Matthew 5:10-12 (ESV)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
As the Beatitudes unfold, each reveal a different aspect of the blessings of God that are given to those in Christ Jesus. These blessings include the kingdom of Heaven, being comforted, inheriting the earth, finding satisfaction, receiving mercy, seeing God, and being called children (sons) of God. How blessed we are!
God’s blessings certainly have a profoundly positive impact on our lives. But our motives for receiving God’s blessings and His purposes for blessing us come into question as the Beatitudes conclude.
In Matthew 5:10, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed are those who are persecuted? Indeed!
Jesus isn’t referring to persecution that results from driving too slow or a coworker giving you a hard time for something work-related. He is speaking of persecution for righteousness’ sake.
So what does “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” mean? It’s persecution that comes because of our faith in Jesus Christ, for sharing the Gospel, for doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord or even just because we’re Christians and people hate us for it.
Have you ever lost a friend because of your faith? Have you ever shared the Gospel with someone who got mad at you or threatened you physically? Did you ever get attacked just for being a Christian?
Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” He also said in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
It is inevitable that if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you will be persecuted. But it’s much more than inevitable, it’s biblical!
Jesus says in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” In Matthew 10:22, He said, “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
This persecution can go way beyond losing a friend, someone using harsh words against you or threatening you just for being a Christian. Being a follower of Christ may cost you your life!
Open Doors USA, a leading watchdog group on Christian persecution worldwide, identified 2016 as the “worst year yet” for Christian persecution since the organization began monitoring persecution. The leading country for Christian persecution in the world is North Korea with Somalia at #2 and Afghanistan ranked third. You can view the World Watch List here. The United States is not one of the 50 countries listed on the Watch List for Christian persecution.
In many of these countries, you can be tortured or put to death just for having a Bible, sharing your faith, meeting as a church or simply being outed “for being a Christian.” There are thousands of believers who are martyred each year, driving many under the radar to do kingdom work underground.
The definition of a martyr is “a person who is killed because of his religious or other beliefs.”
Did you know that the word martyr means “witness” in the original Greek?
This may go a long way to explain why so few Christians are persecuted in America. Are we really His witness to others or do we attempt to hide our faith to avoid persecution? Do we share what the Bible says or do we dance around difficult passages so people like us and like our message?
In the Book of Acts, we read about a man named Stephen who was one of the first deacons in the early church. He was a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) and being “full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).
After false allegations were made against him, he said to the Jewish leaders, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).
What was their response?
“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:54-60).
Stephen became the first Christian martyr recorded in Scripture. What he said to them was true. They were responsible for turning Jesus over to the Romans for execution. But their hearts were hard and their eyes blind to the reality of who Jesus was so they killed him.
While being martyred for our faith is not common in America (yet), there are martyrs around the world who are killed every single day just because they are a Christian.
In Matthew 13:21-22, Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” In Matthew 10:22, Jesus said, “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.“
The implications of enduring persecution to the end has eternal significance.
So how can we who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake be happy? 1 Peter 4:12-19 offers insight.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And
‘If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
If our motivation to receive God’s blessings are for this life only, then happiness will not be found during persecution. But if we embrace persecution for righteousness’ sake and are even willing to give up our lives for God’s glory, then we can truly rejoice knowing our reward awaits us in eternity with our Lord forever! How much more blessed can we be than that?
Father, thank you for all that you are doing through the persecuted church. People are coming to faith in Jesus Christ because believers are living out this glorious Beatitude around the world. I pray for those who are being persecuted – not to take away their persecution but to sustain them in the midst of enduring it. For believers who have never experienced persecution, I pray that they would be bold enough for your kingdom and reject fear of persecution so people would be saved through their endurance. For your glory forever and ever, Amen!
Thank you for reading my Daily Bible Journal!
Reading, reflecting and writing from the Bible has so radically impacted my life in Christ, it’s as if I’ve been on auto-pilot when reading the Bible in the past. There’s something about “sitting with the text” and through prayerful reflection, sharing what comes to mind. Because I’m posting online for others to read, I consider my words carefully and try to be clear and accurate.
This daily process enhances my understanding of God’s Word and embeds it into my conscience. It literally gets “hidden in my heart!”
I hope this encourages others to be in God’s Word every day.
For God’s Glory,