21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21–22, NKJV)
It is utter nonsense to lead people to think that they can follow Jesus into paradise while avoiding the hostilities He faced. Indeed, it is deceptive to talk of the pleasures of knowing Jesus while omitting the promise of problems attendant His fellowship. Persecution is an indispensable part of the Christian experience (2 Timothy 3:12). Why are we not inclined to talk about it more? I am convinced that some of us do not mention persecution more because we are doubtful that sermons on suffering due to persecution will be helpful to disciples. But this was not the view of Jesus or His disciples. If we saw persecution through the lens of His teachings we would not hide the truth about it. The Lord and those He commissioned to teach us say that persecution is actually, although painful, a positive thing. How, you ask, can persecution be a positive thing?
- Persecution is an Inevitable Indicator of Great Reward and Good Company (Matthew 5:10-12 and see Luke 6:22-23) – 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
- Inevitable Indicator – Jesus does not say if they revile (abusively criticize) and persecute you for His sake. He says when they revile and persecute you for His sake. This is His first recorded sermon to the multitude. What do they need to know about the King and His kingdom? Jesus says that his followers need to know that persecution is a part of the Jesus-following experience.
- Great Reward – Twice Jesus tells the listening crowd that persecution for righteousness’ sake and for His sake is an indicator of good things. What good things? That the persecuted have the kingdom of heaven. It has already become theirs and the enemy would like to dissuade, discourage, and distract you. Jesus says stay on track because great is your reward in heaven for righteousness done for the right reason – His sake. When you realize that you are being mistreated and maligned because of your association with Christ and doing His will you should rejoice. Sing a song of gratitude because in the insults is an indicator of great reward to come.
- Good Company – The experience of persecution for righteousness’ sake is not new. Before your plight there was Jeremiah. Before Jeremiah there was . And at the beginning there was Able.
- Persecution is a Sign of Selection for Suffering and Favor, a Symptom of Sealing, and is Caused by Glorifying Christ (1 Peter 4:12-14 and see Acts 5:41) – 12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
- Selected for This – When persecution hits you it does not induce warm fuzzies. It usually produces very negative feelings like confusion, loneliness, and betrayal. The confusion is an outworking of cognitive dissonance. “I am doing things that are good but I am being made out to be a villain. I am serving God and he has allowed me to be persecuted.” Do not be confused. What is happening, as Peter says, is not strange. God has selected you to bring to light the truth of your new nature – on your part He is glorified (1 Peter 2:14). You are not being delivered from the difficulty but the harrowing situation is serving God’s purposes – it is revealing the truth about who He is and who you are. In the midst of the mess the anointing of the Holy Spirit give you the ability to demonstrate the difference between you and those who do not know God. It is an honor to be called upon by God to help Him prove a point.
- Cause and Effect – A world that does not want to worship God is loathe to be reminded that He exists, that the offer of grace through Christ is real, and that we are all desperately in need of forgiveness and change. The Spirit of God, when we walk in His leading, brings all these things to light. For those who do not want the light of a life lived in holiness, humility, and helpfulness to others, putting out the light is a natural reaction. Sometimes the angst is expressed toward you before you have even done anything to promote Christ. Why? Because you are in Christ and His indwelling presence is a threat.
The leaders of the church have a special obligation to help the people of God put persecution in perspective. In addition to presenting the offer of salvation they must assist saints in seeing the certainty and good sense of being persecuted. Based on the words of Jesus and Peter we must see that persecution, when it is for Jesus’ sake, is a good thing. It is a reason to rejoice.
Are you in a season of suffering for being a Jesus follower? The Lord says that, although persecution is painful, you are blessed. The peace you have with God through Jesus has put you at odds with the Satan, a lot of society, and sometimes even Self. Peter says that your suffering is a symptom of being anointed with the Holy Spirit and that you have been selected to glorifying God through your uncomfortable experience. The present discomfort is a direct result of being in Christ. The world that persecuted Him on earth is still persecuting his body… of which you have become a part.
In His grip by His grace,
Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.