by Peter Rust
You would think Jesus would kick off His instructions to His followers on how to live (Sermon on the Mount) by contrasting with the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. But He starts by pronouncing blessings – rewards and joy for those who live in uncommon ways.
All nine blessings are important, but Jesus does a few things to rivet our attention on the ninth:
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Sermon on the Mount’s opening isn’t the only place in scripture where suffering for Jesus is elevated as a high privilege.
Paul talks mysteriously of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”. In writing to the Philippians, He speaks of suffering for the Lord as a precious God-given privilege on par with the privilege of faith in Christ. When the apostles were suffered, they rejoiced that they had been “counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name”.
Yet we have the exact opposite reaction: we rejoice that we have not had the opportunity to suffer for our Lord and we pray we never will.
Until a couple weeks ago, even I thought these blessings didn’t apply to Americans because we have a 1st Ammendment right to the freedom of religion. But as we studied this passage in church, I realized that the promises of scripture stands opposed to the thought: All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. If they do these things while the tree is green, what will they do when it is dry? If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also.
If these are the promises of scripture, why don’t we find them to be true in our experience? The answer is contained in the next words from our Savior’s lips.
Immediately following the blessing of being persecuted for Him, Jesus gives a double-warning against losing the vibrancy of our witness: the first against losing our taste and the second against hiding our light under a basket.
I believe that we have lost our vibrant witness for both of these reasons and that they are the very keys for re-gaining it – and with it, the blessing of persecution.
The first warning, salt losing its taste, is a warning against blending in with the culture around us. We do this by living the full-potency righteousness in Matthew 5-7. When we look at it, we begin to make excuses: we don’t have the time or money to live for others like Jesus did.
The truth, of course, is quite the opposite, but it is painful. It requires stripping down our monthly planners and budgets to find and minister to the sick and poor among us. I’m ashamed to say that I need a lot of work in this area.
The second warning, about stuffing our light under a basket, is not so much about being different as it is about hiding our differences. Paul asked people to pray that he would be courageous with the gospel and we see the theme of courage and boldness running through Acts from beginning to end.
But somehow we’ve redefined courage, such that “so-and-so knows I’m a believer” is courageous. Take a second to look at the apostles and we realize that bold evangelism means bringing the gospel to the lost in a way that is both relevant and convicting. One of the reasons we’re afraid to do this is that we’re afraid of suffering disgrace for the Lord – because we don’t see persecution as the blessing it truly is.
May we aspire to be worthy of suffering disgrace for our Lord, as the apostles did, speak the gospel boldly and enjoy the fellowship of sharing in our Lord’s sufferings.