“Rejoice and be overjoyed, because your reward is great in the heavens, for thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:12
You may notice that there’s an intensification in these two verses compared to the previous blessings. Those were general; these verses turn specific, introducing “you” language. And even more, they speak of some nasty consequences for aligning yourself with Jesus, including verbal and possibly physical abuse. One might expect Jesus to counsel in the face of this something like, “Just hold on through it, it won’t last forever,” or “don’t get too discouraged.” But instead he uses two terms of celebration: you should be really pumped that these terrible things are going on!
What is going on here? This is certainly different than an everyday scenario. When you’re feeling the weight of way too much work to do, you don’t count yourself lucky. When your roommate or someone in your class or in a club with you is holding a grudge against you for seemingly no reason, or gives you a hard time because they just don’t seem to like you, you don’t tend to call your mom exhilarated that you got to experience social oppression.
It’s the identification with Jesus that makes the difference. God isn’t ever going to applaud us just for being disliked. But he recognizes that those who have aligned themselves with him have always experienced some form of persecution, from subtle to extreme. It takes a trust in God’s goodness, in his care for you, to stand with him when it gets hard to do so, when God’s position is unsexy or looks ridiculous.
Are there ways in your life right now where standing on God’s side as opposed to your peers is causing you to be ridiculed or treated badly? Or perhaps, do you notice an unwillingness in your heart to move closer to Jesus because you don’t want to be on the receiving end of this treatment?
As we will continue to see in this Sermon, Jesus wants us to recognize that there’s no viable way to be for him but also not really for him. That reality is present here too, but even more Jesus wants us to be reassured that it will be worth it to stand with him, so worth it we will even be in a position to rejoice. He promises great reward, a reward that outweighs any suffering—a reward that is both waiting for us, but is also in the right now.
He doesn’t specify that reward for us here in this text: again we see, we are called to trust him. Is he a person of his word? Does his character demonstrate that he will follow through? Does what we see of him show that he has the power to deliver something so great? Spend some time meditating on Scriptures you know that point out his character and power; if you’re not sure where to go, ask another Christian friend for help!