Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted

Beatitudes, Christian history, Justice, Kingdom of God, Spiritual Growth

The moment Jesus announced the Beatitudes in “the Sermon on the Mount” and began to live by them in a public manner, he was launched on a course that would inevitably lead him to Good Friday.

The Beatitudes themselves are found at Calvary. All eight of them are on full display. Here’s a famous painting of the crucifixion that Andrea Mantegna painted in 1459. It hangs in the Louvre in Paris. Just look at it for a moment.

mantegna,_andrea_-_crucifixion_-_louvre_from_predella_san_zeno_altarpiece_verona

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In this scene, where do we find the poor in spirit receiving the kingdom of heaven? The thief on the cross – who at first joins in the taunts of those who are mocking Jesus, but later thinks better of it, repents, and scolds his compatriot who is being crucified with him and says, “We are receiving what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus famously replies, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…” It is not the Pharisees – in their pride of their deep spirituality and their knowledge of the Torah and their weekly practices of fasting and tithing and attending the Temple – who are promised paradise in the kingdom of God. But it is this poor-in-spirit criminal dying at the right hand of Christ. “You’ll be with me in paradise.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Look at those women. Such a portrait of sorrow. Such broken-heartedness. Such deep and abiding grief. Hope being extinguished. These were the women who were at the cross—the disciples having fled (except John).

These women have followed him all the way from Galilee, and hoped that he would be crowned King. Their eyes cannot perceive (And I don’t fault them at all. Who would?) that, in fact, Jesus is being crowned King. But they cannot see that. All they can see is death. Injustice. A ghastly murder. And they are mourning so deeply.

But it will be those very women that will be the first to rejoice. They’ll be the first to be comforted. They’ll be the first to know the good news on Easter Sunday.

Our gospel is not “Easter Sunday, Easter Sunday, & Easter Sunday.

It’s Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Death, burial, and resurrection.

Mourning and grief and sorrow are a work to be tended to, not avoided. As we do the work of grief and sorrow, then we have carved out space within our soul to receive the good news when Jesus announces to us on Easter Sunday, “Rejoice! I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, Amen!”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Who is the meek one in our painting? It is Jesus himself. On Palm Sunday, he entered into the city, as Zechariah prophesied “meek and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). Not on a warhorse. On a donkey. But if you keep reading the whole passage down to the 10th verse, it says, “And his reign will extend from sea to sea…and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus does not win his kingdom by a sword. He would not go to war against the Romans like his followers wanted him to. He is meek. He does not fight back. On Good Friday, he absorbs their hatred.

But because the Son of God has been meek and has taken the cup that the Father gave him to drink, saying, “Not my will, but yours be done,” now Psalm 2 is fulfilled, as the Father says, “And I shall give you the nations as your inheritance.”

At his resurrection, Jesus is able to say, “All authority in heaven and earth is now given unto me.”

Jesus has inherited the earth through his meekness at Calvary.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for things to be made right, for they will be satisfied.”

From the cross, Jesus cries out, “…I thirst.”

Through the cross, God is setting right, justifying, making right a world gone wrong. Why was he willing to go to the cross? Because he thirsted for justice. For rightness. For the world to be made right.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

There isn’t much mercy pictured in this scene. But I can find it in a couple of places. First, there is the criminal at Jesus’ right hand. The one that Mantegna has cast in the light. He showed the tiniest bit of mercy towards Jesus when he said, “Hey, leave him alone. We deserve this. He doesn’t. We’re guilty, he’s innocent.” And he’s blessed with the mercy of today in paradise.

And of course the greatest demonstration of mercy is the one in the middle. When he was nailed to the cross, what came out of him was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Not a plea for wrath, or for vengeance. No calling upon twelve legions of angels to bring their fiery judgment. But a merciful plea for forgiveness.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Remember that Roman Centurion? When he saw the way Jesus died, he stood there as the one presiding over this execution and said, “Truly, this is the son of God.” But the Pharisees in all of their knowledge, in all of their learning, in all of their biblical wisdom, could not see.

This man, who was a pagan, had a pure heart. Oh, he was not without sin. I’m sure he had quite a bit of sin. But he didn’t have that particular combination of sin: spiritual pride, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism. He had a heart that was pure enough to recognize the Son of God when he saw him.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Truly, this is the son of God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”

Well, it’s all making sense now. What is Jesus doing on the cross? He is reconciling all things in heaven and in earth by his blood. He is making peace. Uniting everything in one new humanity by the blood of his cross. Jesus is making peace and being persecuted for it, and someone literally stands there and calls him “the son of God.”

Finally…

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And of course, that’s where we see Jesus. Persecuted. Reviled. Rejected.

But the stone that was rejected by the chief builders has been made the cornerstone of the kingdom of heaven. Because the kingdom of heaven does not break into earth among men apart from persecution.

Of course, sometimes persecution can reach violent proportions. It did for John the Baptist. It did for Jesus. It did for the Apostles. It did for many of the early Christians. Their persecution reached violent proportions. It still does in certain parts of the world today.

But the final Beatitude is not limited to those who suffer violent persecution. To be rejected and ridiculed for following the Jesus way is part of following Jesus. When you really start embracing the counter-intuitive values of the Beatitudes, you will be misunderstood even by well-intended people. You will be misrepresented and then possibly maligned. But it is part of the unavoidable path of those who follow the Jesus way.

 

(The artwork in the header is by Jim LePage. It is part of his “Blessed to Death” series. You can find Jim’s artwork here.)

 

NOTE: This post is part of a blog series on the Beatitudes. Here are the links to the previous posts:

Intro: The Constitution of the Kingdom

Beatitude #1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Beatitude #2: Blessed are Those who Mourn

Beatitude #3: Blessed are the Meek

Beatitude #4: Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for [Righteousness]

Beatitude #5: Blessed are the Merciful

Beatitude #6: Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Beatitude #7: Blessed are the Peacemakers

Surrendering to the Flow

Kingdom of God, Prayer, Solitude, Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Growth

Every so often when I am sitting in prayerful contemplation, an image captures my attention. Sometimes it is an actual object that I am physically looking at, like a cross on my desk or a bird in the sky or a tree branch blowing in the wind. Other times it is something I see in my mind’s eye.

And usually, as I reflect upon whatever it is, I can sense and receive what I understand to be thoughts, insights, and experiences from God himself.

Preface to My New Book: “Healthy Prayer”

Books, Prayer, Solitude, Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Growth

Writing a book was never really a goal of mine. Vocationally, I have always self-identified as preacher first, content to read what other people have written.

But three years into pastoring my church in South Louisiana, I experienced a dynamic shift in my prayer life. I discovered an approach to prayer that was a bit foreign to me, but once I experienced it I couldn’t get enough. This shift in prayer set me on a course that began to slowly transform my marriage, my parenting, and my approach to life and ministry.

Not long after, I decided to begin teaching the people in my church what I was discovering about prayer. Every couple months or so, I began hosting “prayer workshops” in my living room. I would take 8-12 people at a time and teach about prayer for three hours on a Saturday morning.