Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:10a “Blessed are they which are persecuted. . .”
This seems at first a glaring paradox, but further reflection reminds us the blessed have always included among their number those who have embraced a noble cause and served it with, as Lincoln said, “the last full measure of devotion.”
This eighth beatitude reveals the costly nature of trying to implement the first seven. This final beatitude sounds a valiant note, and calls to the “hero in the soul” (Carlyle). Christian living is not easy. If we take our faith seriously, we will be persecuted. Save yourself much heartache. “Put the cross in your creed” (Watson).
Jesus was blunt honest. Refusing to mislead people, He told them up front what it would cost to follow Him. They would have to deny themselves, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, forsake all, take up a cross, be faithful unto death.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” For some, like Bonhoeffer, this call is to die physically as a martyr. For most, it is a call to die daily to whatever stands between us and everything God wants us to be. Everyday we are to die to little bits and pieces, practicing and preparing ourselves for the time when we might be called upon to die to much.
Jesus came, not to make life easy, but to make people great (Barclay). He calls us, not to avoid suffering, but to suffer and yet be victorious. Christianity is sanctity bonding with suffering to make us strong.
If we take our Christianity seriously, it can disrupt every phase of our lives–at home, school, work, in society, and even at church. Abel, Daniel, David, Elijah, and Jeremiah are Biblical examples of ones who suffered persecution in these areas.
Godly Abel suffered at home. He was hated and killed by his brother. The call to follow Christ is for some a call to be extremely lonely, even in the midst of family. Many of you are sneered at, made fun of, ostracized, and deemed foolish by your own kin. I have known teenagers who were essentially allowed to do anything they desired, except be baptized. The latter was forbidden, deemed a crime serious enough to bring down the wrath of their parents. All who suffer the agony of family rejection, be comforted, our precious Lord was rejected by His own brothers.
Daniel suffered at school in Babylon. He was told to partake of the king’s wine and meat, but had to decline, because it had been offered to idols. To be a Christian sometimes calls for a willingness to hear the scoffs of academia. I thank God for Christian educators. We need Christian teachers in the public schools, not to propagate our faith, but to protect all faiths from attack. Recently, at a local institution, a teacher had his students anonymously write down how they believed the Universe began. When several indicated they believed in divine creation, he offered scorn, “Are there really people in our biology classes who actually believe this?” Conservative Christians are one of the last groups in America that it is still politically correct to bash, and evolution is one of the main issues used to attack us. Evolution is now the number one corridor leading people from faith into unbelief. I have lately been noticing cars with stickers which have Darwin’s name inside the Christian Ichthus symbol. On these slams at our faith, I desire to put a post-it note, “I did not know Darwin became a Christian. Thanks for letting me know.” One new emblem has a little Darwin Ichthus being swallowed by a larger Christian Ichthus. How is this competition going to evolve? What will someone create next?
David suffered persecution from Saul, his boss on the job. Refuse to violate conscience at work, and you will inevitably suffer. For some, the call to follow Christ is the call to miss a promotion. I was pastor of a man so fiercely hassled at work for his faith that he spent his breaks in a bathroom stall, down on his knees, begging God for strength to endure it when he returned to his work-station. I was pastor of a married school teacher who was sexually harassed by her principal. He tormented her, trying to use his position to bully her, to seduce her, to make her take weekend trips with him. She would come talk with me and literally be trembling with fear. She carried in her purse a little, crumpled piece of paper on which she had written, Jehovah-Jireh, God will provide, a title of God I had recently taught a lesson on. When the persecution became too intense, she would reach in her purse, and cling to that piece of paper. I spoke in confidence to a Christian school board member, who secretly investigated, and finally removed, the principal.
Elijah suffered persecution from his government, and fled Queen Jezebel. Regarding the persecution of Christians, this has been the worst century in history. More people have died for their faith in Jesus this century than in any other century. The problem has become so severe that last month (September 1996) Congress unanimously passed a resolution asking the president to “expand and invigorate international advocacy efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians.” Our government has often been negligent in this area, conducting business-as-usual relations with countries where this persecution takes place. The Global Evangelization Movement estimates that about 159,000 Christians have been martyred annually in recent years.
In our own backyard, here in the United States, a refusal to compromise convictions in politics causes people to howl. TV and the tabloids have revealed the sordid stories of many who are no longer in politics due to unrighteousness. We sometimes forget that there also are many no longer in office due to righteousness.
Jeremiah suffered persecution from his fellow believers. Sometimes people serious about their faith are persecuted by the Church itself. Be not surprised when our own brothers and sisters in Christ are among the persecutors. Spurgeon was despised by fellow Baptists in England. Finney was demeaned by his own Presbyterians. Paul was opposed by “devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city” (AC 13:50). Very civil and upstanding people can be vicious persecutors. Hitler’s henchmen appeared sane and normal. Trajan, one of the vilest persecutors of the church, was extremely just, friendly, and honest in every other area of life.
Once I made my commitment to serve Christ fully, my worst persecutions came from fellow Christians. The five starters on my basketball team, after we had won a big tournament game, went out to celebrate. The other three Baptists physically tried to force me to smoke a victory cigar. The one unbeliever among us made them quit, saying, “Stop it! Marshall doesn’t do that.” Church members who misunderstood my new resolve, and thought my parents were being too restrictive, volunteered to sneak me out at night and take me places I had decided not to go to.
If we mean business for God, expect persecution. Christ died to remove our curse, not our cross. To have Christ in the heart is to have the cross on our shoulder, for Christ and His cross never part. “His own crown, He knew, was first to be twisted of thorns, and copies of it were to wound His followers’ brow” (Maclaren).