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. (Matthew 5:11-12)
As Jesus finishes the beatitudes he brings the focus back to himself. Just before this he blessed those who were persecuted for seeking the good and right generally, but now he zooms in on those who stand up for him. In fact, he even attributes the sufferings of the prophets before him who pointed the way to the Messiah, once hidden but now revealed in Christ.
This is particularly poignant in our day when so many people claim be persecuted for Jesus when they simply aren’t getting their way. People decry society shedding the trappings of civil religion like prayer in school or securing the right for gays and lesbians to marry as being “persecuted”. Or perhaps a secular or skeptical friend turned down their invitation to church (perhaps for being overbearing), and that is seen as “suffering for Jesus”.
But just a quick peek into any Church history text will show real persecution was suffered by those whose actual lives and livelihoods were laid on the line for their faith. Today, Christians in China a being barred from bringing their children to church, and converts in some Islamic parts of the world have to be baptized in secret for fear of being disowned or killed. That is what real persecution looks like, not simply experiencing social change and declining influence in society (often as a response to a bad public witness, such as marrying faith and politics, extolling “faith leaders who are little more than hucksters, or not protecting the most fragile from predators in the pulpits).
I pray we might not have to face real persecution in the West. Frankly, I doubt many who claim to be Christians now would remain so if they did have to suffer for real. But perhaps that may is necessary to bring the faithful to seek the Lord fervently. I pray our hearts are on fire with the love of Jesus enough to make such a purging unnecessary in a time of peace, and only prove its fervor should we ever face a real trial of faith.
Lord Jesus, may I never fall away from a firm devotion to you, whether in times of calm or times of strife, by the power of your Spirit at work within me. Amen.