Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted Because of Righteousness (Matthew 5.10)

Editor’s note: This was originally written in late 2004.
The eyes of the world are on Ukraine.
On November 21, 2004 Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich squared off against opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko in a runoff election for the Ukrainian presidency. Yanukovich won, but Yuschenko’s supporters and international observers argued that the election was rife with ballot fraud and voter intimidation. Ukraine’s Supreme Court agreed and ordered a reprise of the election on December 26.
Attempting to steal an election was not the only crime committed. Prior to the election, someone—no doubt a Yanukovich partisan, possibly a member of Ukraine’s security establishment—poisoned Yuschenko with dioxin, a lethally toxic substance. The assassin failed to kill his mark, but Yuschenko carries the scars of the poisoning on his skin to this day. And he is undergoing therapy to repair the damage the poison did to his internal organs.
I mention all this because it raises an interesting question: What cause do you hold so dear to your heart that you would willingly suffer—and even die—for it? The world now knows what stuff a courageous man like Viktor Yuschenko is made of. What are you made of?
In Matthew 5.10, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Each element of this beatitude needs to be unpacked, beginning with the word “blessed.” That word connotes the external conditions favorable to producing the internal emotion of happiness.
According to the eighth beatitude, the external condition that makes a person internally happy is not persecution for righteousness, but entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is God’s authority and power to rule over his creation. Whenever he exercises that authority and power, he creates conditions of justice and peace. However, at the present time, God exercises his kingdom not by imposition, but by invitation. He invites people to enter a relationship with him voluntarily; he does not impose the relationship by force. Why? He does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3.9).
Unfortunately, at the present time, many people choose not to enter into a relationship with God. If God’s kingdom is characterized by justice and peace, then life outside God’s kingdom is characterized by injustice and war. Within such an environment, those who desire “hunger and thirst for righteousness” may find themselves being persecuted by those who don’t.
This divine righteousness, by the way, is not just any “good cause.” Instead, it is “God’s cause.” And it is inseparable from life in Christ. In Matthew 5.11, Jesus expands the meaning of persecution “because of righteousness” to persecution “because of me.” God’s righteousness, you see, is inseparable from life in Christ. That is why, I think, Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by arguing that only his teaching provides a bulwark against the storms of life (Matt. 7.24–27).
So, what cause are you willing to die for—or most importantly, to live for? The eyes of heaven are upon you.

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