Jesus said, “Rejoice and be thrilled, for in the heavens you will receive a rich reward, for they persecuted the prophets who were before you in the same way.”
— Matthew 5:12 (USC)
Persecution has a strong sense of suffering about it; intentional bullying, maltreatment, and harassment are implied. We have all been persecuted in some way, but some people – for reasons of colour or gender or religious stance, etc. – are particularly systematically targeted.
The Jews of Jesus’ time were regularly subject to racial and religious persecution.
The Jews were no foreigners to that which many of our indigenous are accustomed to; many will relate to feeling like second- or third-class citizens. So, Jesus is endeavouring to encourage them – and he’s probably managing to do just that.
I imagine Jesus is just arriving at top gear and is about to go into overdrive as he transitions through the next several sections of his Sermon. Verse 12 of chapter 5 is the culmination of the brisling opening section – the Beatitudes – of the Sermon on the Mount.
What Jesus says – above – either inspires us or it annoys us.
If we are inspired, we have already experienced a life situation of major suffering, and, because we decided we could only endeavour to obey the Lord in our pain, we were eventually blessed. If we are annoyed, the probability is we suffer now, and have not experienced, yet, the blessings of going Jesus’ reverse way. But it’s by faith we are blessed. And if that’s our hope – to go by faith despite the pain – our faith ultimately vindicates our hope.
Either way, enduring that which we suffer is never easy. But what can ease our pain is the thought of what treasures in heaven are being stored up.
It may not make sense to focus on a time when we are dead. It may even frighten us to imagine such a morbid thought. But death is the doorway into the Presence of God for eternity – if we follow Christ.
Thinking on our deaths won’t make us want to be there as much as it will give us purpose to make the most of this life now.
To think there is purpose beyond the earthly dimension in the fact of our persecution; that is verily good. To ease one’s pain, can’t we meditate silently on how blessed God has ordained we be? We are not far from the finishing post – we must keep straining forward in our stride despite the headwinds of human resistance.
QUESTIONS in REVIEW:
1. How do we “consider it pure joy” when we face “trials of many kinds” (James 1:2-4)?
2. What is it like to be genuinely persecuted? The persecuted church is one thing, but what about in egalitarian Western society? Can we even relate to Jesus’ Jewish context? Maybe yes, maybe no.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.