For disciples, retaliation and violence are NOT appropriate reactions when persecution does occur. Rather than respond in kind, they must meet threats with humility, mercy, and love. This is what it means to “deny yourself” and “take up his cross.” And while praying for one’s “enemies” is contrary to the “wisdom of this age,” it epitomizes the paradigm of Christ crucified.
In stark contrast to the world, 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.” The persecuted disciple is especially “blessed” and ought to “exult greatly” since “great his reward in heaven” – (Matthew 5:10-12).
By enduring trials and persecution faithfully and with grace, the disciple emulates Jesus and learns what it means to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” Just as his enemies abused him, so the enemies of the Cross will mistreat the man who dares to tread the same path as his Lord.
WORTHY TO SUFFER
After his resurrection, the first disciples took this teaching to heart. When Peter was hauled before the Sanhedrin and ordered to desist from preaching, rather than respond with anger, he went his way “rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
On another occasion, after being abused and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell. At no point did they curse their persecutors or call down God’s wrath on them – (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).
And Jesus certainly provided the ultimate example of enduring unjust suffering for the sake of others. As Isaiah prophesied, the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh” was “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” The true Messiah did not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor did anyone hear his voice in the streets. He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” – (Isaiah 53:7).
EMULATING THE FATHER
Jesus exhorted anyone who would follow him to “love your enemies, and to pray for them who persecute you.” Showing mercy to your enemy, especially to the persecutor, is how the disciple emulates his Father and becomes “perfect” as He is.
“Perfection” is achieved not through self-discipline and moral purity, but through acts of mercy to one’s enemies. The “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” desires “mercy, not sacrifice” – (Matthew 5:38-48).
Since the creation, Jesus is the only truly righteous man who ever lived. If anyone deserved respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet rather than be served, the one destined to reign from the throne of David came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.”
THE SUFFERING SERVANT
And this he did by suffering a horrific and undeserved death on behalf of others. Not only so, but he chose to die for them when they were “yet enemies of God.” Conforming to this pattern is how the genuine disciple becomes “great in the kingdom of God” – (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).
When an armed mob arrested Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.” But he then did the unexpected. Rather than join Peter in defending his “rights,” he rebuked the hot-tempered disciple, commanding him to sheathe his sword. And then he healed the wounded man who was intent on arresting him – (John 18:10-12).
Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While in his death throes on the 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).
In Scripture, persecution is something disciples should expect and endure faithfully. Not only so, but to suffer for Jesus is a great privilege and honor, a matter of rejoicing and not anger or despair.
In many nations today, through loud protests and legal machinations, Christians may avoid persecution; however, in doing so, they rob themselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life in this fallen age.
RIGHTS & REWARDS
Our tendency to insist on our inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering, and the forgiveness of our enemies.
Thus, the man who would be his disciple must daily “take up his cross and follow” the same path Jesus did. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of the “Kingdom of God,” and to become “greatest” in His realm, one must first become the “slave of all.”
The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross,” and follow the “Lamb wherever he goes” regardless of where he leads. Genuine self-denial means denying yourself that which is yours by right.
In contrast to the political ideologies and systems of the present age, the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus offers its citizens the far greater privilege of self-sacrificial service for him and his people, and the very high honor of enduring insults, hatred, and persecution on his behalf. The rewards for doing so in the “age to come” will far outweigh any losses suffered in the present life.