The singular event in history revealing the evil in men’s hearts, is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the perfectly righteous Son of God. Yet, that same evil is at work in every generation as is clear from Jesus’ final declaration in the beatitudes. Those described in the previous beatitudes as humble, mourning over sin, meek, longing for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers, find themselves the objects of persecution. “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” (Matt. 5:10-12). So what is the blessing of persecution?
When Jesus first ascribes the cause of persecution to righteousness (“for righteousness sake”) and then to himself (“on my account”), he brings needed clarity. With all the clamoring over questionable “civil rights” in our day, we can easily miss the true focus of the battle. Every human being has an inner desire to be right (worthy of approval). The Christian holds that God’s standard of righteousness is eternal and unchanging, and is embodied perfectly and exclusively in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Persecuted Church
To learn more about the persecuted church around the world and how you can pray for our brothers and sister in Christ, visit Voice of the Martyrs.
If we fail to suffer persecution, it may be due to our lack of clarity. When making our case for the righteous life, where do we turn first? Do we rely on statistics, survey results, or experts? Is our defense based on what promotes physical well-being, economic stability, strong families, or societal harmony? When judging rightness, wherever we go first is what we hold sacred. “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to give a reason to anyone who ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). When we declare the absolute necessity of an imputed righteousness obtained only through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the battle lines are drawn. The good and acceptable life is found only in Christ’s kingdom. It is here that we are blessed to suffer persecution.
Yet, though the persecutors may intend it for evil, God intends it for our good. Like gold that must be separated from less valuable materials through powerful abrasive, cleansing, and purifying forces, the true Christian is refined from this world and made ready for heaven through persecution. Patient endurance through persecution reveals the genuineness of our faith, which is actually “more precious than gold that perishes” (1 Peter 1:7) and marks us as those “of whom the world is not worthy” (Heb. 11:38). If Christ warns us to not cast our pearls before pigs (Matt. 7:6), do not think he will allow the jewels of his kingdom to remain long under the feet of wicked men.
Likewise, persecution for Christ’s sake brings greater honor than any glory this world has to offer. Moses turned down the glory of Egyptian royalty, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God” because “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:25-26). In Acts 5, there is no mention of the apostles rejoicing when miraculously released from prison (though doubtless they did), but after they are arrested again and beaten, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). What an honor to bear the wrath of man for him who bore the wrath of God for us.
Make no mistake, not one blow, curse, snub, or insult will go unnoticed. The church is his bride, his joy, the apple of his eye. When evil men sought to bury Stephen under a pile of rocks, Jesus stood ready to honor and welcome his faithful servant into heavenly bliss (Acts 7:55-59). Those who bear the reproach of his cross for a season, will wear a glorious crown for eternity (Rev. 2:10; Jas. 1:12).
In addition, we experience sweeter fellowship as we share in Christ’s sufferings. Our sufferings have no atoning value and can do nothing to affect our standing with God. However, when we suffer for our faithfulness to Christ, we follow in his steps in a more true sense than any trip to the Holy Land could ever accomplish.
Paul wanted to know, not only the “power of [Christ’s] resurrection,” but also to “share his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). He rejoiced that the Philippians were united with him in suffering for the sake of Christ (Phil. 1:29). Persecution drives away nominal Christians and clarifies the church’s chief focus, thus producing greater unity and sweeter fellowship. In fact, resurrection power is most clearly seen as God comforts his people in the midst of their suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-11).
Indeed, the fellowship of the cross is a glorious one. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:14). May God grants us the unwavering faith that leads to persecution and the grace to rejoice when it comes.
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