Suffering for Jesus

Have you ever thought of the Beatitudes as a ladder? Certainly it is a much-loved portion of the classic “sermon on the mount” given by Jesus near the beginning of His public ministry. But it is so much more than just a sermon, for within the concepts presented by Jesus to the people that day, He revealed depths of meaning that would be for all generations of His people, and especially at the end of time.
Jesus had carefully timed the delivery of this sermon to coincide with the high interest of the people who were beginning to follow Him from Galilee and the surrounding areas. After His forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching and preaching and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matt. 4:18-24). Naturally, large crowds thronged about Him, bringing their sick ones for healing, and listening to every word that fell from His lips.

How different were these principles than that of the Pharisees and religious leaders of that day! Jesus emphasized the inner life of humility and purity, and the resulting behavior which would mark them as subjects of heaven’s spiritual temple. His teachings went deep within the recesses of their hearts, for they were not yet jaded by the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees. This is, no doubt, why Jesus gave so much of His most profound instruction in this very first recorded sermon. It set the tone for the rest of His ministry, and gave a solid foundation upon which He and His disciples could build in their later work with the people.

The Beatitudes, coming near the beginning of this sermon set the tone for the rest of the discourse. Although the word “Beatitudes” is not actually found in the Bible, its meaning is very significant. It is derived from the Latin word, beatitudo, meaning “blessed.” “In the Beatitudes, Christ announced that the objectives of His ministry and of His kingdom were to bring happiness to humanity. The principles He enumerated cut across the concept that happiness is to be found on the material or carnal level.” 8 BC p. 123. Webster’s dictionary describes the meaning this way: “Supreme blessedness; exalted happiness…. perfect happiness.”

The people to whom Christ was speaking that day were seeking for the same things people have always been seeking — happiness, peace, security, comfort, love. So we can only imagine their reaction in hearing the words of Christ as He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matt. 5:3-5.

To be poor, mourning, and meek was exactly the opposite of what the listeners were seeking in their quest for happiness. But the Beatitudes are not addressing the type of happiness we seek for in this earth. It is the poor in spirit who are blessed with the approval and peace of God. No matter how much wealth or possessions we may have acquired, we must acknowledge our spiritual state of poverty before the God of heaven in order to be candidates for His kingdom.

The glories of heaven are beyond human imagination. There, no one is poor. But to be there, all must enter through the doorway of a meek and humble spirit which comes from our recognition that without God’s redeeming grace, we are unsafe to mingle with the holy ones who inhabit heaven. Without a change in spirit, pride and self-sufficiency take possession of our hearts, and we could not be happy in a place where selfishness is unknown, and even the Son of God laid aside His glory in order to rescue His fallen children from certain death.

And so, the ladder to heaven must begin with a willingness to put away self, and mourn for the suffering of God and others who have been affected by our personal sins, and for the collective sins of the whole human race. Even as I am writing this article, our nation is grieving for the loss of 33 young people, senselessly mowed down by a deranged classmate who turned his internal misery into death for others, including himself. This is just the opposite of the principles of the kingdom of heaven, where all is selfless service, resulting in life for others, including ourselves!
At this point in the Beatitudes, the message turns sharply from a personal focus, toward an upward and then outward direction.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matt. 5:6. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Verse 7.
The natural reaction of a person who has found forgiveness and mercy from God is to hunger for more of Him, and a deep longing to share this experience with others. Truly, this brings blessings unending, and the satisfaction of knowing that our lives have not been lived in vain. A heart that is filled with gratitude for sins forgiven and true manhood and womanhood restored, cannot keep from sharing these blessings. The overflow of joy and peace which God gives becomes a light shining in the darkness for others.

The next step in the ladder is purity of heart.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Until we are emptied of selfishness, we are defiled within, and our defilement affects others and prevents us from really seeing God through the window of a clear conscience.

“’Peace, peace, to those far and near,’ says the LORD, ‘And I will heal them.’ But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘ There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” Isa. 57:19-21. (See also Heb. 12:15.)

What is it that causes the “mire and mud” of the wicked? Jesus seems to answer this question when He said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Matt. 12:34.

We could say, then, that during our lifetimes, we experience many things that give us pain, or direct our footsteps into wrong pathways, and that those things form our attitudes toward God and others. Depending upon how we meet these challenges, we will either grow into better men and women, more able to make right decisions and be a benefit to others, or we will shrivel and become dwarfed and gnarled with the buffeting of life, and never reach the full potential that God meant for each of us to achieve. What a wonderful privilege we have if we allow the beautiful character of Jesus to shine through us, drawing other weary pilgrims to the safety of His arms, and the peace He gives to all who come to Him.

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Dan. 12:3.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17, 18.

No wonder the next step in the ladder is called “peacemakers!”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matt. 5:9.

“Whoever, by the quiet, unconscious influence of a holy life, shall reveal the love of Christ; whoever, by word or deed, shall lead another to renounce sin and yield his heart to God, is a peacemaker.” SD 306.

Now we come to the top of the ladder — persecution for Christ’s sake. At first we may have a hard time understanding how this could be a blessing. Persecution is not something most of us would welcome, but it definitely is part of the cleansing and training for every Christian, according to the Scriptures.

“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim. 3:12.

“A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master…. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them.” Matt. 10:24-26.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt. 5:11, 12.

So persecution is the final test in the ladder of Christian perfection. As Christ prayed for His murderers on the cross of Calvary, so He enjoins His followers:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt. 5:44-47.

In other words, the stamp of God’s approval is placed upon the person who allows his soul to be drawn out in love toward the very ones who are being unkind to him. Without the love of Christ in our hearts this would be impossible. But with His Spirit living in us, we will be like Him, for He becomes our source of perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jno. 4:18) - fear of man, fear of death, fear of pain, fear of rejection - all the fears that drive us to protect ourselves at all costs. With that fear gone, we are free to minister to others even if they are unkind to us.

And what is the result and the reward for passing the test of persecution in the right spirit? Jesus makes it clear that we are then ready for Him to pour out His unlimited power upon us. “You are the salt of the earth,” He said, and “the light of the world.” Matt. 5:13, 14. Now He can trust us not to misuse the privilege of being His instruments for good, His lights in the darkness. Now He can say to us:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and think darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (KJV - rising).” Isa. 60:1-3.

Friend, are you being persecuted or abused by someone in your life right now? Perhaps it is someone in your family; a friend or coworker, a neighbor or church member. It matters not who it is, for the spirit of persecution is all from the same source - “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), or Satan. His purpose is to discourage us, and to dissuade us from lifting up Jesus to the needy ones about us. He is bold and determined and brazen in his attempts to derail us with criticism from others, especially those closest and most dear to us - those for whom we have done the most, and from whom we expect to receive a harvest of love and appreciation for our efforts.

But we must not forget what we have learned in the Beatitude ladder of blessings. The first step is humility, and the last step as well. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men…. If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps…. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Pet. 2:15-23; 5:6, 7.

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Pet. 3:8, 9.

Blessings and happiness are contingent upon our connection with Jesus, and our walk with Him is contingent upon our willingness to follow in His footsteps. May each of us pass the test of persecution so we can reveal our precious Savior to the world!