Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
These eight statements spoken by the Savior describe the call of a Christian, what it looks like to live our lives for the Lord. Jesus does not focus on outward performance, like going to church, giving, or even serving. No His concern goes much deeper as He delineates how a disciple should be on the inside. A follower of Christ is someone who is poor in spirit, recognizing their own spiritual bankruptcy, who laments the losses of life, sorrows over sin, cries over the condition of others, and weeps for the world. A Christ-follower is one who is meek, who hungers for right living, is merciful to others, pursues purity and peace, bringing calm in the midst of conflict, and is persecuted for trying to do what is right. At the beginning of His ministry as He preached this message from the mountainside, Jesus knew not only the end and what awaited Him, but also what was in store for His faithful followers. In John 12:27 as Jesus contemplated the crucifixion and His coming death, He said: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” Jesus knew the suffering ahead, He came as our sacrifice, choosing to die as our sin substitute. In His final hours, He suffered horribly, He was betrayed, arrested, and faced a sham trial. He was beaten and bloodied, He was spit on and scourged with a whip called a cat-of-nine-tails because there were nine pieces of leather to which bits of bone were tied to rip off flesh. His kingship was mocked as they crammed a crown of sharp thorns upon His head. Yet even knowing the pain that awaited Him Jesus proclaims that persecution is a blessing. But as we come to the eighth and final beatitude we discover the blessing that nobody wants. When it comes to persecution we would rather take a pass and skip the suffering. But it is this last beatitude that serves as a test of all the others. Persecution is as much a normal mark of discipleship as being merciful is. It’s the longest and wordiest Beatitude maybe because it’s the hardest to embrace. It is also the only beatitude that comes with a command, which is to “Rejoice and be glad.” It’s the only one with an explanation, and it’s the only one repeated twice, so that we see the word “blessed” used two times. It is also the only beatitude addressed to us personally, for it is here that the tense changes from “blessed are those” in verse 10 to “blessed are you” in verse 11. For some Jesus last statement may seem strange. It may seem out of place to move from peacemaking to persecution, from harmony to hostility, but remember not all attempts at reconciliation succeed, and no matter how hard we try to make peace with some people, they may refuse to live at peace with us. The truth is that if we live life according to the first seven Beatitudes then we will automatically experience the eighth. It’s like an equation, people who pursues verses 3-9, get the product of verses 10-12, persecution. When you are “poor in spirit,” some will think you are self-righteous. When you “mourn” over sin, others will feel convicted and may respond with rejection and not want you around. The “meek” may get run over. Those who stop settling for the spiritual status quo and really “hunger and thirst” for God, will get label as a religious fanatic and ridiculed. When you are “merciful” people may take advantage of you. When you pursue purity as you strive to be “pure in heart” in the midst of a promiscuous world that lives on lust you will get labeled a looser. When you pledge to be a “peacemaker” get ready for war. As we live out the first seven beatitudes our faith grows and matures, where under the eighth our faith groans and moans. The first seven cultivated our faith where the last challenges it. The further we go with each beatitude the greater the gulf between fair weather fan and faithful follower, between being part of the crowd and pursuing Christ. What’s hard about this last beatitude is that we all like to be liked. We want to fit in not feel bad. Another challenge was that people in Christ’s day believed that suffering was an indication that God was not pleased and that the person going through persecution was being punished. This is clearly seen in the Book of Job, where his friends are convinced that Jobs suffering is the result of sin. So Christ’s claim that Christians would face persecution not because of sin but because of service was not only controversial it was counter cultural. As you study the blessing that no one wants you will see three paradoxes related to persecution, first persecution is a:
There are many Christians who have bought into the bogus belief that once they have God in their life everything will go great. There are some who have replaced the gospel of persecution with a gospel of prosperity, preaching success in place of suffering. But Jesus never taught a “prosperity gospel,” He preach the “persecution gospel.” In John 15:20, Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” In John 16:33 He added, “…In this world you will have trouble…” and in Matthew 24:9, He told His disciples that they would face serious struggles: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” All of the disciples faced persecution and most were put to death for their faith. James was beheaded, Phillip was scourged, thrown into prison, and then crucified. Matthew was slain with a sword, while James was stoned to death. Matthias was beheaded, Andrew, Peter, Jude (Thaddeus), and Simon the Zealot were crucified, while Bartholomew was beaten with clubs and then crucified. Thomas was speared to death while John was exiled to an island called Patmos where he died a prisoner. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” This is echoed in Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” Peter who was an eyewitness to the suffering of the Savior wrote in 1 Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” So why are we so shocked at suffering? Because today we think that if we live a sold out life for the Lord we will not suffer, and that everything will going well for us. Persecution of God’s people is not an if but a when and there are at least two reasons why we will be persecuted. First because of the life we live, verse 10 says “those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” Second because of the Lord that we love, in verse 11 Jesus says that people will insult, persecute, and say false things, “because of me.” The reason that we will be persecuted is because of the life that we live and because of the Lord that we love. Verse 11 serves to help us both understand the meaning of the word “righteous” which means to live like the Lord as well as reveal the different forms that persecution will take. Verbal insults, these are misrepresentations intended to degrade and destroy another’s reputation. They can take the form of verbal abuse and insulting language, and while the old children’s nursery rhyme tells us that “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me”, the truth is words can wound. Persecution can also take the form of physical attack. The word, “persecute” means to be hunted down like an animal. They can also take the form of false accusations. Jesus not only faced false charges but according to 1 Peter 2:23, “He did not retaliate.” People will try to belittle you and even talk behind your back, but remember they did the same to Jesus, they tried to slander the Savior. If the Prince of Peace faced persecution so will His people, but remember you don’t have to respond with retaliation and resentment, instead you can respond with rejoicing because persecution is a privilege. When it comes to persecution are you shocked and surprised, or do you see persecution and suffering as part of the package for those who are sold out to the Savior? How are you responding to persecution pouting or counting it a privilege?