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 5:10-11)
We look at the early Christian martyrs and marvel at their courage and faith. But many Christians today are martyred for their faith—many statistics say that in this century more have been martyred than in the first 20 centuries of Christianity combined.
In many countries today it is against the law to be a Christian.
In this country we profess to have freedom of religion, but in reality, more and more Christians feel apologetic about their faith. Not apologetic as in C.S. Lewis’s argument for the faith; but feeling that they cannot declare their faith to others without feeling like they are somehow offending them.
- Children are not allowed to pray at school.
- Nativity scenes are not allowed at public buildings.
- The Ten Commandments are removed from courthouses.
- The phrase "Evangelical Christian" when spoke in politics is said with a sneer.
The suffering of Christians is not about being punished for evil or unlawful acts. The suffering and persecution Jesus spoke of was being punished for being righteous.
Have you ever known someone who lashes out against a friend for doing good? Not because the friend did good but because doing good shows the rest of us up for who we really are—falling short of our duty, our ideals, what we know to be right and good.
People who are righteous show others up. Sometimes the unrighteous hate the righteous because the righteous illuminate their own dark hearts and show the world who they really are.
When believers try to live a righteous life, they become distinguished from the rest of the world. The world may misinterpret our conduct and view us as feeling as if we are above them; better than they are; hoity-toity.
To many people, sin is fun. It is associated with pleasure, living life on the edge, it’s all fine as long as it’s between consenting adults. The Holy Spirit has the power to convict people, but if we sin, we don’t want to be convicted. We may secretly feel guilty and so we lash out at people who struggle not to sin—making fun of their struggle, encouraging them to give up, cheering when they fail and fall back into sin.
Blaming others is always easier than accepting responsibility and doing what is right. Blaming Christians, making fun of them, persecuting them feels good and distracts attention away from the ungodly for a moment.
A sinner fights against God. He can’t get back at God so he does the next best thing—he attacks those who follow God.
Jesus told us that if we follow him, we will be persecuted.
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)
Jesus came to Earth and lived as a human so that he could show us an example of how to live. If we truly desire to follow him, we desire to be like him and live like him. We don’t always succeed, but we try. When we do, he tells us—promises us—that we will be persecuted.
So what if you do not feel like you are being persecuted? Could it be that you are just one of the lucky few?
Or are you perhaps not living as righteous a life as God wishes?
Or perhaps you are not letting God’s light shine so brightly through you that the world even knows that you are a Christian.
Fortunately when we are persecuted, we are not alone. Not only do we have the companionship of other believers to support and encourage us, we also have the strength of the Holy Spirit living in us. And the strength of Jesus that enables us to do all things.
And each time we are persecuted and survive, we become stronger and more assured in our faith. Each time God delivers us, we trust Him more.
And when we are persecuted we understand:
- The strength of our faith.
- Our faith is worthy of our suffering.
- We have been chosen by God.
- We are children of God.
- Our salvation is sure.
- We are truly not of this world even though we are in this world.
- We are in good company.
- Ours is the kingdom of heaven.
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you Jesus for your example of living. We do so want to live a life worthy of your sacrifice. We want to be more Christ-like in everything we do, say and are. Please help us stand firm and in righteousness, even amid persecution. Amen.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you sometimes feel persecuted for Jesus’ sake?