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.”
If there is anyone entitled to NOT feel blessed, it would be those who are undergoing active persecution. I’m not talking about those who fall out of public favor, or have some rights curtailed. Those may be precursors to the persecution that follows, but are in themselves merely symptoms of swimming against the current of popular opinion.
There are those right this minute who are experiencing pain, suffering, and loss of friends, family, jobs, and property; those who are languishing in prison, or who are healing from their latest beating, all because they refuse to turn away from their faith in God. They are not even willing to compromise that faith in any way to save themselves or their loved ones, because they know that this life is temporary anyway, and that this struggle they are undergoing is just a small part of a cosmic-scale battle that is being fought.
As I said, these people have every right to NOT feel blessed in the midst of their sufferings for the sake of the gospel. But the vast majority of them realize that they really are blessed. They know that they are blessed because they experience God’s presence in their lives in the midst of their suffering in ways that those who live comfortably in their faith simply can’t. They experience God’s power and wisdom, and they even experience miracles that help validate their testimony to their persecutors.
But they also realize that they are not alone in suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom. They are standing in a long line of faithful witnesses and martyrs who stood their ground no matter what. Even the great prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel were persecuted because they stood firm, kept speaking God’s words, and never compromised. And in return, they have received a great reward in heaven.
Jesus told His disicples that they would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), and that there would even be people who would persecute them believing that they were doing God a favor (John 16:2). But He also told them to take heart, or to be courageous, because through His death and resurrection He had already overcome the world, and assured His followers of their own victory, as long as they remained true (John 16:33 again).
The exalted Jesus made many amazing promises to the seven Churches of Asia, all of them made specifically to those who persevered, overcame and stood firm to the end, regardless of the persecutions that they would undergo (Revelation 2 and 3).
God still delivers the great blessings of His presence, His power, His grace, and His wisdom to those who are being persecuted for their faith in Him. And there are more and greater blessings waiting for them in heaven after they have stood firm to the end.
Father, it is so easy for us to lose sight of the big picture when things are going badly in our lives – and most of us have never actually experienced real persecution! Help us to stand firm, and to fearlessly follow Your agenda, knowing that, even if the enemies of the gospel persecute us mercilessly, and even kill our bodies, they can do no more than that, and a great reward awaits us in Your presence after we have overcome. Amen.