Welcome back and thank you for spending some of your precious time with this article. We continue this month with our look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We will conclude the Beatitudes with a look at Matthew 5:10-12. It may seem strange that Jesus would move from talking about peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility? One of the realities of life is; no matter how hard you try some people refuse to live at peace with the Christian. Indeed, there are some who take an opposing view, not because of our shortcomings but ‘for righteousness sake.’ Here we see again the key word in our series ‘righteousness;’ Dwight Pentecost reminds us “He promised blessing for those who show the characteristics of this righteousness.”
True persecution is simply the clash between two or more irreconcilable value systems. Persecution is not sincere correction or discussion by someone. It is an attempt to silence godly righteousness; usually by the use of force. Let’s look at this passage with the desire to understand more about how persecution and righteousness are related.
In verse 10 we read the word ‘blessed’ (having the favor of God) and it is promised to those who suffer persecution for righteousness sake. This does not make it hurt any less, but having the favor of God provides contentment that truth will prevail in the end. This brings up a question; how does Jesus expect us to react under persecution?
To answer this question let’s move to verse 12 where we find “rejoice and be glad!” Let’s eliminate the possibilities. We could retaliate but that would be a fleshly reaction. It may satisfy our pride but it would do nothing to glorify the Lord; so retaliation won’t work. We could pout or sulk like a child that does not get what it wants. Which may make others pay attention to us, we still do nothing to glorify the Lord and everything to draw attention to our individual wants. We could draw attention to our injuries and what we have survived in the name of Christianity. Or, we could grin and bear the persecution and pretend we enjoy it. All of these suffer in some manner from fleshly pride. When the Lord tells us to “rejoice and be glad” it isn’t because persecution enhances our life, it’s because it enhances our faith and our faith is focused on heaven.
Jesus reminds us “your reward is great in heaven;” we may lose everything on earth, but the Christian knows they will inherit everything in heaven-not as a reward for merit, but because of Grace and Mercy that comes only through Jesus Christ.
Some of you may be asking why is it so important to know about persecution and how we should approach and deal with it. I will let the Lord answer that “for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” If or when we are persecuted today, we belong to a noble group that has shown us the impact of a real relationship with Jesus. That brings us to the foundational reason for rejoicing through persecution; Jesus said “on my account.”
Persecution asks the Christian to examine their loyalty to the Lord and His standards of truth and righteousness. The apostles understood this, having been beaten and threatened by the Sanhedrin, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” The apostles knew, as we should, the wounds and hurts of persecution are indeed medals of Honor.
Those who hunger for righteousness willingly suffer for the righteousness they crave. It has been so in every age, we should not be surprised if anti-Christian hostility increases, but rather be surprised if it does not. Universal popularity is to the false prophets what persecution is for the child of God.
Few men of the twentieth century have understood persecution better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By all indications the Nazi’s were never able to make him waver. Bonhoeffer was executed by Heinrich Himmler in April of 1945 in the Flossenburg concentration camp, just a few days before the camp was liberated. It was the fulfilment of what he had always believed and taught: “suffering then, is the badge of true discipleship”. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means passio passive, which translates, suffering because we have to suffer. I pray that Christians in America never see persecution as our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world do, but if so I also pray our faith will increase and our discipleship will be strengthen. Until next time may God richly bless you.