“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” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Sunday was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Christians worldwide prayed for their brothers and sisters who are being severely persecuted. The Western church is so far removed from the atrocities that many believers across the globe experience every day, where saying the name of Jesus literally costs you something. We read their stories and hear about injustice against Christians in the news. And so we pray. Sometimes it is all we can do, and it is always the best thing.
When we hear about the persecuted church we consider their courage and their sincere love and devotion to Christ. We rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel through persecution. We wonder if we could ever persevere to the degree of the persecuted.
Jesus never differentiated one group of followers from another. We either follow Christ, or we do not. And if we follow Christ, we will be persecuted. Jesus said, “…when others revile you and persecute you…”. He never said “if.” The degree of persecution may differ, but the reality of persecution is the same for all believers. Paul said this regarding persecution: “If we endure, we also will reign with Him; if we deny Him He will also deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12). The blessings of the heavenly kingdom are contingent upon our faithfulness in the here and now. Christ will not literally deny His children, but He will deny particular blessings for believers who are disobedient and unfruitful.
Sometimes we can get caught up wondering if we will endure the kind of severe persecution that our brothers and sisters face in regions that are hostile to the gospel. We ask ourselves, “Could I really endure that?” But this may be the wrong question for us to ask ourselves. What we really must ask is, “Will I speak His name where I am today?” If we cannot do this, then we will not endure anything, but the Spirit gives us strength for both. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and God rests upon you” 1 Peter 4:14. We should expect insults and opposition, and when we share Christ and face persecution of any sort, we are blessed. Instead of hanging our heads in defeat, we should rejoice. Why? Because there is a reward in heaven awaiting us when we are faithful to speak His name, and we are also following in the footsteps of the prophets who were also opposed.
Christians all around the world who are imprisoned, exiled, abused, and are being killed every day are our brothers and sisters. When we speak Christ’s name we stand with them, and we stand with those who have followed Christ before us. We are in this together, and the Spirit helps us. Let us remember this. And let us not forget to pray for our brothers and sisters in the especially hard places.
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” Hebrews 13:3.
The Beatitudes help us. They turn our gaze upward as we walk with Christ this side of heaven. Jesus said, “Blessed” nine times encouraging the hearts of those who follow Him. The way of blessing in the Christian life is received in the way of Christ- following after Him, becoming poor in spirit, meek, merciful, a peacemaker, etc. The blessing is the reward of the kingdom where we will see God.
Be encouraged today knowing that if you are in Christ you are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). Are you swallowing your pride? There is a kingdom for you. Are you mourning over your sin? There is a kingdom for you. Are you controlling your tongue and will to fight? There is a kingdom for you. Are you pursuing righteousness? There is a kingdom for you. Are you extending mercy? There is a kingdom for you. Are you seeking purity in your intentions and motivation? There is a kingdom for you. Are you at peace with God and with man? There is a kingdom for you. Are you being persecuted for righteousness’ sake? There is a kingdom for you. Let us live for that kingdom today and every day, and be blessed.