OVERVIEW – To follow Jesus means self-denial and a willingness to suffer for his sake – Persecution is the highest honor for his disciple – Matthew 5:10-12.
According to Jesus, and contrary to the “wisdom of this age,” rage and violence are NOT appropriate reactions for his disciple to rejection and persecution, real or imagined. For that matter, the values and “wisdom” of the present age are contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus, especially to the paradigm of Christ crucified.
In stark contrast to the ways of the fallen world order, Jesus instructed his disciples to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever men might criticize, hate, or persecute them:
(Matthew 5:10-12) – “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Blessed are you whenever 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” – (Luke 6:22-23).
Disciples reviled and persecuted for his sake ought to “rejoice and exult,” for great is their reward in the kingdom. This is a far cry from venting anger and lashing out at every perceived insult or infringement on our “rights.”
The disciples took this teaching to heart, at least after the resurrection. When Peter and the Apostles were hauled before the Sanhedrin and ordered to cease proclaiming Jesus, 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 “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” – (Isaiah 53:7, 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 lavish mercy on each and every “enemy” who might abuse them. Showing mercy to enemies is how disciples emulate their Heavenly Father and become “perfect,” just as He is – (Matthew 5:38-48).
Jesus was the only truly righteous man. If anyone deserved honor and respect, he did. Yet rather than be served, Jesus came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many,” which he did by enduring death for others. Conforming to this pattern is how his 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 his act of self-defense, 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 his death throes on a Roman cross, he prayed for his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” – (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:34).
Scripture portrays persecution for the sake of the gospel as something Christians should expect and endure faithfully, and without complaint. Not only so, to suffer for Jesus is a great privilege and honor, a matter for rejoicing since one’s Heavenly reward thereby becomes great.
The disciple who would follow Jesus must daily deny himself, “take up his cross and follow after” him. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of the kingdom of God. 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).
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, 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).
The disciple of Jesus is given the great privilege to serve God, His kingdom, and His people. Additionally, very often faithful disciples are granted the honor of enduring insults, hatred, and even persecution on behalf of their king, Jesus Christ. Suffering for him is a cause for great rejoicing – The everlasting rewards the disciple will receive far outweigh any shame, dishonor, or loss he or she might suffer in this life.
The teaching of Jesus to count suffering for his sake a cause of rejoicing, is contrary to the wisdom and experience of the fallen world order, and that is precisely the point.