Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:12b “. . .and be exceeding glad:. . .”
The term, a compound of two words, literally means leap much. The same root word is used of the healed lame man who entered the temple “leaping” (AC 3:8). “Exceeding glad” refers to joy which is irrepressible, demonstrative, and can not be hidden. We would say, “jump for joy,” as winners of the World Series do.
There is to be a stark difference between the way we respond to suffering for sin and suffering for Jesus. If we suffer for sin, we sorrow; “Blessed are they that mourn.” If we suffer “for righteousness’ sake,” we rejoice.
Not only is it important for us to suffer “for righteousness’ sake.” How we respond to persecution is also important. Our reaction to persecution truly matters. We must not retaliate. Jesus, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return” (1 P 2:23a NAS). Harbor no resentment. Do not simmer and stew. Flush out bitterness, or we will become depressed. We cannot let persecution make us miserable.
At first, persecution stings and shames us. We are human beings, not robots. We hurt when attacked. However, once we pray, regain our bearings, and contemplate what has happened, we must release the hurt, letting it give way to sheer joy.
Job said, “My friends scorn me: but my eye pours out tears unto God” (JB 16:20). The Psalmist (109:2-4 NAS) was reviled, “They have opened the wicked and deceitful mouth against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue. They have also surrounded me with words of hatred. . . .But I am in prayer.” Job and the Psalmist both initially grieved over persecution, but found solace in God. Jesus also found consolation in the Father, “While suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 P 2:23b NAS).
Matt. 5:12c “. . .for great is your reward in heaven:. . .”
We can “rejoice, and be exceeding glad” in persecution because God notes our pain and is pleased. God is a “great” pay-master. No small “reward” can fall from a hand as generous as His.
Since persecution involves the loss of possessions or prestige here, Jesus pointed us to a kingdom elsewhere, “in heaven,” where “the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest” (JB 3:17)–no more persecution, pleasure cannot be taken from us, we shall be beyond the reach of tormentors.
Our glory “in heaven” shall be more than proportionate to any suffering we endure on earth. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 C 4:17). Agrippa was thrown in prison for speaking well of Caligula. When the latter later became Emperor, he gave Agrippa a chain of gold which weighed as much as his chain of iron had weighed in prison. Be assured, God also will never be in anyone’s debt.
By persecuting us, the world unwittingly tells us what we want to hear. We do not belong here, our citizenship is elsewhere. Persecution gives evidence we are headed the right direction, and proves where we are going, we are heaven bound.
Matt. 5:12d “. . .for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Another reason we can “rejoice, and be exceeding glad” in persecution is that it proves we are in good company. Those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” have an illustrious ancestry, a true line of descent from the bravest heroes of yore.
I grew up being told I descended from the greatest Chief Justice, John Marshall. I was very proud of this, and because of it, my family and I were once given a VIP tour of John Marshall’s house in Richmond, Virginia. I was so proud of this connection that I decided to research my family tree to document it. Alas! I wish I had never started the research, for I learned the reports of my famous ancestry were not true. I was crushed. However, here we find an ancestry no one can rob us of.
Those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” follow in great footsteps. As Barclay notes, Christians who have to suffer for their faith can throw back their heads and sing, “Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod” (Baring-Gould).
It is reassuring to know that even in the time of our persecution no fiery trial overtakes us but such as has been common to others (1 C 10:13). Do fellow workers scorn us? Take heart. Daniel, the most conscientious of employees himself, was despised by his fellow workers (DN 6:4). Is a supervisor at work harassing us? Despair not. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego endured the fury of their boss (DN 3:19). Have we lost a job for our faith? Be comforted. The people rejected Samuel and replaced him with a king (1 SM 8:5). Others were reduced to wearing “sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute” (HB 11:37b).
Do we feel hounded, does the pressure seem unrelenting? Do not feel alone. Elijah had to run for his life from Jezebel (1 K 19:3). Others “wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves” (HB 11:38b). Do people make fun of us? Never quit. Children mocked Elisha, calling him “Bald head” (2 K 2:23). At Pentecost, some scoffed at the disciples, saying they were drunk (AC 2:14).
We are not alone on this road. Others went before us to show us the way. “It is a comfort to see the way of suffering a beaten road, and an honor to follow such leaders” (Henry). Gentle, soft, weeping Jeremiah was beaten (JR 20:2). Honest Zechariah was stoned to death in the temple court (2 CH 24:21). Tradition says Isaiah, the Old Testament’s most fluent penman, was sawn in two by King Manasseh (see HB 11:37). Lest we forget, Joseph (GN 39:20), Jeremiah (20:2), John the Baptist (MT 14:3), the Apostles (AC 5:18), Peter (AC 12:3-4), James (AC 12:1-2), John the Beloved (AC 3:1; 4:3), Paul and Silas (AC 16:25) all share one thing in common–a prison record. Even our Lord died a criminal’s death.
These “prophets which were before you” were mankind’s best, people “of whom the world was not worthy” (HB 11:38). People much better than ourselves have fared no better than we do.
How long has persecution been the lot of the righteous? Since the beginning. Abel, the first man who died, died “for righteousness’ sake” (GN 4:1-8). How long shall persecution be the lot of the righteous? Till the end, when Jesus comes again.
Persecution has been, and shall be. Many suffered before us, more will follow. In the meantime, the truth keeps marching on. Long after skeptics and persecutors are dead and gone, the message of Jesus will continue. Worry not about the faith. The cause, the Bible, the Church will go on. Despair not. Rather make sure we nobly play our part in that glorious train of saints which keep it marching on.
Barclay tells how, in constructing Hoover Dam, many lost their lives to turn a dust bowl into a fertile land which produces more crops than the whole agricultural output of New York state. On the huge wall of the dam, a tablet bears names and this inscription: “These died that the desert might rejoice and blossom as the rose.”
Brothers and sisters, we are not alone in the barren wilderness of this world. Out in the schools and the workplace are other believers who are hurting, afraid, feeling alone. In their desert existence, our bold confession can help. Someone near us may be hurting worse for their faith than we are, and may need our help more than we need help. Let us live that someone else’s “desert might rejoice and blossom as the rose.” At the cost of blood, sweat, and tears, others made it easier for us. Let us do no less for those who are beside us, and who come behind us.