Either by yourself or together, if you’re meeting with a group of others, think through your faith journey so far. What has been easy? What has been difficult? Have you ever faced opposition because of what you believed?
Following Jesus never seems very straightforward. Sometimes it can be difficult to hold the omnipotent, omniscient nature of God in tension with what we see as the reality of life. Our daily struggles, our concerns for children, parents, wider family and friends, our setbacks – they can sometimes seem overwhelming.
And yet, Jesus never promises that life with him will be easy or safe. Many times, he tells his disciples the exact opposite. In Matthew 24, Jesus tells his friends about the times to come, saying: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”
This seems a difficult thing to grasp. If this is what a life following Jesus entails, then you might wonder what you’ve signed up to. Well, the kingdom of heaven is not like any earthly kingdom and Jesus makes that clear in the passage called the Beatitudes. This set of sayings at the start of Matthew 5 lays out the topsy turvy nature that Jesus’ ministry will take.
Jesus describes as ‘blessed’, not the rich, the overtly religious, or the comfortable, but the meek, those in mourning, and those who know they need God. And ‘blessed’ is not just a temporary feeling of happiness, but a sense of deep well-being that comes from being in a relationship with God.
It’s perhaps not surprising then to see “those who are persecuted because of their righteousness” feature at the end of the Beatitudes: “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.”
Why do people stick up for their faith in Jesus, even though it might lead to persecution? Because following Jesus is the most important thing in the world, more important even than life itself. And when we show up for Jesus, he shows up for us. That’s why the persecuted are promised the kingdom of heaven – this topsy-turvy, unexpected, surprising, overwhelming, just, and merciful place where God rules and his people are gathered to him.
Here are some questions to think about. If you’re on your own, grab a notebook and jot down your ideas. If you’re doing this with others, discuss your thoughts together.
Spend a few moments lifting the thousands who are persecuted because they have started to follow Jesus.
Ask God to help you when you are persecuted for what you believe.