A Church for Such a Time as This: Part III, Living as a Minority in a Majority Culture
I was talking with a dear friend and co-laborer on the Monday following July 4th. He expressed that this was the most disappointing July 4th he could remember. It was not disappointing because of the family he gathered with or the place where they gathered. He loves both. It was disappointing because for the first time he felt disappointed in America or being an American.
Probably in the wake of recent events in our country you have had similar feelings and thoughts. Whether it be the horrendous murders in Charleston, the Supreme Court decision or an image of the White House arrayed in rainbow colored lights, there have been some very stirring images of the present state of our culture in America. Whatever your thoughts and feelings at this time it is the time to ask, "What kind of church will we be for such a time as this?". We have been wrestling with that question the last two weeks, especially as we have thought about the 5-4 Supreme Court decision legalizing homosexual marriage in all 50 states. We have looked at being a biblically compassionate and a biblically loving church. Last week we looked at living the meaning of marriage. It is my aim this morning to address the matter of living as a minority in a majority culture.
Christian writer, Naomi Schaefer Riley, published a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal with Russell Moore, president of the the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In this interview he expressed that the "Bible Belt is collapsing, and that while this is bad for America it is good for the church." When asked why this is good for the church he responded by saying that the church is no longer "the moral majority, but the prophetic minority." What does he mean by "moral majority"? This phrase was a popular political term in the 1970's and 80's. Mr. Moore, in his most recent book "Onward, Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel", describes it this way, "Most Americans agreed on certain traditional values: monogamous marriage, the nuclear family, the right to life, the good of prayer and church attendance, free enterprise, a strong military, and the basic goodness of the American way of life. The argument was that this consensus represented the real America, and that, for evangelical Christians, evangelical Christianity represented the best way to preserve those values and to attain those ideals." This has been the American churches insulation in the past. But now that is being stripped away and what is left will be the actual church, and Moore is right, this is good for the church.
By “prophetic minority,” he means that Christians must return to the days when they were a moral example and vanguard—defenders of belief in a larger unbelieving culture. Living out an orthodox Christian belief in a life that takes up the cross to follow Jesus. It is not the Boy Scout way of a badge for God and Country, conservative ideals, protection from the bad guys, and church attendance. But a "prophetic minority" life of belief and faith that is in accord with what God has revealed in the Scriptures.
Therefore, He views this less as a defeat than as an opportunity. In his view he understands that the church in America has enjoyed a long period of history where many of the morals and ideals of Christianity have been recognized, embraced and valued by the larger culture. But he is rightly recognizing that this is no longer the case. He understands that the church will experience being the minority in a majority culture.
God never promised his church that the culture would embrace his beloved bride. So what does it feel like to not be embraced by a wider culture? What does it feel like to become the minority in a majority culture? While America and especially the south could not be called Christian, it has enjoyed a long run where Christian values and morals have been the majority view. But now the church finds herself in the place where her beliefs, values, and morals are scoffed at, rejected, and labeled as bigoted and hateful. The church is being pushed to the side, marginalized, and in many ways her religious liberty is ebbing away.
I am not interested in tracing the historical, sociological, political and religious roots to explain this morning how we got here. We cannot redo the past, and we do not need to whine and sit in gloom. But we do need to wake up from our long slumber and live as the church for such a time as this. Our culture and the church did not get here overnight, but if feels as though we have lost our identity and a sense of worth in this society. In some ways we may feel like Washington Irving's, Rip Van Winkle. It is though we have awoken from a 20 year sleep and everything has changed.
Rip Van Winkle was a simple minded, easy going man living in the Catskill Mountains. He was loved by those in his village, and lived with a nagging wife. He wanders into the mountains one day to go hunting and after a drink or two with Henry Hudson's crew, he falls into a deep sleep. He awakens twenty years later, returns to his village and finds that everything has changed. Rip is completely disoriented by this march of time and the change that has occurred. He had slept through vital political, social and economic changes. In many ways Irving's Rip may characterize the American church over the past century.
The church has been simple, a sort of good natured loving group, dealing with the nagging of those inside it's walls, and in many ways been asleep. And now she feels the shock of being in a place we do not recognize. We are now awakened to what we were unaware of over the past many years. Now that we are jarred awake we are in a changed America and we as the church are the minority. And as Russell Moore and others are saying, the cultural war is lost, and we are on the losing side.
Being on the losing side makes us the minority in a majority culture. We were in a place where our Christianity and the church was welcomed and valuable to society. But now Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward a Biblical Christianity. The question for us now is what kind of church will we be for such a time as this? What does it mean for us to live as a minority in a majority culture? Let me suggest that we must become an authentic minority that lives the theology of the cross, not the theology of glory.
In Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letters from a Birmingham Jail", he wrote,
“There was a time when the church was very powerful…in those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society…But the judgment of God is up on the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned to outright disgust.”
I believe Dr. King was writing in reference to the early church and the impact it had upon the Roman Empire. It was a church "that transformed the mores of society." And he is in agreement with the Apostle Peter when he speaks of the judgment of God "being up on the church". Peter says to the church of the first century that is suffering as a minority in a majority culture, "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God;" (1Pe.4:17). But how will the church prove her "authenticity"? How will the marginalized, rebuffed church prove she is relevant for the 21st century?
I believe Dr. King was correct in his words, but possibly not in some of his actions, but it is always easy to sit in the present in judgment of a history you did not live. But with these words he said the church needs to "recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church." This is the church we must be for such a time as this. A church who lives as Dr. King's namesake, Martin Luther, the German priest of the 16th century, said, the "theology of the cross". A church that lives intersecting the cross in the atoning work of Christ, and walking in that same intersection of the cross in all of life. This is how we must live as a minority in a majority culture, and this will prove our authenticity and relevance as a minority in a majority culture.
This is good for the church because many of us have intersected with the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and then we have left the cross for Jesus to give us the glory of the American Dream. We have believed him for the forgiveness of sins and a 'Christian America', the land of our peace, prosperity, power and popularity. And now we are awakened to his judgment that begins with the church. We have lost our majority culture and become a minority. And this is good for the church because it brings us away from our idols back to the true and living God and to live in him as he has made us for, in the theology of the cross. The cross is a contradiction to all that we thought God would be, and all we thought life would be. Yet it is the truth of God revealed about himself and all of life.
The text we are studying was taught by Jesus before he went to the cross, but it is the way of the cross for himself and all who would follow him as his disciples, minority among a majority. It is this way of contradiction, the way of a "sacrificial spirit", that God uses to "transform the mores of society". Not in the way the world expects, but in the way that only God can do it. It is the way of or the life of the theology of the cross. It is not what we expect. But the cross changes everything.
Before we look at the text let me say something about the "theology of the cross" versus the "theology of glory". In Matthew 20:20-28 we have an example of Jesus instructing his disciples in the theology of cross versus the theology of glory. The mother of James and John come to Jesus asking that her sons may be attain glory with him in his kingdom. But Jesus informs them that the way to this glory is through suffering. This is not what she nor they expected. In fact the other disciples are upset because they are in want of the same glory and they did not get in on this action. Jesus informs them all that the servant is not greater than the master. The servants, the disciples will go the same way as their master, Jesus. He will drink the cup of suffering and death to enter into the glory of his kingdom. He came to serve not be served. And this is the way his disciples will go as well. They want glory but in order to be glorified with him they must go the way of the cross. A way of weakness and foolishness. A way that is actually power and wisdom. This is the theology of the cross.
We have certain expectations for God and the way we think things should be. But God reveals himself most ultimately through the cross in the most unexpected way, and shows us the true way of life that is most shocking to us. At the cross God makes known his power. His power is revealed in weakness. The cross appears to be a defeat at the hands of evil men. But it is actually God triumphing over evil and corrupt powers. In the theology of the cross power is hidden in the form of weakness. At the cross God makes known wisdom. His wisdom is revealed in the foolishness of the cross. God foolishly becomes man in the flesh, he identifies with sinners though he is holy, he suffers for sinners in his flesh, he dies a horrible death as a substitute in their place, he makes sinners pure by becoming sin for them, and he raises these same sinners up to a new and everlasting life by submitting to their death. To the intellectually arrogant and the morally self righteous this seems like foolishness. The cross is non-sense. But this theology of the cross is the power and wisdom of God. It is by this cross, the unwavering display of the wrath of God against sin, that the righteous dies for the unrighteous to bring them near to God in the record of his righteousness and gives them peace with God. It is by this power that is weakness, and this wisdom that is foolishness, that grace and faith are gifts given to unloveable enemies through a horrendous crushing filthy death of a man on the cross. This theology of the cross changes the meaning of everything, even the meaning and practice of our lives.
The theology of the cross not only intersects our lives at the place of our salvation, but also at the place of our discipleship. Christians are united to Christ by faith and live in his suffering sacrificial service to their neighbors. Neighbors who can't give us anything, love us the way we want to be loved, and even reject us. The cross changes everything. It is this theology of the cross that instructs us concerning what kind of church we are to be for such a time as this. A authentic minority church in a majority culture.
This morning I want to return to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is speaking to his disciples about their discipleship, what it looks like to believe in him and follow after him in faith. As we study this text in chapter 6 we will learn how he wants us to believe and live as a "prophetic minority" in a majority culture. An authentic minority who are called to live as the joyful poor, joyful hungry, joyful sorrowing, and joyful rejected.
An Authentic Minority, Joyful, Happy, Blessed
In verses 20 and following to the end of Luke 6, we have descriptions of the life of a disciple of Jesus. Jesus has come down from the mountain and is standing on level ground with his 12 apostles, and a further ring of disciples and others who are the crowd. Luke tells us he lifts up his eyes on his disciples and says, "you" (20). His message is to his disciples or "sent ones" that he chose back in verses 12-16 of this same chapter. They are a minority among the majority crowd that Luke tells us has come to listen to his teaching and be healed and cured (17-18).
Therefore his message can be applied to us as his church. This is not a message for a group of special forces of the church. This is not a message for a special band of pietistic followers of Jesus. This is not a message for a special class of ascetics who are living under severe self discipline. The church is built upon the word of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus being the cornerstone (Eph.2:20). Therefore the word that comes to the apostles is for the apostles and the church that is built on the word of the apostles. So the first thing we can understand is this message is for us as the church.
This sermon begins with four beatitudes describing who the truly happy are. I do not believe this is the same "Sermon on the Mount" as we have in Matthew 5-7. The teaching is somewhat similar, but it is more different that it is the same. For example, Luke records four beatitudes and four contrasting woes. Matthew records nine beatitudes with no contrasting woes. Also, Matthew records the "Sermon on the Mount" in three chapters. Luke records his "Sermon on the Plain" (Kent Hughes) in less than one. Therefore, I believe this is a different sermon recorded in Luke than Matthew. But just as you would hear the same preacher in different contexts, you may hear some of the same material, you are not hearing the same sermon. Just as Matthew begins with beatitudes, so Luke records four beatitudes of Jesus in verses 20-23.
A beatitude is a form of writing in the Scripture where God is telling us who the really joyful, happy people are in his kingdom. We find them in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament we read in Psalm 1, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked..." A person who walks with the wicked may seem to be happy for a time, but misery is right around the corner. Or in Psalm 32 we read, "Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven...". It may seem like bliss to get away with sin for a time, but soon you will find that to live with unconfessed sin is crushing right down to your bones. So the really happy people are those who delight themselves in the Lord instead of sin and evil, and those whose sins are forgiven by a gracious God. Therefore, Jesus is describing his disciples as those who take up the Lord God of the covenant in faith and practice as their joy.
At the same time he promises joy and blessedness to his disciples, in verses 24-26, he pronounces "woe" to those who will not make the Lord God of the covenant their joy. Just as we find these expressions of woe here, we find them elsewhere in the Old Testament. We hear the prophet Isaiah pronouncing woe in chapter 5:20, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness,who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" The expression of woe is a to say that judgment is coming upon these in the form of misery, sadness, sorrow, disappointment and a final judgment. This woe is coming upon those who believe, speak and live in a manner contrary to the knowledge and will of God.
These four beatitudes and four woes contrast the happy life of the prophetic minority with the life of the majority who live in the world seeking their own appetite. Those who experience "woe" will not take Jesus as their joy and life, but will take his gifts for their happiness now, and being deceived will experience his judgment upon their unrighteousness. In many ways those who experience this misery and woe will become the "prophetic majority" proving the words of our Lord to be true. And for the happy prophetic minority who live poor, hungry, sorrowful and persecuted lives, the majority culture will not see it as anything but foolishness.
We will look now at two descriptions of a the happy prophetic minority contrasted with those who will experience woe.
An Authentic Minority: The Joyful Poor
The blessed disciple is poor because the kingdom of God is his now and forever. "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (6:20b). This is shocking. We spend all our lives living the American dream trying to get rich and leave wealth for others. Yet, Jesus is saying the joyful and happy in his kingdom are the poor.
Let's try to understand this by first understanding what he is not saying. He is not saying it is a joyful life to be poor. Scripture and experience tells us that being poor is hard and there is much misery that goes along with it. Therefore not everyone who is poor is happy and joyful. Take for example the life of Hagar, Sarah's maidservant. Sarah was rich in her marriage to Abraham. When in her jealousy she drove Hagar away with her child Ishmael, she had nothing and would have died miserable and powerless in the dessert if God did not see her in her poverty. As the writer of Proverbs says, "The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.." (Pr.10:22). Hagar had sorrow in her poverty, while Sarah had the blessing of God in her riches.
I was once in Uganda ministering the gospel to the poor working in a rock quarry. These poor people were breaking big rock out of a bank of rock. They would then stand over a pile of rock breaking the bigger pieces of rock into smaller, gravel size pieces of rock with a small metal object attached to a stick for a dollar a day. Their condition was one of poverty and sorrow. They wanted what I had, not Jesus, but apparent wealth, and they would have done anything to get it, even believe in Jesus. Their poverty made life very difficult. However, I remember meeting one woman in the quarry who clearly was a disciple of Jesus. While she was poor and faced the same difficulties of others working in the quarry, she was joyful. Being poor is difficult, but being poor in Jesus, even though it is difficult is a joy because God has given you his kingdom. If money and possessions are power then the poor are powerless and regularly exploited. Therefore Jesus is not saying that it is a happy condition to be poor. But he is saying that those who are his disciples as poor are happy.
The happy and joyful disciple who is poor is describing one who is socio-economically poor and spiritually poor. We know this because here he is says plainly, "Blessed are you who are poor". The personal pronoun "you" is describing his disciples. It is miserable to be poor without Jesus, but it is a blessing to be poor and know that Jesus meets all your needs. In the first place he is describing those who are socio-economically poor. He is saying it is a happy life to be in need and seek Jesus everyday for that need. This is why he teaches us to pray in that need everyday, 'give us this day our daily bread.'
In Luke's gospel we have already seen Jesus coming into poverty in his incarnation. He was born into poverty and raised in poverty. We have seen Mary, the mother of Jesus, singing to God because he has visited her in her poverty (1:46-48). We have seen Jesus begin his ministry in Nazareth with a sermon from Isaiah 61 where he makes it clear he has come to "proclaim good news to the poor." (4:18). We have seen Jesus call his disciples from among the poor (5&6).
He is saying it is a blessed life to have need of and possession of Jesus and be poor. The person who has need of Jesus is the one who goes to him because you're in need. Whether that need be, "give us this day our daily bread", or that need be grace and mercy for sin and weakness.
While Jesus comes for and gives favor to the poor he pronounces woe upon the rich now. He is not saying that you cannot enter God's kingdom if you are rich. But he is saying if your riches are your consolation, your joy, your comfort, your peace, your approval, your peace, then you are in the misery of being far from the joy of God and his kingdom.There are a number of contrasts in Jesus' teaching recorded in Luke regarding the blessed condition of his poor disciples and the rich who seek their riches rather than him and his ways: the parable of the rich fool (12:13-21); the parables of the wedding and the banquet (14:7-24); the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31); and the story of the rich young ruler and his disciples response (18:18-30).
The only contrast to this is Jesus with Rich Zaccheus. He was rich but when Jesus called him he repented and become rich toward God and others. In all of these the focus is on Jesus' condemnation of those who are rich and content and secure in their riches and themselves so that they do not need God and do not care about the needs of others. Those who belong to God's kingdom live above their circumstances dependent on God and extended toward their neighbor. Zaccheus understands the blessedness of belonging to Jesus as one who has been brought into his kingdom. He is not offended by the poverty of his Savior, demonstrated ultimately on the cross. He is willing in this joy to even suffer the poverty of the cross for the sake of all the elect of God. The good, wise and powerful God is his King and he dwells with him in his kingdom and so he can be and become poor for the sake of others.
This is how we are to live as a minority in a majority culture. While the majority culture says, 'Riches and the prosperity, power and popularity that come with it are our joy. The minority culture that walks in the way of the cross says, "Our joy is in depending upon God for everything, and even willing to become poor to make others rich in God." The minority culture lives intersect with the cross where he who was rich for our sakes became poor to make many rich. Then they live out of that knowing they have been brought into the riches of God's kingdom and live for their joy and riches in God and to make others rich in God. Does this mean you should go sell everything, give all the money away to the poor and live a life of asceticism? I don't think so. But it does mean we should not seek our joy in our riches but in Jesus. And we should use our riches so that others can seek their joy in him.
An Authentic Minority, Joyful Hungry
The second beatitude and parallel woe in this section are in verses 21 and 25, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.“... “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.“ In these verses Jesus seems to be describing the spiritually hungry. Although we see evidence of his disciples not eating particularly well. Jesus eats wheat from the field with his disciples, not exactly a delicacy. We see his disciples out with the throngs of people with nothing to eat but a few fish and some small portions of bread. There Jesus is concerned about the crowd eating. But it appears that all of them were just going to share that little bit of food among themselves. But Jesus feeds the thousands and then his disciples with 12 baskets full of leftovers. The apostle Paul, those who travel with him, and the church seem to experience hunger at times (Phil.4:12). Therefore, it seems that the church at times experiences hunger as a part of following after Jesus.
But the physical hunger is a parallel to the joyful spiritual hunger the church has, and seeks to be satisfied in Christ and in the doing of his will. Twice in the Psalms we read of this hungering after God and being satisfied in him. In Psalm 42:1-2 we read, "As a deer pants for flowing streams,so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God,for the living God.When shall I come and appear before God?" In those verses there is a longing of the soul expressed by hungering and thirsting that can only be satisfied by God. Or in Psalm 63:1-3, "O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;my soul thirsts for you;my flesh faints for you,as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life,my lips will praise you " Here again is the unsatisfied soul longing for God to satisfy and fill him expressed by that of thirsting. The joyful in God are those who know that only God can satisfy our deepest longings.
It is the Lord Jesus Christ who truly satisfies the hungering soul and make his people to be the truly joyful hungering authentic minority. As Jesus seeks his joy in the food of being used of the Father in seeking worshipers in the land of Samaria, he offers to the woman at the well "living water" in himself that would be the everflowing spring of joy to satisfy her in himself (Jn.4:13-14). Later in John 6:35 Jesus pronounces to the people that he is the "bread of life". He makes known that he is the bread come from heaven to satisfy the hungry soul. The church learns that it is right to seek our joy not in the richest fare of food but in the riches of our Savior and Redeemer who satisfies our soul.
This does not mean we should not enjoy a good meal. I love to eat a good meal. I love to sit long at the table enjoying a good and beautiful meal. I recognize that their are gifted people who can create wonderful things to eat and I love to find joy in the smells, sights and sumptuous tastes of their creations. However, after I am satisfied by that meal there is after a time another hunger, another empty stomach and longing pallet. Our bodies need nourishment as well as they need to experience the glory of nourishment, even if it is just a good piece of bread and a cup of water. But our souls are not satisfied until they are satisfied in God. Therefore, blessed are the hungry, for when the soul longs for God in Christ there is a satisfaction now and forevermore.
We are a people obsessed with food in America. We watch cooking shows. We spend lots of money at restaurants and having others prepare meals for us. We will visit multiple grocery stores in a day to get what we want. We think about meals way in advance of eating them. We think of our next meal sometimes before finishing the one we are eating. We might even say, 'Our gods are our bellies.' We need to hear Jesus say, "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry." He is not saying that when we stuff ourselves we will know the misery of being too full. Though that is true. He is saying woe to you when your god is your belly. Woe to you when your joy is being full of food and not the joy of seeking to be satisfied in God through Christ, in his glorious person and work, and in the doing of his will. This is how we look like a joyful authentic minority. We can enjoy food but not as much as we enjoy our God and the doing of his will. He is our food and drink. He is our satisfaction and joy, and doing his will is our delight.
An Authentic Minority, Joyful Sorrowing
In Luke 6:21 and 25 Jesus says, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh... Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." This seems such a contradiction. How can Jesus say that those who weep can be at the same time joyful? Let's begin by understanding what he does not mean.
Jesus is not saying that the joyful in his kingdom are a people who are sour, despondent and gloomy. The unhappy Christian is a bad example and a poor representative of the kingdom of God. In Acts 14:17 the apostle Paul says, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." The fruit that comes to us in Jesus from the Holy Spirit is one of joy (Gal.5:22-23). Therefore to be a citizen in God's kingdom and a member of Christ's body, the church is to share in the joy of Jesus. This why Paul can say to the church in Philippi, "Rejoice in the Lord and again I say rejoice." (Phil.4:4). The church then should be a treasure chest of joy for a culture that dwells in the misery of sin, for "a joyful heart is good medicine." (Pr.17:22). Therefore, Jesus is not calling us to gloom, especially if you are a preacher of the glorious gospel. As Charles Spurgeon recognized and said, "Some pastors preach like their neckties are twisted around their souls." This ought not to be true of the church and her preachers whose souls are rooted deep in the good news of Jesus Christ.
However, we must learn to weep, be sorrowful, and acquaint ourselves with grief. We need to learn to weep at the right things, rejoice at the right things. If our Savior was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isa.53:3), then we must be like him. We must learn to weep over a culture that is rejecting God and his gospel, longing for them in their misery. We must learn to long with weeping for God's name to be hallowed, the kingdom of God to come and God's will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. We must learn to weep with longing for the return of our Savior and his judgment to come upon all the unrighteousness of men. But we must also learn to weep over our own sin (Jas.4:8-10). We must learn to weep with Peter when we see that we love the approval of man more than we love the One who left the presence of the glory of the Father, and suffered his wrath by his cruel death upon the cross for us. The joyful sorrowing learn to weep while you look forward to eternal joy.
So much of the joy and happiness in our culture is frivolous, shallow and empty. As Christians we are allowed to laugh but we need to learn to laugh with joy at the right things, and weep over the right things. Let us learn to be the joyful sorrowing who have a wintry joy as we weep over the misery, injustice on the helpless, victimization of the weak, abortion of the unborn, child abuse, wife abuse, adultery, divorce, betrayals, rejection, loneliness, and those who laugh now but will suffer condemnation.
An Authentic Minority, Joyful Rejected
Our text goes on to say in Luke 6:22-23, 26, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets....26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. The joyful poor, hungering and sorrowful are also the joyful rejected, hated, excluded and reviled. This is the theology of the cross in it's most expressive description, next to the cross itself. How can it be that the truly joyful are those who are rejected?
Let me first of all say what this is not saying. He is not talking about being a rejected Christian for your lack of being a Christian. Some believers are rejected in our culture because they are rude, insensitive, thoughtless and piously obnoxious. They are proud and judgmental, lazy and irresponsible, arrogant and incompetent, and they mix it all with a form of their own self righteous piety. These folks are often rejected and rightly so. They believe they are the salt of the earth and they are really salt to an open wound. They believe they are a city set on a hill and they are really your neighbors flood lights that are aimed right at your bedroom window all night. They suffer rejection, not because they are like Christ, but because they are not. This is not who Jesus is speaking of in this text.
He is speaking of those who suffer rejection because they are identified with Jesus Christ in his person and work. They are reviled and hated on account of Christ. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:20, "Remember the word I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." The apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, "all those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted". And in Acts Luke records Paul saying, "through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22). Therefore, judgment begins with the household of God and we should not be surprised when we suffer (1Pe.4:12-17).
It is the suffering of Christ's church that authenticates the gospel. When God in Christ is our joy we are willing to suffer reproach and the loss of all things for the sake of his name for we have all things in him and can lose nothing if we are his. The world seems this as a shameful way, but this is the way of the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew well Luther's theology of the cross, wrote in his letters from prison, "Suffering, then is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master...that is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true church, and one of the memoranda drawn up in preparation for the Augsburg Confession similarly defines the church as the community of those "who are persecuted and martyred for the Gospel's sake"...Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace." As our Lord endured the cross and scorned it's shame for the joy set before him, so the church endures suffering for the joy we have in living authentic lives in our Savior who loved us and gave himself up for us.
Yes, we are to be well thought of by outsiders (1Tim.3:7). But not at the expense of forfeiting our own souls. Being yes men and yes women in an ungodly culture is like being a dead dog swimming with the tide. We are alive to swim against the tide of an ungodly culture that says and does what is acceptable for the approval of man. We must hold to the orthodoxy of a biblical faith where Christ is at the center, and where that belief intersects his life of bearing his cross in the midst of relationships in culture. Even when this means being hated, excluded, rejected, insulted, suffering for Christ's sake. The promise is joy in being accepted by God in Christ and rejected by men.
Our expectations of God and how things should be may be surprising us at such a time as this. But it is this theology of the cross that instructs us concerning what kind of church we are to be for such a time as this. An authentic minority church in a majority culture. Charles Spurgeon helps us with these expectations when he says, "Doth that man love his Lord who would be willing to see Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, while for himself he craves a chaplet of laurel? Shall Jesus ascend to his throne by the cross, and do we expect to be carried there on the shoulders of applauding crowds? Be not so vain in your imagination. Count you the cost, and if you’re not willing to bear Christ’s cross, go away to your farm and to your merchandise, and make the most of them. Only let me whisper this in your ear, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” A church for such a time as this is the church that walks in the way with our Lord knowing that he has walked before us and is with us, whether through verdant pastures with beautiful springs, or the valley of the shadow of death and torrents of swirling waters. His church is an authentic minority, a church attesting to the authenticity of the gospel through the theology of the cross where the cross intersects our belief and life: happiness is poverty, not riches; happiness is hunger, not fullness, happiness is sorrow, not laughter; happiness is rejection, not acceptance. Let us be a church for such a time as this.