“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.” MT 5:1-12
This beatitude follows “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Peacemakers are those who seek to bring others into peace with God. And sharing Christ often calls forth persecution, rejection, and reviling.
Ultimately, Satan is behind persecution of Christians, because any harm he does us pains Christ. But we conquer him through Jesus, who gives us the sword of his Spirit – his word, the shield of faith, and prayer.
Unbelievers will often hate or dislike us as well, because the gospel and our transformed lives highlight their opposition to God.
When people huddle in a dark room doing wicked things they’re fine, till someone flips on a blazing light. Then they scream, “Hey, turn out the light!” They do this because “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” John 3:20
The righteousness of Christians stands in stark contrast to unbelievers’ unrighteousness, as with Cain and Abel:
And why did he [Cain] murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 1 John 3:12-13
The government of Eritrea stuffs Christians into metal shipping crates. The Chinese government imprisons and tortures Christians as well. Most of us won’t suffer this kind of extreme persecution, but every believer will suffer for his faith in one way or another. Jesus said that people will “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
My son’s first week in college a prof said, “Everyone who’s educated nowdays believes in evolution.” In other words, if you believe in creation, you’re an uneducated dolt. A friend of mine lost his job for refusing to do something illegal his boss required. Years ago in a meeting of the teachers in the elementary school where I worked, one teacher asked a question about the Bible. One man mockingly said to the whole group, “I don’t know, let’s ask the preacher” – meaning me, because I had shared my faith with a few other teachers. Everybody laughed. That’s nothing compared to what some experience, but the point is, if we try to live for Jesus and especially if we tell others about him, eventually we’ll be mocked or reviled in some way.
But how is persecution a BLESSING? To rejoice when reviled seems like a paradox.
The blessing is this: The kingdom of heaven is ours (MT 5:10). Suffering for Christ proves we’re one with him, and all that’s his belongs to us. And suffering for Jesus will gain a GREAT reward:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12
We aren’t to endure suffering stoically, but REJOICE, and BE GLAD, for our reward is GREAT – like the prophets’ reward – “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” No one will be disappointed in heaven. None will say, “I suffered all that for this?” We’ll say, “My suffering seemed great at the time but it pales in comparison to THIS!
Remember, our reward is IN HEAVEN. So keep let’s keep our eyes on the prize and rejoice when we suffer for Jesus.
Why not take a moment to pray for suffering believers in Eritrea, China, North Korea, and other countries?
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Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter.
Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.