Blessed in Persecution?
Blessed in Persecution?
Have you ever noticed that people without kids are quick to give you advice on how to discipline yours? Or someone who can’t play a radio will be your worst musical critic? It’s kinda that way in life...
We’re a nation of arm-chair quarterbacks. We like to coach from the cheap-seats. Or better yet... we like to complain, critique and downgrade... from behind the comfort of a computer screen. Social media has revealed in vivid clarity just how ugly we can be to one another. Just look at Facebook community groups. It’s 99% reaction, and 90% of that’s negative.
You have to develop a thick skin.
But that’s nothing new. Jesus even said that following him - walking in the Way, the Truth and the Life - always requires a certain amount of toughness. Because if you and I are genuinely faithful - if we’re really trying with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, to life a life of faith and righteousness - we’re gonna upset some people along the way. There’s a price, a cost, to following Christ.
Of course, today, we’ve come to the last of the Beatitudes. But this one’s different... it’s not just one short line... Jesus expounds a bit, giving a little more detail. In fact, some say, rather than calling this Beatitude the “last one” - we should call it, an “additional one.”
The number seven - in the bible - is a number of completeness and wholeness. And scholars and commentators say that AFTER giving 7 blessings for the poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers - that Jesus was now getting to the hard truth of the matter.
And that truth is: Living for Christ is costly. It’s not for everyone. Many will reject the Truth... they’ll reject the Gospel, and they’ll reject us, too.
But regardless, the promise of Christ... for those willing to pay the high costs for their faith... even those who are literally persecuted for living in and for the Kingdom - will be blessed. The promise is God’s blessings.
Of course, in our day... this moment... I’m fairly convinced that most people believe they’re being persecuted. We live in a perpetual state of offence! It seems most everyone is offended by something - and we project that offence as persecution.
But in the early Church, persecution wasn’t just a hypothetical projection or a self-centered head game. It was very present reality. It was real.
Christians were viewed with suspicion... they were pretty much forced to meet privately - outside the Synagogue - in house churches. And the greater the persecution, the more secretive they became: and that simply led to greater suspicion and more persecution!
The early Christians were accused of all sorts of things: from setting Rome on fire... to plotting to overthrow the government... to cannibalism (after all, they claimed to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ.)
So it’s no surprise that the early Christians suffered horrible atrocities and hardships because of their faith; on account of following Christ.
It makes me wonder, at times, about us - about me!
If being a follower of Christ meant there was a really good chance - a strong probability - that you and I’d be imprisoned, or tortured, or even killed - would we have to think twice before following Christ? If being a Christian meant being viewed suspiciously, being dealt with harshly... if it created a hardship finding a job, or providing for our family - if it meant being disowned by our loved ones, or being treated like an outcast in our community, would we be here today?
We actually live within a culture that (for the most part) has been tolerant and accepting of outward expressions of faith! It’s easy to be a Christian in America! Most politicians are still quick to tell you where they go to church... and some of us still consider that important.
And (looking around the sanctuary today) we are not the type to fall for the perpetual state of offensiveness that permeates our culture - and we don’t consider ourselves to have ever really experienced persecution: we still - for the most part - tend to think of persecution as something that happened a long time ago... in a galaxy far, far away. We don’t relate very well to real persecution.
Until we’re reminded of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world... who are still meeting behind closed doors because of the government, that forbids Christian gatherings. Or we see the images of Christians being lined up - and given the chance to convert to Islam - and when they refuse, they’re executed for all to see. Persecution... real persecution... is very much a thing of the present.
Still... you and I are blessed to live in a free land, where expression of faith is protected, and cherished, and honored. It’s part of what makes us unique, as Americans! It’s STILL the rare, freak occurrence, in our country - when someone is threatened or harmed because of their faith.
And even when we like to think we’re being persecuted, it’s never risen to the widespread level we see in other lands. It could happen here, we’re not immune by any means... freedom is always fragile, and tenuous... freedom of religious expression is a core civil right in this country, and if we’re not careful to defend it, we could certainly lose it, no doubt.
But having said all that... hear this...
There is (and there always has been) a price to pay for following Christ.
Think about it. Have you ever tried to be a good friend, or a good neighbor, or simply tried to help someone in need - tried to live in a way that honors Christ and makes the world better... AND instead of being thanked for the effort... you were attacked, ostracized... even criticized!
Have you ever tried hard to do the right thing - not the easy thing, or the profitable thing, or the most socially accepted (or politically correct) thing? Have you tried to live by the values of Christ - going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, forgiving until you lose count - and all you wound up getting was reproach, animosity, and contempt for you trouble?
Well, if so... you’re in good company - according to Jesus. Because that’s how they treated Jeremiah, and Amos, and Isaiah. You’re standing along side John the Baptist, and Peter... and Paul.
They were hated... rejected by their own families... beheaded, crucified upside down... and imprisoned on account of preaching the Good News. But they never, ever failed to keep the faith, and to speak the truth of God’s Word to those who needed to hear it.
And you know: following Christ requires of us no less. It’s a call to take a stand... to speak the truth in love, even when it hurts. And it will hurt sometimes.
I can’t imagine anyone reading the Gospels, and reflecting on the life of Christ, and committing their life to live like Christ - and then thinking they’ll somehow be spared trouble.
Those who get involved - those who participate - those who raise their voices - risk persecution. But they’re also the people, with the Holy Spirit’s help, who make the world different.
Jesus was clear. Following him is risky business. But the blessings outweigh the risk.
And ultimately... that’s what the Christian life amounts to... at its most basic level... it’s accepting God’s blessings. Accepting God’s love... grace... salvation. It’s all a gift. It’s all blessing.
The Beatitudes are a tremendous personal challenge for each of us... as they remind us that Christ calls us to “live right-side-up, in and upside-down world.”
He calls us to living life in the knowledge that we may be in this world, but we’re not of it! And as God’s Children, no matter what this life throws at us... we simply cannot escape God’s blessings!
Let’s take a chance on God’s blessings. Let’s stick our necks out for Christ’s sake - and for the sake of others.
Living for Christ may cause some discomfort - and could, possibly, lead to our persecution. But it always, always... leads to God’s blessings... which outweigh it all.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
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...”