As part of His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated these words:
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt. 5:10-12).”
Persecution. It’s the gift that nobody wants. And yet, the same Jesus who had just finished saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers (Mt. 5:9),” is now saying, “Blessed are the persecuted.” “Rejoice and be glad.” It’s like getting a gift for Christmas. You tear into the wrapping paper and you open up the box, only to reveal disappointment. It’s a fruit cake (I mean, who eats fruit cake anyway?). It’s like going to that one house trick-or-treating and they give you a bag full of pennies. It’s like the husband getting his wife a vacuum cleaner for their anniversary. Who wants those gifts? Who wants persecution? How in the world can persecution be a blessing? I’m supposed to “rejoice and be glad?” Surely Jesus wasn’t serious. Well, He was serious. He meant every word of it, which is why so many have a tough time accepting it.
Here’s why we have such a difficult time with what Jesus said about persecution—because pain and suffering is something that we try to avoid at all costs. And if we do experience pain in our lives, we do everything we can to rectify, remedy, or reconcile it as quickly as possible. I take medicine. I see a doctor. I have surgery. I talk to a counselor. I do whatever is necessary to eliminate the pain or to cope with it as best I can. But throughout the Bible, the scriptures seem to suggest that pain and suffering are quite normal, and that there’s good reason not to avoid them at all costs. In essence, Jesus is saying—NO PAIN. NO GAIN! The reward of heaven comes with the pain of suffering. And the reason why you can rejoice in the midst of persecution is because it means you’re doing something right. Suffering is a natural part of the growth and maturation process. And, suffering reminds us that we have a home in heaven someday that is far better than what we are dealing with currently.
Jesus is not just our Savior from our sins. He is our example, and that example includes how to react when suffering unjustly. There are two primary ways a Christian grows—through people and through pain. The hardest growth often comes from pain inflicted by other people. It happened to Jesus, and it will happen to us as well. So be ready.
See you Sunday!