Sermon: Rejoice in Persecutions
Scripture: Matthew 5:12
In this week’s lessons, we learn what is necessary in order to rejoice in persecution.
Theme: Identity with Christ
In yesterday’s study, we concluded that in trying to respond rightly to persecution, you cannot trust your own feelings.
Neither can you trust your reason. For the reasoning power of a Christian is often that which is most shaken in the midst of persecution. Have you ever noticed how the apostle Paul described his mental state in the midst of his many persecutions? He writes about it in 2 Corinthians, telling us that confusion of his reason was at least part of the problem.
He says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Along with being troubled, persecuted, and cast down, Paul also says that he was often perplexed. Hence, he had learned that he could not trust even his own great powers of reason in the midst of troubles.
If we cannot trust our feelings and if we cannot trust our reason, what can the Christian trust in order that he might rejoice in persecution? Again, we can only trust the knowledge that we have of God’s purposes in persecution and his control of suffering, and this is a knowledge gained only through Scripture. The victory is intellectual; it is only knowledge that will calm the Christian’s troubled heart and allow the supernatural joy of God’s Spirit to triumph in the midst of his suffering.
What are the things that a Christian can know that can allow him to rejoice in persecutions? There are at least five of them. The first one is that the Christian must know that through persecutions God is demonstrating his identity with Christ. This is the point of all the verses that teach that if we suffer with Christ we shall also be glorified with him. This idea is behind Christ’s observation in our text, “For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
We can see an example of this in what it means to be an American today in areas of the Near East, where America’s present foreign policy is disliked and sometimes hated. Several years ago, I was present in one of the Near Eastern countries in the company of two friends. One of them was another American with whom I had journeyed around the better part of the Mediterranean. The other was a Christian pastor who was born and raised in that country. We thought very little of things we were doing as we toured the sights, but some of those things, although innocent in themselves, worried him. There were places where he did not want us to linger, objects we were not to photograph, subjects that he did not want us to speak about in public. In answer to our confused questions, he explained that at the moment anti-American feeling was running high, and that an innocent act, however well motivated, might be dangerously misconstrued. He also added that this strong feeling was not directed so much against ourselves as against our nation.
In just the same way, the world will always be bitterly opposed to Jesus Christ and to his foreign policy. And it will hate his ambassadors. To the citizens of God’s kingdom, however, the persecution will merely be evidence of their identification with him. They will know that such persecution places them in the great company of those who have been similarly persecuted. And the persecution will itself be a matter of honor.
It was this knowledge that gave joy to the first Christians when they were persecuted. Recall when Peter and John, and perhaps some of the other apostles, were beaten for the sake of their testimony in Jerusalem. We read that after they were beaten, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). Persecution is evidence of the believer’s identification with his Lord.
Why is reason an unreliable means to deal with persecution?
What is the first thing a Christian needs to know? How would you explain this concept to someone who asks you what it means?
Reflection: What evidence do you have of your own identity in Christ in your Christian life?
For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Present Blessings, Plus Persecutions.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)