This last of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted,” (Matthew 5:10) from the Sermon on the Mount is a paradox – a “Blessed Paradox.” A paradox, also known as an antinomy (a contradiction between two beliefs or conclusions that are in themselves reasonable) is a logically self-contradictory statement that runs contrary to one’s expectation, that when investigated or explained may prove to be well-founded or true. We may even conclude that each of the Beatitudes fits within this definition. However, this one may seem more paradoxical than the others.
PERSECUTION IMPLIES PURSUIT
Persecution in the Bible implies being followed after or pursued. The dictionary defines it as, “subject(ing) someone to hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of their race, political or religious beliefs.” Now, I ask you, in your walk with Christ, do you ever feel that someone or ones are pursuing you with the motive of subjecting you to hostility and ill-treatment because you are trying to be a faithful Christ-follower? I dare say that most of us do feel this way at times.
The apostle Paul acknowledges, even warns, that Christ-followers will “suffer” persecution, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) In Ephesians 6:12, he explains, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Jesus was preparing the disciples for what they would face when He said to them, “In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
When we feel the pressure of persecution we should not be surprised. We are cautioned in Scripture, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Of course, Satan accomplishes this through the faithless, secular, and humanistic influences over which he presides. The Bible teaches that he is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2b) The apostle closes the Ephesian epistle with this statement: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
AN UNFRIENDLY WORLD SYSTEM
In light of these and other scriptures, Christ-followers will find that the world system has values and ideals that often are diametrically opposed to their mind-set and world-view. With the devil and a pagan society pursuing and often prevailing in almost every facet of their existence, they will find that persecution is inevitable. That’s not a very happy thought! And, yet, Jesus emphasized that those who are persecuted should consider themselves happy (blessed). Sounds like a paradox to me, a blessed paradox!
BLESSED FOR RIGHT MOTIVATION
Jesus placed dual emphasis on this Beatitude. First, He emphasized that those are blessed who endure persecution “for righteousness sake.” In the following verse, He states that those are blessed who are persecuted “for His name’s sake.” Both emphases are basic, worthy, and noble bases for patient endurance in times of persecution.
A man once asked me what I thought makes people happy. My reply was that I believed people are happy when they do what they are supposed to do. I would qualify that a bit by identifying the basis for “what we are supposed to do.” That is, righteousness according to the Bible, God’s Word.
OLD TESTAMENT CONFIRMATION
The Psalmist has much to say about righteousness in 132 verses in that Jewish hymnbook. In Psalms 11:7, he wrote, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright.” In 106:3, he says, “Blessed are those who keep justice, And he who does righteousness at all times!” But, He reminds us, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.” (Psalms 34:19) And, to repeat the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who are persecuted “for righteousness sake.” The Christ-follower will be motivated to do what is right – what he or she is supposed to do according to God’s Word.
In a familiar passage, Psalms 23.3, you may remember that he says, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalms 23.3) When Jesus was teaching the disciples how to pray, His first petition, was “Hallowed be Your Name.” (Matthew 5:9) He further prepared them with, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22) In addition, these reassuring words: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)
IT’S ALL ABOUT HIM
I am sure most of us have heard this expression: “It’s not about you (or me); It’s all about HIM! So when Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake, “that is what He was trying to drive home for those who would be His disciples. We are blessed when we endure the pressures of persecution for righteousness’ sake and for His sake.
CLAIMING THE BLESSING
Submitting to the propositions set forth in the Beatitudes is not necessarily easy. We all need the help of God’s grace. The wonderful, good news is, we have it! We have His promises to assure us. Jesus followed the Beatitudes with, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12a) We have the privilege of prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:11-13) And we are not alone, “For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12b)
We are blessed when we do what is right when we do it for the right reasons and lay claim on the promises of God and the faithful examples of those who have gone before us.
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