Today’s Reading: Matthew 5:10-12 (HCSB)
Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me.Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Today’s Question: What is the worst someone has ever treated you? Why did they do this to you?
It seems ironic that Christians are persecuted. Who would have an issue with a peacemaker who is humble, broken over their own sin, and gentle with others? Looking at this from another angle, who would have a problem with Jesus? Many people took issue with the Savior. Some were so angry and filled with hate that they devised a plan to kill Him. The first group to do this were not the Pharisees in Jerusalem, but the family, “friends,” and neighbors in Jesus’ small hometown of Nazareth. (see Luke 4:28-30)
There is a reason people hated Jesus; and this is the same reason people will hate the followers of Christ. We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Jesus explained the root problem in John 3:19-20 declaring, “The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.” (HCSB)
Christians may expect that persecution can come from those who openly oppose the name of Christ, outspoken and irreverent atheists who look for every platform possible to spew blasphemous phrases at “ignorant” people. While this is one form of persecution, another may be more surprising and catch the follower of Christ off-guard. Most persecution comes from within. This abuse can originate from family members, co-workers who pretend to be a friend, and even members of one’s church. The following quote is a true statement: “Not everyone in the church is a genuine believer (Mt 7:21, 22, 23-see notes Mt 7:21; 22; 23) but are professors. When they encounter a real, radical regenerate man or woman, who is filled with and empowered by the Spirit of Christ, they are taken aback and this sets the scene for persecution in one form or another. And although it can be very subtle by religious folk, it is still very painful.” (preceptaustin.org)
Clarence Jordan observed, “It is difficult to be indifferent to a wide-awake Christian. You can hate them or love them, but you can’t ignore them. Wide-awake Christians confront others with the reality of God. You can’t be neutral in such cases. These people must be crowned or crucified, because they are either mighty right or mighty wrong.”
So did these words of Christ to His first disciples come true? What happened to the early church leaders? James was beheaded, Phillip was crucified, Matthew was killed by the sword, the other James was stoned to death, Matthias was stoned and then beheaded, Andrew hung on a cross for three days, Peter was crucified upside down, Simon the Zealot was also crucified, Bartholomew was beaten to death and Thomas was speared. While John was not martyred, he was exiled onto an island and left to die. (preceptaustin.org)
When we read the passage for today, we get stuck on the word persecution. Yet, we may miss the other three key words of this passage. Note that four things happen in these verses. The follower of Christ is righteous before God (not sinless, but forgiven, sin-debt paid in full). Second, notice that Jesus offers the Kingdom of Heaven to those who trust in Him. Jesus commands the disciples to be glad and look at the reward that awaits them. The current affliction pales in comparison to the eternal promise of our Lord.
In the early years, many rulers and empires attempted to destroy Christianity. One of the early church leaders, Tertullian, noted that the church grew under persecution. Therefore he concluded, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” What is the sacrifice worth today?
“Follow One, Lead Others” Principle #9: Disciples of Jesus recognize that persecution is a reality and choose to allow God to work through their circumstances rather than remove the abuse.
Today’s Prayer Point: Pray for those who are being persecuted (possible over half of the Christians in the world). Pray for their protection and God’s grace. Pray that we all would be light in difficult situations, even if it costs us our lives.