“Breaking Down the Beatitudes: Part 8″
by Matthew Rou, Junior
Campus News Journalist
“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.” (Matthew 5: 10-12)
Have you ever heard the saying, “Save the best for last”? Well, this ends the “blessed are” part of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Jesus sure packs a punch here. Who looks forward to persecution? No one that I know. But here’s the thing – Jesus didn’t suggest we MIGHT face persecution; He declared we WOULD. (“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33) So if persecution is something we will all face, how can we view it as a gift or something we will be blessed by?
First of all, this Beatitude is slightly different. It is certainly a paradox. It’s not one we would wish for; moreover, we would want to avoid it. Notice how Jesus makes it personal to His followers in the second part: “Blessed are YOU….” It is the only Beatitude with a command: “Rejoice and be glad…” We can’t ignore this. I think Jesus is saying that if we live out the previous 7 Beatitudes, then we will experience the 8th. The only question is HOW will we respond to persecution.
The dictionary defines persecution as hostility, ill-treatment, oppression, victimization, and abuse. Whoa. Isn’t Christianity supposed to be joy and peace and the baby in the manger? Well, we have it pretty good in America. My pastor gave some statistics I would like to share with you. In Mosul, a Christian is killed every 5 minutes – men, women, and children are beheaded or crucified in the streets. 300,000 Christians were killed last year in Sudan, and 75,000 in Syria. In Russia, there is an anti-proselytizing law; you can only talk about your faith privately in your house. Every 15 minutes in the world, someone is tortured or killed for the cause of Christ. But you see, even before Jesus came to earth to save us, God had a plan. Genesis 50:20 tells us: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
So, let me ask you a couple of uncomfortable questions. Where are you facing persecution? Thank God we do not face what I mentioned above, but as Christians, Jesus said we will be persecuted. My pastor said two things that rocked my core: “Maybe we have not faced persecution because those around us don’t see Jesus in our actions and words. Or maybe we look so much like the culture around us that we don’t stand out or stand up.” I don’t want that to be me. One of my life verses is Romans 1:16: “ For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” The Bible says that faith without action is dead in James 2:17. We don’t want to be like what Jesus described in the parable of the sower where the seeds that fell on rock withered when the sun came. Those seeds represent people who like the Gospel of Jesus for a while, but when it is unpopular and hated, they turn away from it. We are to rejoice in suffering as Paul says in Romans 5:3-5. (Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.)
Now this may be hard for you to accept, and it is. You will never wake up in the morning and say, “I am happy that I am going to get persecuted today.” Nobody likes persecution. No one wants enemies, but rather to have lots of friends. But you must realize that Jesus is not saying we should make enemies. Jesus never made enemies; He showed love to everybody, and we are supposed to love our enemies. Why do we have enemies? The only answer is Jesus. Jesus said in John 15:18-21 that those who hate us, hated Him in the first place. Because they did not listen to Jesus, they will not listen to us. That doesn’t mean we should become lazy and complacent in America. Just remember how hard it is to be a Christian in other countries.
Remember that the blessing in this Beatitude is the kingdom of heaven. So what is a bit of persecution here compared to heaven? Paul says in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings are not worthy the glory that is awaiting us.” This earth is temporary; heaven is eternal. This earth is flawed; heaven is perfect. This earth is disappointing; heaven is satisfying. In fact, what if our persecution is going to lead people to Jesus? What if people see our optimism and want to become Christians themselves? This is something that can occur out of such a tragedy. We should not think that other Christians did not face this; they did, and God used it for good.
Three persecuted Christians that I admire actually laid down their lives for Jesus and caused a ripple effect for the gospel: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rachel Scott, and Jim Elliot. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who lived when Adolf Hitler came to power. Bonhoeffer warned his fellow Germans of Hitler and called him a “misleader”. Few of them listened. It got so bad that Bonhoeffer fled to America. But then he decided to go back to Germany to continue his work with the church. Bonhoeffer knew that going back would put him in danger, but he resolved to do so. He was persecuted when he got back. The Nazis persecuted him even to the point of putting their men in his church to keep watch on him. They eventually arrested him. He was treated nicely until they found secret information that had been given to the Allies. They were so angry that they threw him into a concentration camp and near the end of World War II, when defeat was certain, they hanged him. One of my favorite quotes of his says: “It is only because He became like us that we can become like Him.”
Another example of persecution was Rachel Joy Scott of Columbine High School. She actually lost friends because of the fact that she was a Christian, and she was killed by two of her own fellow students. They actually sought her out to kill her first. Rachel wrote in her diary: “I have no more personal friends at school, But you know what? I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus. I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best friend Jesus, then that’s fine with me. I always knew being a Christian is having enemies, but I never thought that my ‘friends’ were going to be those enemies. If I have to give up everything, I will”. Her family was amazed to also find this in her diary: “God, I want you to use me to reach the unreached.” That diary was in her backpack the day she was shot. “God is going to use me to reach the young people, I don’t know how, I don’t know when.” Rachel’s story was made into a movie, and she impacted many. The ripple effect she wrote about in her diary? God caused it to happen.
The final example is Jim Elliot. He was a missionary serving in Ecuador. He was killed by the very people he went to teach the Gospel to. His journal entry for October 28, 1949, expresses his belief that work dedicated to Jesus was more important than his life (see Luke 9:24). “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” His wife continued his work. She wrote 2 books, and 1 was made into a movie. Two schools in California were created in his honor. His legacy lives on.
I am not suggesting that you need to give your life in order for it to matter. I am suggesting that you live your life in a way that matters. All of the Beatitudes require us to get of the way and give over all areas of our life to the Holy Spirit. Being a Christian in the United States of America today is easy. I don’t know about you, but I look at our culture, and I wonder. What happens when it stops being easy? When was the last time you risked something by standing up for Jesus Christ? Choose to give up everything – popularity, comfort, your reputation – for the One who will never leave you nor forsake you. I promise you – you will never regret it.
This concludes the Beatitudes. Thank you for reading. I’d especially like to thank my pastor and Mr. Warren for instilling truth in me. I am closer in my walk to follow Christ at whatever cost because these two Christian giants have invested in me. I am truly blessed.