“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
These words continue the eighth blessing; they are not a new blessing. Perhaps Jesus found it necessary to repeat himself because of the strangeness of what he was saying. How can it be good to be persecuted in the world? When we are on God’s side, shouldn’t we be set free from all worldly troubles and fears? Doesn’t life become easier for those who become Christians? Many people seem to expect an easier life after they come to faith. Disappointment awaits them, as they will learn that Jesus never made such a promise.
Jesus has enemies in the world. The devil, along with all those who follow his ways, fight against Jesus and against the members of his Church. Sometimes even Christians fight against Jesus and his plan for our lives. We struggle to remain faithful to him and to live as he wants us to live. We do not always succeed.
We should not belittle the hardships that Christians face where the persecution is fiercest. They risk all that they have, serving Jesus in countries hostile to the Gospel. But the greatest enemies Christians face are not flesh and blood. Evil is a spiritual power. We are tempted to sin. When we sin, guilt attacks us, perhaps even causing us to doubt God’s love and forgiveness. Sicknesses and accidents and the reality of death may make us question whether God is really taking care of us—we may even doubt that God is really there.
The words of Jesus provide an answer to those questions. Our enemies are his enemies; they are the same enemies faced by God’s people in earlier times. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are meek and merciful, when we try to be peacemakers, some people will hate us and will try to make life miserable for us. The forces of evil oppose us as they opposed Jesus. Life is hard in this world for any person who tries to be like Jesus.
If his enemies are our enemies, then we must be on the right track. Persecution is not the only good news we have, of course. After all, the devil and the world cause lost sinners to suffer; they do not persecute only Christians. When the forces of evil rage against us, though, we know they are angry because we have already been rescued from their power. They resent the eternal life that we will enjoy with God in the new creation. They will do anything they can to try to make us doubt God’s love and the truth of his promises.
When we are under attack, we remember that we are blessed. Christ won a victory over all the forces of evil, and he shares his victory with us. Our reward in heaven is great, because our reward in heaven was earned in our names by the perfect, sinless life of Jesus. By his suffering, Jesus claimed each of us for that reward.
Our problems can remind us of how Jesus suffered to save us. The same enemies that fight us once tried to destroy him. They want to use our problems to trick us into forgetting about Jesus and his promises. When we instead allow our problems to remind us of Jesus and the cross, we are his partners in victory. His enemies lose. J.