“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.
Today’s passage is the tail end of what is known as the “Beatitudes”. This first section of Jesus first sermon is an exercise on the unexpected and unconventional. When considering the crowd that Jesus was addressing, people oppressed by then religious leaders, these beatitudes are quite the interest peaking combination of words. Nobody ever expected to hear these words from a teacher of authority. These words of Jesus transcend its direct audience and context and affect us today.
Today’s passage speaks specifically to those who insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of [Jesus]. Essentially Jesus is speaking about those who might hate us or have an agenda against Christ followers. Jesus, however, advises not to give into base desire, which might repay negativity with negativity. Instead, Jesus describes those who unflinchingly endure the negativity as blessed.
The original Greek word used here is: μακάριος (makarios). Translated this word can mean happy, fortunate, or blessed. There’s no mistaking the language that Jesus was using. He preaches that it is fortunate, a potentially happy occurrence when one endures insults and persecution. Jesus says that these people are blessed. Do you believe Him?
People, or the most part, do whatever they can to avoid instances of insult and persecution. But Jesus seems to welcome those moments and say that we are fortunate for having these instances in our lives. Why?
First, in Jesus’s statement, that there is a difference between random insult/persecution and insult/persecution “in his name”. If we endure these things for Jesus sake, in his name, we are to rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.
Jesus is stating the reality of things. If you live a counter-cultural, Jesus-centered life the world will inevitably insult and persecute you. Even now, in our “freedom drenched American culture” – a land free of religious persecution – our freedoms are shrinking, our Christian is worldview ridiculed – branded old and irrelevant. Even here in America, where one might argue that we have the most opportunity to worship freely compared to the rest of the world, the rest of our culture is turning on us.
But, if we hold steadfast, despite the insults and persecution there is a reward waiting for us. On a personal note it might be hard to distinguish between there being a reward in heaven or if heaven itself is the reward. In this context heaven itself would be rewarding for it would be free of the very insult and persecution that this passage accurately portrays and rebukes.
Jesus finishes this section with an encouragement that we join the ranks of the prophets before us by enduring such persecution. Jesus is stating that this is how the world works. The world has, does, and will always turn on and eventually persecute His people.
So, rejoice and be glad, do not be surprised at how the world turns on Jesus followers. Instead, hold fast to knowledge that our infinitely capable Father in heaven is faithful, all knowing, and is patiently waiting to be reunited with us.