Joyful Suffering

One of the most famous passages of scriptures in all of history is the Sermon on the Mount. These few verses are incredibly simple yet profound, as they seem to bring us into the heart of Jesus and his teaching. It seems that every section of this “sermon” is not only counter-cultural, but counter-human. As I read through passages about loving my enemies, and cutting of my limbs to keep me from sinning, I am astounded as to how anyone could think that being a Christian would be and should be easy.

One of the particularly challenging passages for me comes from Matthew 5:11-12. Leading up to these verses we find a whole series of blessings and woes, until the discourse crescendos into the hardest verses yet, in which Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice in the coming persecution. In the Greek, we find the word χαιρω, which is not a descriptor for being content or happy. This word is used to describe great joy, as a child would jump up and down in excitement over the ice cream truck coming down the road. We are called to be exceedingly joyful… when people hate us, persecute us, and slander us on account of Jesus. I know in my head that I am to have this joy, but I have incredible difficulty getting it into my heart.

light on ahillHow can we live this out? How could we possibly rejoice in times like these? Our answer comes in the next verse. Jesus tells us that we can rejoice for two reasons, the first being our reward in heaven. But the second reason is more alluring to me. He makes reference to the prophets and says that they were persecuted before them. We can read story after story in the Old Testament about prophets who were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered for their message (look at men such as Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1). These men were not treated well on this earth, as God gave them an offensive and harsh truth to declare to the people of Israel, and they were often hated for it. But they still delivered that truth.

We are entering the most tolerant and ironically intolerant age of all time. The world says that they accept everyone, unless you don’t conform to their message and view, whereas the teeth come out. Nevertheless, we are called to seek and save the lost, while still delivering our (offensive) message of grace to the world. We can rejoice through this persecution that we are entering because the world is seeing our testimony and not liking it—which is exactly how it should be. We need to continue to be the light on the hill, as this is what we are called to as Christians. Jesus said it, the prophets exemplified it, and we are called to rejoice through the sure persecution in our lives today.

Author: Adam Renberg