MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 11
Mt 5:11,12 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.
There is dispute about whether today’s verses constitute one of the beatitudes and, in as far as it starts with “Blessed”, they are, yet beyond that they don’t have the same structure and seem to be more of the general teaching style that follows in the rest of the sermon. It also seems to simply be an extension of the last true beatitude. Why should Jesus do that? Well the previous beatitudes were clearly heart processes that lead to salvation, culminating in two practical outworkings of the Christian faith. Up to verse 10 they had all been things you could clearly see as workings of the Holy Spirit as He does His convicting work. The last beatitude however, is unique in that it isn’t His work, but the work of the enemy. For that reason Jesus’ listeners and subsequent readers, might have thought, “What? How can this be? Does he really mean this or has he just wandered in his thinking for a moment?”
The fact that he then repeats and enlarges on what he has just said, indicates that Jesus is quite serious in what he is saying and really wants us to take hold of it, and that in two particular ways. The first way is in respect of the fact of persecution itself. It is clear that the disciples had really struggled to take in what Jesus said a number of times about his own coming death. Sometimes we don’t hear things because we don’t want to hear them. We don’t like hearing bad things and persecution certainly comes in that category. So when Jesus wants us to take on board the unpleasant, he says it twice!
When he does that in these verses, he enlarges it and puts persecution in the midst of a group of things we might consider lesser forms of opposition or unpleasantness: people insulting us and speaking evil of us. The world today is very good at this and their insults will not only be to call us names but they will seek to marginalize faith and particularly seek to downgrade Christianity to the level of other world faiths. In Jesus’ time they accused him of threatening to tear down the temple in Jerusalem. Later on they accused Christians of cannibalism (eat my flesh – Jn 6:53). Today the tendency is more likely to be to ridicule the faith. In whatever form it comes it is still insult and speaking wrong of us.
The second thing that Jesus wants to ensure he conveys, because it goes against the grain, is the way we respond to such things. With outright persecution the advice might have been, “Run!” and in fact on one occasion that’s what the church in Jerusalem did (see Acts 8:1), but Jesus doesn’t say that, perhaps because it is the obvious thing and will happen anyway. We noted in the previous meditation how, later in the sermon, he told his followers to pray for those who persecute them. That really is facing up to persecution positively. Here in today’s verses it is almost worse: Rejoice and be glad. Rejoice when you are being hounded for your faith? Be glad when they are out to get you? Well that’s what Jesus says so don’t let’s try to spin it any other way!
Why rejoice? Because it puts you in the same category as all of those other servants of the Lord who, down through the years, have suffered for the faith (the prophets of the past). It puts you in the same category as Jesus himself (Jn 15:20) but, even more as we noted yesterday, there is coming a future reward for you when you enter heaven. There is indication in Scripture that we will be rewarded according to what we have done here, and especially if we have stood in the face of persecution. Perhaps, if we are going through a time of peace, we don’t appreciate this fully, yet the truth is that when you are going through it, the thought of the future eternity in heaven does help in a very real way, and the thought of our heavenly Father receiving us joyfully and praising us for the way we have coped (even if it is through His grace!) helps steady us in the face of what comes from the enemy.
So, do we only have a comfortable view of Christianity or a real view? Have we accepted the fact that there will be opposition and that God’s grace will be there for us? When people respond less than graciously towards us, do we pray graciously for them? These are very real challenges already for many people in the world today, and may become more so for many more of us in these last times.