Matthew 5: 10
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
To the early Christians this verse would have struck a chord or perhaps even a whole symphony. They were indeed persecuted for their faith, thrown out of work, ostracised by friends, often their own families would disown them. To say you were following Jesus was not to be said lightly. We might think the early Christians had it tough but we are all OK nowadays. Not for one moment even today in July 2020 people are suffering hardship persecution imprisonment and even death because they dare to call God Father. Pope John Paul said that there were more martyrs for the faith in the twentieth century than in all the previous centuries combined.
Let me mention two, one well known another less so.
One of my great heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Christian leader who had the misfortune to be a German coming of age in the 1920s as the Nazi Regime was rising. Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazis with every fibre of his being firstly through democratic means and when that failed more direct action and in the 1930 was the head of an underground secret Seminary training Lutheran pastors. He visited the USA and actually was in New York when WW2 broke out. He could have sat out the war there and no one would have condemned him for doing so but he felt his place was in Germany with his fellow Christians to try and right the wrongs being committed in their name. Throughout the war he campaigned against the Reich at great risk to himself, he was involved to some extent in the failed “July Plot” to assassinate Hitler and was arrested. He spent several months in prison until he was executed three weeks before the end of the war on Hitler’s specific order.
In what is now Northern Pakistan a century and a half ago an educated man had travelled and worked in the British Raj in India he had learned of Jesus and asked that he be Baptised before he returned to his home. Once home he told his family of Jesus and shared Bibles, he told his friends and neighbours many of whom decided to accept Jesus as their saviour too. The size of the group worshipping in his continued to grow, so much so that the local potentate noticed and decided to put an end to this new religion. He had the man and his family arrested and brought before him He demanded of the man that he renounce his faith but the man replied he had decided to follow Jesus and could not turn back. One by one his wife and children were brought up and he was told to disown Christ, when each time he replied that he had decided to follow Jesus and would not turn back his family were one by one killed, finally he was told that if he still did not do what the potentate wanted he would die again he replied that he had decided to follow Jesus and could not turn back, he died like Stephen with a prayer for forgiveness on his lips.
The chief who had ordered the killings was struck by the strength of the man’s convictions and asked to be told more about it. As he learned he too became a Christian devoting his life to good works to recompense for his actions. The chief invited a missionary to come into the area and when he heard the story the Missionary composed the well-known hymn lines “I have decide to follow Jesus no turning back no turning back. The Cross before me the world behind me no turning back no turning back”
The Kingdom of Heaven is indeed theirs.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, we seek to follow you sometimes that seems hard, when we cannot make sense of events in this world. May we trust in the cross that has purchased for us a stake in your kingdom.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,