“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11
Today our dose of daily strength comes from Matthew 5:11, when Jesus gave a “good news . . . bad news” announcement to His disciples. First the bad news: They could expect to be slandered, maligned, and persecuted for their identity with Him. Two thousand years of church history have proven those words to be dead-on accurate.
As a Christian growing up in the West, I have not experienced the excruciating level of persecution faced by scores of saints living for Christ in places like China, the Sudan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and other hot spots of blatant opposition to the gospel. The growing hostility of Islam only promises to increase the body count. So I hate to even begin to compare myself to them except to say that on a much smaller scale we all face the distinct possibility of being misunderstood, maligned, and ostracized for standing up for Jesus in a day when He and His claims are becoming increasingly unpopular.
I woke up to this reality early on in my life. Our church was hosting an evangelistic service—a “bring all your unsaved friends to hear the gospel” kind of revival meeting. Wanting to join the cause, I got up the courage to ask one of my high school buddies to come, hoping that he would give his life to Christ that night. I remember being disappointed when he sat quietly through the service and stayed glued to his seat during the invitation.
The next day I walked past him as he was hanging out with a group of popular athletes. As I waved, he elbowed the guys and chided, “Hey, Joe took me to his church last night hoping that I would get saved. I guess he thinks I’m going to hell!” They all thought that was hilariously funny while I sheepishly made my way to class. It was my first taste of being in trouble for Jesus’ sake.
Businessmen who on company trips quietly stand for Jesus by not joining the other guys for an evening at the “gentleman’s club” know how uncomfortable it is to be looked on as being weird and not a part of the gang. College students who are ridiculed in class for daring to be a proponent of creation or intelligent design know what Jesus was talking about in this passage. And most of us have seen the raised eyebrow of a friend when we have mentioned that Jesus is the only way to God.
We are caught in the crossfire of two civilizations. Jesus proved how real the crossfire was when He went to the cross as a maligned, unwanted, falsely accused criminal.
But here’s the good news: Jesus promises that we are “blessed” when we are persecuted for His sake. As He said, “Great is your reward in heaven.”
Blessed? Rewarded? No one feels blessed or rewarded when they are marginalized or, much worse, martyred. Unless, that is, you believe that this is not the only world you have. Temporary trouble here is put into perspective by the assurance that there will be eternal rewards in the world to come. Give me a choice between collapsing to the intimidation here and facing Jesus as a traitor to His cause or of being maligned here and welcomed as a loyal warrior in heaven, and I’ll stick up for Jesus every time.
And, when you are tempted to fold under the pressure, remember that the day is coming when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
So, next time you feel the press of the warfare, chin up! Great is your reward in heaven.