Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Beatitudes: Persecuted Disciples

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

What does this persecution look like? This is not any persecution, but persecution for righteousness’s sake and for Jesus’ account. Mere persecution is not a sign that you are righteous. For persecution to be a sign of blessedness, it must be provoked by your righteousness or your connection to Jesus. Christians should not be like the soccer players who fake injuries to get the other side in trouble. You should pursue righteousness and faithfulness to Jesus, not victimhood. Leave it to others to provide the persecution - do not seek it as a goal.

What does suffering for righteousness’ or Jesus’ sake look like? It is the suffering you receive because you refused to join others in doing evil or to give them your approval. It is the suffering you receive because you stood up for what is righteous by defending the rights of God and man. It is the suffering you receive because you shared the gospel. It is the suffering you received because you persisted in confessing and serving your Lord, or simply because you are known as a Christian.

Persecution tests the quality of your righteousness and your faith in Jesus. If your righteousness and faith is merely done to gain the favor of man, then it will fade away when persecution arises. If your righteousness and faith is the true and heartfelt repentance described in these beatitudes that looks in hope to the promises of God, then it will remain steadfast amid trials.

This persecution can be expressed in variety of ways: you may be insulted, ridiculed, or slandered (“revile you … utter all kinds of evil against you falsely”); you may be rejected, disliked, or discriminated against; you may be hurt, punished, jailed, or even killed.

Why are those who are persecuted in this way blessed? They are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. This brings us back to the first beatitude, which includes the same blessing. The kingdom of heaven is the summary of all the other blessings. The disciples of Jesus have entered the kingdom of heaven and begun to enjoy its blessings. And Jesus goes on: rejoice and be glad! This is a matter of joy! Why? Because your reward is in heaven. This means that it is (1) from God, (2) eternal, (3) beyond this mortal life, and (4) incorruptible.

Furthermore, you shall prove to be true heirs of the saints of old. This is the way they treated the prophets before you, this is the way they treated Jesus, this is the way they treated the apostles, this is the way they treated the martyrs, the Reformers, the Puritans, the Covenanters and Huguenots, the missionaries of more modern times, your brothers and sisters across the world today - indeed Christians of all eras. Some have been more notable in their suffering, but something we generally share in common with all the saints is rejection by men.

How has your righteousness and faith in Jesus been tested by persecution? Do you remain faithful under trial? Is your commitment to righteousness and to Jesus such that it can bear the insults of the world?

In the last beatitude we learned to pursue peace. In this beatitude we are reminded to seek after righteousness as well, even when it provokes persecution. Not only should you pursue righteousness, but also joy. Jesus tells the disciples, "rejoice and be glad!" Rejoice not in the pain of the suffering, but in the blessings that are yours and the fellowship in suffering that you share with your Master and your fellow disciples. Do all of this as disciples of Jesus, holding fast to Him through trials, temptations, and ridicule. And know that your reward far surpasses all the blessings that men may seek in this life. As Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” concludes,

“And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

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