SYNOPSIS – To follow Jesus means self-denial and a willingness to suffer for his sake. Persecution for him is the highest honor for his disciple – Matthew 5:10-12.
Contrary to the “wisdom of this age,” rage, belligerence, and especially violence are NOT appropriate “Christian” reactions to persecution – Whether perceived or real. Angry reactions by disciples to perceived threats to their civil “rights” only demonstrate how far many of us have assimilated to the values of the surrounding pagan society, beliefs often contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus himself, especially to the paradigm of Christ crucified.
Consider the issue of persecution. If we become angry over even verbal insults to our faith – How will we respond to genuine and serious persecution? Would we take to the streets in protest or even riot against our perceived persecutors?
In stark contrast to the ways of this fallen world order, Jesus instructed his disciples to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man”:
(Matthew 5:10-12) – “Happy they who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Happy are ye whensoever they may reproach you and persecute you, and say every evil thing against you, falsely, for my sake: Rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in the heavens; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.” – (Compare – Luke 6:22-23).
Disciples who are reviled and persecuted for his sake should “rejoice and exult,” for great is their reward in Heaven. This is a far cry from unleashing our anger by lashing out at every perceived infringement on our “rights.”
The disciples of Jesus took this teaching to heart after his resurrection. When Peter and the Apostles were hauled before the Sanhedrin – Beaten and ordered to cease preaching -Rather than respond in anger they went their way “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” On another occasion, after being beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell – (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).
The book of Isaiah prophesied how the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh” would be “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” The Messiah of Israel sent by God would not:
(Isaiah 53:7) – “Wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” – (Matthew 12:19-20, 26:63, 27:12-14).
Jesus exhorted HIS disciples to “love your enemies, to pray for them who persecute you,” and to extend mercy to each and every “enemy” who abused them. Showing mercy to enemies is the precise way by which disciples emulate their Heavenly Father and become “perfect” as He is – (Matthew 5:38-48).
Jesus was the only truly righteous man ever to live. If anyone deserved honor and respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet rather than be served, Jesus came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” This he did by enduring a horrific and undeserved death. He willingly died for us when we were yet enemies of God and alienated from Him. In fact, conforming to this pattern is how a disciple becomes “great in the kingdom of God” – (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).
When an armed mob came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.” But JESUS DID THE UNEXPECTED. Rather than join Peter in defending his “rights,” he rebuked him and commanded him to sheathe his sword, then he healed the severed ear of the wounded man who had come to arrest him – (John 18:10-12).
Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While suffering on a Roman cross, and in his death throes, he prayed to his Father – “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” – (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:34).
Scripture portrays persecution for the gospel as something Christians should expect and endure. Not only so, to suffer for Christ is a great privilege and honor, a matter for rejoicing since, consequently, one’s Heavenly reward becomes great.
Through loud protests and legal machinations, Christians may avoid persecution but then unwittingly rob themselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life. Like the hypocrites who do their righteous deeds to be seen before men, they may already “have their reward,” but NOT “with their Father who is in heaven” – (Matthew 6:1-5).
As for a Christian’s inherent “rights” – The notion of inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering for the gospel, and the forgiveness of enemies. The man or woman who would be a disciple of Jesus must daily “take up his cross and follow after” the Lord. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of him. To become “greatest” in the kingdom of God, one must first become a servant of all.
The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross,” and daily follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Self-denial is not the same as exercising self-discipline to keep sin under control. Instead, it means to deny oneself that which is his or hers by right – (Matthew 16:24, Revelation 14:1-5).
The Apostle Paul gave up his “right” to take a wife for the sake of the ministry. Likewise, though as an apostle he had the right to expect financial support, he often abstained from this “right” and supported himself through manual labor to further the gospel – (Acts 18:3, 1 Corinthians 4:11-12, 9:1-14).
“Until the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted, and are wanderers and toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we hold on, being defamed, we beseech: as the sweepings of the world have we become, the offscouring of all until even now” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
In his parable of the Unprofitable Servant, Jesus asked:
“Who from among you having a slave plowing or keeping sheep, when he has come in out of the field will say to him, ‘come and recline?’ On the contrary will he not say to him, ‘Make something ready that I may dine and gird yourself to serve me until I have eaten and drunk…Does he offer thanks to the slave because he has done the things enjoined? So, also, you, when you have done all the things enjoined upon you, say, ‘we are unprofitable slaves; we have only done what we were obligated to do” (Luke 17:7-10).
Western-style democracy may provide its citizens with the opportunity to exercise and defend their civil “rights.” However, this belief runs contrary to the gospel and the example of Jesus.
In contrast to so-called “civil rights,” Christianity offers disciples the far greater privilege of service to God’s kingdom, as well as the vast honor of enduring insults, hatred, and even persecution on behalf of its king, Jesus Christ, with rewards that far outweigh any and all losses suffered in this life awaiting them in the “age to come.”