Summary: A sermon on the eighth Beatitude - Blessed are the persecuted.
Today we come to the last of the 8 Beatitudes. I began this investigation with a bit of trepidation two months ago, and now I feel a bit of sadness as we wrap up this study of the Beatitudes. But I trust that we will be referring back to these Beatitudes as we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount, so we aren’t leaving them for good. I hope and pray that the short time we have spent on these has been a blessing for us all.
In today’s Beatitude, Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 5:10) Followers of Jesus have been persecuted in all kinds of times, places and manners.
If you will allow yourself, I want you to try to imagine some of the physical persecution that has been inflicted on Christians both in the past and even now in the present. Picture a man on a table as he writhes in pain until he slumps into a semi-conscious state. The brawny inflictor of the pain puts down the pliers he has been using and douses the victim with a bucket of dirty water. The Christian shakes his head and moans. They have been working on him for hours. He has broken fingers, torn muscles and burned flesh. Those in charge speak to him again, “Recant your faith. Renounce Christ and all this unpleasantness can cease. Don’t make me go any further. Believe me it only gets worse.” The man on the table has a dignity that annoys his interrogators. He has suffered well. There has been no cursing, but only mumbled prayers and a few screams when the pain grows too great. The Christian looks through his swollen eyelids and speaks from his bleeding mouth, “No, my friend. I will never recant. Do what you will do. But hear this: Jesus is Lord. One day, you too will bow down and make that confession.”
Real physical persecution is an ugly reality. If you are like me you don’t want to think about it. But let’s get something straight right at the beginning of this lesson – persecution is a blessing. That’s what Jesus said, right? “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” If you are like me then you are thinking: “That’s a blessing I don’t really want!” “I’ll just pass on that one.”
I. The “What” of Persecution
But what exactly does Jesus mean when he delivers this Beatitude? What constitutes persecution? Is it only physical, or does emotional and relational trauma count? Is it something that only happened long ago or is it still something that happens here and now? Is religious persecution rare or is it common?
I think that this subject can be confusing. On the one hand, I think that we all would agree that physical agonies administered by brutal strangers with the intent of causing a recanting of faith is real persecution, but to limit it to physical persecution only is inadequate. On the other hand, we don’t want to call every spiritual hangnail a satanic plot to destroy our faith. Real persecution is cheapened by calling any inconvenience or temptation – “suffering for the cause of Christ.” Right?