by Michael A. Asher
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:3-12, NIV).
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10, NIV).
Blessing Amid Persecution
Persecution is the act of harassing or oppressing a person or a group of people—especially because of their identity. Throughout history, people have faced persecution because of their religion, race, ethnicity, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and many other factors.
In the far-reaching annals of history, one particular persecution of an innocent man stands out from all others; the persecution of the only One truly righteous among us, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The term “blessed” was a familiar term for those residing in the first century. Rather than describing a fleeting happiness dependent on current circumstances, to be blessed in the context that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount is an abiding, deep, and immovable joy rooted in the assurance of God’s favor—both in the present and in the future—that no power or circumstance can take away.
Jesus concluded his beatitudes with this amazing statement:
“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, ESV).
This past Sunday our senior minister, Brad Wilson, preached on this last beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount. If you missed that teaching, you can check it out here.
Union with Christ means sharing in all things that are Christ’s, including the rejection, reviling, and persecution that was his. The suffering identified as “blessed” is suffering for righteousness’ sake, being persecuted for doing the will of our heavenly Father. To embrace the promise of this beatitude, the persecution must be for doing his righteous will (see 1 Peter 3:8-17). Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are living out God’s ways amid a world that does not respect them and even rejects them openly.
Christianity’s message stands in opposition to the world system that follows Satan.
This conviction is rooted in the fallen nature of mankind and the nature of the new creation in Christ. Sooner or later, deeply God-centered Christians will be mistreated for the things they believe in and the life they live. Christ endured suffering and death on the cross so that we might one day live with him in Heaven. We must be willing to stand for him as steadfastly as he stood for us.
Strength Amid Persecution
How can we become so resolute in our faith that we would endure persecution no matter what we face? First, the blessing is ours for enduring persecution for righteousness’ sake because it is promised by the Lord himself, and he cannot lie. Second, it provides an opportunity to take inventory of our walk of faith because “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, ESV). Third, it can be a signpost to guide us along the journey Jesus walked (see Matthew 10:24, 25). Lastly, it is a sincere source of joy because we can genuinely identify with our Lord’s sufferings through the experience (see Acts 5:41). An absence of persecution of any kind in our lives may indicate that we are conforming too well to the world that opposes the Christ we claim to worship.
Jesus wants his disciples to desire the reward of Heaven more than they desire the reward of the world. Jesus wants us to have our treasure in Heaven, not on earth (see Matthew 6:19, 20). The more we are willing to stand for the Lord, the greater our reward will be in Heaven. The Bible tells us many times to “Fear Not!” It is the power of the Holy Spirit that will provide the strength we need to face persecution while standing for righteousness.
To the natural mind, persecution and blessing seem to be diametrically opposed; and on some level they are. Persecution is painful emotionally, psychologically, and in some instances, even physically. That is why the Scripture specifically declares a blessing for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39, NIV).
Therefore, in the midst of persecution, the promised blessing is not in the things we possess, but rather it is to be found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to desire the kingdom of heaven more than the realm of earth. I pray that you will receive that blessing today.
Michael A. Asher is a financial controller who has nourished a lifelong love of the Bible by sharing God’s Word through creative writing. His first book, Choosing to Follow Jesus on This Journey Called Life, was recently released. You can find it here.