Persecuted • Devotion #6: Persecution versus

I was recently watching a tv show that follows community college football players who have lots of talent, but somehow got overlooked. It is a true, unscripted story that has me hooked. One of the main characters is a young man named Dion. Dion has been through a lot of hardship in his life. His father was abusive, he got kicked out of his home at age 17, he can barely afford college tuition, and spends much of the year living out of his car and sleeping on friend’s couches because he cannot afford rent. As the show goes on, viewers see Dion’s struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, manifesting itself in horrible chest pain. In an interview with the camera crew, Dion opens up about the ways his father abused him. He said it included beating him with belts, shaving his head, forcing him to dress up in girl’s clothes and go to school, and eventually forcing him to quit high school football. In the interview, Dion readily admits that he deserved punishment for his actions, but his father took it way too far, constantly seeking to humiliate him as punishment. It is a heartbreaking story, but what stuck out to me was Dion’s willingness to admit that he did deserve punishment for his actions. There are not many young men mature enough to realize that there are actions that deserve punishment and consequences. Frankly, there are many adults that run from the consequences of their actions.

In Matthew 5:10, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is natural to think, “Blessed are those who are persecuted? How is that a blessing?” However, Jesus, as He does so often, reverses natural thinking and calls His followers to a Kingdom mindset. It is important that Christians understand the difference between punishment and persecution. A punishment or consequence is deserved for actions carried out. Persecution is not deserved. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Righteousness! It is the opposite of an action that deserves punishment. It does not make sense to go through hardship because of righteousness. 

I want to remind you what Jesus endured. For us, He experienced mocking, scourging (flogging), a crown of thorns, being spit on, carrying his own cross (literally), and ultimately death on a cross. For what? His righteousness. His perfect life was without sin. Jesus did not deserve any of it, yet He allowed Himself to endure it.

If you find yourself being persecuted, mocked, being called out, or put on a pedestal for your faith in Jesus Christ, look at His perfect example of suffering persecution. What you are enduring, Jesus knows what it is like and empathizes with you. He is with you in your persecution!

Today, take ten minutes and read Mark chapter 15. Consider what Christ endured for your sake and allow Him to comfort you in your suffering. 

Persecuted • Devotion #5: The Examples

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 (NASB)

As I studied this verse, I found that it has many layers and more than one way that it can be applied. From the context, I believe Jesus was using the example of the Old Testament prophets (Matthew 5:12; Luke 11:49-51) to encourage His disciples to face the trials He was preparing them for. Fast-forward a short time, and Jesus has fulfilled the words of those prophets by dying on a cross and rising again, paying the penalty for sin (Isaiah 53:10-12). In Acts chapter 5, the disciples have been publicly defying the Jewish rulers by preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. As a result, they are arrested and threatened before being beaten and released. In verse 41, we see a very strange thing – they are rejoicing (Rejoicing!) for being counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. Jesus told them that they would be persecuted and hated by all for following Him. History tells us that all of the Apostles would suffer gruesome deaths and yet they continued to boldly share the Gospel, persevering through ridicule, betrayal, and beatings. Why would anyone continue to face such hardship when they could just stay quiet, live a comfortable life, and wait to see Christ? 

In one of the strangest encounters in the Bible, Jesus confronts one of His sworn enemies on the road to Damascus. He shows him how he will suffer persecution and death for faithfully preaching the Gospel (Acts 9:15-16). Once he recovers from coming face to face with the Creator God, the man we know as the Apostle Paul immediately starts down a path of some of the worst sustained persecution and suffering ever recorded (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). This drastic switch in behavior needs an explanation. In his own words, he writes, “But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NASB). The result of his perseverance was the introduction of the Gospel to an entire continent. According to “Foxes Book of Martyrs,” Paul was later beheaded at the order of Nero, Emperor of Rome.

Christians have been, and still are, hated just as Jesus said they would be. This treatment by the world should not be surprising (1 John 4:13). God’s chosen people have been a hated target from the beginning, many times by those whose fake religiosity is exposed and threatened by the light of true righteousness (Genesis 4:3-4; Acts 7:52). Should this hatred and threat of persecution or even death cause us to shrink back and hide? Absolutely not! If we are truly a regenerated child of God we will not be able to hide, at least not for very long (Jonah 1:3; Matthew 5:14-15).

There are many astonishing examples throughout Christian history of people who chose not to hide, not to back down in the face of persecution, and not to lose faith. Through the power of the Spirit and the grace of God they demonstrated with their lives that Christ is more valuable than anything the world has to offer:

  1. Abel, the second man ever born, was murdered by Cain his older brother because God approved of him and not of Cain (1 John 3:10-12).
  2. The Old Testament prophets called “blessed” by Jesus: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel murdered by their own people (one sawn in two) for publicly condemning unrighteousness and calling for repentance.
  3. First-century believers in Rome, singing praises to God as they were led into the Colosseum to be killed as macabre entertainment. 
  4. Japanese families in the 1500s were crucified head-down on the beach and allowed to drown as the tide rose because they refused to recant their belief in Christ.
  5. Oregon Community College students in 2015 lined up and shot in the head for answering “yes” when asked if they were Christians.

Under threat of torture and death, these amazing Christians refused to compromise or deny their Savior and were summarily executed, some in the most excruciating ways possible. After they had suffered for a short time, they were introduced to their Heavenly Father and it was all worth it (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:22-23).

Do you and I have what it takes to be called blessed by our Savior? Would we persevere to the end if our Disneyland life were turned upside down by the threat of persecution or death? What if you were the sixth student standing against the wall and the first five were already lying crumpled on the floor? What if you were on the beach watching your family being nailed to crosses and the soldiers were walking toward you? Would you stay focused on your Savior (Hebrews 11:27; Acts 7:55)? Could you endure to the end and gain your life? Could I? Jesus said that anyone who denies Him before men, He will deny before His Father (Matthew 10:33). That is a serious consequence, infinitely more serious than an entire lifetime of suffering and persecution. Will we value Him above our own fleeting life and gain what is truly valuable (Hebrews 10:29; Philippians 3:8)? Will we be the example an unbelieving world needs to see (Colossians 1:24) so that they may understand the price Christ paid for their souls?

Not all Christians are subjected to persecution or martyrdom. Some live quiet lives in holiness and humility (Micah 6:8), walking with the Lord until He takes them home. Other believers boldly challenge the world with fiery sermons, calls for repentance, and unrestrained passion only slowed by time and old age. However, there is another type. It is one that Jesus calls blessed. It is one who discovers that God has found them worthy to suffer and they rejoice at the opportunity to glorify their Savior with their blood. They persevere through the power of the Spirit knowing that God is faithful to sustain them through whatever may come and carry them home to His Kingdom in which they share.

I pray, “Lord, please count me worthy of bearing my cross. Allow me to see beyond the vapor of this life, to gain a tangible understanding of what is truly important. Strengthen me to unashamedly proclaim Your name like a banner; may my life reflect the faith and hope You have given. Help me to make war on my sin; purify for Yourself this unworthy sinner. When my day comes, if it be Your will, let me endure with joy the pain and suffering You have appointed as my share. Glorify Yourself through my death that others may find life.”

Persecuted • Devotion #4: Rachel Scott

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

The word or concept of persecution is foreign to the American church. Miriam Webster defines it as the act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook. Christian persecution goes all the way back to the early Church. We have been extremely blessed in America for centuries because of the faith of our Founding Fathers. America was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and freedom of religion is part of the First Amendment of our Constitution. Other areas of the world do not have such an amendment and Christian persecution is an actual thing today. What Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:10, explains that there is a special blessing for people who are persecuted for their faith and righteous living, they will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. This account in Matthew is before Jesus’ shed blood on the cross which brings salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus is speaking to the Jewish people that followed the Law of Moses, but I believe the promise extends to the believer in Jesus Christ as well.

Have you ever thought about being asked the question, “If someone put a gun to your head and told you to deny Christ and live or profess Christ and die, what would you would do?” That is a very hard question but many, many early Christians and missionaries around the world have died for their faith. There is a book called Foxes Book of Martyrs. It’s a very old book with several accounts of those who gave up their own life because of their commitment to Christ. Ten of the twelve disciples were martyred for their faith in Jesus. I fear that in the day in which we live in 2021, Christianity has grown weak in our commitment and devotion to Christ. We tend to be consumers more than devoted followers. It is often more about, “What is in it for me?” I thank God for the devoted Christians that have been a faithful example in my life.

In 1999, at Columbine High School in Colorado, two young men entered the school with assault weapons. They went up to the library and held several students hostage. They began to ask the question to each one of the students, “Do you believe in God?” One girl in the library, when asked the question, said, “Yes.” She was shot and killed right there on the spot. She was robbed of growing up, getting married, having children, and serving Christ, but her story has reached the masses and her bold testimony for Christ lives on. She did not lose that day, she actually won! Jesus said, “Therefore whosoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

What would you say?

“He is no fool who

gives what he cannot keep

to gain what he cannot lose”

Jim Elliott

(Martyred missionary)

Persecuted • Devotion #3: I Want Heaven’s Blessings

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

We have been exploring the Beatitudes (beautiful attitudes!) this month, and throughout these readings, Jesus highlights eight unexpected situations in which you receive God’s favor and blessings. As we get to the end of the Beatitudes, we see here in verse 10 nothing different but it does not sound easy.

When you read through each verse of the Beatitudes you can see how to be blessed. The word “blessed” means happiness. The beatitudes do not promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity (Which is what we all want, right?). I love laughing and enjoying life with the people that are the closest to me, and I enjoy buying new toys to play with. I mean, I am human, but that is not what Jesus is talking about here. 

To Jesus, “blessed” means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. Basically, you will be able to be happy no matter what is happening around you. To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, follow Jesus no matter what the cost. In verse 10 there is a deep cost, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew is saying to expect nothing in return except persecution. Do not expect anything from the world in return except criticism. Now that sounds fun, does it not? That is all I want is to be criticized, persecuted, and get nothing in return (says the extremely sarcastic person). However, God is with the persecuted church as you read the second half of this verse, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Message paraphrase says, “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.We will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, that is our blessing for being attacked here on earth for what we believe. It would not be an instantaneous blessing, like we may want. It is a long term blessing, one that you can take to the bank when you get to Heaven!

So, to pose a question, do you believe in Jesus enough that it is evident to others around you to receive persecution and criticism? That really puts this into perspective. You may be thinking to yourself as you consider your walk with Jesus, “Do I even love Jesus?” Relax, of course, you do, or you would not be pursuing holiness by reading this devotion today. It is one step closer, it is one more level up in your walk with Jesus. 

I love that 1 Peter 3:14-15 confirms a blessing when we are suffering for Jesus, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

It all goes back to what I stated in the beginning as we defined blessing. The blessings we will receive are not earthly blessings – they are heavenly blessings. When we are persecuted and attacked for what we believe we need to not fear our enemies but rather trust in God as the Lord of all. We must believe that Jesus is truly in control of all events. When He rules our thoughts and emotions, we cannot be shaken by anything our enemies may do for we are inheriting the blessings of Heaven! One day we will be with God in Heaven with no pain, no sadness, no fear, and all His glory and wonder! That is what we are striving for.

Persecuted • Devotion #2: The Summer of “76”

Many years ago, I watched as a friend gave his life to the Lord. I had no understanding of what had happened, but somehow I knew he was different. You see, I had never been introduced to Jesus and without having a family connected with the church, I had no way of knowing the truth. My friend’s family came from a long line of churchgoers, so he fit right in and I am sure there was a celebration for his new birth. Throughout my teen years, I watched as others gave their lives to the Lord as this was the “Jesus movement” of the ‘70s. So many were leaving the party scene for the Jesus scene that I actually contemplated joining. Those that left, had a different way about them. It was a more joyous and sincere outlook on life. This intrigued me.

John 15:11 says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Intrigued, but not overcome, I continued to chase what the world had to offer. Occasionally, I would look back on that summer of “76” and think about those who had given their lives over to Jesus. Where were they now and what were they doing? Did they stay committed to Jesus, or did they succumb to the constant pressure of the world? Did they somehow get worn down from the constant cajoling that a non-believer would put on them? Did campus life finally get to them? Had they fallen back into the lifestyle they had before? Were they somehow persecuted for their beliefs or made fun of by others? Or did they find a peace that surpasses all understanding? It is where no matter what was thrown their way, they were able to endure it. It would be many years before I would experience what they most assuredly did back in the ‘70s and it was an eye-opener.

Philippians 4:7 adds, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thirty years later, as I freely sat in a church for the first time, I finally experienced the joy so many had talked about years ago. My sin before me, as the Holy Spirit convicted me and I repented, receiving a full pardon for my transgressions, I now understand who Jesus is talking about in His sermon on the hill in Galilee so many years ago. The redeemed are those that Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes. Only those who receive salvation will see the Kingdom of Heaven and only “they” will have the blessing of being persecuted for righteousness. Until that day of salvation, I could never have known who Jesus spoke about. While most people were intrigued by my instantaneous change, others were amused (thinking I was going through a phase), and yet others found no amusement at all in my new found faith. That very evening, I began a long list of calls inviting others to get to know the Savior and telling them of my new transformation. For most, this invitation was considered a nice gesture, but for others, it was an outright battle cry. There are those that I have not spoken to since that fateful night because of my testimony. Merely mentioning the name Jesus created a chasm that has yet to be spanned to this day. Yet, there are others who try and find a reason to knock me down a notch any chance they get. I guess it makes them nervous that I belong to the King.

Matthew 5:10 says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

While it hurts to lose friends because of your faith in Jesus, it quickly becomes apparent that it is yet proof, you are a child of God. I am no prophet, but I see a time coming soon when we will see persecution, unlike anything we have seen before. At the mere mention of Jesus’ name, we may find ourselves in a place of extreme danger, but remember, it only proves we are His. Continue to pray for those who are now your enemies and that they too can become a child of God. Hopefully, they will learn first-hand what it means to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and the only way to receive that righteousness is through faith in Christ.

Romans 3:22-24 records, “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

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