Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are those who have been Persecuted..
““Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:10-12 NASB1995
The final Beatitude is the most difficult for the believer to hear and heed. It is the only one that shifts from “those” to “you” in the language used. It calls out being blessed twice and says that you are commanded to rejoice and be glad for this persecution, because your reward will be great. Many have been persecuted for their faith in Jesus and many more will be persecuted. If we fully emulate the first seven Beatitudes, the eighth is a given in this life. Voice of the Martyrs is a resource that documents all the ways that Christians in our world today have been insulted, marginalized, persecuted and martyred for their beliefs. They have an app for smart phones and tablets that has prayers on a daily basis for Christians that are experiencing the worst in persecution. Some of the biggest hot spots include Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Egypt, and China, but there are many others. According to another Christian watch group Open Doors in the last year (into 2022):
Over 360 million Christians [are] living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
5,898 Christians [were] killed for their faith
5,110 churches and other Christian buildings [were] attacked
4,765 believers [were] detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
The persecution of the believers, of course, started immediately in the early church as documented in Acts, with the stoning of Stephen and the death of James, the brother of John. The remaining Apostles had this in store for them (from Fox’s Book of the Martyrs):
• James was beheaded. It is said that on his way to be martyred, his accuser was so impressed by his courage and conviction that he repented of his sin, committed himself to Christ, and was then beheaded along with James.
• Phillip was scourged, thrown into prison, and then crucified.
• Matthew was slain with a sword.
• James the Less was stoned to death.
• Matthias was stoned and then beheaded.
• Andrew was crucified and then left hanging on the cross for three days.
• Peter was crucified upside down at his own request because he did not feel worthy enough to be crucified in the same manner as the Lord.
• Jude (Thaddeus) was crucified.
• Bartholomew was beaten with clubs and then crucified.
• Thomas was speared to death.
• Simon the Zealot was crucified.
• John was exiled to an island called Patmos where he died as a prisoner.
And it should be noted that Paul was sentenced to death by beheading, because he was a Roman citizen (spared crucifixion). And John was put into boiling oil in an attempt to kill him, but was saved without harm so he could write his Gospel, care for Mary, and have Revelation revealed to him.
But, you might say, as an American my Christian beliefs are protected by the Constitution. Don’t be so sure about that - many Christians in this country have now experienced the loss of their livelihoods, had lawsuits against them, and have been the subject of insults and public hate. Churches have been vandalized in various places and security is a major concern for congregations. I’m going to say something rather controversial in this devotional: Adapting or filtering your beliefs to conform to societal and cultural trends may not save you from persecution anyway, but doing that also will not end with a reward in the Kingdom of God. Steve and I left a mainstream church because it continued marching down this easy path of appeasement to what people want in this day and age, rather than following what God wants (striving to save souls and speaking to eternal truths). Yes, God calls us to love as He loves, but He also calls us to obey His commands and to be righteous in our actions (and NOT self-righteous).
Here’s what Brian Bill (Keep Believing Ministries) says about our rejoicing and being glad for persecution:
1. Persecution confirms our relationship. Someone has said that persecution is a certificate of Christian authenticity. We should rejoice that people see Jesus in us. 1 Peter 4:16: “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear his name.” Jesus thinks enough of you to let you share in some of what He went through. After the apostles were put in jail for preaching the gospel, and then having to face charges, Acts 5:41 says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Suffering is the badge of our discipleship.
2. Persecution causes reliance. When we suffer we are more prone to do some self-examination and we are forced to lean on God in ways that we have never done before. And, when we do, we see God’s power. Paul experienced this in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
3. Persecution cultivates righteousness. One of the best ways to grow is to go through some grief. 1 Peter 5:10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” That’s why Jesus mentions the persecution the prophets faced before us. They serve as models because their rejection was the rule, not the exception. To suffer for what is right is to be part of a great succession of godly men and women. John Piper encourages us to “go often to these great men and women of old and get inside their hearts. Put yourself on the rack with them and learn how to love heaven with them.”
4. Persecution confers a reward. Sometimes when we’re suffering, all we can do is focus on what’s to come in heaven. We can jump for joy because of what’s ahead. We may lose everything on earth, but we shall inherit everything in heaven. Towards the end of his life, the apostle Paul had every confidence that God would release him from his difficulties. Listen to what he said in 2 Timothy 4:18: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack…” But recognizing that God may have other plans, this verse concludes: “…and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” This promise gave Rowland Taylor and Bishop Ridley and John Bradford the impulse to kiss the stakes at which they were burned. After receiving countless lashes that turned his back to jelly for Jesus, Obadiah Holmes said, “You have struck me with roses.”
The Beatitudes are a plan for living for Jesus. They are quite difficult and contradict our natural human tendencies and fears. But learning them at this in-depth level has been so rewarding! As we will see in the coming weeks, Jesus was just getting started in this Sermon.
My next Sermon on the Mount devotional is on Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16).
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash
Brian Bill sermons from Keep Believing Ministries Copyright 2020.