Mat 5:10  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The word in the Greek for “persecuted” means “hostile, deliberate pursuit with the intent to harm.”  The motive is hostility.  When we become the friend of Christ, when we are part of His family, there are those who will hate us and oppose us because of Christ.  John 15:18 and 19 read,   “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  Jesus taught that there is only one way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, through Him.  Many in our permissive American culture are increasingly hostile toward any who claim an exclusive way to righteousness and salvation.  If others persecuted Jesus, they will persecute those who follow Jesus, because He claims to be the only way to the Father.

We have personally known many of the persecuted, having worked in the Middle East for the last 23 years.  We have also witnessed first-hand the deep inner work of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the larger culture after family or friends have been martyred for their faith.  According to Open Doors, there were 4,000 Christian martyrs in 2019.  The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reported 90,000 Christian martyrs in 2019, using a different definition of martyr which includes Christians who were killed in civil wars (like in South Sudan).  The 10 countries with the greatest persecution of Christians in 2020 (in order from greatest number) are: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and India.

Jesus says that those who are persecuted are blessed because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Why are we blessed?  Jesus says in verse 3 that those who are poor in spirit possess the Kingdom of Heaven, and here He says that the persecuted possess the Kingdom of Heaven.  His values are opposite to ours.  Persecution often purifies our motives and forces us to take our eyes off temporal things and concentrate on that which is eternal.  We as American Christians need to prepare for and embrace increasing persecution as a result of our exclusivism (believing that Jesus is the only way to God).  Let us realize that the very thing we fear, persecution, may be the very tool which God is using to purify us and bless us individually and as a church.

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