Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV): “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.”
Many people think it strange that Jesus should call those undergoing persecution “blessed.” But, as always, He had it right. In this case, though, for the opposite reason that most people think. It is not that persecution is a blessing; persecution actually comes to those who ARE ALREADY blessed.
As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) This was not idle speculation, but exactly what Paul himself had learned from Jesus (John 15:20, Mark 10:30), and what had been reinforced by his own experience. (2 Corinthians 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:4) When the disciples were mistreated for obeying God’s words, they rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41) And, of course, the persecution just made them more willing than ever to keep on going, because it showed that they were on the right track.
Persecution is not God’s plan, His design for His people. It is not what He intends to have happen, and He does not consider the persecution itself the blessing. But in the sin-broken world in which God’s people do the work of the kingdom, and live kingdom lives, it will always be the result. When light enters the realm of darkness, there will always be an immediate reaction, because the two are opposed to each other. Sometimes the darkness will immediately surrender, and allow itself to be changed into light by the light. Frequently, though, the darkness feels threatened by the light and goes on the attack, trying to maintain its own character by extinguishing the light. That is what we are witnessing today with atheists and humanists attempting to do away with religion in the public arena. They feel threatened by the light shining forth from God’s people, and are trying to put it out or, failing that, to keep it far from them. They will deny their fear, saying that they are only protesting something that is not real; but they don’t protest the Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy with the same vigor, because those things don’t threaten the darkness within them. And it is amusing, if you think about it, that when they raise a stink, protesting theism in general and Christianity specifically, and leveling attacks at Christians, they are actually fulfilling the very words of a book that they consider a myth with no prophetic value!
The fact is, if God’s people do live holy lives and lives of obedience to God’s word, they will be fruitful, but they will also be persecuted. When that happens, they must not grow discouraged or stop obeying – that’s what shallow soil people do (cf. Matthew 13:21). Instead, they need to push forward all the more, rejoicing that, despite the persecutions, they live lives that are blessed because of God’s presence, and rejoicing that they are a part of a rich legacy, right along with the prophets and saints of old.
Father, thank You for this fresh perspective on this vital topic. Help us ALL to be more bold in living for You, even in times that seem increasingly dark. We are lights you have lit, and have no right to hide ourselves under a bowl. Help us to brightly shine, no matter what, and to count ourselves blessed, even when we are persecuted. Amen.
An abundant life does not show itself in abundant dreaming, but in abundant living – in abundant living among real, tangible objects, and to actual and practical purposes.
Henry Drummond – The City without a Church