Summary: One of the few things Jesus promised us in this life is persecution!
Matt 5.10-12 "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
On June 17, 2004, when Sister Jiang Zongxiu went to the market in Guizhou Province, China, she thought it would be just another day. Along with her mother-in-law, Jiang went through the marketplace, handing out Christian literature and telling people about Jesus. Their actions were soon noticed, and they were arrested. Even when the police took the two women into custody, Jiang did not become discouraged: Arrest and suffering are a regular part of the Christian walk in China. Little did the 34-year-old wife and mother know that the next day she would enter eternity, beaten to death while in the custody of Chinese police.
While we may not suffer the same kind of persecution as our brothers and sisters in Asia and the Muslim world and many other places, Jesus promised us we would be persecuted!
1. PERSECUTION BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
What we have consistently seen over the last weeks as we’ve looked at the Beatitudes is that they are so different from the world’s values. They call us to righteousness. They call us to be counter-cultural. They call us to live differently.
And what happens when you’re different? Every kid knows this. When you’re different you get picked on!
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness." We often think about persecution being for our faith, but in the first instance we’ll often be persecuted simply because we are trying to do the right thing.
A friend once recounted how he and his wife were having dinner with a group of people, and the topic somehow got onto marriage. It turned out that nearly everyone at the table, except my friend and another older couple, were in their second marriages following divorce. That’s OK, but this older couple had been married for decades, and the other people started to lay into them with snide comments and innuendo. What’s that about? Persecution because of righteousness!
Maybe you’ve been in the situation where you have to make a tough call in business. If you do the right thing it’s going to disadvantage you. That could be considered a form of passive persecution, I guess.
I once had the opportunity to get a pirated copy of some expensive software that’s popular in photography. You could argue the company wouldn’t miss it if I did because I won’t buy a legal copy, it’s too expensive. But I made the decision not to. That’s not a big thing, but typical of the small decisions that can be counter-cultural for us as we live out God’s Kingdom righteousness.
When you’re in that place, take heart that God sees and blesses.
2. PERSECUTION BECAUSE OF CHRIST
Eph 6 tells us that, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph 6.12).
Christians often worry that society is becoming more hostile to Christian values, as if we have some kind of right to living in a Jesus friendly environment. We’ll lobby parliament and talk about our Christian heritage. Now, I’m for Christians in politics. In fact, in Luke 16:9 Jesus said we can use worldly things for Kingdom purposes. He said, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." There’s a movie out about William Wilberforce who, 200 years ago, campaigned in parliament to outlaw the slave trade in Britain. He was a brave and great man. But ultimately Jesus doesn’t call the church to politics, he calls us to preach and minister the gospel.
The early Christians suffered because they were uncompromising in their message, and that message was as offensive then as it is now. The message that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father because only he can deal with our sin. There’s a cost to believing that. What’s the cost?
Jesus said people will insult us. But when the apostles Peter and John, who were key leaders in the early church, were flogged for publicly preaching about Jesus, the Bible tells us they went home, "Rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (Acts 5.41). Don’t be afraid of being insulted!
Jesus said we’d be persecuted. Persecution can take many forms, verbal, physical or social. In some places it means losing friends, family, your home and possessions, your freedom or your life. How would you fair if it happened to you? Once when I was at a high school camp I was sitting on a tree stump and some older boys who knew I was Christian came and threatened to push me off if I didn’t swear! What would you do if that was your kid? What would you want your kid to do?