“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. “Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. (Matthew 5:10-11, The Message)
Martin Luther King, Jr., in a speech in 1965, said, “If you haven’t discovered something that is worth dying for, you haven’t found anything worth living for.” As 21st century Americans we live for our careers, we live for our educations, we live for our families, we live for our nation, but do we live for our God?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3) willingly went into the fiery furnace, not with a certainty that God would save them, but because of their zeal to live their lives for their God. They refused to bow to the idol made of gold, and they were persecuted for it. They were tied up and thrown into the fiery furnace. We are taught—maybe even expected—to bow at the altar of the media, the altar of the shopping mall, the altar of the self.
We might call Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego countercultural. While the rest of society was bowing before the golden statue of the King, these three men did not. King would reference this Hebrew story often during the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps because they represented so well what was happening to African-Americans across the South. If you have seen the film The Butler (and other films like it), you see graphic images of what persecution looked like during that era.
In his famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, King writes in response to a letter written by other clergy men that appeared in the Birmingham newspaper. King and his non-violent movement was countercultural. These clergy men who wrote in were asking King and his movement to slow down. In essence to bow before the golden statue to society’s norms. The Church can be a greenhouse of countercultural thinking. Instead of bowing before the idols of fill-in-the-blank, we bow before the One True God.
Being countercultural, however, has become a kind of buzz word. Christians like to use it to justify their standing up on a particular moral or even political issue. Unfortunately, in the midst of being countercultural, there is a very delicate line between being countercultural and being mean. Yep, mean. It is possible for someone to stand up for their morals and stand up for their beliefs without being mean. Without being a bully. Without persecuting others. Jesus’ blessing to those who are persecuted does not give the rest of us a license to persecute.
Jesus is up front and clear. If we follow Him, we will be persecuted. Following Jesus is not a Country Club Membership. It is not going to be easy. And when you are persecuted – when are treated poorly because you are countercultural – you are blessed.
By climbing the ladder of the beatitudes, we can live a committed life to God. A life filled with persecution because our lives are filled with bowing down to the one true God. This life brings with it joy and gladness. Isaiah and Jeremiah knew this joy and gladness. Peter and Paul knew this joy and gladness. When we live our lives for Christ, we live in a joy and gladness that the world cannot give us. And we live as Easter people, filled with a hope that can only come through the Risen Christ.
Are you in a place in your spiritual life where you can rejoice in the midst of your suffering?
Pray: Lord, may your Holy Spirit dwell within us so that we can live each day for you. Help us to put aside our selfish needs and desires and to stop putting them first. You are first in our lives. Amen.