Call to Prayer—29 April 2022
Matthew 5: 11-12
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
As we come to the end of the beatitudes, we are reminded again that in giving this sermon, Jesus was describing the character of the children of God. There has always been a clash between the children of God and the children of this world because they represent two opposing systems: one the kingdom of light and the other, the kingdom of darkness. The two are diametrically opposed and will always clash. In fact, we are to be worried when they seem to coexist peacefully because it spells compromise on the part of God’s people. The world is at war with God and therefore it will fight His children.
There is a Past, Present, and Future to this beatitude that we do well to look at in order to appreciate the full impact of what Jesus wants to convey to us.
The Past: For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Summarizing the fall of Jerusalem in what is the last book of the Hebrew scriptures, the writer of 2 Chronicles 36:16 says, “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people and there was no remedy”. Jesus would later weep over Jerusalem saying, “Oh Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets those who are sent to her!” Being a prophet in the Old Testament was a dangerous job. His responsibility was to bring the “Thus sayeth the Lord” to a people whose hearts had turned from the Lord. They did not want to be reminded of their sinful ways and so to silence the voice of God, they killed His messengers. The sign of a false prophet was that he spoke about peace instead of pronouncing the impending judgment of God because he feared the people.
The Present: Blessed are you…Here, Jesus is connecting His disciples to the tradition of suffering. This was to be their character if they were to represent the kingdom of God which was His central message. That kingdom was diametrically opposed to the kingdom of this world which was at war with God. Peaceful coexistence was a sign of compromise on the part of the children of God for darkness and light could not coexist. In Luke 6:26, Jesus would say “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets”. Suffering and persecution are therefore signs that we have made the grade, that the enemy recognizes our identity as the people of God worthy of his opposition. We must add the caveat that Jesus introduces here; the suffering must be because we are disciples of Jesus and must be false. It must not be because of our own foolishness or disobedience. Peter will later emphasize that we must suffer because of doing good and following in the footsteps of Christ (1 Peter 2:20-21).
The Future: “….great is your reward in heaven.” In saying this, Jesus was inviting His disciples to develop an eternal perspective. In the pressures of daily living and struggling against sin and injustice, it is easy to lose perspective. There is coming a day when God will right all wrongs and reward those who suffered for righteousness. He will balance the books. As believers, we do not live for the present only, we are like Abraham who looked for that city which had foundations whose builder and maker is God. Like Moses, we choose to suffer affliction with the people pf God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin because we have prize giving day in the eyes of our faith. We see the invisible as visible. It is our reality.
Let me underline a few portions of this beatitude. First, we are blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness. What a contrast to the thinking of the world. Things are not always what they appear to be. Secondly, we are to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Not go about with long faces but to welcome persecution and to say to the enemy; “Bring it on!” I am not there yet. I tend to mourn instead.
For the majority of the western world, persecution is mild while in some parts of the developing world, some of our brothers and sisters are bearing the testimony of Christ with their lives. Many have and continue to lay their lives down for the gospel. For them, they are living this beatitude. Thank God for the freedom of worship that most of us enjoy. May this not cause us to compromise our faith or to forget those who are being persecuted. As we draw close to the end, it will not matter where you live, persecution will be a global reality. Our prayer is that we will identify with those who are suffering so that when that day comes upon us, we will not think it strange concerning the fiery trials that will befall the whole world. Hopefully, we will rejoice like the early church did when they were persecuted by the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:41).