Following Jesus isn’t supposed to be easy, is it? That’s hard to remember, though, especially if you live in a part of the world where almost everybody is a Christian, or at least in some sense wears the name.
And yet Jesus consistently emphasized the difficulty of discipleship. At one point in his ministry he turned to the growing crowd and said they shouldn’t bother following him if they wanted an easy path (see Luke 14:25-33).
For some reason when I was a kid I liked singing the song, “All to Jesus I Surrender”—do you remember it? I sang every word of it, but I remember wondering if I really meant it.
Surrender everything? Really?
Turns out, Jesus did indeed call us to a difficult road, as implied in the way he ended his famous Beatitudes. Everything was relatively palatable—Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and so on. Those require discipline, but at least they’re not painful.
Then he hurls this bombshell:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).
Happy are the harassed, as one person put it. The persecuted, the mocked, the ridiculed, the made fun of, the beaten.
Christians have always been persecuted in one way or another. It started early—with beatings, stonings, imprisonments. It got worse with emperors like Nero, Domitian, and Diocletian. We’ve all heard about Christians who were thrown to the lions or made to fight to please the crowds.
So maybe that’s why when we think of persecution, we normally think in terms of gladiators, lions, and arenas. We’re less likely to think of the ways that our culture makes it hard on Christians, but Jesus didn’t put any time limits on persecution. It changes forms, but it doesn’t stop.
Maybe for you it’s a spouse who makes it hard for you to follow Christ. Maybe it’s your parents or siblings. Perhaps you feel constant pressure at work from your co-workers to “stop being so ridiculously religious.” Or your boss keeps asking you to do things, sign things, say things that you can’t. It may not be a literal bloodletting, but it’s still tough.
What does Jesus say?
You’re blessed when things get tough because of your faith. It pleases him to see you stand against the crowd, to watch you take abuse that people of weaker character never could.
Happy are the harassed, indeed.
Are you struggling? Is it wearing you down?
Hang in there, Jesus says. If you’re persecuted for your faith, he mentions you in the same breath with those prophets who stood against unthinkable opposition. That’s pretty good company.