"Rejoice and Exult!"

In the experience of many disciples of Jesus, the outbreak of persecution is always a possibility. Moreover, they often face hostility from employers, neighbors, and even family members. So, how should they react when the possibility becomes a sudden and brutal reality? Fortunately, both Jesus and his Apostles left us with clear instructions and examples of how we ought to react when facing persecution.

In his ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus declared the “blessedness” of the disciple who is persecuted for his sake. “Blessed are they that have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Rejoice and exult, for great is your reward in heaven” - (Matthew 5:10-12).

Alone Worship - Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash
[Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash]

The parallel passage in the 
Gospel of Luke adds that the disciple should “Leap for joy” when harassed and prosecuted since he will be greatly rewarded in the coming age - (Luke 6:22-23).

This perspective is counterintuitive and contrary to human wisdom. No normal person enjoys suffering, and Jesus did not summon us to rejoice because we enjoy pain. Instead, we rejoice because suffering for his sake will result in great reward in the Kingdom of God.

Peter and the other Apostles did thvery thing that Jesus had admonished them to do. Hauled before the Sanhedrin where they were threatened and beaten for preaching the Gospel, they “departed from the SanhedrinREJOICING that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name” – (Acts 5:41).

Since they were found “worthy” to suffer for Jesus, they went their way “rejoicing.” The Greek participle translated as “rejoicing” is in a progressive present tense, meaning this was not a momentary outburst of joy, but something they continued doing as they journeyed home. This is borne out by the paragraph’s conclusion. Despite the threats of the Sanhedrin, the Apostles “ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Messiah.”

Years later in Philippi, Paul and Silas were cast into prison for preaching the Gospel, yet rather than become despondent or curse their jailers, they were heard “praying and singing hymns to God” - (Acts 16:23-25).

In Thessalonica, the young Assembly received the Gospel in “much tribulation” and harassment from their countrymen, yet its members welcomed Paul’s message despite the hostility it generated, and in this way, they became “imitators” of him and an inspiration to other believers in the region - (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

Suffering for the Kingdom is not a rare thing reserved for only the chosen few, nor is it an aberration or sign of God’s displeasure. As Paul wrote years later, “All those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” - (2 Timothy 3:10-12).

EVERLASTING REWARDS


The mindset of the present world sees suffering for the Gospel as a curse, something to be avoided at all costs. Only the eye of faith can perceive that it will result in everlasting rewards in the “age to come.” The hope of the Apostolic Faith is forward-looking.

Final rewards and everlasting life are received in the future. Suffering is not pleasant, but it “is a slight momentary affliction preparing us for an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” - (2 Corinthians 4:17, Revelation 22:12).

To suffer “unjustly” is a sign of Divine approval, evidence that one is a true disciple of the Crucified Messiah. “When you do right and suffer for it patiently, you have God's approval.” To be rejected because of our faith is what it means to follow the Lord who “also suffered for us, leaving us an example to follow” - (1 Peter 2:19-20).

We should not “be frightened in anything by our opponents.” Hostility to the Gospel is “clear evidence” of their destruction but also of “our salvation.” God has graced us to suffer for His Kingdom, and that understanding must govern how we respond to our persecutors - (Philippians 1:28-29).

As men and women of flesh, we respond instinctively to personal and corporate attacks with anger and even violence. Human society and experience condition us to see self-defense and retaliation as necessary reactions to threats and assaults.

Nevertheless, Jesus prohibited his disciples from engaging in retaliation. Revenge may be the “way the world works,” but he called his disciples to something vastly different than the ways of this fallen age. When we are persecuted, we are to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” By showing mercy to our enemy, we emulate God and become “perfect” as He is - (Matthew 5:44-48).

Likewise, Paul exhorted Christians in Rome to “bless them that persecute, bless and do not curse.”  They are to “render no one evil for evil.” God’s justice is not blind, but believers must “not avenge” themselves. Instead, they should leave justice in the hands of the God who will “repay” if, how, and when He sees fit - (Romans 12:14-21).

Cross on mountain - Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash
[Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash]

Peter point
ed to Jesus as the ultimate example for believers. For the everlasting joy that he would receive, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God.” Nowhere in the four gospel accounts did he ever curse his persecutors or attempt to strike back at the men who condemned him to death - (1 Peter 2:19-23).

No, Jesus did not enjoy suffering or being put to death for a crime he did not commit, but he looked beyond his horrific fate to the exaltation and glories he would receive for enduring the path chosen for him by his Father.

That is why the Cross became a source of joy for him rather than the emblem of shame and dishonor that it was for the residents of the Roman Empire. Moreover, his disciples are often called and most privileged to walk the same path that he did.



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