“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Matthew 5:11-12
I find it interesting that in the Beatitudes that Jesus speaks three times to the issue of persecution, especially considering that it is so early in His ministry. He even hints at the possibility of an institutionalize, conspiratorial attack upon those who choose to not only live life in accordance with the dictates of God’s word, but for the simple act of following Him. Of course if the religious leaders of the day, the supposed representatives of God in the Sanhedrin would go so far as to beat Him in the midst of a mockery of a midnight trial who are we to expect any less of those who would elevate themselves up to be co-equal with God Himself? Who are we to think that we are any better than Jesus, whom they falsely accused of blasphemy and insurrection against Herod for declaring Himself King?
Mind you, these are not the pagan Romans of the day (at first), but the purported believers who wielded spiritual power and authority over the people in an effort to “keep the peace” with their Roman oppressors. And to take it further, the Romans took their cues from the Jewish authorities as they held their own mockery of a trial and entertained the false accusations and in fact found Jesus “not guilty”, not once, but twice in one night before Pilate casually washed his hands of the situation and released a murderous Barabbas to the raucous crowd. I also find it interesting that when they cried out to “give us Barabbas”, they were literally crying out “Give us the son of the father.” Granted the name “Barabbas” was a fairly common name in the first half of the first millennium, but the serendipitous irony is too much to ignore.
The first time Jesus speaks of persecution is in relation to our lives characterized by God’s righteousness. The second time Jesus speaks of persecution it is in relation to our lives characterized by our acknowledgement and devotion to Him. The third time is a comparison to the prophets that went before, who were persecuted and killed by the very people they were sent to declare God’s message to. The earliest mention of the killing of the prophets was when Jezebel destroyed the prophets and priests of God as she and Ahab instituted a nationalized fertility cult to Ba’al and Asherah – a religion characterized by ritualistic acts of sensuality and self-indulgence. And she wanted the prophet Elijah dead most of all.
Isaiah is said to have been sawed in two by Manasseh and buried by what is now known as the Pool of Siloam. Jeremiah died by stoning in Egypt, where he was buried and later reinterred in Alexandria (some believe that he was later re-interred again in Ireland during the Crusades). Ezekiel was martyred by the Chaldeans. Micah was martyred by King Jehoram. Amos was tortured by the priest Amaziah and the killed by one of Amaziah’s sons. Jesus even mentions that the prophet Zachariah was killed by the religious leaders of his day “between the temple and the altar” by stoning. And Jesus Himself would be mocked, beaten, stripped naked, humiliated, paraded through the streets of Jerusalem, and then crucified on a Roman garbage dump outside the city.
On Resurrection Sunday, April 21, 2019, the people of Sri Lanka began their day just like any other normal day. The minority Christian population of Sri Lanka entered into worship celebrating the reality of their risen Savior. Without any warning, in a coordinated attack, 6 suicide bombers attacked 3 Christian churches and 3 prominent hotels. The attack was timed to inflict maximum devastation of Christians in worship on their holiest of days and vacationers innocently enjoying breakfast at the hotels. In all, 267 people were killed and another 500 injured. This is what it is like to live under a regime that is hostile to the Christian faith.
And a time will come when we may endure similar attacks. We may have insults hurled against us for our faith in Christ as the only way to the Father. We may even have evil spoken against us and have false accusations levied that would even bring us into a court of law in an effort to smear our reputations, and thus the reputation of our God. While we are not currently here in America having to experience this on a institutionalized scale, it is happening already in many parts of the world that are hostile towards God. I pray that time is a long way off, but when that time comes, I pray you are prepared.
The prophets died for their devotion to the truth of God’s word. Jesus died for His devotion to you. Are you willing to lay your life down for Him? “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) The Kingdom of God grows because it is watered by the blood, sweat, and tears of the true martyrs of the faith. Those who lay their lives on the line for the gospel. Those who refuse to deny the truth in the face of death. I have not faced death for my faith, and I pray I never do. I know there are times that I have failed to stand up for the gospel in the face of mere jest and ridicule. And for that I am ashamed. I pray that I am bolder and stronger today than yesterday and that I will be able to stand on the rock that is greater than I if and when that times comes.
I pray that my faith does not become centered on me, but rather stays centered on the cross of Calvary. I pray that I do not mistake discipline for persecution. I pray that I do not mistake correction for assault. I pray that God will always give me the discernment that I need that is informed by the truth of His word for whatever situation He puts me in. And I pray that I have the endurance to stand where others have fallen.
The older I get, the less I fear death and the more I fear disappointing my Abba. The words that I most desire to hear on the lips of my Lord: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23) Anything less would be a life wasted in pursuit of less worthy goals. The only legacy worth leaving is that of being good, being faithful, and being a servant. Even if the whole world turns against me, I know that His eye will never leave me and I can always rest in the shadow of His wings.