He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
I’ve been studying the gospels over the past few months and I continue to be amazed at the glaring difference between what the world believes and what Jesus teaches about life, success, and happiness. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) are a classic example of this - full of paradoxical statements about blessedness. They continue to baffle many because they seem so illogical to the world.
I remember first learning these verses in school as a six-year-old and I haven’t forgotten them since. I don’t understand what attracted me to those verses as a child, but I loved them. I barely understood what they really meant till much later in life. Honestly, I still struggle to grasp the depth of it.
To our modern minds, the Beatitudes seem crazy. In this world, to be considered blessed or happy is to be rich, beautiful, successful in your career, surrounded by praises, with a large following. It is to have a fun-filled life, full of laughter, adventure – and the list goes on. Jesus’ teachings on happiness and blessing appear to be completely irrelevant, unacceptable and unfit for our culture and context.
Consider these Beatitudes:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Who in their right mind would associate the word ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’ with a person who is mourning?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The meek are often thought of as doormats or pushovers. How could one call a ‘meek’ person ‘blessed’? Doesn’t success and happiness generally come to those who are self-confident and self-sufficient, who would do anything to achieve their dreams?
Many Christians also struggle to see as 'blessed' those who Jesus calls 'blessed' in the Beatitudes. But for me personally, this one is definitely the hardest to understand:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We often pray for our fellow brothers and sisters to be safe from persecution. We look at it with dread and fear sometimes. Being persecuted or insulted for the sake of Christ, even in small ways, is never pleasant.
I remember a time when I was hated and mocked for completing my assignments and work with integrity. Many hurtful things were said behind my back because I tried to help those who struggled. Somehow that too was misunderstood. I remember how everything I did because of who Jesus is to me, made me an outcast to most people. Those months were filled with tears and pain – I surely did not look at any of it as a blessing and I definitely did not rejoice in those trying times!
But Jesus was not just making a passing remark about the blessedness in being persecuted for His sake. In fact, the New Testament has many references to rejoicing in suffering, both in the gospels and epistles. It struck me afresh as I read John 21. When Jesus and Peter have their famous ‘feed my sheep’ conversation, verse 19 of the same chapter says this: Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
When I think of how Peter glorified God, I think of his work among the Jews, his fearlessness in preaching and teaching, and his role in building the early church. I don't think about his suffering or the way he died as acts that glorified God. Peter was crucified – some say he was crucified upside-down – a painful, shameful way to die. But John 21:19 declares that this kind of death glorified God because he died for Jesus’ sake.
And Peter's is not a special case. When Stephen was facing the wrath of the council, before he was stoned, he saw the glory of God. When Paul had his conversion experience on his way to Damascus, the Lord told Ananias that Paul was His chosen instrument to carry the name of Jesus to the Gentiles and that he (Paul) must suffer greatly for the sake of the name of Jesus. In Acts 5:41, the apostles, who often faced imprisonment, floggings, death threats and so much more, rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for His name!
In fact, almost all the apostles went through many physical afflictions and died painful deaths. Those who walked with Jesus and lived with Him all knew the beauty of suffering for Him and His Kingdom.
Even today we know and hear of many who suffer for the sake of the Gospel and bring Jesus glory through their deaths.
Twenty years ago, Graham Staines and his sons were burnt alive in their jeep. He and his family lived and worked among the outcasts and the lowly in rural Orissa, loving those that were rejected and forsaken by society with the love of Jesus. Their deaths elicited strong reactions from the world over.
As painful as those memories of still are, the beauty of hearts transformed by Christ was shown in the way Gladys, Graham’s wife, and their daughter, Esther, responded. They deciding to continue living in Orissa. Gladys said she desired and hoped the people responsible would repent and be reformed and she forgave the killers, holding no bitterness in her heart against them. Though she suffered much grief, she looked to the Lord for comfort and strength.
How could Gladys have such a gracious response? How could she continue to work in the same place where her family went through such unimaginable suffering? How have many continued to serve in tough places, loving the very ones who killed their family or friends in front of their eyes? How could the apostles rejoice in their floggings and continue to speak boldly, knowing what they would have to endure? How can Paul talk about joy and exhort others to rejoice while imprisoned? How can Job have a beautiful response of praise when everything was taken away from him?
I am reminded of the parable of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and sells all he has to possess the field. Jesus likens that treasure to the Kingdom of God – it is worth giving up everything for. What one will willingly suffer or sacrifice for is what one treasures the most. For some, it may be a spouse or child. For others, it may be a job. For many, it is their own self.
But for these great men and women of faith, there is nothing more precious than their Saviour – they have truly understood how privileged they are to be part of the Kingdom of God. Because of this, they are willing to live for Him no matter the cost. Because of this, the strength of their commitment and love for Him is not dictated by their circumstances. Their obedience to His commands and teachings don’t depend on the fear or approval of man.
Their faith, even when tested with fire and sword, comes out shining, shouting louder than words could ever express that knowing Jesus and being part of His Kingdom is worth it all.
Men and women of faith are blessed when they suffer or are persecuted because they know none of it will take the love of Jesus or the Kingdom of God away from them. They know they are His. They don’t lose their identity or their security in Him and belief in His goodness in times of difficulty and pain. They face what comes their way in the strength of the Lord and with His grace. Yes, death and suffering are still hard but they don’t lose sight of their hope or the source of their joy!
And all Christians can face suffering in the same spirit. When death has lost its sting and the grave has lost its victory, then suffering and pain lose their power because one’s joy and contentment lie in Christ who overcame it all. What a blessed thing it is, when nothing the world will do can leave you hopeless or empty. The Kingdom of God definitely belongs to such as these. They have many reasons to rejoice, for they have found and understood the purpose of life and fixed their eyes on the only One who is worth it all.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:8-11, 16-18
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash
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