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. (Matt. 5:10-12):
What a devastating blow these three verses are to the “prosperity gospel,” to those who lust after popularity, riches, and recognition, and to those who associate these things with God’s blessing and favor. The world may lie at their feet, however, those very feet are miles upon miles away from Golgotha. Rejection, not recognition and friendship, is the reward that the true believer receives from this world. So be it, he says. This seems trivial to the disciple who has a different reward in mind, the reward he will receive from his crucified Lord – namely, Heaven. The man who is happy is he who suffers in a just cause and he whose suffering is directly tied to his confession of Jesus’ name. Yes, they will be happy, but they also will be persecuted. In their persecution, they have become poor, and so they collect the same promise as the poor in spirit: the kingdom of Heaven!
This finishes up my series on the beatitudes, in which I have been admittedly dependent upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work, The Cost of Discipleship. This blog series has consisted mainly of his thoughts on Matt. 5:1-12, with some of my own ideas thrown in from time to time. Because of this, I’d like to end it with his concluding remarks in the book:
“Having reached the end of the beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest, and most sorely tried of all men is to be found — on the cross at Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified. With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all. From the cross there comes the call “blessed, blessed.” The last beatitude is addressed directly to the disciples, for only they can understand it. “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so they persecuted the prophets which were before you.” “For my sake” the disciples are reproached, but because it is for his sake, the reproach falls on him. It is he who bears the guilt. The curse, the deadly persecution and evil slander confirm the blessed state of the disciples in their fellowship with Jesus. It could not be otherwise, for these meek strangers are bound to provoke the world to insult, violence, and slander. Too menacing, too loud are the voices of these poor meek men, too patient and too silent their suffering. Too powerful are the testimony of their poverty and their endurance of the wrongs of the world. This is fatal, and so, while Jesus calls them blessed, the world cries: “Away with them, away with them!” Yes, but whither? To the kingdom of heaven. “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” There shall the poor be seen in the halls of joy. With his own hand God wipes away the tears from the eyes of those who mourned upon earth. He feeds the hungry at His banquet. There stand the scarred bodies of the martyrs, now glorified and clothes in the white robes of eternal righteousness instead of the rads of sin and repentance. The echoes of this joy reach the little flock below as it stands beneath the cross, and they hear Jesus saying: Blessed are ye!” (Bonhoeffer, 113-114)