#12 in the Sermon on the Mount series
I have put off writing about this Beatitude because it is uncomfortable to think about persecution as being part of God’s plan for me or my family. I would like to be able to subscribe to the belief that with enough faith, I can live a comfortable life without problems. This message of prosperity and comfort is the message of the TV preachers, but unfortunately, it is not the message of Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t promise unlimited blessings or comfort in this life. Jesus promises a cross, hardship and persecution. Continuing in the Sermon on the Mount he says:
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.
Notice that Jesus puts some qualifiers in his statement. First we are only blessed if the accusations are false. Christians are called to live exemplary lives and any accusations of evil should have no truth to them. In my lifetime many highly visible leaders and teachers in the church have fallen into sin and have been publicly disgraced and ridiculed. This ridicule is not a cause for reward.
Secondly, the persecution that is blessed comes from accurately representing Jesus Christ. Notice the phrase at the end of verse 11, “because of me.” Many things have been done in the name of Christ of which Jesus does not approve; these are justly condemned. For example, much of the rhetoric of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas is contrary to Scripture and as Paul would say, “their condemnation is just.” These folks misrepresent the name of Christ and any persecution they receive is not a cause for rejoicing nor will it be rewarded in Heaven.
Why would God allow persecution of those He loves? This is a difficult question in general and it may be impossible to answer why any particular instance of persecution is permitted. Yet Scripture does give us some clues as to why we may be called to suffer.
Later in this same discourse, Jesus tells us that we are to allow the light of the Gospel that is within us to shine so that men may “see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In the history of the church, those who have borne unjust persecution for the sake of Christ have demonstrated the good works of which Jesus speaks.
Because we live in a fallen world, everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, has to endure hardship and trials. How we respond to those trials is an indication of where our faith and hope are placed. When a Christian is falsely accused as a result of his faith, God can use the Christian’s response as a testimony to his accusers and the spectators of God’s power to change lives. The blessing comes as a result of being used by God as a light to draw others to Jesus.
While we may wish to live a quiet life free from conflict and hassle, Jesus tells us here that our desire may not be in his plan. No healthy person looks for suffering, but we should not be surprised if we find ourselves in hardship as a result of our relationship with Jesus.
In John 16:33 Jesus tells us “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” We can be blessed as a result of persecution because Jesus has overcome the world. In Christ we are on the winning side.