Each of Jesus’ beatitudes are counter-intuitive in that they pronounce blessings on ones that we don’t usually think of as blessed. But the last one is particularly counter the way we would normally think of things. Remember in each of these blessings, Jesus isn’t so much telling us that we ought to develop the different traits as he is looking at those who are poor in spirit or mourning and grieving in life and telling them they are blessed, loved and accepted by God. But look at the last of these statements, the one that would have caused the most confusion in the group. “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.”
Have you ever been persecuted because of your faith in Christ? Perhaps closer to home for most of us would be, have you been insulted or had bad things said about you because of your teaching things you believe the Bible teaches? Likely most people who are devoted to Christ have had some form of such persecution, even though we would say that it is slight compared to what those early Christians went through or what many go through in different parts of the world today because of their faith in Christ. How do you react when you have something ugly or mean said about you when you are trying your best to do what is right and good? How do you handle it if you learn that someone at church has started a rumor about you that has spread among many and that it is obvious some are believing it and seem to be relishing the thought rather than coming to your defense? It is extremely easy to get angry, to feel sorry for oneself and cry out, “why me?” I think of the picture painted by the Book of Revelation of the Christians who had been murdered for their faith in Christ and John pictures them under the altar, crying out, “How long O Lord, holy and true, do you not avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” God’s answer to them was to wait for the proper time. In the next chapter they are pictured as being dressed in white robes and the Lord is leading them by everlasting fountains of water and God wipes all tears from their eyes. I can certainly understand and feel with those saints who were struggling with their persecution and untimely death for their faith, can’t you?
Yet Jesus looked at these kinds of situations and declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” It should stand out that when one lives a life of purity of heart, mercy and peacemaking, it won’t usually lead to everyone talking about what a great person you are. Instead, such a life of striving to help and make things better in the world too often leads to resentment and even revenge. Jesus said, when such persecution happens, you are blessed and the kingdom of Heaven belongs to you. God’s kingdom is the reign of God as King in our life. Later in chapter 6:33 he told us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. When we seek the reign of God in our life it leads to living righteously in the world. But why would people persecute the person who is trying to do good, right and be a helpful person in the world? Why would one living such a life have their motives questioned and be attacked so often by others who share their faith in Christ?
Growing up on a farm back in Alabama I saw something happen many times that was amazing to me as a child. If a mother hen had lots of little chickens to hatch and she had a large brood of little chickens, it would often be the case that one of the chickens was different. They would often be a different color from the others, and usually different from the mother hen. Every time this happened unless you removed that little chicken that was different from the others, the mother hen would peck it to death. The first time I remember seeing that happen I was totally confused and remember asking my mother why the hen would kill that little chicken. Her answer stood out with me through the years. “That little chicken was different from the others and she couldn’t stand for any of her chicks to be different from the rest.” If life, even if the difference among people is good, beneficial and for the betterment of society, we still tend not to like the one who is different and attack them in whatever way we can. Jesus said, when you live the life He calls us to live we would have such persecution. Later the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “all those who live godly in this present world will suffer persecution.”
We may cry out, “It isn’t fair” but the fact is, life is seldom fair. So, how are we to react as followers of Jesus when persecution, insults and evil gossip goes on about us? First, if the gossip or evil said has truth to it, our reaction should be to humbly repent of the sin with the will to change our life. I’m sure when David had Nathan the prophet say to him that he was the man that had done the wrong and mistreated his neighbor, David felt persecuted. But his reaction wasn’t to defend himself, but to declare, “Against you, you only have I sinned and committed this great iniquity, O God.” Second, if the persecution is false and we didn’t do anything wrong, then, forgive the culprit as Jesus did for those who nailed him to the cross. In Romans 12 Paul challenged us to overcome evil with good and not to seek revenge when mistreated but to submit to God who says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” But the huge challenge from Jesus is to look at the wrong done to us and “rejoice and be glad.” Why in the world would we rejoice over such abuse? Because our reward is great in heaven and because that is the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before us.
Nothing the world does in the form of persecution or mistreatment can compare with the tremendous blessings that God will bring us when we get to heaven. Plus, it is often the case that many great blessings from the Lord come to us in this life. Overcoming such hurt will open doors for us to be helpful to others who are going through times of hurt, disappointment and mistreatment in the world. Over in I Peter 2 he discussed times of persecution that had now fallen on the church. They were suffering and many were terribly discouraged because of it. Peter said, “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” That is our calling before God. When we handle our struggles in the same way it is a powerful witness for God that may well lead even the persecutors to faith as well.