Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Finally, we get into the last of the beatitudes. I could be wrong, but I see verse 10 as a segue into the last two verses of the beatitudes. Assuming I’m right, this is the longest beatitude. It’s as if by saying this elongated beatitude, Jesus was extremely serious about persecution against His followers. Being omniscient, He knew of the persecution to come to all Christians after His ascension. His apostles were all martyred, and persecution continued for the Christians in horrible and extremely bloody ways from Emperor Nero, to Emperor Diocletian, to the European Catholic Church, to the Gaystapo (people who support the gay agenda and take away Christians’ religious freedom), and to ISIS today. He knew of our coming suffering, and spoke this for all Christians of all time.
There’s a common saying, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” This concept comes from James 2:14-19:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
James is not saying we are saved by works. Faith becomes evident in works—not for salvation, but for our neighbour, which is precisely what James is addressing when he says to give a person what’s necessary for their body when they’re in need. This is why missionaries meet not only the spiritual needs of people in poor countries, but their physical needs as well. If you claim to have faith but do nothing in response to that gifted faith, you might as well have no faith at all. In other words, if you don’t love your neighbour, what’s the point in saying you have faith at all? Our faith drives us to do good works for our neighbour and if it doesn’t, you might as well have no faith at all. Consider Jesus’ words:
“When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are lost who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:25-30)
Imagine these people being those who never or seldom went to church and never confessed Christ as Lord and Saviour and they said, “But I’ve gone to church a few times! I’ve even read the Bible a couple times! There’s even a church right by my house!” To which Jesus will say, “I do not know you. Depart from Me, you workers of evil!” For indeed He doesn’t, for only the sheep know His voice, and the rest who did not know Him He will cast into Hell (John 10:27; Matthew 25:41-46). Consider also these words:
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.'” (Matthew 25:34-40)
These passages do not mean our works save us. Rather, Jesus has made it evident that our faith in Him leads us to love our neighbour. If we have faith but do not love our neighbour, what is the point to our faith? For faith in Christ leads us to love others. I once heard faith described the following way at Pre-Seminary: “Why do we breathe? We’re alive and we can’t help it. Christians do good works because we’re alive in Christ and we cannot help it.” If we don’t do good works for our neighbour, what is the point of having faith? Faith is not a key we selfishly use to get into Heaven; faith is a community. Certainly, we are saved by faith alone, yet it does not stop there. The Holy Spirit inspires us by faith to do good works—the works of Christ—for our neighbour.
The demons’ believing is not equated to our faith. Faith is the confidence of the heart that trusts in its object. For us, it’s trusting in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, which the demons decidedly do not have. They have a head knowledge—a base knowledge that God exists and Jesus is the Holy One of God (cf. Mark 1:23-24), but they do not believe Jesus is their Lord and that He has come to save His fallen creation, especially for us. (People with a base knowledge of God today, for example, are agnostics.) Biblically, faith not works is the essential framework of our new life in Christ. We are made to trust, and from that trust flows works.
As we respond to our faith, persecution is inevitable. Jesus said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil” (John 7:7). People don’t like being told what to do with their time and money and that their preconceived beliefs are erroneous, ungodly, and sinful, so they hate Him, and as a result they punish us. They’ll either punish us by various forms of persecution (whether bloody or political like those who support the gay agenda), or by merely insulting us and our faith like militant atheists do. When this happens, we are blessed because being punished and persecuted for responding to our faith is evidence that we belong to the kingdom of God—the kingdom that has the audacity to say their kingdom of the world is evil and sinful. Not only that, but such persecution angers God. In spite of knowing His children will suffer and be hated, it angers Him that His children are being hurt. So He blesses us. Since we suffer for the sake of His righteousness, He gives us the blessing of the kingdom of Heaven. By persecuting God’s children, they make an enemy of the Almighty God. Vengeance will be His (Romans 12:19; cf. Deuteronomy 32:35).