Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“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.
Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV)
I think that I can say, without fear of contradiction, that nobody really enjoys being persecuted. So how can Jesus say that those who are undergoing persecution are blessed. I mean, isn’t persectution, by defintion, all about being mistreated, tortured, even killed? But here is Jesus saying that, if that is your situation, you are absolutely blessed.
Although it might seem strange to us, Jesus really does mean what He is saying here. Today, in America’s secularized society, an undercurrent philosophy exists, even among churchfolks, that this life really is all that there is, and so, if God is going to bless you for your righteousness, then it must come here in this world. And some have even added to this that if He can’t for some reason get all of your blessings in during this life, then there must be away for you to be reincarnated so that you can get the good things coming to you in the next life. Such a world view rankles at the idea that being persecuted for righteousness is any kind of blessing, but is more an indication of something gone terribly wrong.
But all over the world today people are being persecuted merely for loving Jesus and obeying His commandments, such as preaching the gospel freely and making disciples of all nations. In fact, right now, there are over 50 countries in the world where people are regularly persecuted, tortured, financially discriminated against, and even killed for being a Christian. I regularly read the Voice of the Martyr’s magazine, and some of the stories are really heart-wrenching. But what is amazing is that, underlying all of the stories of pain and suffering and general angst during the persecution, there is also a strong note of faith, trust, hope, and a profound sense of God’s presence in the midst of all of that. Many of the people testify how their faith has been strengthened, and their sense of calling to be a witness intensified by their sufferings. Many also testify to how they have been moved by God to pray powerful prayers for their tormentors, and how they long for them to find forgiveness and eternal life.
Even though it might seem strange to consider, I think that these folks have something, a depth of faith and experience, that those of us who have never experienced that level of persecution, such as the American Church, are lacking. It seems to me that there is a depth of blessing that they experience that we can’t even begin to identify with. But it all goes to show that God really is faithful in delivering what He has promsed, even when it is counterintuitive.