Earlier this month a high school valedictorian ripped up his approved speech and then proceeded to recite the Lord’s Prayer in spite of the school district’s ban on prayer. The response was . . . overwhelming. You can watch it here:
Whether you think Roy Costner IV’s actions were right or wrong, you’ve gotta admit it was gutsy. He didn’t know if people would cheer or physically remove him from the stage or worse.
Which brings us to Jesus’ final—and possibly most mind-blowing—beatitude yet:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"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" (Matt. 5:10–12).
Let’s break this beatitude down . . .
What It Means to Be Persecuted
"Blessed are those who are persecuted."
To be persecuted means to be pursued, but not the kind of pursuit you want from that cute guy in geometry class. This kind of pursuit is a relentless pestering, abusing, attacking. There seem to be two kinds: verbal persecution and physical persecution (Heb. 11:36).
Right—and Wrong—Reasons for Persecution
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake."
Sorry, but you won’t be blessed if you’re being persecuted for "talking smack" or acting foolishly. In Dorothy Patterson’s words, "To offend the world, you do not have to be unwise in your choices or obnoxious in living your Christian faith. Just to be like Christ will bring persecution."
Why We Can Actually Look Forward to Persecution
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."
No one I know wants to be mocked or hated or tortured or killed. But Jesus—who was mocked and hated and tortured and killed so you and I might be saved from God’s wrath against our sin—promises us incredible rewardto come when we suffer for Him. Not here and now, but for forever. And He would know, because He led the way:
"For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2, emphasis added).
The crowds won’t always respond like they did this month to Roy Costner IV’s graduation speech. In fact, Jesus tells us to expect just the opposite. Philippians 1:29 tells us salvation and suffering go together—they’re a package deal:
"It has been granted [gifted] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake."
So let’s get ready to suffer together for Him. Stay tuned to the blog as we talk more about persecution. And let us know . . . is all this persecution talk new to you? Have you ever been persecuted for righteousness’ sake—verbally or physically?
Two more beatitudes to go, girls! Today’s beatitude is found in Matthew 5:9 where Jesus says:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
As I was praying about how to write this post, I stumbled on the story of Abram doing some serious peacemaking. You’ll find the account tucked in Genesis 13, but here’s the quick version:
Abram and his nephew, Lot, are filthy rich. They have tents, lots of silver and gold, livestock galore, and a bunch of herdsmen to take care of all their animals. In fact, they have so much stuff that verse six says the land couldn’t support both of them living together.
And here we find the perfect set-up for a great big conflict. Two rich men with too much stuff living too close together on too little land. Sure enough. Verse seven reports "there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock."
What does Abram do when he realizes this? He doesn’t ignore the problem, and he doesn’t give Lot the boot, even though he’s the older uncle. Nope, Abram acts like a true peacemaker. He goes directly to Lot and acknowledges the conflict:
"Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen" (v. 8).
In other words, "We’re family, Lot. Let’s not fight." But Abram doesn’t stop there; he offers a solution. An incredibly unselfish solution:
"Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left" (v. 9).
What was Abram thinking?!
If I replay the tape of my life, I see how I’m always choosing the best for myself—claiming the soft bed over the hard floor; choosing the corner piece of cake with gobs and gobs of frosting; keeping the best hand-me-down clothes for myself and passing the "rejects" on to someone else.
But here . . . the stakes are much higher than a good night’s sleep, a sugar high, or stylish clothes. Abram is choosing where he and his descendants would live. That’s a major decision. How could he give Lot first dibs?
Scripture gives us a few clues:
Genesis 15:1 tells us God was Abram’s reward. God was his portion (Ps. 73:25–26). When that’s true, you don’t need other things.
Abram trusted God’s promises. God had told him his descendants would receive all this land, and Abram believed God even when he couldn’t see how God would do it (Gen. 12:7).
We’re told in Hebrews 11:10 that Abram was looking forward to his forever home instead of living for the "here and now."
That’s why Abram could make the tough choice to be a peacemaker instead of fighting with Lot. And the only thing that will keep us from fighting with others is if God is the One we desire more than anything or anyone else. After all, James 4:1–2 tells us our desires are what start all our arguments:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
As you think back to what has riled you up recently, dig a little deeper. Is the ultimate issue that you want stuff or relationships or others’ good opinion of you more than you desire God? How can you become more of a peacemaker, more like your Father God who sent His Son to make peace with you (Rom. 5:1, Col. 1:19–20)?