Sunday, August 21, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 13: “… Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness…”

Last week I started going to physical therapy for my knee. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but as Stephanie was driving me there on Friday afternoon, I was actually beginning to get a bit scared.

I have a fairly high pain tolerance as long as I feel like I’m in control of the painful situation. Basically, I don’t mind a decent amount of pain as long as it’s on my terms. The initial physical therapy sessions after ACL reconstruction are quite painful, and they put the control squarely in the therapist’s hands. Not a good combination.

Feeling more and more like a wuss there in the passenger seat, my mind drifted toward how to approach this blog post. I remembered these words from Jesus:

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

When we get a new car we feel blessed. When we get recognized for doing a good job we feel blessed. When we get a raise we feel blessed. But when we are suffering, especially when we are being persecuted for doing the will of God, we usually don’t initially feel blessed.

The early Christians, however, viewed suffering for Christ as one of the greatest blessings one could receive from God.

What more glorious or more blessed can happen to any man … than to confess the Lord God, in death itself, before his very executioners? Than among the raging and varied and exquisite tortures of worldly power, even when the body is racked and torn and cut to pieces, to confess Christ the Son of God with a spirit still free, although departing? … Than to have refused to obey human and sacrilegious laws against the faith? Than to have borne witness to the truth with a public testimony? Than, by dying, to have subdued death itself, which is dreaded by all? Than, by death itself, to have attained immortality? …

For to this battle our Lord, as with the trumpet of His Gospel, inspires us when He says, “He that loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loves his own soul more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that does not take not cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

And again, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men persecute you and hate you. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for in the same way did their fathers persecute the prophets which were before you.” And again … “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” – Moyses, Maximus & Nicostratus 250CE, Volume 5, 538-539 [CD-ROM]

The early Christians may have taken Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 seriously and simply, but what matters more is the New Testament witness. Please take some time and read the apostles’ approach toward suffering for Christ.

The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. … They flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. – Acts 5:17-18, 40-42

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:19-22

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. – Philippians 1:27-29

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. – 2 Timothy 3:10-13

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14

For the last decade or so, I’ve made it a point of prayer to die giving my life for Jesus. I don’t want to die peacefully in my sleep. Yet, there I was in the car getting anxious about enduring an hour-long physical therapy session.

Perhaps we should change our perspective on pain. Perhaps we should bless God for opportunities to endure times of unexpected or unjust suffering, and view them as blessings He has allowed into our lives. Perhaps they are helping to prepare us for a far more important test with a far greater blessing. 

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