Friday, September 26, 2008

Matthew 5:12 Joy in spite of Persecution Part III

I am currently working on the largest audit that our office does during the year. Our team is putting in a lot of overtime and we’re all pretty exhausted. My wife says she feels sometimes like an Audit Widow. I mean, I’m home every evening but I’m still putting in a bunch of overtime which tends to continue to affect me even when I’m not at work because I am so tired. There is one thought that really helps me get through this time of year every year—it will eventually be over. We will eventually finish the audit work, our spring audits are much less stressful, and I can finally take some time off and relax. There will be a reward, someday, for my hard work. In much the same way, Jesus reminds us here in this verse that our hard word of proclaiming the gospel to the whole world and enduring persecution for His precious name will one day pay off.

Jesus tells us that when we face persecution as described in verse 10 and 11 of this chapter, our reaction should be to “Rejoice and be glad”. Observe that these are both present imperatives: they are not suggestions but commands. It seems logical that we would be commanded to do this because obviously our natural reaction to persecution is not going to be to jump up and down in celebration (be glad-agalliao [21] “jump, leap, spring up”) or loudly cheer (rejoice-chairo [5463] “full of cheer”). It would not be normal for someone under persecution to do an end zone dance and shout merrily. The joy that we should have in persecution is empowered by the Holy Spirit as are all the other beatitudes. We see in Acts 5:41 that the disciples were rejoicing to have been counted worthy to be persecuted for the cause of Christ. Our flesh does not enjoy persecution but our reaction to persecution demonstrates the genuineness of our faith in Christ. While we endure trials in our present condition, we can know that our future is truly secure, as Christ teaches us.

He says that those who are spiritually happy (blessed) during times where they are persecuted for their faith in Christ should rejoice “for your reward in heaven in great”. Here on earth, we are the butt of jokes. Our faith is mocked. We are rebuked for holding to biblical morality—and that’s just by people who name the name of Christ. Christians face physical persecution all over the world and many are killed. We may be treated as 2nd class citizens in this world but God will give us a “reward” (misthos-3408). Our faithfulness to the cause of Christ does not earn us a reward as an employee earns wages but rather is a reflection of the generosity and love of our heavenly Father. We may suffer lack here but in our future we can see that we are amply supplied. Jesus says not only are we rewarded but that our reward in heaven is “great” (polus-4183 many in number, large in quantity). While certainly there are Christians who are wealthy, the majority of believers, like the majority of people, are blessed by God but are not wealthy. However,” in heaven” after our lives of faithful service have ended here on earth we will receive this great reward and be able to sing praises to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. We can be encouraged and encourage one another as we meditate upon this truth. Our lives on earth are sometimes hard but our reward in heaven is worth it all.

Finally, as we suffer persecution in the present, we can be encouraged not only by the promise of our home in heaven but also because of the faithful example of past saints. I read things on the internet and hear people on the radio and TV who mock the word of God. The hatred this world has for the gospel is very discouraging. Sometimes, it seems like it would be easier to just give up an stay silent—just live out our lives in peace and quiet. However, we need to remember that we suffer persecution because we speak God’s truth and that this world has always persecuted those who speak the truth. Jesus Himself says that the world “persecuted the prophets who were before you”. The faithful prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke the word of God to the world without compromise. They were persecuted, stoned, beaten, and ignored. Still they faithfully proclaimed the truth. If you and I proclaim the truth of God’s word to this lost and dying world we should expect to be treated just as these faithful people were treated.

You know, I think that’s pretty good company to be in, don’t you?

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