Persecuted—and joyful

Here’s the last of our Lord’s beatitudes. He says that if we are being persecuted for being righteous (Matthew 5:10), we are still on the right track. The kingdom is ours. We’re already in its flow, and we will share in its coming glory (13:43).

Jesus never holds back from telling us we will attract the world’s hatred and violence if we believe he is God’s King. Here, he tells us to endure this with dignity, and joy.

Until now, all the beatitudes have been about what we do. This one is about what happens to us. But it completes the picture Jesus is presenting and promises the same kingdom blessing as the first beatitude.

And this is the only beatitude with some extra encouragement (vv. 11-12). Jesus knows we’ll find the going hard. But he knows we’ll be glad we endured.

If we’ve grown up in a community that’s nice to Christians, we will find it surprising that Jesus refers so often to the trouble we can expect as his followers. We may have been welcomed by unbelievers. Even listened to.  Or perhaps just tolerated, or ignored.

But the acceptance of the world is not deep. And it never lasts. People who don’t want God or his Son can see that our way of life comes from somewhere they don’t understand and can’t control. For them, it’s coming from an alien power.

They must find means to silence our voice and shut down our influence. God’s gracious authority has been launched on enemy territory, and we begin to feel the heat!

Because we’ve trusted in Christ and are now enjoying the dynamics of his being King, we can’t help representing him to those around us. So, while we are for peace—as in the previous beatitude, they are for war (Psa. 120:7).

People being nasty to Christians doesn’t just happen. It can only occur by God’s will (1 Pet. 3:17). And there’s good reasons why it needs to be this way. Here’s some help Jesus gives later in this Gospel.

First, persecution gives us opportunity to demonstrate God’s love to our enemies (5:44).

People who say they don’t believe in God must still live with the fact that he is not far away from them (Acts 17:27-28). He remains to them a distant, threatening or hated thought—whatever they may say.

We need to love these people with the love we are experiencing in God’s kingdom—especially while they are hating and hurting us. This is their best chance to see the truth of what we say. And our witness may be persuasive.

Second, persecution scatters us Christians further afield than we may have otherwise ventured. We suffer, but the kingdom prospers (10:21-23). This is what happens in the early days of the gospel spreading out from Jerusalem (Acts 8:3-4; 11:1-20).  `

Third, persecution shows we are one with Jesus in his sufferings (10:25-33). And we are one with him in knowing the intimacy of our Father’s care for us. And if we acknowledge Jesus Christ while we are being abused, Christ promises to welcome us when our time comes to stand before God. This is a great comfort.

Fourth, persecution tests our faith to see if it is real (13:18-23). Jesus knows we can be flippant, emotional or preoccupied. So, he calls on us to really hear the gospel—not treat it as an option. Those who hold on to their faith when it is attacked, grow stronger. Those who are just on a religious picnic fall away.

Fifth, persecutors reveal their own deep hatred of God (23:34-35). They’ve not just been mistaken or misled. They really don’t like God. They’d rather live anywhere without him—and without Christians.

People need to see their own hostility exposed. This is a terrible part of the gospel, but a clear part of what is going on. It may lead to someone realising how much they need Christ. This is what happens to the apostle Paul (Acts 22:6-16).

So, suffering for being a Christian is not something strange. It’s normal, and necessary. Even good.

And Jesus is telling us to be joyful. This is not a feeling that overtakes us. It’s a choice to value what Jesus values. It’s us determining that the lasing treasure of the eternal kingdom is far greater than any temporary truce we may arrange for ourselves on this planet.

Look at how these beatitudes will be fulfilled when the kingdom comes in its fulness.

Everyone will know that everything good has come from Christ. Sorrows will be gone forever. Meekness will control every relationship. Everyone will love how God does things. Everyone will know that they’ve received mercy. And everyone will be good—totally. We’ll be living in and sharing God’s peace—forever. And no-one will oppose any of this.

But we’re not waiting until the kingdom comes. While Christ is Lord and we belong to him, we’re already in its flow. We’re practicing for the final day, walking by faith.

So, congratulations! You and I belong to Christ. Our life is totally different to what it would otherwise be. But we’re on the right track.