Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Between this subject and that presented in the verse preceding there is the relation of sequence.
I. VIRTUE PROVOKES THE RESENTMENT OF WICKEDNESS.
1. This is exemplified in Christ.
(1) He was the incarnation of perfect virtue. Innocent without fault. The Truth itself. And he came to bless.
(2) But how was he received by the wicked? They could not endure the rebukes of his purity. They were maddened by the rebukes of his goodness. Their mortified pride stirred their passions. They murdered him.
(3) Yet he made peace in his death. Peace with God by vicarious sacrifice. Thus a way of mercy was opened for his murderers through his blood. Peace with men, subduing them by the Spirit of his love.
(4) This is our pattern.
2. It is exemplified in the Church.
(1) When it first appeared in the family of Adam. Cain slew Abel. Wherefore? "Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:12).
(2) When it appeared in the family of Abraham. Ishmael, born after the flesh, persecuted Isaac, born after the Spirit (Galatians 4:29).
(3) As it appears in the family of Jesus. The history of Abel is an allegory. So is that of Isaac. Persecution against the Christian Church was first organized by the Jewish antichrist. It was continued by the pagan Roman tyranny. Then appeared under Papal, Mohammedan, and infidel forms.
3. It is exemplified in every saint.
(1) Our Lord taught his disciples to expect persecution. The text is his first clear intimation. Afterwards speaking of his yoke (Matthew 11:29). Then of his cross (Matthew 16:24). Finally of himself (John 15:18).
(2) The suffering of persecution is in the Christian vocation. We are predestinated to be thus conformed to the image of the Son of God (cf. Romans 8:18-39; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 3:12).
(3) It comes in various forms. The reviling tongue, insulting to the face. The persecuting hand. The evil speech uttered in your absence where you cannot contradict it.
(4) Why do we not suffer more? Do we so coquette with the world that we can scarcely be distinguished from it? "The world will love its own." Do we faithfully witness for Christ? In the workshop. In the railway car. In the highway.
II. SUFFERING THUS ENTAILED SHOULD OCCASION JOY.
1. Because associated with the noblest sympathies.
(1) It is "for righteousness' sake." Because of the hatred of our enemies to righteousness. By the Divine permission, because the temptation strengthens righteousness in the faithful (cf. Romans 5:3; James 1:2). Suffering for righteousness' sake should occasion joy for the opposite reason to that which should cause the felon grief and shame. To rejoice in adversity is the highest proof of Christian patience.
(2) It is for Christ's sake. "For my sake." Love to a Person. Not simply to righteousness, but to its perfect impersonation. What a blessed honour to be counted worthy to suffer in his cause, and for him! The Lord dwells in us; and the virtues which provoke the resentment of wickedness are his. So are we persecuted for his sake; and he is persecuted in us.
(3) Joy is not only a Christian feeling; it is Christian duty (Philippians 4:4).
2. Because associated with the best company.
(1) With the prophets. "So persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Witness those of Ahab's reign. Jeremiah. Daniel. They suffered for the testimony of Jesus (see Acts 7:52).
(2) With the apostles. These were immediately addressed by our Lord as those who were to have the honour of suffering with the prophets. "Which were before you." The apostles were in a grand succession. But the words of Christ are not limited to them.
(3) With the martyrs. Truly a "noble army."
(4) Above all, with Christ. He was the greatest of the prophets. The grandest Apostle. The most illustrious Martyr. Infinitely more. There is even something vicarious in Christian suffering (cf. Philippians 1:29; Corinthians 1:24).
3. Because associated with a great reward.
(1) There is the present blessedness of suffering in the best of causes. "Blessed are ye." We rejoice that righteousness is so dear to us that we are willing to suffer for its sake. And that we are counted worthy to suffer in the best company.
(2) "Theirs is the kingdom[ of heaven." Here: in the principles of righteousness and the consequent favour of God, which are the very elements of heaven. Hereafter: the perfecting of this spiritual bliss.
(3) The greatness of the reward here promised to those whose principles bear the test of persecution suggests the different degrees of reward in the heavenly state. Fellowship with prophets and apostles in glory. Fellowship with Christ. "If we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.