“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
When considering the cross of Christ, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with joy and awe. We are free – completely free! – saved by grace and justified. How could our Lord give such a sweet gift of grace? When we ponder eternity with our Lord and Savior there is nothing but elation and excitement, but it came at a cost.
The cross of Christ is our victory cry, but it was first a form of capital punishment and torture. On it our Lord suffered every kind of pain and sorrow, facing separation from the Father and bearing the sins of the world. How can such heights of joy and sorrow coexist in one moment?
Only through the lens of the cross can we understand our final beatitude. In this series from Matthew 5, Jesus is explaining the blessings and joys that follow when we approach God and interact with others as He calls us to. With His final two blessings, Christ addresses persecution. It is the natural result of following in the footsteps of Christ and living in a way contrary to how the world lives. He makes this clear to us in John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”
In Matthew 5:10, the Lord says blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. He now builds on this, explaining that persecution will not only come in physical forms, but also in what is said about us on account of Christ. In this way, we should expect opposition not only for how we live, but also because of who we follow.
So now to turn to the elephant in the room, how can the slander of others be a blessing and why on earth should we rejoice and be glad because of it? Interestingly enough, the word “rejoice” in the Greek language literally translates as leaping with irrepressible gladness. This kind of heart reaction in the face of persecution can only exist because of heaven – an eternity in relationship with our Savior.
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 says: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
He is enough to tip the scales! Relationship with our Savior is where the richest blessings lie – blessings that far overshadow the trials of this life. Just as Christ suffered excruciatingly to extend us the gift of grace, we also will suffer and be treated as He was. But just as He was exalted, so shall we as sons and daughters of the King!
Yes, following Christ means being treated as He was on earth – spurned, falsely accused, abused and rejected. But there is such a bursting, irresistible joy in it as well. When we follow Him as Lord, we have Him as Savior and He will walk with us through this life, through every high and every low. We will never be alone and we will share in the greatest rewards of fulfillment just in relationship with Him.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
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