Be sure to look back to the earlier devotionals to catch up if you are a new addition. We’re in Matthew chapter 5, studying the Beatitudes.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Oh boy! Blessed are, (read: “happy are”) the persecuted. Does that not seem slightly disingenuous to say in this American culture where Christian values have for the past 250 years been the crux of our nation’s moral grounding? To many in the church the idea of “the persecuted” immediately brings to mind the long gone days of lions in the coliseum and Nero burning Christians as lights in his garden. The only modern day examples brought to mind might be fearless missionaries over seas in some hut with island natives who eventually put them in a pot.
There is a logical progression in these eight simple statements, and this is the culmination of all the others. When the kingdom of God is evident within His saints, then the world will respond with some form of persecution. When that starts happening, Jesus says here that you are not only blessed, but that you should rejoice and be glad on top of it, for great is your reward in Heaven!
Here in America, “blessed are the persecuted” is rapidly coming into focus in a new way. All you have to do is pay attention to the news and you can easily see the growing hostility toward those who actively profess their faith. It’s still ok to have faith, but keep it to yourself and don’t dare preach it publicly or you might just find yourself like the elderly Christian couple in Idaho that are facing 180 days in jail + $1,000 fine for every day they refuse to marry a homosexual couple. There are children being prohibited from writing Merry Christmas to the soldiers, senior citizens being banned from praying over their meals in the Senior Center, the VA banning the mention of God in military funerals, numerous attempts to have veterans memorials torn down if they have any religious symbols such as a cross, and I could go on and on and so could you. The developments just over the past decade border on the absurd.
I will soon be thirty and I am seeing things I never thought I’d see in my life in the land of the free and I am certain that many of you that have seen more water go under the bridge are experiencing even greater culture shock. It’s a whole new world because for the entire history of the world it was deemed impossible not to have some level of belief in God, then the Age of Enlightenment and Darwinism made it possible not to believe, and now all of a sudden we are looking at a new majority whose leaders and thinkers deem it impossible for an intelligent person to believe.
So here we are, the church, in the big middle of a nation absorbed with Darwinism, humanism, materialism, Freudianism, hedonism, and every other ism, schism, and heretical movement at odds with the truth claims of Christ and scripture. This truly is a blessed place to be for Christ’s church. America’s congregations have long been rocked to sleep by ease of passage, lulled by a sea of nonspiritual activities, and have squandered their time and efforts attempting to keep the waters calm by becoming culturally relevant and inventing a non offensive message. “Great is your reward in heaven” has been replaced with “Great is your reward here on earth.” “Lay up your treasures in heaven” has been replaced with “Build bigger barns so that you can store up enough to be able to enjoy your life now to the fullest.” And in a reality check for myself, when I see these things happening in my homeland, my gut reaction is not even close to being happy, rejoicing, and being exceedingly glad. It’s not an obvious thing, this rejoicing when persecuted.
I love what the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 12,
“He has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
It’s when the world around us shakes that we can best see through it to that which cannot be shaken — the eternal kingdom that we have received and that we are a part of. Listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 —
“We do not lose heart — though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For this momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Let us resolve to rejoice as our Lord commanded and be exceedingly glad. Our momentary, light affliction here is preparing for us, and preparing us for, an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Truly we are blessed beyond all measure.