The Eighth Beatitude

Vanguard Presbytery: The Eighth Beatitude

            When Christians speak about the Beatitudes, they often overlook the eighth, which says: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 12). Luke also gives the contrary to this beatitude: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6:26). It would seem that a person who is poor in spirit, one who mourns, one who is gentle, one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, one who is merciful, one who is pure in heart, and one who is a peacemaker would be universally welcomed and praised by all men. Such is not the case. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said in his great work, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount:  

The gospel of Jesus Christ creates a clear-cut division and distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian. The non-Christian himself proves that by persecuting the Christian. The way in which he persecutes him does not matter; the fact is, that in some shape or form, he is almost certain to do so. There is an antagonism in the non-Christian towards the true Christian. That is why, as we saw in our last chapter, this last beatitude is such a subtle and profound test of the Christian. There is something, as we saw, about the Christian character, due to its being like the character of our Lord Himself, which always calls forth this persecution. No one was ever so persecuted in this world as the Son of God Himself, and “the servant is not greater than his lord.” So he experiences the same fate. The non-Christian tends to revile, to persecute, and to speak all manner of evil falsely against the Christian.[1]

When we consider the life of our Lord, we find that he was reviled and persecuted and called many names by the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Herodians and others. His persecution began when He was only an infant when Herod the Great attempted to kill the Messiah. When Jesus began His ministry, there were many false things said about Him. When He cast out demons, the scribes said, “‘He is possessed by Beelzebul’ and ‘He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons’” (Mark 3:22). When Jesus confronted the Jews who were trying to kill Him, they responded, “You have a demon. Who seeks to kill You?” (John 7:19). Yet, at that same feast of the Jews, they did conspire to seize Him and sent officers to arrest Him. They accused Him of being born of fornication (John 8:41), being a Samaritan and having a demon (John 8:48). Later they picked up stones  to throw at Him (John 8:59). When He preached at the synagogue where He was reared in Nazareth, the congregation rose up to throw Him down the brow of a hill. When He healed the man born blind, the Pharisees told him concerning Jesus, “we know that this man is a sinner” (John 9:24). He was also accused of being a glutton, a wine-bibber, and a friend of sinners. His own family once tried to put Him away because they thought He was insane. And, of course, He was eventually crucified after being brutally beaten and tortured. Surely, no one was ever so hated as Jesus of Nazareth. Why? It is really very simple. The natural man hates God and, therefore, he hates Jesus also. It is that hatred of God that is manifested in the persecution of Christians by unbelievers.

It would be easier to understand if that hatred of Christians was always from people who are clearly ungodly. Yet, that is not the case. It was the so-called religious people of His day who hated Jesus the most. Many times, the persecution of a believer will come from people who are in the church. That has certainly been my experience. When I was converted at the age of 18, I soon began to realize that my pastor in the Methodist Church did not understand the gospel. I did not leave immediately, but the longer I stayed the more my pastor ridiculed and reviled me. I can remember one occasion when I was in his office and he sneeringly called me unenlightened because I was audacious enough to believe the Bible is true. I could give many more illustrations. My experience is similar, I believe, to what other Christians have experienced as well.

The Protestant Reformers were reviled by the Catholics when they left that spiritually bankrupt church. When Calvin was exiled from Geneva for three years, Jacopo Sadoleto, on behalf of the Catholic Church, attempted to woo the Genevans back into the Catholic fold. His words concerning the Reformers should not be forgotten:

For after it was brought to my ears that certain crafty men, enemies of Christian unity and peace, had, in like manner, as they had previously done in some towns and villages of the brave Helvetii, cast among you, and in your city, had turned the faithful people of Christ aside from the way of their fathers and ancestors, and from the perpetual sentiments of the Catholic Church, and filled all places with strife and sedition (such is always the appropriate course of those who seek new power and new honors for themselves, by assailing the authority of the Church), I declare before Almighty God, who is always present beholding my inmost thoughts, that I was exceedingly grieved and affected with a kind of double pity, when, on the one hand, I thought I heard groans of the Church our Mother, weeping and lamenting at being deprived at once of so many and so dear children, and on the other, dearest brethren, I was concerned at your losses and dangers.[2]   

 In that same letter, Sadoleto wrote concerning the Reformers: “For already, since these men began, how many sects have torn the Church? Sects not agreeing with them, and yet disagreeing with each other—a manifest indication of falsehood, as all doctrines declare.”[3] The irony of Sadoleto’s argument concerning the unity of the Church is that he did not perceive that if  division into various sects was a condemnation of the Protestants then it also condemned Catholicism. There were break away sects from Catholicism before the Reformation. The Reformers had once been in the Catholic Church and had broken away. Then, there were breakoffs into other sects among the Protestants. Catholicism cannot be exonerated from blame for the Protestants having left them if the Protestants deserved blame when others left them. It is the same thing and it has been the experience of every church or religious organization in the history of the world. John, the beloved disciple, was compelled to write: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us” (1 John 2:19). If organizational unity, unchanged and unchanging, is the requirement, then no congregation or church or denomination or religious organization has ever met that standard—not even the Catholic Church. Of course, Sadoleto ignored that fact because his purpose was to slander the Reformers in an attempt to bring Geneva back into the Catholic fold.

The New Side Presbyterian ministers were persecuted in a similar manner as the Reformers were. An anonymous opponent of the Great Awakening wrote a pamphlet against the New Side ministers, accusing them of having been unsuccessful in their ministries and deluding their followers. Yet, the statistics reveal just the opposite. During the period that the New Side and Old Side division existed from 1741 to 1758, it was the New Side churches that grew rapidly while the Old Side was at a standstill. There are many such illustrations that we could fetch from church history to prove the same point. Yet, not all persecution comes from within the organized Church.

One of the most moving books I have read concerning persecution was The Persecutor by Sergei Kourdakov. Kourdakov was a young KGB agent whose responsibility was to bust up secret meetings of believers. He and his team of KGB thugs used any and every tactic. Many people were arrested, others were brutally beaten, and some lost their lives. This brutality seemed unnecessary to Kourdakov, even though he followed his orders. On one occasion, he busted up a meeting in which a beautiful young lady, Natasha Zhadanova, caught his attention. He roughed her. A few days later, she was at another meeting. He and a few others stripped her clothes off her and Sergei beat her with his fists and hands. Interestingly, in light of the war in Ukraine, she was from the Donetsk region of Ukraine and had once been a member of Komsomol—the Communist Youth League. Then, Kourdakov found her at another meeting of believers. It was almost more than he could stand. But… something happened to Kourdakov as a result of the witness of such people as Natasha. He defected from the USSR to Canada in dismay of the persecution of Christians and, in his new home, he came to faith in Christ. Finally, he died a few years later under mysterious circumstances that some people still believe was a KGB killing. At the end of his book, Kourdakov wrote these words: “Natasha, largely because of you, my life is now changed and I am a fellow believer in Christ with you.” Kourdakov went from persecutor to persecuted.    

There are too many Christians who do not expect to ever be persecuted and when it comes it shocks and dismays them. It should not. Jesus gave it as the eighth beatitude. We are not only to endure it. We are to rejoice in it. People will say bad things about us. I, personally, have lost track of all the bad things that people have said and written about me. Frankly, I just ignore those things. All of us in Vanguard Presbytery should count it all joy when we suffer various trials. If others, even supposed friends, say bad things about us without any justification, just rejoice. Keep evangelizing. Keep focusing on doing what the Scripture teaches us. This world will soon be over. If we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, our reward in heaven will be great. Praise be to God.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL Please send any donations to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Two Volumes in One, Volume One (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 139.

[2] John C. Olin, John Calvin & Jacopo Sadoleto: A Reformation Debate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976), 30-1.

[3] Ibid., 46.

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