BLESSED ARE THE PERSECUTED
A native Christian came to the office of his missionary’s headquarters and asked this question, “What is wrong with us? There are so many of the other denomination in prison and only one of ours.” To some, the answer appears to be a lack of trust in the protective custody of God. I was told that things happened to me because I had failed to comply with God’s demands. Did not Jesus promise, that not a single hair would be lost without the Father’s notice? Yes, Jesus did promise that, ultimately, God would take into account his children’s losses; yet, at the same time, God did not spare His own Son from the brunt of persecution. Even when Jesus begged the Father to take the cup of suffering from Him, there was no answer. And those believers, who wanted to escape persecution, Jesus prayed for them that they be kept rather than be taken out this world. Only those, who would endure to the very end of their tribulation, would be rewarded (Mt. 24:13).
Let us therefore take a closer look at what Jesus may have meant, why being persecuted and why being blessed because of what they endured? Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:10). This blessing must be distinguished from the following one that reads, “Blessed are you when you are reviled, persecuted, and charged wrongly with all kinds of evil on my account” (Mt. 5:11). The persecution in both cases is the same. They only differ in the reason for the persecution. The first one deals with righteousness and the second one deals with the person of Christ. In this chapter, we shall only deal with being righteous as the reason for being persecuted. To Jesus, this righteousness was based on the Laws God had given to mankind. Man also was given the authority to administer righteousness. Man has abused that authority by reinterpreting and changing God’s Laws. By the time of Christ, the traditions of the fathers had replaced God’s Law (Mk. 7:9-13). Jesus brought back the Law and the righteousness, which the Law required. It was for this Law that He and his followers were being persecuted (Mt. 5:17-20).
First of all, let us seek to understand the reason behind persecution. The Greek term is “dediogmenoi.” It is the perfect passive participle of “dioko.” It means to pursue with the intent to render the other party harmless through bodily injury or even death. It is a relentless attack on those who do not happen to agree with those who wrongly discharge their duties. This definition is more fitting today, than it ever was in history. It is true that in Jesus’ day, people were persecuted and stoned by those in authority, who claimed to represent the Laws of God. These Laws, according to Jesus, had been changed by the tradition of lawmakers. Hence, any attempt by others to return to the original meaning of the Law put them on the list of the persecuted. The logic was simple. Those in authority were the elected of God and therefore they were always right. It was the highest office and not the person, which handed out justice. The same idea was taken over by Christian leaders. This was a very dangerous idea and it did cost Jesus’ His life, the lives of his followers before and during the reformation.
The question that should bother us, “Is persecution God’s way to weed out the unjust from the just?” It would be, if the persecutors would suffer. In this instance, they inflict punishment on those, which disagreed with them. They are the unrighteous and they do remarkably well in this world. To lead a just life, according to Jesus, would encounter oppression. The just did not fit into this world and their insistence on what is right would not make it any easier. In fact, Jesus held that persecutions were unavoidable. In spite of Christian positivism, the Christian way of life does encounter hardships and heavy burdens. And the major reason in Jesus’ day was that it came from people, who long had lost the true way of righteousness, and who had created their own way of righteousness; and then, believed that it truly was the way of God. This is precisely what has happened throughout the ages in Christendom. Sincere Christians have strayed from Scripture and set up interpretations, which agreed with their convictions, and they forced them on other believers. Our age continues the same trend of forcing Scripture to say what suits their point of view. Of course, we do realize, that no one can be right on all issues or convictions. But, that should not stop us from being tolerant with one another.
Jesus had some sobering thoughts on what kind of persecution his followers were to expect. Perhaps the worst kinds were those that came from family members. It is hard to accept the fact that family members would betray their own. Parents would hand over children and children would tell on their parents. Brothers, sisters and in-laws all living in one house would be divided against each other and commit others to death just to save their own life. I was twelve years old, when a “Third Reich” teacher asked us to betray our parents. I foolishly boasted that I would not do such a thing. Fortunately, the teacher did not pursue the matter and no one was put to the test. However, some of our relatives and friends lost their lives because of family betrayal. My father-in-law was sold out for twenty-five Rubles. His crime was that he sang in a church choir and served as a deacon in a Baptist Church. In his case, it no longer mattered that he was right; but, that he was different and held a job a communist needed.
There is a second kind of persecution. This one takes place within a person. It is a self-inflicted kind. Paul, the apostle, held that there were two desires within each one of us. One desired the good and the other was tempted with the forbidden. This is the age old Adam and Eve dilemma, “Shall I eat the forbidden fruit and become wiser or shall I just stay the way I am?” Naturally, we want to explore and venture into the unknown. Especially, when we are warned of drastic consequences, our inner nature longs for that which is not really ours. It is that desire in our hart to want what is not ours that leads us into temptation and sin. It is horrible to want what we cannot have. And once we take it as our own, we begin to justify why we should keep it, even to the point of laying our life on the line and lose it senselessly. Jesus told his followers to curb such appetite by tearing out one eye or cutting off a hand or a foot. And we must curb these wants before they take root and snowball into avalanches that cannot be controlled. Just think how easy it was for King David to eliminate Bathsheba’s husband and for Herod the king to behead John the Baptist. Sin does not tolerate justice and sin must be dealt with at the point of inception; namely, in our heart. The hardest conquest is the conquest over the self. This makes it one of the most difficult persecution complexes to overcome. By the grace of God, we can in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
The third kind of persecution is public persecution. If the individual does not achieve the people’s expectations, he will be persecuted. A hero can quickly become a villain. Clergymen, athletes and politicians have fallen from honor to disgrace. Some, of course, deserved to lose their lofty heights; but, others were the victims of private and public prejudice. Those in charge found ways to demote and even execute their opposition with public help. In most parts of the world, brute force was used to subdue the masses. The sword was mightier than the word or the pen. Whoever held the sword had the upper hand and they could wield the will of the majority or minority. The religious community has long learned that man needs some guidelines to govern. These had to come from a higher power like the Ten Commandments. When individuals began to enforce these guidelines rigidly, man sought alternate ways to ease the burden of the religious laws. The result was some form of a Constitution or a Bill of Rights. The United States of America is presently experiencing some of the pains that such a document can cause.
The Christian world, particularly in the United States, has developed a guideline (the Constitution) and an agency that has authority to interpret those guidelines to serve certain groups in our society. The good intent of the framers of the Constitution to protect and deal fairly with all citizens has become a tool to support abnormalities and perversions. In particular, Biblical Christianity has been singled out as standing in the way of the interests of this new interpretation of the Constitution. It is being argued that there is a strict separation between Church and State. The one is absolutely religious and the other political. That argument would make sense, if one could split the human being into two: into a religious and into a political part. Unfortunately that is impossible. Yet, this is precisely what the interpreting agencies have done. To accomplish this, they have labeled God’s universal principles as Church and their own new versions as Public. Hence, anything that comes from the Bible must not be allowed into the life of the State or the Public. Indeed, it was a stroke of genius, even if it is turning the framers in their graves. What is even sadder is that the majority of our religious leaders concur with that interpretation.
Those who still cleave to a Biblical morality have been driven to despair. They have allowed themselves to be led by a new breed that resorts to abuse and violence. Now the just are being accused of bombings and killings. It all seems ironical that those who have perverted the Laws of God are in the right and those who adhere to them are in the wrong. To add insult to injury, elected public servants and military are used to protect perverts and criminals. The rights of the wrong doers are being upheld, while the rights of those, who cling to Biblical justice are being denied. What has transpired is that Biblical followers are again being persecuted, not by the sword, but by the newly formed laws backed by the re-interpreters of the Constitution. This new secularism has accomplished by interpretation in a short time what anti-Christian forces could not do by the sword for centuries.
It has become apparent that the United States of America is not and never has been a Christian nation. By Christian, we mean a people who have endorsed in totality the principles and precepts of the Bible. What appeared Christian in the past may at best have been some crumbs that had fallen of the Christian table of ethics. Political convenience has never yielded to Biblical principles. Politicians used these moral guidelines to advance their causes and objectives. They camouflage their intentions so well that even the religious leaders were taken in by their rhetoric. Even modern religious leaders keep on insisting that the founders of this country were Christians. The truth is that they had a form of Christianity, but they denied the very power there of. What the early politician of this country had learned was to leave religion alone and not incorporate it into the governing system. They had tried earlier, in their colonies, to have exclusively denominational guidelines govern their community, but that drove the Baptists from Plymouth and the Presbyterians from Jamestown. Those who were driven from these settlements did not grant religious toleration in their newly formed colonies of Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania. In fact, the first colony that granted religious liberty was the Roman Catholic colony of Maryland.
The founders of the Constitution knew that they could not govern the new nation without the Ten Commandments. At the same time, like Moses of old, they could not let the Bible be the sole authority of the new Republic. There had to be some latitude on divorce, on slavery and a number of other Biblical restrictions. Above all, human interests and needs of conscience were to guide those who made new laws. It sounded wonderful. Only, when one starts redefining and singling out one need over another, then whose need will actually be met? And thus it happened when one is granted a right; it infringed on the rights of someone else. Some of the rights, like abortion and marriage of the same sexes would never have been turned into rights had the universal Law of the Bible been allowed to stand. But that is precisely what the secular interpreters of the Constitution could not allow. The Bible tied their hands, and therefore it could not be allowed to govern their liberated social order. It had to go and by placing its value outside the State, the interpreters succeeded in step number one.
Step number two is to get the Bible out of the home and the family. Already, Biblical principles are interfering with what our socialistic society conceives a family to consist of. It is not a question any longer as to whether a child has one parent or two; but, does it now have two dads or two moms? Now those children can be produced in a laboratory, it does not seam to matter whether children have any parents. After all, the wisdom of our socialistic system claims that it takes a village or a town to raise a child and not some humble and hard working parents. It is simply astounding that our world has managed to sustain itself on an individual and parental system for so many centuries. It should be of enormous interest to us that those systems that forced a community to raise and sustain their offspring have fallen by the wayside. Our latest casualties were Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. Both held that the system could do a better job to bring up children. No matter how good or noble a system may be, there is no substitute for God-fearing and moral parents. Our system will not survive while it persists in persecuting parents. It must return the raising, education and discipline to the rightful guardians of the children, namely their parents. What the system can do is help parents to be more faithful and responsible for the children they bring into this world, instead of teaching them to betray and persecute each other.