I began preaching the Beatitudes in January and completed them in June! Someone called them the Christian Everest because they sum up life with Jesus in ways that really stretch us and require the best of us. Certainly they challenge me. And, now, the last one: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It’s the only beatitude that Jesus makes personal. He looks directly at them: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Very PERSONAL. Looking at me.
Listeners on that hillside needed to hear this. The world of the first church was a cruel one for Christians. Several disciples were martyred. Many believers would be persecuted for their faith. Before end of the first century the word for witness and the word martyr had become the same word. To witness to Jesus publicly risked death. And it is brutal reality today. 340 million Christians today desperately need to hear this beatitude. What?! Someone calculated there were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in the previous 19 centuries put together. But today, OPEN DOORS, the organization that seeks to pray and support the persecuted church, claims persecution is more severe than ever. 340 million Christians with 9,488 church attacked last year. Current ranking of the top 50 counties in the world where Christians are persecuted sees No. 1 N. Korea, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria….with others climbing higher in the list like China and Sri Lanka. Who can forget Sri Lanka in Easter 2019 when 9 suicide bombers, with a group linked to ISIS, entered 3 Christian churches while worship was going on. Easter Day! The blast killed 269 people with simultaneous attacks in 3 hotels. Families lost. Always stories. Like Anusha Kumari, in tears: My husband and my 2 children died once; I die every second she said in tears.
What courage to stand up for Jesus when the state authority has forbidden Christian faith or when Islamic fanatics attack. So, millions really need to hear this beatitude. And we need to remember them in prayer. However, the big question for us is how much we really need to hear this. We who worshiped at Easter with no thought that gunmen would burst in. How relevant is this beatitude to me? Our situation is so different in this country. Yet, there are three truths of this beatitude that are important for us today.