MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 10
Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In the last meditation we said that this and the previous verse go together in that they are practical outworkings of the Christian faith. Verse 9 was about how we express our relationship with God by reaching out to others to bring them to the place where they can receive the same peace with God through Christ that we have received. This verse is about how those who do not want to know about that peace respond hostilely to us.
Nobody likes the thought of persecution yet it is a part of the Christian experience. Jesus told his disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (Jn 15;20). The apostle Paul taught, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12). Persecution is purposeful opposition and the reason for it is given in our verse today and the verse we’ve just quoted. We will be opposed because we live righteous and godly lives and that righteousness and godliness shows up the unrighteousness and ungodliness in the people of the world who have set their hearts against God. In the same way they rejected Jesus’ goodness, so they will reject ours. However when we read the New Testament, we should also note that as much as there were times of persecution (Jn 4:1-, 5:17-, 6:12-, 8:1, 9:23, 12:1- etc) there were also times where, with the blessing of God, the church knew favour with the people and peace (Acts 2:47, 9:31).
Is it possible to win the favour of the people? Yes, it clearly is, by expressing God’s love and power and goodness to bring blessing to the world. Nevertheless there will be those who, despite this, will rise up against God’s people because that love and goodness shows them up for what they are. There will be those who are open to the enemy and will be used by him to make life uncomfortable for believers. However, the worst that they can do is kill God’s people and in both the early church and today there are martyrs for the faith. Some people God does allow to walk through death – Stephen (Acts 6 & 7) was an example of this. Others the Lord delivers miraculously – Peter was an example of this (Acts 12) though tradition has it that he was eventually put to death for his faith, as did ten of the eleven remaining apostles – John being the exception, who died of old age in exile.
How should we view persecution? Well not as something we should bring upon ourselves by our insensitive and careless speaking or behaviour, for we should always seek to express the love and grace and humility of God. The apostles considered it something that should not hinder them (see their prayer in Acts 4:23 -30) and in fact they rejoiced that God trusted them to cope with it (Acts 5:41). Rather than be negative about it, Jesus instructed that we should be positive and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). Note, pray FOR not against. Paul added, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Rom 12;14) How powerful is that! Don’t curse people the enemy uses, but seek God’s blessing on them. Pray for them to come to know Christ. Ask God to bless them. That is the instruction of the New Testament.
You want a reward? Yours is the kingdom of heaven! Yes, when we suffer for Christ, he comes close and manifests his presence, manifests the presence of heaven, the rule of God from heaven, here on earth. This is both a now and then thing. It is ‘now’ in that we will know the sovereign move of God in whatever way He decides to come in the present circumstances (e.g. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31), and it is ‘then’ in that there is a place reserved for us in eternity. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:3).
How did Jesus endure the persecution of the Cross? Well, one way was to look beyond it to what would follow. Similarly for us, history shows us that often those who were being persecuted looked beyond what was happening to what they would receive at the end. In the meantime the apostle Paul coped by the knowledge of God saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). In the trial of persecution, the word and history testify to this truth, that whatever God puts before us, or allows to be put before us, His grace will be there for us to help us see it through. Until it happens we can’t imagine it, but it WILL be there. Fear not, the Lord said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5).