When we read the Beatitudes, we see a picture of the qualities a disciple of Christ is meant to grow in. The descriptions are of a people so full of meekness and mercy that it is hard to imagine anyone would want to persecute them. And yet reality has proven quite the opposite. Most people wouldn’t say that the Beatitudes are wrong. They are so beautiful that even the darkest mind can recognize it. But in a world of sin and evil, becoming like Jesus invites persecution.
As we mourn our sin and the suffering and shame of this fallen world, there will be those who try to stop us from repenting or from wanting to be a part of God’s work against the Curse. As we grow in our hunger and thirst for righteousness, we might be fired from jobs because we won’t take bribes or lie, or because we insist on honest wages. As we stand determined to show mercy to others, we might find ourselves snubbed and rejected by those who don’t want to show mercy and want nothing to do with those who do. If someone isn’t hungering and thirsting after righteousness, it means they are hungering and thirsting after something else, and often they are willing to fight pretty hard to get it and protect it.
In the power of Christ, we have the strength to let go of greed and pride of position, mourn the ugliness of the Fall, and lift up those who have been crushed by it. But the world will not often celebrate us. That is when the test for the pure in heart will come. Were we doing it for them, or were we doing it for Christ?
The Beatitudes show us a depth and power of soul that is stunning…glorious…in its goodness. It tells us that it is possible to have hearts of full faithfulness that will long for the eternal hope of honoring their God and King, even if it means losing everything here on earth. We can have hearts so full of God that as we stand for Christ in the midst of persecution, we will delight because we are fully convinced we will gain the Kingdom of Heaven, and it will matter more than anything in this world. When losses come and our faith is challenged, we will have power to turn to Christ, just as Abraham did (see Romans 4) and find our faith strengthened to believe that God can do everything He has promised. Jesus said that with persecution His followers should rejoice and be glad. The prophets and great saints of the Old Testament had been persecuted in the same terrible way, and it is an honor to be counted among them. A part of the process of our becoming the kind of people with that strength of soul is to be honest and repentant about all the ways we are not that kind of people. And a part of being strengthened in faith is to believe He can make us so…and to want it.
When I think about what some of our brothers and sisters are going through across the world, I cannot imagine rejoicing. I find the things that God requires of His beloved absolutely kick-me-in-the-stomach breathtaking. I can see myself complaining and wrestling with my faith. I can see myself having to die to a whole lot of comfort and entitlement. Which is why these breathtaking statements are such a gift. They reveal my own heart to me.
Jesus understood in the depths of His soul the glorious, epic greatness of God’s love and how small this life and everything in it is by comparison. When the thought of persecution (and our repulsion of it) lays bare the things we are most committed to…comfort…security…wealth…the refusal to consider certain kinds of obedience to God…it gives us a crucial opportunity to make a different set of choices. It shows us new things we can offer to God. It shows us that there are deep joys that we have not discovered because they are blocked and masked over by the false joys of this world. It opens doors to new kinds of obedience, to tear off and crucify the things that give us more joy than the things that Jesus said should be our joy.