Leap for joy!

Persecution is always a possibility for the followers of Jesus and his Church. We may face hostility from employers, neighbors, government, and family members because of our beliefs and practices. So, how should we react when the possibility becomes a brutal reality? Jesus and the Apostles provided clear instructions and examples of how the Church must respond when faced with persecution.

In his ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus declared the “blessedness” of the disciple persecuted for his sake. Blessed are they that have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Rejoice and exult, for great is your reward in heaven.” The parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke adds that we should “Leap for joy” when harassed and prosecuted since we will be greatly rewarded in the coming age - (Matthew 5:10-12, Luke 6:22-23).

Leap - Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
[Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash]

This is counterintuitive and contrary to human wisdom. No normal person enjoys suffering, and Jesus did not summon us to rejoice because we enjoy pain. Instead, we rejoice because suffering for his sake will result in great reward in the Kingdom of God.

Peter and the Apostles took this to heart. When they were called before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and threatened and beaten for preaching the Gospel, they “departed from the SanhedrinREJOICING that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name” – (Acts 5:41).

Since they were found “worthy” to suffer for Jesus, they went their way “rejoicing.” Despite the threats of the Council of the Sanhedrin, the Apostles “ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Messiah.

In Philippi, Paul and Silas were cast into prison for preaching the Gospel, yet rather than become despondent or curse their jailers, they were heard “praying and singing hymns to God” - (Acts 16:23-25).

In Thessalonica, the young Assembly received the Gospel in “much tribulation” and harassment from their countrymen, yet its members welcomed Paul’s message despite the hostility. In this way, they became “imitators” of him and an inspiration to other believers in the region - (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

Suffering for the Kingdom is not reserved for the chosen few or only the leadership of the Church, nor is it a sign of God’s displeasure. As Paul wrote years later, “All those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” - (2 Timothy 3:10-12).

EVERLASTING REWARDS


The mindset of the sinful world sees suffering for the Gospel as a curse, something to be avoided. Only the eye of faith can perceive that it will result in everlasting rewards in the “age to come.” The hope of the Apostolic Faith is forward-looking.

Final rewards and everlasting life are received in the future. Suffering is not pleasant but it “is a slight momentary affliction preparing us for an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” - (2 Corinthians 4:17, Revelation 22:12).

To suffer “unjustly” is a sign of Divine approval, evidence that one is a true disciple of the Crucified Messiah. “When you do right and suffer for it patiently, you have God's approval.” To be rejected because of our faith is what it means to follow the Lord who “also suffered for us, leaving us an example to follow” - (1 Peter 2:19-20).

We should not “be frightened in anything by our opponents.” Hostility to the Gospel is “clear evidence” of their destruction but also of “our salvation.” God has graced us to suffer for His Kingdom, and that understanding must govern how we respond to our persecutors - (Philippians 1:28-29).

As men and women of flesh, we respond instinctively to attacks with anger and even violence. Human society and experience condition us to see self-defense and retaliation as necessary and even morally praiseworthy reactions to threats and assaults.

Nevertheless, Jesus prohibited us from taking vengeance. Revenge may be the “way the world works,” but he called his disciples to something vastly different and greater than the ways of fallen society. When we are persecuted, we must “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” By showing mercy to our enemy, we emulate God and become “perfect” as He is - (Matthew 5:44-48).

Likewise, Paul exhorted believers in Rome to “bless them that persecute, bless and do not curse.”  We must “render no one evil for evil.” God’s justice is not blind, but we must “not avenge” ourselves. Instead, we must leave justice in the hands of the God who will “repay” if, how, and when He sees fit - (Romans 12:14-21).

Jesus at Dawn - Photo by Henrique Jacob on Unsplash
[Photo by Henrique Jacob on Unsplash]

The Apostle Peter point
ed to Jesus as the example for believers. For the everlasting joy that he would receive, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God.” Nowhere in MatthewMarkLuke, or John did he ever curse his persecutors or retaliate against the men who condemned him to death - (1 Peter 2:19-23).

Jesus did not enjoy suffering or being put to death for a crime he did not commit, but he looked beyond his horrific fate to the exaltation and glory he would receive for enduring the path chosen for him by God.

That is why the Cross became a source of joy for him rather than the emblem of shame and dishonor that it was for the residents of the Roman Empire, and his disciples are often called and, yes, privileged and “blessed” to walk the same path that he did.



SEE ALSO:
  • Law and Prophets - (Jesus came to fulfill all the things that were promised and foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets)
  • Fulfilling the Law - (Mercy and love are defining characteristics of his disciples and reflect the true nature of his Father – Matthew 5:43-48)
  • Carrying His Cross - (To follow Jesus, we must be willing to suffer for his sake, and enduring persecution is the highest honor in his Kingdom)

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