Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
Growing up, I can hardly remember a Sunday my parents didn’t take me and my siblings to church. My dad taught Sunday school and was a deacon for The Colony Park Baptist Church and then again at First Baptist Church of Mt. Vernon. My mom was always actively serving in the church with kids. As kids, we regularly attended VBS, Sunday school and youth group. Some of my fondest memories were going to church as a family. So as you can imagine, learning of Jesus’ teaching that the blessed are those who are persecuted didn’t resonate. I mean, I sure felt pretty righteous and sure was enjoying life absent of any kind of persecution. And to make matters worse, Paul says in Timothy 2:12 that, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” How do I reconcile these teachings within my own life? That seemed to be for “other” Christians in a far-away, distant land as I was living in a land that had freedom of religion without persecution. Is persecution even relevant these days?
Who Is Persecuted?
According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). This likely isn’t surprising to most of us. We could do another blog on the history of Christian persecution alone but today we will simply ask ourselves the questions, who is persecuted and why? One of the first things we should note here is what Jesus doesn’t say. Jesus doesn’t say “all” persecuted people are blessed. Rather we see that Jesus is very specific saying that people persecuted for “righteousness” sake are blessed. We now have to ask ourselves, what must be done to be considered righteous? You only have to read on for a few more verses to find Jesus telling us that we must obey every command given to us. Jesus says that not a single dot of the law is to be missed for us to be considered righteous. In fact, in v. 20 Jesus reiterates this point by telling us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees (who were considered the most righteous people), we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. If this sounds impossible, you’re right. Later in Romans 3:23, Paul confirms with us that Jesus was stating that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” No one alone is righteous. Period. This message is clear and it’s ominous at first glance. We are sinners separated from God by our sin yet we are called to live a perfect, sinless, holy life. Understanding this, the great theologian Charles Spurgeon sums it up nicely.
“The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”
Jesus, Our Righteousness
But Jesus also goes on to tell us the good news which is that He himself has come to fulfill all requirements of the law. Jesus is the blessed Son of God who came to live a perfect, sinless, righteous life on our behalf. Not only would He live the righteous life we couldn’t, He also paid a debt that was owed for our sins by dying on the cross so we could share in His righteousness. You see, Jesus was the blessed who was persecuted in our place. And through His grace, we too share in His righteousness, not because of anything we did, but rather recognizing that we couldn’t. Therefore, we put all our faith and hope in Christ, confessing our sins and believing in Him alone. It is through this that we are called righteous. Paul goes on to explain in Romans 3:24 that we are “justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is Jesus Christ.” Praise the Lord! You now are seen in the eyes of God as a righteous and holy person. Our sins are cast as far as the east is from the west and no amount of persecution a Christian faces will ever overcome that. No amount of fear, anxiety, or failures in our life will change that, for we are the blessed children of God.