A few days ago, I wrote an article on the American disciple of Jesus and how he or she relates to persecution. The disadvantage for the American Christian is that their entire faith experience has encased them in a bubble that virtually excludes persecution as even a possibility. It is unconsciously accepted as a “fact” that real persecution for the follower of Jesus does not occur in America. “Yes, it certainly happens to believers in other countries, but it doesn’t happen to us here.” Such is the general mindset in the American church.
I do not share that confidence. It is my belief that real persecution is going to occur here in the not-too-distant future. There are simply too many warnings and teachings (and promises?) about persecution in the New Testament, and there is simply too much evil rising up on every side, for America to remain an island of refuge and safe from the heat. The Lord uses persecution as a way to test His saints, as a way to purify His church, and as a way to show His infinite worth when His saints choose to die rather than deny their Lord. The church in America and the saints in America are entitled to these benefits of persecution just as much as the believers in Nigeria or India. For these reasons, I am persuaded that the heat will soon rise.
So, as a result of this persuasion, I plan to post a series of articles on New Testament passages that address persecution so that believers in America can be prepared to stand firm rather than be surprised and shrink back.
But first, we need a definition for our topic so that we are talking about the same thing.
PERSECUTION – A DEFINITION: Significant suffering or loss intentionally inflicted on a follower of Jesus Christ by a person or group that opposes the Christian gospel and hates the person of Christ because the follower of Jesus has identified as a believer and/or has practiced their Christian faith.
OUR TEXT: MATTHEW 5:10-12
In this series of articles, we will discover that the New Testament is packed with verses that disclose the promised persecution that those who follow Jesus will experience, simply because they follow Him. In this post, we will begin near the beginning of the New Testament and cover two of the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:10-12.
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:10-12
THE BLESSINGS OF PERSECUTION
During His earthly ministry, Jesus made plain to all those who would follow Him that every disciple would need to pay a high cost. This cost was never in the small print, but always at the top of the contract, capitalized in bold type. Jesus is the King of kings, and anyone who would join themselves to His kingdom needs to be willing to surrender all for His name’s sake.
And so it is that after Jesus tells the listening crowd the characteristics of His disciples In Matthew 5:3-9, He tells that same crowd of the treatment that they will receive from those outside His kingdom.
The message of these verses is crystal clear: “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” What a strange message for the Son of God to proclaim! What a very unusual recruiting tool! Jesus has just begun His earthly ministry and, although there are large crowds of the curious, He has only a few real committed followers at this point. Then, with the crowd in the palm of His hand, on the edge of their seat, He delivers the thunderclap: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”
THE PARADOX OF PERSECUTION
Here is paradox! “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” Jesus Christ declares to His would-be followers a paradoxical truth. The very thing that causes our natural flesh to recoil in loathing is the source of the Lord’s blessing. How can this be? Persecution involves pain and loss as others vent their hatred on us simply because we follow Jesus. And yet Jesus promises us a blessing if we will be the recipient of persecution for His name’s sake.
THOUGHTS ON THIS PERSECUTION
You must boldly and intentionally raise the flag of Jesus if you will receive the blessing of persecution. Those who are timid and reluctant will go unnoticed by their would-be persecutors. These violent aggressors will overlook you or ignore you and thus you will miss out on the blessing. You must do a lot to be persecuted, especially in a relatively docile place like America. Let your reckless boldness for Jesus kindle the persecution.
In persecution, the believer is dependent on the hatred of others. Most of Christ’s promised blessings are dependent only on our activity, but the blessing of persecution is different. In persecution, the disciple of Jesus is passive and depends on the sinful behavior of Christ’s enemies to receive the promised blessing.
Persecution is received not for disobedient behavior but for boldly obedient behavior in a context that is known to be hostile to the gospel and hostile to Jesus. There is simply no other way to be persecuted. The disciple who would receive the blessing of persecution is the disciple who remains steadfast and immovable in the face of very real potential threats. This is the disciple who refuses to bow down even as they feel the heat of the fiery furnace. This is the disciple who prefers a context hostile to the gospel and has already decided that bold, visible obedience is not optional, but is just part of what it means to follow Jesus. This is the disciple who seeks the blessing of persecution.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted.” Those who have been persecuted declare that, not after death, but in the very experience of persecution, there is a sense of the Lord’s blessing. The blessing is in the persecution. All true believers will be glorified and will spend eternity in heaven with the Lord, but what will we experience in this life? The blessings of persecution can only be experienced here during this mortal life. Why not receive this blessing of persecution, also?
SDG rmb 6/29/2021 #418