Devotional: September 30, 2020
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
Matthew 5: 10-11 NRSV
Here, Jesus talks about an unpleasant topic: the persecution of believers. The sad truth is that there are some people who despise Christians, and will actively work against them to make their lives miserable.
During the first few centuries of the Christian church, Christians were sometimes persecuted. The intensity of the persecutions varied depending on who held power in the Roman Empire. Under some Ceasars, the persecution was almost non-existent, while under others, it was quite severe. Christians met and worshipped in the catacombs of Rome, because of the persecution. They also developed the Ichthys, the Greek word for “fish'' as their clandestine marker. To a casual observer, seeing this Greek word for “fish'' written in some cave might be chalked up to graffiti. Yet to believers, the Ichthys was a secret signal that Christians met in that place for worship.
We can be persecuted for many things. However, Jesus specifically states that those persecuted “for righteousness sake” will inherit the Kingdom of God. Standing up for what is right can get you in trouble with people who despise the truth.
Besides promising us the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus reminds us that others have faced persecution in the past, including some of the prophets. Why does Jesus mention this truth? He wants all of His people to be comforted by knowing that that they are not alone.
It might be tempting to believe that the persecution of Christians is only a historical topic, and is no longer relevant. However, persecution of Christians is still happening today. Only recently, the Chinese government tore down a Christian church. While some branches of the Christian church are allowed to exist in China, others are persecuted, sometimes severely. The Chinese authorities were taking a wrecking ball to this beautiful church building because they did not want it to exist! Persecution of believers happens in many different places around our world.
I will never forget touring the world headquarters of the Wycliff Bible Translators in Florida. Wycliff is an international organization which sends missionaries to the most remote places of the world. While there, the missionaries live with the people, learn their language and culture, and then help translate the scriptures in the people’s native language. One of the sobering parts of my tour of Wyclif was viewing “the wall of martyrs.” In that exhibit, we viewed pictures of, and learned the tragic stories or those who ended up losing their lives for the sake of the gospel. These were not people from centuries ago, but from our current time.
One of the key parts of this scripture is, “for righteousness sake”. This phrase can sometimes be misinterpreted. The righteousness Jesus spoke about was not the Old Testament concept of an eye for an eye: you did this to me, so I have a right to do this to you. Instead, Jesus encouraged us turn the other cheek, rather than hit back. God’s logic is not the logic of the world. Rather, righteousness is when we have a right relationship with the Lord. From there, we gain a better perspective of what Jesus is talking about. With that relationship with the Lord, we also gain the strength to withstand persecution.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of a person of faith withstanding persecution was Martin Luther. When he incurred the wrath of the Pope, Luther was accused of heresy at the Diet of Worms. After he was asked to recant of his writings, Luther said famously, “I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, in Jesus’ day, down through the history of the church, up to present day, and on into the future.
God of all those who suffer,
Thank you for blessing those who are persecuted for Your sake, and for the sake of all that is right. We are thankful for a heavenly reward promised to those who receive earthly abuse for their faith. We pray and lift before you all those who face adversity, of any kind, for proclaiming Your name. Protect them, and give them courage and strength. We pray this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.