“Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
You would think that our “blesseds” would just keep continuing. Blessed are you this, blessed are you that, you know, on to different topics so we could keep on growing. But all of a sudden we hit this truth about living like a believer in the midst of persecution, and Jesus, You just don’t stop. You go into greater detail, I mean, unless reviling, and persecution, and having evil things spoken against you doesn’t fall in that category of what it looks like and feels like and is like to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And it’s not just that You tell us to expect this, but You are also telling me that it’s an opportunity for me to rejoice and that I’m not alone. I think maybe there are some things here You really want me to understand. It looks to me as though You’ve spent three verses on explaining this one. And it appears to me that You taught me what I needed to know in seven verses to get to the point where I could understand, comprehend, and respond appropriately at this point.
This is not easy stuff. This is the stuff that takes three verses to explain. Actually, it takes a lot more verses and experience than that to really get it. Why? Because this type of persecution is really hard to deal with. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard not to fight against it and wish yourself out of it. But this is what is going to come into our lives because we believe, because we’ve chosen sides, because we have attached ourselves to the One who is above the world and all it’s systems.
The “world system” stands in the face of Your system, God. Moment by moment the world and Satan desire to defame Your system. And because that is the goal, then I can expect the world and Satan to attempt to defame me, to rail at me about my foolishness, to chide me, and to taunt me. The world and Satan will pursue me for my harm, for evil purposes, for my pain just like Satan pursued Job for his pain. I can also expect the world and Satan to say all kinds of evil things against me, even make false accusations. I mean, we’re not talking just hurtful stuff here, we’re talking vicious slander that cuts deep. Well, that’s a grand invitation to become a believer, isn’t it?
Well, it is. Because tough stuff is going to fall in everyone’s life, not just the believer’s. But the believer has this promise- “great is your reward in heaven” and I think that probably ought to have some exclamation marks after it!. See, right now, in the midst of our tribulation we have already received our partial reward. Jesus, You are with us! We are residents of the heavenlies! We are already seated in Your court, just not fully yet. We belong to Your kingdom! We are comforted by Your presence eternally with us. Your inheritance is our inheritance! I am being filled with You, God, and one day I will be full! I have obtained mercy, and I will continue to obtain mercy. I have seen You, God, and I will see You fully! I am a child of God and I will fully be a child of God without flaw one day! I am a part of bringing the will of God, the kingdom of heaven, to fulfillment upon earth as in heaven, and one day it will be fully so!
When a friend doesn’t trust you and accuses you wrongly, that stinks. When people who you have never harmed gossip about you… When you are doing good and the recipients pretend to gun you down… When your gifts of sincere love are disregarded… When you are abandoned… When you are considered as trash or something to be beaten or used…When you are outcast… When you are reviled in these ways, when you are persecuted like this or worse, when your good is evil spoken of, what is your reaction? Does it change you? Who do you listen to? Who created You and who gave you your identity? Did they? Or did He?
I can’t help but think of the story, the true story where Peter was up on the roof top praying. And Peter became very hungry but fell into a trance. In this trance, this vision, he “saw heaven opened, and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ [ie. unholy] And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.” (Acts 10:10-16) Peter didn’t get it until the Lord started sending people that would pull the picture together for him. The Lord was sending him to bring salvation to a Roman centurion! The Jews had considered Romans unclean. Jews weren’t even supposed to enter their houses. But You, God, were rocking Peter’s world here and telling him, “My system is different Peter. You are going to have to let me teach you from my system. And then You are going to have to learn to stand by it and remember whose you are now and whose system is yours now. “
So what’s my point? No one, including me, has a right to call or treat what God has made clean as though it’s not clean. No child of the kingdom should be guilty of this sin. We are to build one another up because we are of one mind and one body. Who would harm their own body or their own mind unless they had some sickness they couldn’t control? No healthy person would do that. No believer, no healthy believer walking in the Lord would do that. But some of us are guilty of that. It’s time to repent. And some of us are guilty for not standing up firmly against that sickness and being honest with our sick members of our body. Because if you don’t treat a sick member of the body, a sick appendage, it winds up like my grandfather’s leg. Gangrene sets in and it has to be amputated. The whole body suffers. If it’s not amputated the blood will infect the other organs and it will lead to death of the whole body. Oh, let us not be the ones guilty of persecuting our sisters and brothers in the Lord!
Yes, sometimes persecution comes from within. I find it far better and easier to accept when it is from those on the outside. But Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” God has a reason for bringing, yes, bringing both types of persecution and reviling into our lives. He is making us more like Him and we must stand the test. Daniel 11:35 tells us, “And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed.” Oh, is this part of the process of God making us holy?
Do these situations offer me the opportunity to truly come to believe that God is sovereign, that He is even sovereign over Satan’s rule in this world? Do I truly understand that every, and I mean every circumstance is ordained by God for my sanctification? Satan may be the “ruler of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air,” or a “cosmic power over this present darkness” but Jesus, THANK GOD!, did not bow to him! So we are children and heirs of the ONE who rules over the “ruler of this world”! We are children of the ONE who rules over “the prince of the power of the air”! We are children of the ONE who is THE COSMIC POWER OVER THIS PRESENT EVERYTHING! Yes, Satan plays havoc in the world. People like Hitler, Isis leaders, Stalin, and others bow to him and perform heinous murderous atrocities. But God gives permission, appoints the times, and appoints the limits. Read Job. Satan may have a plan, but God’s plan prevails, because he’s using Satan for his glory and our sanctification.
Lord, help me to live in the truth. And the truth is that You are in charge and that You have already won the victory. And as a believer, I am living in You. That means that You are in charge of my life and circumstances and You have already won my victory. Listen to 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Why can Peter say this? Because he knows that You, Jesus, have even the devil under control. And anyone who is Yours, who is living under Your control and authority has Your power to resist Satan’s devouring. See, I don’t get to avoid Satan prowling around me and trying to get me all ruffled up. I can’t avoid him bringing things into my life to try to destroy my faith.
So how does he try to destroy my faith? Well, this devouring is kind of interesting. Actually, it’s even worse than first glance. The Greek word to devour here is “katapino” and it’s not the usual word for ripping something apart and eating it. This word is more about gulping something down. How do you gulp down a solid? You don’t until you change it to a liquid. So maybe Satan is trying to attack our identity in Christ and he’ll go the extreme to do it. Will I let him? Will I hand over to him that power over me? Am I forgetting that God has all ultimate authority and power over my life? Am I forgetting whose blood I am identified with and by? Am I forgetting that it is Christ’s blood who gives me life and power and identity? Will I let the devil drain me of His blood running through my veins? Or will I stand firm and hold fast in character within my Lord Jesus Christ?
Am I truly acknowledging who is in control even in the hurtful and terrible situations and the pressing times of my life? Peter makes this statement in 1 Peter 3:17, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” See, God sometimes wills that I suffer for doing good. After all, my Jesus did, didn’t He? And as the Master goes, so do His followers. If You, Lord, will that I suffer for doing good, well, then I will suffer. And vice versa. It’s really Your say and not the lion’s. And ultimately it’s for my good though it seems evil at the time. Think of Joseph. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
What if my suffering isn’t just for my benefit? What if my trusting in faith through all the suffering not only is beneficial to me, but brings about that MANY people would be benefited and brought to life in Christ? I think of Job and how he is an encouragement to everyone who reads and understands. Imagine the countless people influenced through Job and his story. Or Joseph. I think of a missionary, friend, and sister named Miriam and how her story of suffering and deliverence and continued times of suffering have drawn people to the Lord. I think of another missionary friend and how my own life and ideas and walk with the Lord have been influenced. But these people have learned to take their focus off of themselves, their tormentors, and their pain, and to keep their focus on You, Lord, who loves them, sustains them, never leaves them, empowers, and equips them. And You give them a love for their oppressors that far surpasses human understanding.
I think of You, Jesus, and how they arrested You to take You to eventually be crucified. And that lion and the people thought they were in control. But You were the one in control over it all. You knew it already and You surrendered to Your will. Before it happened You made this statement, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.” God is in control of everything, even life and death, or especially life and death. And if Jesus, the One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, had full control over every situation then, well, that means that He still is the One with full control over every situation today and tomorrow and forever. Will I acknowledge that control to You? It will make every difference in my life and in my character and in my fruitfulness. And it will allow me to be a part of You, God, delivering many other people.
In life or in death, in pain or in suffering, You, God, are sovereign. Jesus acknowledged Satan as being a murderer (John 8:44). And on the outside that appears tragic and terrible and out of control. But God is sovereign even over every life taken. Yes, there will be some persecuted to the point of death. Right now Al-shabaab comes to mind. Not all will be delivered from worldly persecution. Will I accept this as part of Your greater plan for me to not only bring about my good but the good of many after me? You warn us in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Lord, You call Your believers not only to faith but to faith unto death. And there is no way that I would be ready for that without learning faith through multiple persecutions first. Why? Because every instance of persecution is an opportunity for me to learn to respond within Your character and to learn to depend wholly upon You, and to cling to You more tightly, and to praise You and worship You more adamantly. It’s always for my good and other’s good. And You are always in control. I must remember that these are Your own words, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). Everything happens according to Your will.
In all things, if You, Lord, will it, it will happen and if You do not will it, then it won’t. You are always the One making the final call. Our lives are in Your hands. You make the ultimate decision whether in life or death, or natural or unnatural disasters. Who will I focus on amidst my trials and persecutions? Will I focus on the one who plans my harm? Or will I focus on the glorious One who is the lifter of my head and the planner of my good? Job chose to focus on You, God, the One who gives and the One who takes away, but blessed be Your name! John Piper says he found “more security and more relief and more hope and more support and more glorious truth in despising Satan’s hateful hand and looking straight past him to God for the cause and for his mercy.” In the midst of it all, before it all, after it all, will I take time to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God”? (Job 37:14) Oh, Lord, that my first impulses would be as those of Job’s first impulses. That years later, just as Job’s testimony was of steadfastness in the midst of trials and persecution, so would my testimony be. And that people would see the purpose of the Lord and Your compassion and mercy.
What about sickness and disease? Does sickness and disease mean you are punishing someone? The disciples asked upon seeing a man blind from birth, “Who sinned, him or his parents?” But Your answer was, “This is so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Does Satan have the upper hand? I see that woman who had been bent over for eighteen years. You heal her on the Sabath and share, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” So it appears that Satan caused this illness for an appointed time. Well, if God doesn’t choose to heal me, does that mean that Satan wins? Absolutely not! God will always do what is best for us and those influenced by us, and sometimes our best is in a later healing. God is not obligated to always give us what we ask for, but You, Lord, will always give us what is best for us. It’s Your promise. (Romans 8:2) I must remember here who is still in control. You, Lord, gave Satan permission to afflict Job with boils. It was so bad, his wife told him to “Curse God and die.” But Job’s response was firm in You, and he looked beyond the finate circumstances that Satan was inflicting to the ultimate Controller God, and said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not accept evil?” Even after the persecution passed and Job was restored, his friends came to him and “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” (42:11) Who get’s the tribute? Not Satan. You, Lord, get the tribute. In Your own words, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)
All things were made by Jesus including the microscopic plants and animals. Again, their purpose is to glorify God. Now Satan uses even these things to twist that purpose. He can use lions like in the Coliseum, or fleas, or rats, or flies, or birds carrying avian flu. He can use pit bulls and bacteria that cause ulcers. He can use ticks and sharks or giant fish. But they can never act in ways that God forbids them to. God commands the animals and plants. Think of the gnats in Egypt and the frogs. Think of the fish swallowing Jonah and then spitting him out on ground. Think of the speaking donkey. Think of the lions whose mouths were shut in Daniel’s presence. Think of the plant that covered Jonah. Scripture says that God appointed the fish to act that way. And Scripture says that God appointed the plant to grow up for Jonah and appointed a worm the next day to attack the plant. Satan can use these things but only according to God’s hand and plan. See, the reality is that God’s purposes cannot ultimately be twisted. I mean, we know this, or we ought to know this, and really get it and live it out that “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Finding our delight in You, Lord, and Your ways, is our strength. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” It delights You back. “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:24) The Bible calls Satan “the tempter.” That’s actually an antonym for delight. He’s been attacking us that way since Adam and Eve. His desire is to rob us of delighting in You, Lord, and to make us undelightful to You. It’s his attempt to bring us harm. Or actually, it’s his attempt for us to bring harm to ourselves and others. It’s the opposite intent of Yours to us, Lord, because You are working all things for our good and the good of many. But suffering is often brought about through my sin or the sin of others against us. Yet still You are in control. Even when Satan entered into Judas who betrayed You, Luke tells us that it was just a fulfillment of Your Word. “The Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16). Even in Your suffering and crucifixion, Satan was not in charge, but You were. Man did not deliver You up. Satan did not deliver You up. You delivered Yourself up. Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).
When the fiery trial comes, it shouldn’t surprise me. It’s a test designed by God, a proof to show who I am in Him. (1 Peter 4:12) God proves who we are while Satan tries to disprove us. It’s interesting but that’s the same word that is used for God testing us and Satan tempting us- “peirazo.” Satan at times will tempt us by sifting us like wheat, just like he did with Peter. But just like Peter, we have been warned and prepared by You, Jesus. Our denial happens because we forget the warning. Our success comes when we remember You and look to You instead of the situation or circumstances. Satan wants to destroy our faith. He wants to not just pour it out on the ground, he wants to gulp it down in mockery. But Jesus told Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” See, Your plan is for our turning. We will turn and then we will be used for the good of others. Your plan is bigger, better, and more powerful than Satan’s. Satan has a short leash. You gave it to him. But You hold the leash and You guide the leash and You reclaim the leash fully at Your will. Yes, You Lord, are sovereign over me and those I love.
Jesus came to give sight to the blind and to set the captives free. Satan attempts to blind us and enslave us. He knows he’s a doomed foe. He wants to drag others to his doom with him. The only way he can do that is by keeping us blind to the Gospel of Christ. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, ” “In their case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” But even here, Satan isn’t sovereign! Move on to verse 6 and read about God’s over-trumping power! ” “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Because God is sovereign, this is why any of us have received His salvation.
Not only does Satan try to blind us to God’s truth, but He enslaves us using misery and suffering. He uses those things in our life to encourage us to loose trust in You, Lord. “Look, God does not have Your best interest in mind. How could He? If He did, why would He let this happen to you?” And on the other hand he uses prosperity and pleasure to forget our need for You, Lord. But You use both to drive us to our knees in desperate need or desperate emptiness until we cry out in repentance for freedom from this bondage. You alone are good and trustworthy, always. And nothing compares to You. You deliver us from all bondage. You have the power to set us free like the demoniac that no man could help. Do I want to know the secret to deliverance from bondage? “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. ” (2 Timothy 2:24-26) Is that how I act towards others? Or am I the one who needs to humbly seek repentance in order to receive escape? God is sovereign over the captives.
Well, I’m not in this alone. First and foremost I have Jesus praying on my behalf. First and foremost I have the power of Christ in and for me. First and foremost He is in control over everything. This is hard and sometimes terrible stuff we have to go through, but I must remember, Lord, that every part of it is for my good, for building my character, for drawing me closer to You, for giving me more wisdom in understanding You and Your ways. And lest I seem selfish, my surrendering and acknowledging You leads to the good of many others. It’s not just for me. This is about Your glory being spread throughout the earth.
You call Your children super conquerors. And I want to finish this meditation over these past days by going back to 1 Corinthians 3:3. Paul was speaking to brothers and sisters in Christ who weren’t acting like brothers and sisters in Christ. They should have been thinking spiritually but they weren’t. They weren’t maturing. They weren’t ready. Here’s why, “for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” Did you get that? Sometimes I behave like a human. That’s that word “anthropos” and it means a human being. But here’s the problem. Before Christ, I was just any human being. I was of the world. But in Christ, I have been reborn, remade, renewed, reunited, revived. I’m not just any human being now. God is supernatural. His supernatural being is at work in me. Now I am a supernatural being because I am in Him. Well, I’m not fully supernatural yet, though one day that will come when we are fully with Him. But how am I living today in these hard situations?
Am I living like a mere man, a mere human, in my responses to tough stuff? Or am I fully relying on Your power and Your grace and Your sufficiency, and Your sovereignty over all situations? I don’t want to act in a human way. I don’t want to respond to my trials and suffering in the flesh. I don’t want to be a bearer of jealousy and strife, of gossip and inflicting pain, of bitterness and sorrow, of hopelessness and the sword.
Am I responding as You responded and as You still respond? When I am mistreated do I respond in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and more love? Do I respond by prayer and praise? Are my eyes continually on You? Is my hope continually on You? Or am I often distracted?
Yes, there is a perfect purpose in my persecution for righteousness’ sake. “And we know that for those who love God ALL things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things [like persecution and suffering…]? If God is for us [AND HE IS!], who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceeding for us [just like for Peter]. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are all being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors [this is talking supernatural stuff here!] through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39)
Oh, Lord, let me stand up and rejoice in You in the midst of trials. Let me remember who You have made me and who You are molding me after and let me respond in Your spirit as the supernatural child of God that You have made me and called me to be. Actually, that You have called me into being. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was.” Just as You have called the light into being so You have called each of Your children. As rough as it is, Lord, allow me, allow us, to blossom forth into who You have called us to be above our circumstances because You reign.