"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
— Matthew 5:11-12
Have you ever really experienced persecution when you shared your faith with others or stood your ground for Jesus? In America, probably not. Maybe the worst response you received was a rolling of the eyes, or a snarky reply.
When you read the accounts for many other countries, however, we see that to become a Christian could mean certain death, imprisonment, or total alienation from one's family, which in some Muslim countries result in an honor or shame killing by a relative.
According to ChristianPost.com, nearly one million Christians have been martyred for their faith in the last decade. That's one hundred thousand a year, or one death every five minutes!
If you're like me, it's hard to relate to those stories because we live in a country where there's still freedom of religion. Right now our faith is tolerated, but we're also protected by law. But what if things get worse (like what we're seeing in the political arena), and our religious freedoms begin to erode and we experience violent attacks because of our biblical worldview? What would you do? What should you do? How would Jesus have us respond?
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord gave specific instructions about how His followers should react to persecution. First of all, He said to consider it a blessing — "blessed are you" — and then gave this imperative command, "Rejoice and be glad," which literally means, "Jump for joy!"
Do you find that hard to accept, especially when everything in you might say to "push back hard?" Perhaps these accounts of the joy of the early church will help us, as Christianity began to gain new believers, and severe persecution came their way.
Following the instructions of Jesus, some "shook the dust from their sandals" when they weren't welcome in one town and went somewhere else to preach the good news, probably the next day (Matthew 10:11-14).
Others, when told to stop preaching by the authorities, continued and were put in jail as a result (Acts 4:18-20). When they got out, the first thing they did was continue to preach the word!
Others openly considered persecution to be an honor. Had it not been for the intervention of a highly respected Jewish leader, they would have been killed. But even after being beaten and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus again:
The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: "Jesus is the Messiah" (Acts 5:41-42).
Wow! I don't know whether I could do that or not. But I do believe the day is coming, my friends, when we will all be severely tested (2 Timothy 3:12), as persecution rears its ugly head more and more throughout America. We, too, I believe are going to find out if we've got what it takes or not.
True disciples of Jesus will pass the test, and they'll do so with a supernatural joy.