Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The fear of man is like walking into a gunfight with a coffee cup in your hand thinking you were coming to a private concert. You’ll probably get shot, and you didn’t even see it coming. Why is it like that? Why do we care so much what people think? What is it about the world and its systemic evils that not only brings hostility to Christians but genuine fear in the hearts of God’s people? Moreover, why in the world would Christ attach blessings to this type of conflict?
Setting the Stage
The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest message ever preached. It’s great because King Jesus delivered it, and He doesn’t preach bad messages. The Sermon’s introduction is all about the blessings involved with covenantal faithfulness. When a person pursues these things, he/she receives all that God has promised. Want the Kingdom of Heaven? Pursue poverty in spirit. Want comfort? Mourn. Desire the inheritance that is the earth? Cultivate meekness. Want ultimate satisfaction in the world? Long for justice. Extend mercy, and in turn, you will get mercy. Be pure in heart, because, after all, you shall see God. Want the badge of eternal sonship? Be a peacemaker.
All of these things presuppose hostility, and our Lord gets to that here at the end of the Beatitudes. That the Kingdom of Heaven should be an upside-down reality is no secret. Jesus is no ordinary King. And here we find Jesus wrapping up the rhythms of the Kingdom of God on a note of sobriety: you will be persecuted, and because of it, you will be truly blessed. Why would Jesus suggest such a thing?
The entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is centered on Kingdom ethics. The people of God are to be the people of God with the result that they live out the Kingdom in the present motivated by future expectation. The ethics of God’s Law-Word are rooted in the immutability of God—He doesn’t change, nor does His standard of righteousness. Built upon that premise comes the blessings for rejection.
Because Jesus reigns as King, He must rule as King, too. Notwithstanding all odds against Jesus, His Kingship is cross-shaped. The ethics of the Kingdom are molded by the cross of Christ. The crown rights of Christ comes only after drinking the cup of God’s wrath. That’s why all of this is
All this is to say that as Christians pursue righteousness in the world through God’s Law-Word, one thing is inevitable: the world will hate it. The reason the world’s evil system of injustice hates the Law of God is
Looking At the Text
Notice in verse 10 that Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake” (emphasis mine). Some people, crippling under the fear of man, see persecution as “people don’t like me.” Well, that may very well be true—perhaps you are a frustrating person. Nonetheless, the persecution that Jesus says is honorable is persecution that arises on account of Jesus’s righteousness, not some form of self-righteous piety. Preaching the gospel will invite hostility, but if you’re a jerk because you have zero tact, well, then, that’s your problem. That’s not a blessing. That’s foolishness!
The word Jesus uses here is dediōgmenoi, and it means pursuit. As Christians seek to live godly lives using God’s Law as a guide and tool for dominion in the world, they will be pursued. In verse 11, Jesus speaks again of persecution and how others will revile. To revile is to upbraid. In other words, the world and those who do Satan’s bidding will track down in hot pursuit those who love righteousness, and they will find fault. Because of the part above about the world being condemned by God’s Law, they respond by seeking to suppress and snuff it out. And boy do they grab the pitchforks and flashlights!
Jesus says that this is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. When someone is being upbraided for simply adhering to the ethics of the Kingdom, the Kingdom belongs to that person. Jesus says that we are to rejoice! We rejoice when people slander us and track us down to toss arrows. When we are reviled “on [Christ’s] account,” we are blessed, and we should see it as something to rejoice in. We are glad and full of joy when the world lashes out at us because of Christ and His righteousness.
Instead of cowering from fear-of-man-syndrome, we must put the coffee cup down and be ready for the gunfight. Mockery and insult will come; false accusations and scoffing are inevitable. And that’s okay. We can have joy in the midst of suffering for the sake of the gospel because the gospel is way better than anything on this earth. Any earthly loss for the sake of the Kingdom of God is just that an earthly loss. The world can’t touch heaven and her people. The Church stands with the Prophets of old who were persecuted for righteousness’ sake and for that, we are blessed. So take heart, friends. The Kingdom will continue to expand. Vindication will come. Keep your hand to the plow.
Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Teaching Pastor of Cross and Crown Church in Northern Virgina, and is the author of Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification. Jason and his wife have three children.