“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my (Jesus) account.” Matthew 5:11 (NRS)
Righteous living detailed in the Beatitudes to this point represented “internal changes” followers of Christ should exhibit as a result of their “new nature” (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus would end His teaching by sharing the “external response” righteous living would evoke for allegiance to Him. It would be for Christ’s sake, that persecution would follow.
This final Beatitude continues the theme of persecution that began in Matt. 5:10. In this eleventh verse, however, there is a dramatic shift in Jesus’ teaching pattern. Up to this point, Jesus has spoken of the Beatitudes in the third person “they”; the object of persecution now shifts to “you” (second person). For the Disciples, who were the immediate recipients of Jesus’ teachings, this shift would require them to deal with the reality that they too would now be the objects of abuse and suffering. Why? For Christ’s sake. If they exhibited the righteous behaviors Jesus outlined to this point, they, like Jesus Christ, would be viewed as a threat to the status quo–with its injustice, inequities, and sin.
It was not Jesus’ “goodness” that the world hated (and still hates)–unbelievers are good, but it was the impact His righteous and holy living had (and still has) on a sinful world. Darkness was exposed and those who practiced it felt uncomfortable and threatened by the light of Christ (John 3:19-21). It was not Jesus’ “kindness” that they feared–unbelievers can be kind, but what they feared was the reality that all who choose this fallen world and sinful living over Christ and eternal life relinquished the possibility of participating in the kingdom of heaven–today or in the future (1 John 3:2).
Kingdom living, living for Christ’s sake, ushered in a new way of thinking and behaving (life style) that would transform the heart. Change would not begin outside but from within (Ezek. 36:26-27). One can simply look to the Bible and see those whom Jesus transformed from “dishonorable vessels” to “vessels of honor” (2 Tim. 2:20-21). The Apostles Paul and Peter are examples of changed lives who would later be persecuted for Christ’s sake. This kind of transformation was unheard of in the 1st century life. It is no surprise that the Jesus’ teachings would later be blamed for “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
Jesus shared “the cost” for living for His sake. He characterized persecution in three distinct ways: first, in word (reviled), secondly, in act (persecuted) and thirdly in accusations of evil (all kinds of evil spoken falsely). Jesus’ description of persecution also indicated the response the Church would face as it sat in the midst of a fallen world. The first church, like the Disciples, could expect to be in perpetual collision with the world. They were antagonists to the evil they challenged. Persecution, for Christ’s sake still exists in the 21st century. It is not unique to distant countries on a map but is alive and active in our glorious nation. Satan hates the things that Christ stands for and daily orchestrates personal persecution of believers who choose to live for Christ.
Living for Christ’s sake is radical living anchored in the reality of Jesus Christ and the new life His followers now enjoy–a life of freedom, peace, and blessedness. This life style is reflected in how we think and act. We are poor in spirit–dependent on the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We are meek and we mourn–under girded by the tender mercies and comfort of the Holy Spirit within us. We hunger and thirst for righteousness–“as the deer pants after the brook”, so we passionately pursue intimacy with God. We are both agents and recipients of God’s mercy and peace. Through confession and repentance, we strive for purity of heart so that we may see God–His will and His way.
As we experience persecution for righteousness’ sake, let us emulate the spirit of Peter and the other Apostles as they demonstrated their boldness in living for Christ’s sake.
Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.’
As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name (Acts 5:29, 41).
To Thee, my God, I flee,
to hide from the rebuke and hate of man,
who daily pursues, oppresses, and wrests my words;
hide me in the secret of Thy pavilion,
I entreat Thee, from the strife of tongues.
F. B. Meyer
Blessed Are Ye