Blessed are the persecuted

In 1853, without any formal training in the Bible, a 21-year-old man named Hudson Taylor left England to sail to China with the single purpose of sharing the gospel to the people of that country. He did some radically different things for a missionary at that time. He dressed like people in China instead of like someone from England. Grew out his hair, as was the custom of Chinese men. Brought in unmarried women to China and sent them out by themselves to spread the gospel. In the mid-1800’s this was unheard of. The religious leaders back home in England were furious at him. They tried to make things very difficult for him so that he would change what he was doing. He refused. He broke away from them and started his own missionary organization that is still around today. In the midst of this conflict, his wife died. Four of his eight children died. He contracted hepatitis and struggled with depression.

Here is my question to you, as we study the last of the Beatitudes, does this man sound like he was blessed?

When Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, He was telling us how true Christians are to live. This beatitude, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven, may be one of the most difficult ones because it tells us plainly what will happen when we truly follow Christ’s call for kingdom living.

I Peter 4:12 says Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.

Here is the truth. If you are living a truly Christian life, you will be persecuted. Peter goes so far to say, it should come as no surprise. In fact, it will be fairly normal.

Let’s first talk about what persecution is not. If you proudly parade your Christianity, be a know it all, act foolish, be annoying, and people don’t treat you nicely or have consequences because you did something wrong, you are not being persecuted. The pain you are experiencing is your own fault. This is not what Jesus is talking about. It is also not when bad things happen to good people, to nice people or even heroic people. He said you are being persecuted for righteousness sake. Good and nice people rarely have trouble with other people because we see the best of ourselves in them. And look up to them. Applaud them. Jesus is not calling you or me to be nice. Or to be a good person. He is calling us to righteousness. Right living. To follow His example. If we do that, we will be different. And that means some people will not like you and here is why. Like the Bible, your life is a mirror that reflects righteous, kingdom living and it exposes in others where they fall short and instead of seeing that as a grace to repent, they turn to persecution. Pastor John Piper puts it this way:

  • If you honor purity, the impure will attack you.
  • If you pursue self-control, your life will be a testimony against those who want it all
  • If you live simply and happily, your life will point out the wrongs of loving money and excesses of luxury
  • If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
  • If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open why it is bad to be lazy and careless.
  • If you are earnest and sincere, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
  • if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.

All this means is that if you are living the Christian life that Jesus is talking about in the beatitudes, you will be following Christ’s example, your life will be different and some people will despise you for it.

John 15 says If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.

I want to make an important point here. If we are following Christ’s example, then we must also look at who were some of his worst persecutors of Christ?  Were they not Pharisees and scribes? Teachers of the law? Religious experts? What does this mean? It means that a Christian’s persecution may not only come from those in the world, but it may also come from those who call themselves Christians. This should not stop you from doing the right thing. Even if it’s hard. Even if everyone else around you is not doing it, even if they are in a Christian school. Some of Hudson Taylor’s most difficult obstacles to sharing the gospel were religious leaders in England but his focus was not on pleasing people, but on serving the Lord.

Here is the big question. Are you suffering persecution? Not hard times because you’ve done it to yourself, but true hardships because of your faith. Know that being persecuted is actually a mark of a true Christian who is following after Christ.  

Here is what is difficult. We want comfortable, easy lives. This appears like what a blessed and happy life would be, but Christ turns that upside down and says no, the persecuted believer is the blessed one. How can that be? The secret is in the second half of that beatitude. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If this world is not your home, then there is nothing in this world that you hold so tightly to that it defines who you are as a person or is what makes you truly happy. If heaven is my final home, then everything I am doing is preparing me to be the best citizen of heaven. God uses hard things to grow and mature us to be more like Him. To be more righteous and holy. In a minute we are going to sing How Firm a Foundation. In the fourth verse, the hymn writer describes this process this way:  

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie

My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine

When miners dig for gold, it comes out of the mountain with other elements mixed in it and the refiner has to get a raging hot fire going to melt the gold and what happens is all the impurities float to the surface. Those impurities are called dross. When all the dross is taken away, all that is left is pure gold. God uses fiery trials to refine us. To make us more and more pure. His promise of persecution is not because He is mean but it is a promise of grace to make us more and more who He wants us to be. That is why we can rejoice when that happens. Yes, I am called to suffer for Christ so I can be more like Christ. In the last verse of the hymn, here is the promise:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose

I will not, I will not desert to its foes

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake

The hymn writer is using the strongest language he can by saying no way, absolutely not, never going to happen. Jesus will never, ever, never, forsake us. Here is the promise to cling to:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.