Imagine youre getting ready for church. Imagine that you will be arriving at church at, say, 9:45 to attend Sunday School. Imagine that as part of getting ready for church, you have to get up, get breakfast for you and your children, get yourself ready, get your children ready, look for your Bible and Sunday School book, make sure Billy and Susie dont fight and get their clothes messy and dirty, fix your hair and makeup and press your clothes, etc., etc., etc.
Sounds like a hassle, doesnt it? For many people, it is. So many people get up on a Sunday morning, see the nice weather outside, think about all the things that need to be done to get ready to go to church, and they decide, Ah! This is too much trouble. Ill stay at home and watch Charles Stanley, or maybe I can go fishing or golfing. After all, Gods everywhere, isnt He? I can just worship Him out there (forgetting that lying --- even to yourself --- is a gross sin).
We as Americans are all about convenience and comfort, speed and efficiency. We love our highs, do all we can to avoid the lows, and keep pain and a safe distance whenever possible. And that mindset, my friends, has spilled over into the church.
When many of us come to church, we want to be entertained, lifted up, told how great God is, how much He loves us, and how much of a success Hell make us. We want to hear how Hell fix our finances, our marriages, our jobs, our everything. We want to be (and are often told) that Christianity is easy if we just have faith and do everything God tells us.
Now, with that mindset firmly in place, we come to this portion of Jesus Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:11-12:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).
The other seven Beatitudes were a bit contrary to what we are used to, but this Beatitude goes so far against what the world holds to (and to what we as Christians hold to). But Jesus is making one thing abundantly clear: if you are going to be Kingdom People and live by the first seven Beatitudes, expect the eighth. It is not something that just happens to Christians in the 1st century lions dens or missionaries in the Philippines or Yemen --- it is part and parcel of being Kingdom People.
Christ encourages us with a number of things in this passage.
When we are persecuted because of Christ, we must remember that
1. We are blessed.
Someone once said, The way of this world is to praise dead saints and persecute living ones. That is so true. Yet, Jesus says that those of us who are persecuted are blessed. Remember, to be blessed means to have been shown approval --- in this case, by God Himself. In a world that desires convenience and comfort, Jesus says that when you are sharing my Word to others that these conveniences and comforts go right out the window.
Too many preachers want to soften the Gospel and make it more palatable so more people will come to Christ. They need to re-read their New Testament and see the example of our Savior. He has always been very straightforward with us and has never softened the message in order to attract followers. In fact, He tells us the Gospels that if we are going to follow Him, we need to count the cost.
He tells us that if we are going to follow Him, we will be hated (John 15:18), be delivered up to tribulation and put to death (Matthew 24:9-10). If you read the entire book of Acts, you see how it is filled with the Apostles either being stoned like Stephen (Acts 7:53-58), martyred like James (Acts 12:2), imprisoned like Peter and Paul (read Acts 9-28!), and continually harassed by their opponents. The Apostle Paul even recounts the persecution he suffered in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28:
 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Now, you may say, Thats just the Apostles. That was a different age. We are in a more civilized society now. Oh? When William Booth started the Salvation army in 1865, he was opposed by a group called the Skeleton Army whose sole purpose was to disrupt the Salvation Armys proceedings. One Salvation Army officer came to a meeting loaded down with dead cats and rats; he explained these had been thrown at him; and that he caught and held the dead animals because if he dropped them, they would be picked up and thrown at him again. Pots of human urine were often dumped on them. Beatings were not uncommon. In 1889, at least 669 Salvation Army members were assaulted --- some were killed and many were maimed. This Skeleton Army would storm their meeting halls by the hundreds, broke out the window panes, and wrecked the inside of buildings. At first the police did little to stop it. Instead of helping they frequently harassed Booth and his followers (Richard Collier, The General Next to God, London: Collins, 1965. p. 175.)
There have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than there have in all the other centuries of Christian history combined. Yet, we often want to avoid persecution. We want to spare our lives and keep our comfortable lifestyle while millions slip into eternity without Christ.
Yet, if we are willing to realize our poverty in sin, to mourn over our sin, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be instruments of peace in reconciling a sinful humanity to a holy God --- that lifestyle will bring persecution. Count on it! Are we willing to stay the course and not compromise? If so, we have gained the approval of God --- which counts as infinitely more than the approval of man, does it not?
2. We are to celebrate.
Not only are we blessed when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, but we are also to celebrate. Jesus says, Rejoice and be glad! In Acts 5, the Apostles were brought into court for preaching the name of Jesus. They were punished by flogging. What was their reaction? Did they cry? Did they wish they were dead? Did they compromise because they wanted the court to look favorably on them? It says, They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. There is a joy in standing up for Christ. There is a strength that comes in the midst of the fiercest spiritual battles when we lean on Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was such a man. In Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, the Confessing Church (that is, the church that confessed Jesus as Lord rather than the German nation or Hitler as Lord) was suffering much hardship from the Nazis. Whereas many German churches were following Hitlers lead, even to the point of putting flags with that dreadful Swastika in the churches, Bonhoeffer led the Confessing Church to say, We will only pay allegiance to Christ --- Him alone we confess.
As a result, Bonhoeffer was arrested. And on April 9, 1945, he was led to the gallows and was there executed. Those looking on noticed that Bonhoeffers countenance had no sign of fear but one of peace. He knew that there was nothing that anyone could do to his soul --- he would be in the hand of God and in his presence soon.
And thats why we celebrate. Jesus says, Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. This gives us a perspective, doesnt it? It sure did for Paul. In 2 Corinthians 4:17, he writes, For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Slight? Momentary? Pauls whole Christian life was in a constant state of persecution.
But He rejoiced because (1) Paul and all others who suffer for Christ are identified with Christ. Remember John 15:18: if they hate Christ, they will hate you. And (2) through Jesus Christ, eternity with Him awaited Him. And considering the price that Jesus paid for Him, how could he not give his all for the One who died for Him?
3. We are in good company.
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Every man and woman of God in Scripture, every man and woman of God in church history who lived a life of holiness and commitment before God in Christ has endured trials and tribulations. You read the accounts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel and the lions den, Jonah, Hosea and his relationship with his adulterous wife, even John the Baptist. Read Foxes Book of Martyrs and how the disciples of Jesus were flayed alive, boiled in oil, crucified upside down, or exiled on a lonely island. Read the exploits of Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Bunyan, David Brainerd, John Calvin, John Knox, and others who cared nothing for the things of this world --- just so long as the Gospel was preached and the lost were reached.
My question is this: are our lives that distinct from the world due to our faith and love and devotion to Jesus Christ that people notice the difference? Has the cross of Christ and Jesus shed blood so washed away that old nature and that sin that we stand out as fools for Christ? First Corinthians 1:18 says that the preaching of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
You may say, Goodness! I dont want any part of that. Jesus says, If youre ashamed of me on earth, Ill be ashamed of you before my Father in Heaven. Will you shy away from persecution, or will you pursuit our Savior no matter what the price?
Copyright (c) 2003 by Daily Pursuit Ministries. All rights reserved.