“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
Really?! Am I supposed to be happy when I’m persecuted? Happy? Because that’s what some versions like the Good News Bible say, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires…” Somehow, I think happy and blessed don’t measure up. I think that’s like saying that You, Jesus, were happy to go to the cross. If You were so happy about it, why did You sweat drops of blood the night before and ask that the Father would take this cup from You? Is that happy? Or is that something different?
Your crucifixion, Your suffering for us, Your persecution is the ultimate example for us. To understand this beatitude, I must understand Your response to persecution. And it’s not just a response to any persecution, but to persecution that results because we uphold You and Your ways in our lives and before the world around us. It shows that we are kingdom related, that we belong and are inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven–Your kingdom–with You. So what does this mean for me in the reality of my every day life?
First, I need to understand that this being blessed isn’t talking about me receiving a reward because I’m persecuted, or meek, or mourn, or am a peacemaker, or whatever. It’s all about the way I am. This blessed is my condition of heart and thinking and living. The Greek word for blessed, makarios, translates back into the Hebrew word, esher. This esher is a state of bliss. It’s a state that we live in. I enjoy heavenly bliss because I live and walk in it. It’s the state of my heart as it walks in the bliss and well-being of walking in godliness, reflecting God’s character. It’s better than being happy, because there are painful circumstances which will not leave me happy, but even in those painfful circumstances I can still live in this state of bliss in You, Jesus, and in all that God has done and is doing. This state of bliss describes me, it describes how I live and how I think and what makes me tick.
Even in the midst of persecution I keep ticking for You, Lord. I keep rejoicing in You and Your presence and You and what You have done and You and how You will never leave me even in the midst of my toughest trials. I rejoice that You are here. You are my God. And I am Yours. And though my life should fall apart around me and my health fail and I suffer excruciating pain beyond what I ever thought I could bear, You carry me through. You carry me through for Your sake, for righteousness’ sake. Because this glorifies You and shows how amazingly powerful and loving You are.
So what does it mean for me to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake? What if this isn’t just about when I’m persecuted? What if this word for persecution means more? This Greek word, dioko, means “to persecute, to pursue, to prosecute.” Those are not very delightful words. Now, if I’m pursuing and not being pursued, that could be in a positive light. I found that the Septuagint actually uses the Greek dioko to translate the Hebrew word radaph which actually means “to pursue” instead of to persecute. So what if this beatitude is about pursuing? And what if this would apply in every situation of my life, whether persecution or plenty? What if it’s all about me pursuing righteousness no matter what? Whether I’m in the deepest persecution or bountiful living or somewhere in between?
Skip Moen states, “Those who pursue righteousness are experiencing the kingdom as a present reality.” Think about that. If I’m one of those pursuing righteousness, I’m living for the kingdom right now. It’s not just a future goal. What does God say about that? Hear the words of Jesus in Luke 11:2, “And He said unto them, ‘When you pray, say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” So God desires we live out His righteousness now, not just in heaven. This isn’t about a future earth. This is about every day I live, in every circumstance good or bad I am confronted with. And something I’m starting to learn is that EVERY situation in my life, good or bad, is placed there by God to provide an opportunity for me to choose His righteousness and glorify Him.
I suppose the point is that I can’t be persecuted for following righteousness if I’m not following righteousness in the first place. Peter talks about this theme. “And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good? But and if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, [makarios] are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled: but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear…” (1 Peter 3:13-15)
I guess the easiest way for me to understand righteousness is to replace it with Your name, Jesus. Everything that Jesus values, that He did, that is of His character, what He loves, what He abhors, that’s righteousness. Righteousness is exhibiting the character of God. It’s following His ways and His heart. It’s knowing Him and living in that knowledge. And that takes the power of God, in Jesus Christ, by His Holy Spirit to enable me to do that. I must live a life of trust and dependency no matter my circumstances. And Jesus and Peter are telling me that I can and this is how and this is why.
1 Peter 3:12 tells me, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers…” God doesn’t just look for looking’s sake. God is looking for those who are inviting Him to do His will in their lives. He sees those who are living in Him and He brings His righteousness to life in them. He hears their cries, their pleas for more of Him, and He acts upon that righteous desire that He has begun in us. He is looking for people who have responded to His character by pursuing Him in their own lives. These are His. These will suffer in the world because of choosing Him and sometimes just because, because all people suffer at some time. But if pain is imposed on my life because I am taking a stand for and in Jesus, I won’t break, I won’t fall apart. My relationship, my strength, my confidence, my dependency, my love, my joy, my hope in the Lord will not be broken because it is real and it is firmly rooted and grounded in His love and He is firmly rooted and grounded in me.
Persecution doesn’t change my relationship with You, Lord. It strengthens it. It draws me closer to You. I pursue You more. I cling more tightly. I hold faster. And You do the same for me. You show up in special ways, personal ways. I’ve experienced that. I’ve heard missionaries who have been through far more persecution that I as they stood firm in You say, ” If it weren’t for Jesus I would have gone mad or recanted.” But You, Lord, gave the strength to stand in You. This is way deeper than happy, and I suppose the only way You can describe it is to just experience it, which means to know, you have to experience Jesus for Yourself. To know what this is to be blessed You have to surrender fully to Christ and let His character take over Yours. I have no choice but to stand up for God, because there is nothing, absolutely nothing else worth standing for.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s a win-win situation. I’m covered at both ends. I’m covered by the grace and love and power of God before persecution as I walk in Him and abide in Him and exhibit His character and follow His ways in my life. But this also, as I demonstrate the reality of who I am in the Lord, demonstrates that I belong to His kingdom. The Greek actually says this, “For of them is the kingdom of the heavens.” So, what if pursuing the kingdom is part of bringing the kingdom to be? And what if those who are pursuing righteousness, find it in Christ, and experience Him, which is bliss, and they can’t stop pursuing Him because He is everything and His pursuit is brought into the world around them because we pursuers want those who aren’t pursuing yet to know Him and His bliss? I’m starting to believe that persecution for standing for Jesus, is just an opportunity for God to allow us to usher His kingdom into our world because it drives us and others closer to Him.
Sometimes love is a painful pursuit, but real love doesn’t give up that pursuit for anything. God’s love is the only real love. He demonstrated the magnitude of His love through Jesus Christ who pursued our well-being and our intimacy with His own glory and life. He suffered persecution and death for each of us not for a prize but because He knew what the bliss of God was like. I mean, what kind of prize am I? Yet Jesus died and rose again to draw this sinner into His righteousness, into His loving, powerful arms. Why? Because of the joy set before Him. And what was that? I used to think it was Him thinking about me being reunited with Him. But now, I think it was for the goal of oneness with God, to fulfill His will no matter the cost, to be in full unity with Him again. And in doing so, He made a way for us to be re-unified. I must choose life in Him, life within the Father, in the Son. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Those aren’t just words in a prayer. It’s not just some vain repetition. This must become my heart’s desire and my way of life.
“As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.” Jesus was sent to bring the kingdom of heaven to us. He is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Am I going to seek and pursue first above everything the kingdom of God, and His righteousness? I will gain everything I ever needed in Him to do so. This is serious stuff. Because if I’m not willing to pursue Your righteousness no matter the cost, then I’m not part of the kingdom either. Because the only ones that live in this bliss are the ones that do Your will, that live in and by it. And that “do” is that word I love. It’s that “poieo” which is the doing of Your doing. It’s when You flow from us and can’t be stopped. So the one’s who do Your will, know You, and You are flowing out from inside. This is the one that You can take through anything.