Some of the most hope filled verses in the Bible are found in the Beatitudes as Jesus began his ministry with The Sermon on the Mount. These words are quite as hopeful as the most powerful promises at the end of The Revelation.
For several reasons I want to look at the Beatitudes in reverse order. When we do this we see some things very clearly about them. When you plunge into the deep water first, you get a better idea of this pool's depth. I fear that many people who say they love the Beatitudes have only dabbled their toes in the shallow end. These teachings certainly do not reflect the ease and pleasure ethic that has saturated society in the West and to some extent the entire world. These words of Jesus come to their stinging conclusion in Matthew 5:10-12.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
These words are not an abrupt change from the rest of the Beatitudes or of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. They represent the heart of who Jesus was, of what He did, and of what He taught. Many years ago now I served for short time in Uganda. I had a friend there whose name was Onesimus Jonah Juma. As I was returning to the United States Onesimus went to serve in a very difficult place. We exchanged letters for some time. And he shared with me in those letters some of the difficulties he faced in the name of Jesus. At the end of one of his letters he wrote, “Remember, we serve a crucified Christ.”
To some extent, I'm going to have to take what Jesus said here on faith, because I am not going to easily understand the blessedness of persecution.
But there is sense in which the Holy Spirit at least gives us a glimpse, or maybe a taste, of goodness in this extreme.
The first facet of what Jesus tells us is The Possession of the Kingdom in Persecution.
This is not merely something we will enjoy when we get to heaven. Jesus says, “Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” not, theirs will be the Kingdom. Even while you are being reviled, shamed, lied about, or tortured, you are proving that Jesus Christ is King! He is Lord in your life, and Lord of the universe. And there is great joy in that realization.
Next, in the midst of persecution we come to grips with the reality of God's Promises in Persecution.
Jesus tells us to rejoice because our reward will be great in Heaven. What you are paid for something makes a great difference in how you think about it. If you were employed to carry bricks at $0.50 an hour, you might be tempted to complain about the drudgery. But what if you had signed a contract to carry bricks for $1,000 a minute? We have assurance that whatever we suffer will by no means compare with the ultimate reward of faithfulness to God. The more you have to endure, the more assurance you can have of the glory that is yet to come.
Finally Jesus points out the Identity that is Affirmed in Persecution.
Jesus said this is how they treated the prophets who were before you. When you suffer for the name of Christ, you join an elite corp. You are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Elijah on Mount Carmel. You stand with Isaiah and Jeremiah, Daniel in the Lion's Den. You are identified by God as being among those who are most faithful to Him.
This is a very crucial promise for those living in our day. In the past few centuries most Christians in the West were not severely persecuted, although there was always a price to pay. That is not true if it ever was on the world scene. In many parts of the world people joyfully pay a terrible price for following Christ. In fact some misseologists have estimated that more people died for the name of Christ in the 20th century than in all 20 centuries since the cross. And few would dispute that more are paying the ultimate cost in the 21st century. And it is important for us to encourage our brothers and sisters, joining Jesus in assuring them, “Rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.”
We continue our spotlight on the Persecuted Church this week with International Christian Concern (www.persecution.org). Like Voice of the Martyrs, ICC emphasizes awareness and advocacy on behalf of the persecuted. ICC specializes in up-to-date news from around the world related to Christian persecution, and is a great source of information for prayer.
Each organization devoted to the persecuted church has a sightly different focus. ICC's website summarizes their focus this way:
Christ promised his disciples that they would face persecution in the world. He also called the church to be a voice for the voiceless and a defender of the afflicted. We accomplish this by working in three areas: Advocacy, Awareness, & Assistance.
ICC's unique contribution to ministry to the persecuted church is their emphasis on constantly updated news stories. The home page divides persecution-related news items into three major geographical areas: Far East, Islamic World, and Asia/Others. Five recent news items in each area are featured, with links to read the full stories. For a way to keep up to date on persecution-related news, ICC may be the best source on the Web.
ICC has perhaps the most organized advocacy arm of the major persecuted-church ministries. The advocacy page on their website (http://www.persecution.org/advocacy/) explains the role of advocacy in ministry to the persecuted, provides information about advocacy efforts undertaken by ICC, and offers many opportunities for the individual to advocate for the persecuted church.
Like Voice of the Martyrs, ICC carries out a number of programs to assist the persecuted church around the world, and offers many opportunities for the individual to get involved, through donating, volunteering, etc. ICC perhaps focuses even more on offering volunteer and even internship and employment opportunities.
ICC offers a number of ways to stay informed and pray for the persecuted church, including a weekly prayer e-mail, a bi-monthly newsletter, and updated news stories and press releases. If praying through current events is a focus for your prayer life, International Christian Concern is the place you'll want to go.
PrayNetwork.org Spotlight by Andrew Wheeler.
See Andrew's website at www.togetherinprayer.net
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world....John 16:33
Father, oh Most Merciful and Compassionate God, Your children in far away lands are united in one thing - their love for Christ. This Love compels them to stand strong as their persecutors in the lands of the pagan religions of the Middle East, Asia, the Far East and the atheist countries of socialism oppress them. Lord our spiritual hearts and minds grieve for our brothers and sisters who are in constant tribulation and trials, sometimes by literal fire, but You are removing the dross now even as we pray.
Lord, even as they cry out in their pain and suffering, even as they plead for mercy and some human decency from the hoards of hell, let loose for over 1400 years now by those who follow moon gods, 300 millions non-existent idol "gods" or no god, You constantly hear their cries around Your Throne. You hear them because their pleadings and prayers have come before You rising as bowls of incense, as our High Priest Jesus intercedes for them and us.
We pray for Your saints persecuted in Nigeria as their schools and villages are burned down, and the world stays silent in the face of this evil. We pray for Christians in the old Bible lands of Nineveh (Mosul), Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and others in between the land of the Levant, that You deal with those who abuse Your people, in Your own way, in Your own time. We pray for those in the lands of India where You sent the Apostle Thomas and the millions there are told to convert to the hinduism and its idolatry or else. We pray for our brethren in China, whose millions now outnumber the godless and evil communist party in power there for over 60 years.
May their tears become like a river of life to those of us in the west who pray for them who pray for their courage and boldness to hold up in the face of this rampaging evil. Lord, on behalf of these tribulation saints, we claim Your promise and Your exhortation, Lord Jesus that You have not only overcome the world, the god of this world, the systems of this world and the persecutors of this world who are unknowingly storing up wrath for themselves, but You give freely to those who seek favor, courage, mercy, love, hope, conviction and faith. We pray this day for all of that, from the Throne of Grace to those being constantly refined in the fire and for those of us, who have it within our power to pray and help, and yet stay silent or worse. We pray and ask and bow down before Your Throne, in Jesus' Strong and Mighty Name, amen.
Father, we also pray for those of us who are missionaries in our own "Jerusalem"- namely outside our own front doors. May we never tire of the hard work that it is to reach on and teach and care for the lost when their hearts are so hard and they literally hate You, while professing to love and know You at Christmas and Easter time. Father, we pray for those of us that we persevere, never give in, never give up and in fact live up to the standards and the call with which You have have called. We do this because Your Call is True, Your Word is True, Your Love is True and Your Promises are Yes and Amen....and we believe it, because of Jesus Christ, our soon coming Lord and Savior, in His Name, amen.
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