Text: Matthew 5:11-12
We continue in our series The Cloud. We are taking the month of October to look at the lives of those great cloud of witnesses. Their lives and faith are testimonies to us about living the Christian life today. Their love for Christ and allegiance to Him despite the costs inspire us to follow with our whole hearts as well. Last week we looked at Patrick. Today, we look at the man known as: Boniface (baa nuh fuhs - not "Boni-face" or "Bone-face").
Boniface, or Winfrid his birth name, was born in AD 675 in England. He belonged to a Christian family. From a young age he would listen to conversations from monks who were visiting his home. England during this time was full of spiritual life and zeal. He decided at a young age to enter service with the Church. There was no radical conversion - he was raised from a young age as a Christian.
He was very intelligent and bright young man. His father had aspirations for him to do something different, but a serious illness caused his father to think different, and he sent the young Boniface to an abbey to be educated there. How bright was the young man? After finished his course work at the school, he was made the head of the school. He was responsible for writing the first Latin grammar book produced in England, published several poems, and even a set of treatise on metrics.
He remained a devout Christian, seeking the Lord with fervency and eagerness. In his thirties, he was ordained as a priest, and added preaching and other administrative tasks to his workload. He was gaining a name for himself, and some notoriety in the church throughout England. Advancement and prominence seemed to be the track he was on.
But in early forties, he felt called to serve as a full-time missionary. He wanted to go specifically to Friesland (which is the northern part of the Netherlands). He went in the spring of AD 716. The task was made incredibly difficult by the warring factions in the country, one of which hated Christianity. That autumn, after only being on the ground for several months, they returned to England. His mission did not result in any converts.
Scripture Exegesis: Matthew 5:11-12
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The context of this passage is Jesus is teaching the Sermon on the Mount. This is his longest recorded sermon in the Gospels. He is speaking to gathered crowds of people, with his disciples around him. He goes through a series of what are known as beatitudes. A beatitude comes from Latin and it means "blessedness." The idea is that a beatitude is a state of happiness or well- being. It relates to a state of divine joy or perfect happiness. In other words, these statements are Jesus' kingdom manifesto on the good life when you walk with God. That's vial to understand because when we read vs 11-12, they seem counter-intuitive to blessedness or happiness.
vs 11 -- Jesus says you are blessed when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you...FALSELY! Catch that. It isn't just that they do it that makes you supremely blessed, it is when they do it and it isn't true. This is not what most of us sign up for or want. Most of you go out of our way to keep a good name and maintain peace with everyone. We don't want to do anything that would make others revile us, much less be reviled and accused for things we didn't do.
Now what would lead others to do such a thing? To revile us without cause? Because they hate that we love Christ. They hate that we stand for Christ. They despise that we live for Christ. That hate is for Jesus (John 15). People today hate Jesus, even if they're unaware. It's not that our actions have to be anything crazy to get the reviling treatment. All we have to do is be faithful. Now, here is where many of us struggle, if our faithfulness gets us reviled, some would rather not be faithful, or at least to hide it. This is why the very next thing Jesus says is that you can't hide the light under a basket. We are the salt of the earth. That's his very next teaching. So our tendency is to avoid anything that gets attention on us, especially bad attention. This is also why many fall away. They love the acceptance of men.
vs 12 -- Jesus said our response shouldn't be to hide or pout in the corner at our unfortunate plight. No, he says to rejoice. Be glad he says. Why? Because great is our reward in Heaven. Everyone seeks a reward - which are you seeking? The prophets were treated the same way, and they spoke on behalf of God. Jesus frames the way we ought to live our lives in public is to be very much known for following Him. We are to love God, be salt and light, and labor to help others know Him. In the course of our lives, we will be reviled. We will not be universally loved.
What are you going to do about that? Quit? Hide? Jesus says, "Rejoice!" "Be glad!"
This is very counter to our nature, and requires us coming back to regularly because it goes against our flesh's desire to self-protect and self-promote. We want to be safe and we want to be liked. Reviling has a way exposing how much we want those things. SO we must keep reminding ourselves of Jesus' teaching. We are blessed when this happens. We should rejoice when this happens. It happened to the prophets. It happened to Christ. And when it happens to us, great is our reward.
Back to Boniface:
This passage connects so well to Boniface today. After his missionary journey is cut short, with no converts, he returns back to England. He faced all sorts of struggles when he had been a missionary. He dealt with constant conflict and reviling from the Dukes who governed over the lands. But this didn't cause him to retreat for the easy path. It didn't lead him to quit or give up, believing God had forgotten him or punished him. He pressed forward. Trusting God.
He said this, "Let us trust in Him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For He is all-powerful, and He tells us: 'My yoke is easy, and my burden light.'"
During his time back, his abbot had died, and they wanted to appoint him to be the replacement, but he still felt called to be a missionary instead. In AD 718, just two years later, he went to Rome and received a commission as a missionary directly from Pope Gregory II. He kept him there several months until the conditions for travel were favorable and then sent him to preach the gospel to the heathens. This is when Winfrid's name was officially changed to Boniface (meaning, good fate or fortunate).
Boniface returned to Friesland, and then went into Germany. He focused on evangelizing and sharing the good news with people who had never head of it. He started churches and monasteries. Many historians see Boniface as a heresy-hunter. He was so passionate about the truth of God's Word being kept and upheld, that he spent a large majority of his time addressing false teaching, idolatry, and making apologetical arguments for the faith. Despite how successful he was, even historians who are sympathetic to him refer to him as being "difficult, prickly, and tactless."
He was zealous to squash paganism where he found it. (One story recounts how when he was in Geismar, he found a huge oak tree that was a dedicated shrine to Thor by those in the city. Boniface went and fetched an axe and started launching into the tree. Within a few minutes, the tree toppled to the ground, breaking into four different pieces after landed, revealing it had been rotten on the inside. Great crowds of people gathered to curse him for being an enemy to their gods. But Boniface used the opportunity to preach the gospel, and used the rot of the tree to demonstrate the inadequacy of their false religion. Not only did they stop cursing him, many came to believe, and not only did they come to believe, but Boniface used the fallen oak tree to build a chapel.)
Boniface's clashes with pagans, heretics, and even orthodox Christians continued. He believed serious church reforms were needed and necessary in conjunction with evangelistic efforts. When pagans became Christians, and became a part of the church of Jesus, that church needed to teach right doctrine and live in holiness and obedience to God. From AD 742-747, Boniface convened five church councils to adopt regulations for clergy and proper doctrinal teaching. (A little background - we wouldn't agree with everything Boniface taught.) He said this, "In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life's different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on her course."
Boniface spent decades doing this work. But in his seventies, the urge and pull to Friesland (in the Netherlands) called him again. His approach never changed, even in his older age. He preached Christ, destroyed shrines dedicated to pagan gods, built churches, and baptized thousands of converts (unlike his previous experience 30 years prior).
In AD 754, one group of these new converts were due to arrive via the river. Boniface and his 52 companions awaited on the banks for their arrival. But a gang of pagan predators arrived seeking money and goods. Even though he had travelled with armed protection in the past with his commission from the Pope, he was far beyond the bounds of that protection. The only thing he hand in his hands was a book by Ambrose (who we covered in the Cloud before) entitled The Advantage of Death. When those new Christian converts finally arrived on the banks, they found Boniface and his companions slaughtered. Next to Boniface lay his book with two deep slashes in it. The book can be found on display today in Germany.
Boniface would be emulated and serve as an inspiration for over 300 years after his life for new missionaries. From the time of his life, and even today, he is known and considered as the Apostle to Germany. And obviously he is still a part of the great cloud of witnesses today that encourage us to a life of faithfulness.
1. Your greatest ministry may be in your later years.
Many of you here are young and have the opportunity to do a lot of fruitful things for the Lord with your lives. And I would encourage you not to waste those years. Others of you here are like me, in your forties, or even older, and maybe you feel your prime years are behind you. Maybe you struggle with wondering if you missed too many opportunities to truly be used of God. I would encourage you to see the days you have in front of you as holding the potential for being your most fruitful. Boniface left Germany to start fresh in Friesland in his seventies. It's not too late.
(examples: Marlin Lindsey, Linda Goodwin, Yvieta Ulmer, Dan Jacobus, Terri McAngus)
Go on a mission trip. Start a ministry. Start meeting and mentoring younger people. Spend a few years on the mission field after retirement.
2. Ministry failure is never really failure.
In God's economy, things we do that seem to have very little impact or fruit can be used weeks, months, or years later. We can't judge through the world's measurements. Maybe you tried to start something that didn't make it: a ministry, a Bible study, witnessing to a friend or family member, or whatever it may be. Your faithfulness and obedience is a huge win, and honors God. The lessons learned are also used by God to make us wiser. He uses our perceived failures as ways of sanctifying us. Don't be afraid to "fail." Boniface "failed" in his first missionary trip. William Carey spent seven years in India before he saw the first convert.
3. Not everyone's ministries are the same.
Not everyone has the temperament to be Boniface. Some people are more confrontational and comfortable with tension than others. Right now, if I put you on the spot, you could answer this question. Do you embrace conflict or avoid it? Some people embrace it. I don't necessarily mean relish it, but are okay with things going into those awkward places where we leave niceties behind.
Not everyone is cut out for a ministry like that. Not everyone has the stomach for it. But Boniface, and others like him (Tertullian and Martin Luther are a great examples) were used by God with those personalities and temperaments that were not afraid to take an axe to a pagan shrine oak tree.
We still need those kind of people today. We need people with a little edge. I know we don't always feel comfortable with that, and not everyone is cut out for that. But there are ministries that find themselves on the front lines. Recovery and Redemption is an example of this. Jail ministry. Hope Beyond Abortion. Rescuing women from sex-trafficking. These are examples of ministries where things are not always pleasant. Things can get intense, and raw.
Boniface said this, “Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock.” Sometime shepherds battle wolves and forces of darkness in the heavenly places. It ain't always pretty or quaint.
As Christians who ARE NOT like Boniface, let's be super careful to not ask those people to lose their edge for the sake of our comforts. Let's recognize that God uses people like Boniface and others to do His work.
As Christians who ARE like Boniface, let's guard our hearts and our mouths from being reckless and needlessly offensive. Seek to be understanding and patient with those who want us to do things more like them. Be slow to expect everyone else to do things more like us.
Let's appreciate the differences and see our need for one another (God-glorifying diversity).
4. Every follower of Christ must calculate rejection into what it means to be a Christian.
Jesus tells us rejection and reviling may come. We need to count those costs now. We shouldn't expect safety and comforts will always surround us, not if we're faithful. It may not be only here, He send us to the hard places. What if He sends us to Friesland? Following Jesus isn't a promise of ease. It is an invitation to come and die. What are the idols in our culture that if we smash will cause us to be rejected?
Why should we expect it to be? We follow a Savior who was reviled, shamed, beaten, false tried and accused, and hung on Roman cross stripped naked and bleeding to death. Should we be shocked to learn that following the One with nail-scarred hands isn't about embracing cush existence? No, in fact, the very first step of the Christian life is a preparation for the entire thing: come and die. Lay down your life, surrender your rights, call out to Jesus as Lord to save you, a helpless needy sinner, and let Him breath life into you. Lay down your life if you want to find it. Lose it and you'll save it. That initial step into the family of God remains the ongoing posture. He calls us all here today to that.
In light of all that may come, we do not run or flee for safety. We rejoice. We're glad. Why? As Boniface prayed, and believed, "O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations." Indeed He is, friends. To Boniface, and to our generation as well.