“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:10 – NIV).
Persecution is nothing new to the Christian Church. From the days of Nero, the Roman emperor who derived pleasure from setting fire to Christians and watching them burn, through the Hitler years and on to the madness of Idi Amin in Uganda, Christians have been easy targets.
The Romans turned the murder of Christians into a popular spectator sport, thinking nothing of seeing members of this new religion coming face-to-face with lions in arenas.
Stalinist Russia represents another period of persecution for followers of Jesus, when owning a Bible was seen as a serious crime. More recently the Ceausescu regime persecuted Christians in Romania, with believers being thrown into prison and tortured.
Even now, when we might expect the world to be more tolerant, persecution continues. In fact, it is estimated that more Christians are being harassed and persecuted now than at any other time in history. To be a Christian in North Korea is punishable by imprisonment, hard labour or even execution. Followers of Christ in China are subjected to beatings in the hope of them being ‘reconverted’ to Chinese communist ideals.
Other Faiths are Persecuted, Too
Persecution is not confined to Christians. Followers of other faiths also suffer because of their religious convictions. Tibetan Buddhist monks are frequently humiliated and made to suffer at the hands of soldiers.
It’s nothing new. It’s been going on since Bible times. The Jew Daniel, a character in the Old Testament, was thrown into a den of lions because he refused to bow down and worship anyone except God. Thankfully, he lived to tell the tale because God closed the lions’ mouths. The New Testament records the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7).
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While persecution is a terrible thing, and most of us would flinch at the thought of torture, this Beatitude tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who value their faith in God more than life itself.
The promise of Heaven (that is, eternal life in the presence of God, after death) is given to those who steadfastly refuse to renounce their faith. One can only imagine the type of courage it takes to stand firm in the face not only of insults and abuse, but beatings, starvation, isolation and imprisonment in awful conditions. Little wonder that Jesus promises such a great reward!
This provides food for thought. We might not suffer extreme hardship but our faith could cost us our reputation or respect in the eyes of others. The important question is: Do we have a faith that is more valuable to us than anything else?
Who is willing to take a stand for what is right? Jesus certainly was, and was martyred for the sake of righteousness. Not only that, he was crucified for our sakes, volunteering to bear the punishment for our sins in his body on the cross. By doing so, he opened up a way into Heaven for those who receive him as the Saviour.
Prizing our relationship with God above all else is what makes us blessed.
Source: The War Cry, 13 March 2004