“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
Jesus’ Beatitudes end with this hard-hitting double barreled blast. Some authors think of it as two related blessings; however, the similarities are so tight that we must treat them as a single beatitude, which uses Hebraic parallelism (much like the repetition found throughout the Psalms) to emphasize the message.
It also brings the entire set of Beatitudes closer to home. Like the poor in spirit, the persecuted will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Jesus prefaced the previous Beatitudes by saying “Blessed are those….” Here, we can almost see Him stand up and point to each of His disciples as He says, “Blessed are you….” The blessed are not some hypothetical people who exist purely in Jesus’ imagination. They are real people. If you are willing to receive it, you are the blessed. Receive it by faith.
We have already seen that, according to Jesus and His Beatitudes, the blessed life is not an easy life. Blessed are the poor in spirit, not the rich in material goods. Blessed are those who mourn, not those who laugh. Blessed are the gentle or meek, not the tough. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, not those who are satisfied with material goods. Blessed are the merciful, not the ones who exact justice. Blessed are the pure in heart, not those who seek the best of all worlds. Blessed are the peacemakers, not the ones who fight every battle.
Blessed are the persecuted, not the popular. This statement is probably the hardest pill to swallow. Sometimes we want to fight back. At other times, we simply want to fit in with our neighbors, classmates, and co-workers. True disciples must choose whether they want to please God or men. At times, it will be a difficult choice.
In 2023 America, Christians should prepare for persecution. We have grown soft. For many years, we thought we were persecuted if others called us “Bible thumpers,” “holy rollers,” or “Jesus freaks.” Now, if we stand on biblical principles and insist on living by Scripture, we are not only called “intolerant” or “self-righteous”; we might be threatened by “cancel culture,” which can lead to loss of income, legal action, or other retaliatory actions that hit close to home. Many Christians seem to be abandoning complete devotion to Christ to avoid tangible negative consequences like this. We may not be dragged out of the village to be stoned to death; that might be easier to bear. We might say we are trying to preserve our witness by compromising our values and commitments to Christ and by being adaptable. But, are we really just trying to be popular? Are we seeking to please God or people (Galatians 1:10)?
I have long believed that American Christianity is an anomaly. Jesus promised His disciples that they would have hardship in this world. True Christianity would never be popular, because it goes against the spirit of the world and the devil:
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19).
“These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Based on Jesus’ words, we should not be surprised if we face persecution. In fact, we should be surprised that Western Christianity has survived relatively unmolested for so long. We put large signs in front of our church buildings to announce where and when we meet. We post ads on the Internet inviting the entire community to our worship services. We simply assume that we can worship God and share the Gospel without difficulty or discomfort. Was Jesus lying? Was persecution only for earlier generations of Christians but not for us? Or, has our brand of Christianity been married to the world for too long?
We cannot assume that persecution was only for earlier generations. Throughout much of the world, Christians face persecution that we do not understand: imprisonment; destruction of their homes; shunned, disowned, or abandoned by their communities and sometimes even their families; physical violence and death. You can visit The Voice of the Martyrs and read their literature to keep informed about the holocaust that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to suffer in other nations.
Perhaps we have created a false view of blessedness. Jesus said that the persecuted are blessed because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “your reward in heaven is great.” We seek blessing in this life, but blessedness is the fruit of a life lived in fellowship with Jesus Christ. Our present earthly life is only a tiny portion of our blessed eternal life. Let us seek to please God in all things and be ready to love, honor, and serve Him always, no matter what the world may think, say, or do.
Our God, in whom we trust: Strengthen us not to regard overmuch who is for us or who is against us, but to see to it that we be with you in everything we do. Amen. [From The Book of Common Prayer (2019) (Huntington Beach, CA: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019; based on a quote from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.]
How can we diligently please God rather than men and remain faithful to Christ even in the face of rejection and persecution? Share your thoughts below.
Copyright © 2023 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.
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