Not A Side Effect: Blessed Persecution — St. Peter's Fireside | Vancouver, B.C. 

by Rob Collis
May 16, 2019
7 min read

It’s in the fine print. Or sped up at the end of a commercial. Those carefully nuanced words which explain that the product or program – the miracle solution we’ve been looking for – has occasional adverse side effects which, in rare instances, might do more harm than good.

Of course, advertisers have to include it – their lawyers make them. If you promise someone the world, but never warn them they might fail – you could be held liable for that.

But it doesn’t sell well – all those things which can go wrong. So we cover them up and hide them in the fine print, and insist that everything will – or should usually, almost always go well.

As we’ve journeyed through the Beatitudes – these markers of what it means to live a flourishing life – I’ve become convinced that Jesus never believed in hiding behind fine print. In fact, he seems pretty intent on setting the record straight – no need to sugar coat it: following Jesus, and flourishing in the kingdom of God, is a pretty upside-down way to live. And going against the grain is costly.

At some point along the way it can be – or more accurately, it should be costly for us to follow Jesus.

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

Jesus has said some pretty wild and strange things already in his sermon – blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty – but I think this one takes the cake. The blessed persecuted. Flourishing in the kingdom of heaven entails resistance in this life along the way.

That’s not the message I really want to hear. I don’t think many of us want to hear it. And I believe Jesus knew we didn’t want to hear it – which is why he said it a second time.

“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.”

Have you ever noticed that this is the only beatitude Jesus repeats? There’s something especially important about this beatitude. And this isn’t the only place Jesus talks about persecution either! He talks about it again in Matthew 10:16-23, and in John 16:33 Jesus says to his disciples: “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

This is not an after-thought, or some adverse side effect that Jesus is trying to bury and hide in the fine print. It is a blessed thing to be persecuted on account of our belief in Jesus Christ. And we should expect it to be costly to follow him.

But notice – this isn’t a blind or baseless persecution. There’s a particular cause and basis for the blessed persecution of a Christian: “persecuted for righteousness’ sake … on my account.”

There’s no way to sugar coat the cost to a flourishing life in Christ. Life in the kingdom is marked by the radical, upside-down, joyful pursuit of following Jesus. And living against the grain of this world carries a cost.

Not every instance of opposition we encounter in life is because of our identification with Jesus. Sometimes people revile us because we’re just being a jerk. In fact, sometimes the difficulties we can encounter are merely the consequences of our own sin: the Christian who cheated on their taxes isn’t facing persecution when the government comes knocking to collect what they owe; that’s called justice.

But sometimes we do face legitimate opposition simply because of our identification with Jesus.

History is littered with accounts of persecution. Church tradition tells us that all but one of Jesus’ disciples died as martyrs for the faith. Emperor Nero fiercely persecuted Christians in Rome in the first century. In our own day, there are Christians experiencing persecution all over the world – the organization Voice of the Martyrs is actively monitoring countries in parts of Asia and northern Africa, and in regions in Central America, where Christians are being actively persecuted on account of their belief in Jesus.

But not all opposition is life-threatening. The pastor and biblical scholar John Stott once explained that “Persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value-systems.” Indeed, I sometimes feel a weightiness in identifying as a Christian in Vancouver – identifying with Jesus marks me out as belonging to a different way of living in this world.

For the last several months I’ve met with a handful of people first thing on Tuesday mornings in a coffee shop to read the Bible and pray through the Daily Morning Office. Not many people read the Bible in public settings in this city, let alone pray aloud in a coffee shop. And there have been plenty of times when I have caught the stares of others from across the room as they stand in line to get their coffee – they’re usually too tired (or politely Canadian?) to say it, but it’s as though they’re sneering through their eyes: “Oh, you’re one of those people.”

And it’s not just the unspoken sneers in coffee shops – I know someone who was labelled a “Bible thumper” by her peers simply because they asked her if she had been reading anything lately and she explained that she was reading through the Bible. And I’ve heard from multiple students from universities across the lower mainland that there’s grace and understanding in the classroom for students of any belief system, so long as it’s not Christianity.

Anytime we are mocked or sneered at for our belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we participate in a form of blessed persecution.

Anytime we are made to feel small and worthless, or ignorant and contemptable on account of our belief that Jesus rose from the dead, we experience what it means to flourish in the kingdom of heaven.

Whenever someone holds our beliefs over our head, and says we aren’t permitted to do something because we profess Jesus Christ is the Lord, we are among those whom Christ calls blessed. And surely those whom Jesus Christ calls blessed are blessed indeed!

Jesus doesn’t relegate persecution to the fine print of Christian living – this isn’t a hidden and possible adverse side effect of following the risen Christ. Opposition on account of our belief is normal – and when we experience it, it means we’re doing something right. But how then are we to respond when following Jesus gets costly? Jesus’ answer is simple: Rejoice and be glad! St. Paul told the persecuted church in Philippi the same thing:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be made known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

We don’t retaliate. We don’t get revenge. We rejoice!

We rejoice because our faith is genuine. We rejoice because ours is the kingdom of heaven. We rejoice because the Lord is near. We rejoice because our Saviour conquered sin and defeated the grave. Our joy is not circumstantial – it’s not dependent upon whether life is easy or hard. Our joy is rooted in the glorious right-ordering of ourselves with God – our joy is founded in the God who never changes, and who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

There’s no way to sugar coat the cost to a flourishing life in Christ. Life in the kingdom is marked by the radical, upside-down, joyful pursuit of following Jesus. And living against the grain of this world carries a cost.

But Jesus calls us blessed when we face persecution for his sake. And those whom Christ calls blessed are blessed indeed!


Over the next few weeks, St. Peter’s Fireside is exploring the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, both in our sermons and these articles. [

about the author
Rob is an intern at St. Peter’s Fireside, and is studying for a Master of Divinity at Regent College. Hailing from England by way of North Carolina, he has somehow retained much of the accent of his youth. He is a lover of big dogs, tasty food, and good beer. He also enjoys thinking, writing, and good conversations (especially with dogs, food, or beer!).

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