Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds 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 who were before you.
When we receive praise and favor from men, the natural response is to feel good about ourselves. The performers who win awards for being the best in their field will accept those awards with smiles on their faces and words of appreciation. The public servants who receive recognition for their good service will revel in that good reputation. Gifts, awards and words of praise move us to joy because they should make us feel good about ourselves. When that praise turns to cursing, when the gifts stop and what we have is taken from us, when the words spoken about us lead to a bad reputation among men, it should not make us feel good. These should not be causes for joy. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus tells us to feel.
To appreciate what Jesus is saying here, we first must recognize a distinction between persecutions. If the world curses me and hurls insults my way because I am a terrible person, that is much different than receiving that same negative treatment because of the Lord. We are not commanded to be joyful in times of persecution because persecution itself carries some value generally. It is not the persecution that brings joy but the reason for and result of that persecution. This is all about sharing in the experience of our Lord, and that is a blessing. He endured persecution for us, and the word tells us that He endured that for the joy set before him. [Heb. 12:2] Now, we get to endure that for him. It is not only a requirement but also a privilege. It is what we have to do and what we get to do.
The joy in this persecution is because of reward. We might think that our spiritual redemption is enough, and we do not need more than that. We might think that humility and contentment cause us to have thoughts like this, but Jesus has told us that there is more for us. We should want to experience that persecution because we should want that reward. Jesus did his work for the reward, which includes the ransoming of our souls and his seat at the Father’s right hand. Let us desire to share in the Lord’s suffering and experience what more God has for us. Father, guide us in sharing in the persecution of your Son, learning how to live joyfully through it and anticipating the great reward ahead.