10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
When we think of being persecuted for our faith, the first thing that comes to mind is those who were killed for not renouncing Christ. We picture passionate saints like Stephen or the Apostles, or we remember tales told by our pious elders about Saint Patrick or Saint Barbara or Saint Bartholomew – people who were tortured and died for sharing the word of Christ. In a more modern context we might tune in to the news feed from an organization like Voice of the Martyrs, which details the persecution of the modern worldwide church – Christians burned alive in Pakistan, churches destroyed in Nigeria, pastors imprisoned in Scandinavia, and other recent stories. But in all of those big stories of the persecution of Christ’s followers, people can sometimes miss the even bigger picture of the small ways in which Christians face prejudice and persecution every day, even here in America. The message of these news stories is not meant to be shock journalism, these stories are meant to remind us that in those places the persecution began in the same small ways that Christians are persecuted even in countries that are more “free.”
What? You don’t think Christians are persecuted in America? Think again. Within my own lifetime, Christian prayer was once an established part of public life, with prayers openly spoken in schools, in government meetings, in Congress, at sporting events, and even between friends. But do you feel comfortable praying in public today? Yes, our Teacher told us to pray in secret, not to make a public spectacle of prayer, but we are also told to pray for our leaders, our government, our children and friends. We are told to bless our enemies. We are told to be a witness to the world. But these days if we speak the name of Jesus Christ aloud in public or post open images of His life and death and resurrection, we are told that WE are persecuting others, and therefore we are prohibited from sharing His Word and His gospel. People have drifted so far from the church and from God that they look at us as if we are aliens when we speak Jesus’ name in conversation. And when we speak God’s truth in love, trying to get others to understand just how far our country’s morals have drifted off-track, we are told WE are the persecutors, and we are told WE are wrong and should be silent.
Jesus told us that we would be persecuted for doing those things.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
10 “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
11 “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
12 “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
13 “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
As we face the small persecutions of those who “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3), will we back down and stay silent? Or will we rise up and speak louder than before, so that the voices of sin don’t overwhelm the gospel?
1 Peter 3:13-17
13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Men especially like to compare their scars, and women sometimes try to one-up each other with stories of their woes. But as an old friend of mine recently said, you don’t want to try matching your trials to those of the apostle Paul. After all he had been through – chased by angry mobs, beaten nearly to death, bitten by a deadly snake, lost at sea, shipwrecked, chained and imprisoned for years – Paul wondered if it made more sense for him to die than to live. But Paul’s life was a LIVING witness for Christ, and we remember Paul not for how he died but for how he lived and taught and worked so passionately for God’s kingdom. That is why Paul was able to say that despite all the trials and tribulations we would face, nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
So we can and should expect to be persecuted in large and small ways for sharing the gospel, and we should expect NOT to get a warm greeting everywhere we stand forth and speak the truth in love. Nonetheless, “great is your reward” for those who speak even in the face of opposition, persecution, and death. As “the prophets who were before you,” let us stand proud in Christ’s power and declare His glory to the world. Even as we see the world going to you-know-where in a handbasket, let us speak the gospel fearlessly, for God is with us.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Son who suffered and died that I might live. Thank you for the great example of the apostles who shared the gospel in the face of pain and death. Give me, Lord God, the courage to stand up for You, to face the persecution You told us is coming. Let me hold fast to You, sweet Lord, as I speak the gospel to the world. Amen.