Persecution, Suffering, Discipleship

To follow Jesus means self-denial and a willingness to suffer, and for disciples, persecution is the highest honor – Matthew 5:10-12

stormy Bay - Photo by Frans Ruiter on Unsplash
For his disciples, retaliation and violence are 
NOT appropriate reactions when persecution occurs. Rather than respond-in-kind, they must meet threats with humility, mercy, and especially love. That is what it means to “deny yourself” and “take up his cross.” Praying for one’s “enemies” is contrary to the “wisdom of this age,” but it epitomizes the paradigm of Christ crucified - [Photo by Frans Ruiter on Unsplash].

In stark contrast to the fallen world-order, Jesus instructed his disciples to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” The persecuted disciple is especially “blessed” and therefore, ought to “exult greatly” since “great his reward in heaven” - (Matthew 5:10-12).

After his resurrection, the original disciples took this teaching to heart. When Peter was hauled before the Sanhedrin, beaten, and ordered to desist from preaching, rather than respond in anger, he went his way “rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

On another occasion, after being abused and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell. At no point did they curse their persecutors or call down God’s wrath on them - (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).

Jesus provided the ultimate example of enduring unjust suffering for others. As Isaiah prophesied, the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh” was “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” The true Messiah did not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor did anyone hear his voice in the streets. He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick” - (Isaiah 53:7).

And the Son of God exhorted anyone who would follow him to “love your enemies, and to pray for them who persecute you.” Showing mercy to your enemy, especially to your persecutor, is how the disciple emulates the Heavenly Father and becomes “perfect” as He is. “Perfection” is achieved not through self-discipline and moral purity, but instead, through acts of mercy to the very ones that abuse us. The “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” desires “mercy, not sacrifice” - (Matthew 5:38-48).

Since the creation, Jesus is the only truly righteous man who has ever lived. If anyone deserved honor and respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet rather than be served, the one destined to reign from the divine throne came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” This he did by suffering a horrific and undeserved death on behalf of others, not only so, but he chose to die for them when they were “yet enemies of God” and alienated from Him. Conforming to this pattern is how the genuine disciple becomes “great in the kingdom of God” - (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

When an armed mob arrested Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear.” But he then did the unexpected. Rather than join Peter in defending his “rights,” he rebuked the hot-tempered disciple, commanding him to sheathe his sword. Then, he healed the wounded man who had come with the others to arrest him, the very Son of David and “king of Israel” - (John 18:10-12).

Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While in his death throes on the cross, he prayed for his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” - (Matthew 27:39Mark 15:32Luke 23:34).

Jesus Crucified - Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash
Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash

In Scripture, persecution is something disciples should expect and endure faithfully. Not only so, but to suffer for Jesus is a great privilege and honor, a matter for rejoicing and not anger. In many nations today, through loud protests and legal machinations, Christians may avoid persecution; however, in doing so, they may rob themselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life in the here-and-now.

Our tendency to insist on our inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering, and the forgiveness of our enemies.  The man or woman who would be his disciple must daily “take up his cross and follow after” the path already trod by Jesus. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of the “Kingdom of God,” and to become "greatest" in His realm, one must first become the slave of all.

The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross,” and daily follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” and regardless of where he leads. Genuine self-denial means to deny yourself that which is yours by right.

Paul, for example, gave up his “right” to take a wife for the sake of the ministry. Likewise, though he had the right to expect financial support, he often abstained from exercising it and instead supported himself through manual labor, all for the furtherance of the gospel. At the end of the day, the greatest apostle viewed himself as an “unprofitable slave who only did what he was obliged to do.”

In contrast to the political ideologies and systems of the present age, the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus offers its citizens the far greater privilege of self-sacrificial service for his realm, and the very high honor indeed of enduring insults, hatred, and persecution on behalf of its king. The rewards for doing so in the “age to come” will far outweigh any losses suffered in this present life.



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