The Roman’s had brought about a ‘Might makes Right!’ kingdom. When you have the biggest stick then you rule everyone else.
Jesus turned it all on its head. God’s kingdom was not going to look like that. In God’s kingdom those who were poor of spirit would be blessed, those who mourn would be blessed, those who are gentle in their dealings with others would be blessed. Those that went hungry and thirsted for righteousness would be satisfied. Those who were rich in mercy would find themselves receiving mercy from God, those pure in heart and peacemakers would be called children of God.
Then the bombshell. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Persecution was happening all around the listeners of Jesus that day. It would continue with impunity for centuries to come.
Really Jesus? Blessed are those people?
Not all persecution is righteous persecution. You can be persecuted whenever you highlight another person’s questionable behaviour that they have justified.
Persecution for righteousness’s sake is when our lives lived out, are Jesus’ life. When we walk in righteousness and our lamp is not hidden under a basket, but on display to illuminate the world around us we will shine the light of Jesus that will inevitably bring about opposition from those who have justified their wrong actions.
Jesus did this wherever he went. So much so that the people he most offended plotted and succeeded in having him killed. Jesus words here in hindsight are those of someone who was not flippantly trying to garner a reaction from the crowd, but those of one who has his mind and eyes set on the cross coming a few short years ahead.
Stephen was one such disciple who as he died under a hail of stones from those Jews who found his testimony of the risen Jesus too much. He glimpsed heaven and who is face radiated the glory of Jesus rising to meet him. Saul of Tarsus stood by holding the coats of those throwing the stones. Must Stephens face as he glimpsed heaven before he died etched into Saul’s memory?
Not long after Jesus met with this Saul on a road and confronted him. Saul became the Apostle Paul. Somewhere in Paul’s story Stephen’s persecution and sacrifice was worth it.
I bet Paul and Stephen hang out in Heaven. What a conversation that would be.
God can use anything, good or bad. We are assured that God can turn all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28).
While most of us would not line up for persecution, God’s word is clear that if we are to become increasingly more like Jesus then we can expect that this world will not like our presence or message.
Jesus words here continue to give us hope. When we are persecuted for righteousness’s sake we will be blessed. Jesus isn’t specific if the blessing is here on earth or in the life to come with Him in the resurrection, but what a promise. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.