Persecution, Suffering, Discipleship

To follow Jesus means self-denial and a willingness to suffer for him. Persecution is the highest honor for his disciple – (Matthew 5:10-12). 

Betrayed by Judas
Contrary to the “
wisdom of this age,” rage, belligerence, and especially violence are NOT appropriate reactions by disciples of Jesus when they suffer persecution, perceived or real.  Angry reactions by Christians to any threat to their inherent “rights” demonstrate how far many of us have assimilated to the values of the surrounding pagan society; beliefs and practices contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and especially to the paradigm of Christ crucified. [Image - Betrayed by Judas - clipart.christiansunite.com].

Consider: If we become angry over even verbal insults to our faith - How will we respond to genuine and serious persecution? In stark contrast to the ways of the fallen world order, Jesus instructed us to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man”:
  • (Matthew 5:10-12) – “Happy are they who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Happy are you whenever they may reproach you and persecute you and say every evil thing against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in the heavens; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.
Disciples reviled and persecuted for his sake are exhorted to “rejoice and exult,” for great is their reward in Heaven!! This is a far cry from unleashing our anger at even the tiniest infringement on our “individual rights.”

The disciples took this teaching to heart, although not until his resurrection.  When Peter and the other Apostles were hauled before the Sanhedrin - Beaten and ordered to desist from preaching -Rather than respond in anger, they went their way “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” On another occasion, after being beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell - (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).

The book of Isaiah prophesied how the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh” would be “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” The Messiah of Israel sent by God would not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” - (Isaiah 53:7).

Jesus exhorted his disciples to “love your enemies, to pray for them who persecute you” - To extend mercy to each and every “enemy” who abused them. Showing mercy to enemies is the precise way by which disciples emulate their Father and become “perfect” as He is - (Matthew 5:38-48).

Jesus was the only truly righteous man ever to live. If anyone deserved honor and respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet rather than be served, Jesus came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many,” which he did when he endured a horrific and undeserved death. He chose to die for us when we were “yet enemies of God” and alienated from Him. Conforming to this pattern is how a disciple becomes “great in the kingdom of God” - (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

When an armed mob came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear.” But JESUS DID THE UNEXPECTEDRather than join Peter in defending his “rights,” he rebuked him and commanded him to sheathe his sword, then healed the wounded man who had come to arrest him - (John 18:10-12).

Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While suffering on a Roman cross, and in his death throes, he prayed to his Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” - (Matthew 27:39Mark 15:32Luke 23:34).

Paul in Prison
Scripture portrays persecution as something Christians should expect and endure for the sake of the gospel.  Not only so, to suffer for Christ is a great privilege and honor, a matter for rejoicing, since consequently, one’s Heavenly reward becomes great. Through loud protests and legal machinations, we may avoid persecution, but in doing so, we may unwittingly rob ourselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life.

As for our inherent “rights” - The notion of inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering for the gospel, and the forgiveness of enemies.  The man or woman who would be a disciple of Jesus must daily “take up his cross and follow after” the Lord. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of the Kingdom of God. To become "greatest" in His realm, one must first become the servant of all.
The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross,” and daily follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.” Genuine self-denial means to deny yourself that which is yours by right.
The Apostle Paul gave up his “right” to take a wife for the sake of the ministry. Likewise, he had the right to expect financial support, he often abstained from exercising it and supported himself through manual labor, all for the furtherance of the gospel:
  • Until the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted, and are wanderers and toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we hold on, being defamed, we beseech; we have become as the sweepings of the world, the off-scouring of all until even now” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
In his parable of the Unprofitable Servant, Jesus asked:
  • Who from among you, having a slave plowing or keeping sheep, when he has come in out of the field will say to him, ‘come and recline?’  On the contrary, will he not say to him, ‘Make something ready that I may dine and gird yourself to serve me until I have eaten and drunk…Does he offer thanks to the slave because he has done the things enjoined? So, also, when you have done all the things enjoined upon you, say, ‘we are unprofitable slaves; we have only done what we were obligated to do” (Luke 17:7-10).
In contrast to the ideologies and political systems of this age, Christianity offers its citizens the far greater privilege of service for the Kingdom of God, as well as the great honor of enduring insults, hatred, and even persecution on behalf of its king, Jesus, with rewards that far outweigh any losses suffered in this life waiting for them in the “age to come.”




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