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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #18: How come the beatitudes end with persecution?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:10

Jesus’ concluding beatitude feels out of step with the others. Becoming peacemakers would seem like a more fitting conclusion to the blessing of the transformational gospel (the blessing which is deep change in our souls brought about by the Holy Spirit). But kingdom living is rooted in reality, not idealism. To put this another way, when Jesus got to the end of his journey, there was a cross waiting for him.

Jesus foresaw that his followers, being blessed by the gospel, would make unexpected enemies. People who once loved to hang out with them suddenly saw them in an unfavorable light. Former allies expressing disdain for what they are becoming, calling them names and spreading hurtful rumors. Personal attacks became the order of the day. Even physical threats would come.

I know lots of people who have experienced this personally. One friend had spent years in the drug culture, where he developed a community he related to while using and whom he met again in the twelve-step program rooms. As long as his life paralleled their lives, all was good. Then he began to pursue a living relationship with God. As he experienced transformation over time, his former friends began to dump on him, upset that he was no longer interested in living on the merry-go-round of using and getting clean, with its accompanying lifestyle. When he asked me why this was happening, I pointed out Peter’s warning: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do…They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation and they heap abuse on you (1 Peter 4:3-4). It took him some time to come to grips with what was happening in his social circle.

Yet to do justice to Jesus’ teaching, it is not just the lost people who are abusive. Religious people can be the source of attacks as well. Why is this? Well, for one reason, people are hiding their own stuff. They react badly to those whose pursuit of transformation might suggest judgment on their status quo way of living out the faith. Others are using Christianity to attain some kind of social position or power, so the transformational process can be very revealing of their duplicity. Besides, the enemy is always seeking to stir up trouble. Change in one’s life with God offers loads of opportunities for Satan to create misunderstandings and plant accusations of spiritual one-upmanship in the minds of others who should know better.

This may be troubling to you when it happens, but never be surprised by it. Jesus experienced it too and laid out your response. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). You’ll have the opportunity to practice this kind of forgiveness numerous times before you are home with the Father. Be ready.

But also be encouraged. Jesus’ disciples listened to this sermon with wide open ears. Later, after being flogged by the Jewish ruler for refusing to stop proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41). They understood. The cost of the transforming journey is high, but the One on whose hands their names were written held them firmly until the day they were done with life. And He holds you just as securely.

Steve Smith