paul anticipated that day when we all “see Him face to face” (I Cor. 13:12). Thus, to “see God” means to fellowship and have deep personal communication with Him.
But the inability to see God is not an intellectual or emotional problem. It is a matter of spiritual purity, for sin soils the soul. If our ultimate goal is to view God personally, we must have a growing distaste for impurity and a growing taste for holy thoughts, words, motives and deeds. A dirty heart and mind obscures the face of God. This verse implies that we get to “see God” in this life as well—to see Him in others, to see Him in the Scriptures and to see God within ourselves. In the last chapter of the Bible, we are promised that His servants shall “see His face” (Rev. 22:4). The emphatic autos (they) reserves intimate fellowship with God for the pure. “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 2:14), for nothing will enter the New Jerusalem that causes defilement (Rev. 21:27).
In the Attitudes, it is difficult to identify specific activities that are blessed, for the heart is more in focus than the hand. “Who will stand in His holy place? He that has clean hands and a clean heart” (Ps. 34:3-4). Self-examination for the purpose of spiritual purging is not an optional activity for believers: it is an indispensable one.
A Native whose clan name is Pureheart lives near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Inquiring as to how he inherited his last name, he told the following story: “My great-grandfather was a Sioux who fought in the Custer Battle of Greasy Grass Ridge (Little Big Horn). He had been exposed to Gospel preaching by a white missionary who visited his village in 1835. As a young man, he took a vision quest to find his true self. In his vision, he saw a white buffalo who seemed to want him to follow him to a cave deep in the hills. He stayed in the cave for over a month. Many dreams and visions came and went and he spent hours meditating upon them. When he came out, he was not the same person. He had come to realize that any evil he allowed to come into his spirit could affect him, and that he alone had the power to forbid bad thoughts to enter. Remembering his missionary friend who had taught him the Beatitudes, he then assumed a new clan name. Our family name is passed on from generation to generation, telling and retelling the story of our ancestor’s path to inner cleansing. We are the Purehearts.” (Fenton Pureheart, Interview by author, tape recording, Standing Rock Reservation, South Dakota, July 7, 1997).
Peacemaking – 5:9
Having touched the concept of holiness, Jesus immediately speaks of peace. The Writer to the Hebrews blends these two concepts when he writes, “Aspire after peace…and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Purity and Peace and are sisters.
The Bible opens with a scene in a peaceful garden and closes amid the peace of the New Jerusalem. The Gospel story begins with the announcement of “peace on earth and good will toward men” (Lk. 2:14), but global peace was not what the angelic messengers had in mind. Thousands of years of wars have proven that diplomacy and humanitarianism will not bring unity to our world. The peace spoken of in verse nine has nothing to do with the cessation of wartime hostilities, for a truce can be made by ungodly men. In John 14:27, He mentions that the peace He offers us is totally different from any other. It is a creative power.
The ultimate goal of the Gospel message is to bring harmony and contentment. It is called “the Gospel of Peace” (Eph. 6:15) because the central figure is both the Prince of Peace and the Author of it (Isa. 52:7 and I Cor. 14:33). The possibility for personal, internalized satisfaction only exists because “He has made peace by the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). A fundamental aspect of peacemaking is reconciliation, and “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself (II Cor. 5:19). Although “once enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10). One must make peace with God before they can help others be reconciled to each other.
The peace Jesus refers to here is not the initial peace of salvation. The Attitudes pick us up, but they also send us into the world to help others. The blessings promised to peacemakers demand involvement. Jesus indicated in John 18:36 that if His kingdom were an earthly one, He would have trained His servants to fight. In the Garden Peter was ordered to sheathe his sword (cf. John 18). Few New Testament verses are more misinterpreted than Matthew 10:34: “I have not come to send peace, but a sword.” While Jesus is not the author of spiritual confusion, human beings are forced to make choices because He exists. He knew families will be divided as a result.
“Peacemakers,” an adjective used only here in the New Testament, is better translated “whole maker.” An eirenopoios is one who allays strife and seeks reconciliation between persons and nations. All that is the basis for hatred in society—greed, lust, envy, hostility, bigotry, anger, selfishness and abuse—is countered by the Christian graces of tactfulness, mercy, courage, love, humility, gentleness and kindness. The world fails to see the root problem of its own unrest, so it blames heredity, social problems, environment, or politics.
A true peacemaker is not a wimp, one who is just naturally easy going or compromises theology to get peace at any price. “The peacemakers are not those who merely possess a peaceable disposition.” (Francis W. Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981, 133). One who has internalized this Attitude is not a pacifist – one who believes it is always preferable to “let sleeping dogs lie”.
A portfolio of a peacemaker is one who:
1. Helps to resolve conflicts
2. Strives to prevent strife
3. Seeks to restore unity and harmony in relationships
4. Allows for the possibility of being misunderstood
5. Approaches dissenting parties with the right attitude
6. Endeavors to find a ground of commonality for both to walk on
7. Loves and prays for their enemies (Mt.5:44)
8. Would rather bear an injury than cause one
9. Resists the urge to give vast quantities of unsolicited counsel
10. Never seeks peace at the expense of compromising Biblical principles
11. Is not overly sensitive, touchy or defensive
12. Views his/her personal feelings as low priority
13. Doesn’t see situations in the light of how will it make them look
14. Sees disputes as distractions from God’s peace
15. Desires the restoration of broken relationships
16. Lacks defense mechanisms
17. Is patient and tactful with stubborn persons
18. Distains lawsuits
19. Knows that God’s wisdom brings peace
20. Has a desire to prevent contention
21. Promotes bridge-building over troubled waters
22. Uses personal influence to strengthen friendships
23. Has nothing personal to gain by reconciling others
24. Promotes reconciliation for God’s sake, not his own
25. Knows that “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Pv. 15:1)
26. Remains neutral in situations in order to reunite those estranged from each other
27. Seeks to introduce others to the Prince of Peace
Those who are born again face involvement in situations the unsaved deem distasteful. Peacemaking can be a thankless task and, like our Master, we will often be misunderstood. Just as Ahab accused Elijah of being a troublemaker (cf. I Kings 18), the peacemaker will not always be blessed with peace by others. Many Christians do not understand peace-making involves risk-taking. They have come to believe that conciliatory efforts must be palliative and pacifistic, that excuses and concealment of facts tend to reduce the possibility of malignity. Because Jesus included confrontational wisdom in His foundational theology, irenic concepts of ministry permeate the Sermon on the Mount.
While most people will not risk involvement in potentially explosive situations, the Lord calls believers to be concerned with the restoration of relationships. “True spiritual life cannot be egocentric.” (H. N. Ridderbos, The Bible Student’s Commentary on Matthew, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987, 91). When Paul encouraged two dissenting ladies, Euodias and Syntyche, to be of the same mind (Phil. 4:2), he was practicing peacemaking. Perhaps a prolonged, heated feud was avoided because he dared to comment on their disagreement.
The word “called” here means “to be regarded as such.” “Shall be called” is in the continuous future passive tense, for we are privileged to be His children both now and forever. But who, specifically, is calling the peacemakers “God’s children”? Perhaps it is the Lord initially but also those who see God in them because of their efforts.
“The child of” is a Hebraism referring to “the one you imitate.” Our reward is the blessed happiness that results from being known as those who model God in their peacemaking efforts. “Child” is teknon, a term of endearment and affection. Such a title stands as an evidence that they share in the privileges His children enjoy. God our Father is there to comfort peacemakers involved in volatile situations.
“Allowing the peace of God to rule your hearts” (Col. 3:15) is a concept easy for most people to grasp. Later in this same chapter, we find the mandate to lay our gift at the altar and be reconciled to our brother—and even to love our enemies and those who would exploit us (cf. vv. 24 and 44).
In Hebrew, shalom pictures a circle, radiating a good heart and wellness in every direction. In many cultures, the heart is seen as the center of one’s being, affecting everyone around them for good or evil. Peacemaking conveys the idea of one living in harmonious relationship with the rest of the world.
The misunderstandings that result from doing peacemaking serve to prepare God’s children for the further injustices of persecution as described in the final Attitude.
Persecution – 5:10-12
The concluding Attitude is the greatest beatific paradox of them all, but serves as the introduction to the main body of the Sermon on the Mount. We are made keenly aware of the impending persecution before gaining a broader comprehension of Kingdom citizenship. This warning is expounded upon, for Believers must expect to be hated beyond measure – and beyond reason.
The world does not associate happiness with any of the aforementioned attitudes, least of all persecution. Therefore, in this final Attitude, Jesus elaborates. The practice of the first seven inevitably results in the eighth. Those who persecute you are really persecuting Jesus, for He clearly states that such vindictiveness is “for my sake” (v. 11). He does not sugarcoat the facts, for persecution is a very real and often painful aspect of the Christian lifestyle.
Dioko is “to drive away; to put to flight” and “ek” is “out.” Hence, ekdioko (persecution) means “to force out; chased with the intention of doing harm to the pursued; to oppress, to pressure, to harass; to vex.” Of the forty-four occurrences of the term in the New Testament, all are negative. It carries the idea of being pursued and hunted down like an animal or a fleeing enemy. The word ekdioko is contained in all three verses under consideration, always carrying the same meaning. The Greek verb is a passive perfect participle referring to those who allow themselves to be persecuted. When one accepts Christ, they willingly place themselves in a position to be radically misunderstood. Elsewhere, Jesus urges us to calculate the cost of discipleship (Lk. 14:28). The collective theology in these verses is more than a mere God bless you for your sufferings, but concerns the cost of the privilege of redemption. The price may be one’s reputation, physical harm or even death.
Before Saul became the apostle Paul, he had an established reputation as a persecutor. “He who persecuted the church now preaches the faith he once destroyed” (Gal. 1:13). His character sketch as a persecutor is scattered throughout his letters, freely admitting, “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor. I was zealous in my persecution of the church. I am not worthy to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. Without measure I persecuted the church. I persecuted this way (Christianity) unto the death. I persecuted them to many cities” (cf. I Tim.3, Phil. 3, I Cor. 15, Gal. 1, Acts 22 and 26). It seems more than coincidental that Jesus used the word persecution when He arrested Saul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:4-5).
After Paul began to have experiential knowledge of persecution, he warns the Church about it: “If you are born of the Spirit, you will be persecuted. All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Being persecuted, we endure it. We are persecuted, but not forsaken. Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not.” (cf. Gal. 4, I Tim. 3, I Cor. 4, II Cor. 4, Rom. 12).
The New Testament displays a very positive attitude toward persecution, for it is a mark of divine favor. As noted earlier, righteousness, as the Christian norm, means “such as one ought to be, conformable to divine and human law”. But obedience to what is normative in God’s sight tends only to provoke opposition. One can expect their righteousness to be challenged, for it is the most visible evidence of salvation. It seems so paradoxical to be faulted for obedience to God that Jesus emphatically states that such persecution is patently undeserved. That the righteous should suffer because they are righteous is illogical. But as Christianity allows no tolerance for hatred, the absence of Christianity gives great license for it. A spiritual communication with God reaps a reward, but it is not the praise of men. In I Peter 4, we are instructed to “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rather rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.”
Those persecuted must not fight back, for Christianity forbids revenge. As a result, believers are often viewed as pusillanimous, cowardly and timid. We are to regard persecution as a privilege, for we have joined the prophets in their sufferings and will reap the same reward. Slanderous defamation is to be expected and accepted as normative. We must take persecution as a compliment, not take it to God as a complaint. Whereas retaliation is not an option. rejoicing is. Had He not taught peacemaking prior to persecution, some might feel that retaliation is justified. We can endure injustices because we know the cause of it. We are not Christians because we suffer: we suffer because we are Christians.
As the Attitudes commence, His kingdom is promised to the poor in spirit (v. 3). This concluding Attitude completes the collection, bracketing them with a unique blessing. Jesus counterbalances earthly sufferings with dynamic rewards, promising a complete reversal of the treatment we received on earth. Those hunted here as harassed fugitives, wandering among hills, gullies and caves (cf. Heb 11) will inherit a city with golden streets and become the future owners of paradise itself. As Christians, we are heirs to the persecution that is mandatory for all members of the Kingdom of God. We must rejoice, for without a sincere optimism amid adversity, our sufferings would often be intolerable.
In verse 11, Jesus now changes from the third to the second person, making the application very personal. “This change of pronouns shifts the focus of general persecution to personal persecution.” (James M. Boice, The Gospel of Matthew: An Expositional Commentary, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001, 76).
Beginning with verse eleven, His disciples continue to be directly addressed throughout the rest of the Sermon. “Blessed are you. When men revile you. And persecute you. And say all manner of evil against you. Great is your reward” (v. 11-12). “Happy are you” is the phrase Jesus uses to take His ethic of non-retaliation to its highest possible level.” Craig S. Keener, Matthew, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1997), 107.
The use of the word “when” is noteworthy, for Jesus points to the certainty of persecution, not the mere possibility of it. “Revile” is oneidizo and means “to heap insults upon; to ridicule; to denounce; to find fault; to rebuke and to upbraid”. This an allusion to the “hard speeches” mentioned in Jude 15 and the “cruel mockings” we are forewarned of in Hebrews 11. We are destined to be “the song of the drunkards” (Ps. 69:12). Instead of being popular for loving God, we can expect ignominy, reproach and verbal abuse.
“Evil” here is poneros, the wicked, harmful malicious evil that causes pain and sorrow. The combined phrases refer to insults spoken to you personally (oneidizo) as well as those said behind your back (poneros). The term “persecution” is repeated, completing a composite picture. All that can be done to the Christian verbally or physically will be done. The Son of God was called a demon-possessed Samaritan, a gluttonous drunk who kept bad company. He was mocked, even while on the cross (cf Jn. 8, Mt. 11 and 27). Though His every act and word breathed compassion, what Jesus said and did provoked unwarranted, unreasonable and unsolicited hostility. Because Jesus gave no license to hate, He was defamed, mocked and murdered.
Persecution is not being faulted for our faults, for it is valid only when there is no lawful grounds for it. Pseudomai (falsely) means to lie, for there is no blessing promised if the accusations are true. We read in I Peter 4:15, “Let none of you suffer as a thief, a murderer, an evildoer or as a busybody…but if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God because of it.”
For the first time in the Sermon, Jesus refers to Himself in the first person. He states that the persecution must be “for My sake”. “This phrase is better rendered, ‘Because you belong to Me’.” Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, (New York: United Bible Society, 1988), 115.
As the Church grew, it became increasingly clear that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). But through it all, Jesus demands patience under pressure. He does not present to us the hope of a trial-free Christian life but a dynamic reward at the end of it. He demands that we follow Him in His rejection by picking up our cross daily. To do so is to accept the promise, “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 5:20).
We are to “Rejoice (chairo) and be very, very happy” (v.12). The term means to leap for joy with unrestrained, ecstatic gladness. The same word is used concerning the thrill of the saints at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7). In Acts 5 we find the disciples greatly delighted (chairo) that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name.
When He says, “Be exceeding glad,” Jesus uses the imperative mood, for we are actually commanded to be exuberant. “The second verb is a compound form of two Greek words that mean to leap exceedingly.” Robert H. Mounce, The New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 41.
The word “exceeding” refers to extreme; excessive and superabundant gladness. Agalliao (glad) is to be overjoyed with great delight, describing one who jumps in happy excitement. Together, these descriptive terms depict a person filled with super abundant happiness. Although such an attitude may seem absolutely absurd to the uninitiated, the response to persecution by saints should be indescribable, unbridled joy!
For the fourth time within the Attitudes, the kingdom of heaven comes into view. The reward is not specifically stated, only its location. Polys (great) is emphatic, depicting a reward which is plenteous, unsurpassed and superabundant. Enduring persecution for Jesus’ sake, in the spirit of the Attitudes, gains one entrance. The result of faithful service on Christ’s behalf is an eternal home where persecution is permanently absent.
In the year 1573, a lady named Mayken Wens was arrested for preaching the Gospel. Enemies of Christ screwed her tongue to the roof of her mouth so she would not preach as she was being led to be burned at the stake. When they lit the fire, her son fainted. When he awoke, he sifted through the ashes to find that screw, the only thing that silenced his mother’s witness for Christ.
Yet this brave woman is only one name among thousands. Steven, who saw Jesus standing in heaven, challenges his murderers to name even one prophet who has escaped persecution (Acts 7:52). A short list can be compiled from the most superficial scriptural glance: Moses was reviled by his peers. Samuel was rejected. Jeremiah was forced to go to Egypt, then killed. David was hunted by Saul. Nehemiah was defamed. Daniel faced lions. The Three Hebrew children walked through fire. Joseph was sold into slavery by jealous brothers. Noah was mocked as a fanatic. Elijah was hounded by Jezebel. John the Baptist was decapitated. Paul’s life was one long series of persecutions. The Messiah was despised, rejected and persecuted to death. As He ends the Attitudes, Jesus exclaims it is an honor to follow the martyr’s path.
Sometimes people are more often persecuted for race than righteousness. However, oppression alone gains no human being favor with God. When persecuted for Christ’s sake, Believers should remember that they were not the first to suffer…..and will not be the last. Love for Jesus results in keeping His commandments, allowing His kingdom to be inclusive, yet mutually exclusive. Kingdom entrance is consensual, based on a determination to serve God consistently. In His Word, obedient Believers will find the keys to the kingdom. Jesus has set forth motives for conduct by giving a series of principles for us to “write in our hearts” (Jer. 31:33). The Lord knows right actions will result from right Attitudes.