What is the real cause of the persecution that Jesus says leads to blessedness? The answer is found in the refusal to make enemies of others or to embrace an “us vs. them” mindset. By opting out of this game, we no longer fit on either side and persecution becomes the norm.
Why does Jesus assume that his followers will be persecuted? Since following Jesus puts love at the center of one’s actions, it seems contradictory that this way of life would incur the wrath of others. Many have argued that persecution arises because the church stands against sin, but that cannot be the case because this only occurs when the church judges the sins of others, something Jesus told us to avoid. To answer the question from a Kingdom perspective, Greg takes an indirect approach by first helping us to understand the world in which we now live
We are Kingdom ambassadors who represent an alternative kingdom because our citizenship is in heaven, as Paul stated in Philippians 3. Our true home is not this world, yet while we walk this earth, we have a job to do: to live and to love like Jesus. As ambassadors, we need to understand the land in which we now live, one of the most unique times in history, characterized by four storms:
Storm #1: Remarkable Racial Unrest. We are told to trust the system for the sake of social peace, but what does a person do when that system enslaved them and then subsequently disempowers their entire community based on the color of their skin?
Storm #2: The COVID-19 Pandemic. The isolation of social distancing is causing people extensive pain and stress.
Storm #3: Political Polarization: Both sides claim that if the other side wins that it will be the end of the world. Endless accusations and even questions around the peaceful transfer of power create rhetoric that is unbearably stressful. And with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the stakes are even higher and the sides are even more polarized. This polarization has infiltrated the church to the extent that a Christian leader like Rick Joyner is calling upon Christians to form militias against liberals.
Storm #4: Environmental Chaos: Between the fires along the West Coast and the historic number of hurricanes, the pressures people face regarding their relationship to creation are unprecedented.
How do Kingdom followers respond in the midst of these storms? Greg offers three responses:
First, put your hope in the right place. If you put your hope in America or a political party, or a specific leader, you are putting your hope in an insecure foundation. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and his righteousness alone.
Second, keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get distracted by the storms that surround us. We are ambassadors who are called to live in love as Christ loved us and gave his life for us, as Paul said in Ephesians 5.
Third, resist the pull of the powers. Paul told us in Ephesians 6 that our struggle is not against “flesh and blood,” but against principalities and powers. The powers tempt us to make enemies of other peoples, failing to see that those powers are actually the enemies that we are to resist. The storms are driven by powers and we must see the reality of what is going on. As Kingdom ambassadors, we must commit to not being played by the powers that will draw us into making enemies out of other people.
With this in mind, we find clues as to why Jesus’ followers would be persecuted. To the degree that people are polarized, they adopt an “us vs. them” mindset. In contrast, Jesus called us to love like he loves, which is the mark of God’s children. We are to love in a way that the world cannot love. If we live this out, we will stand out in the midst of the “us vs. them” polarization, which makes us the enemy of everyone.
Jesus was persecuted because he did not fit into their embattled narratives. He did not conform to their rules regarding who did and did not deserve love. He stood out and the powers on both sides “cancelled” him. And this pattern continued in the early church, as they did not conform to the expectations of the Roman powers. Jesus’ Kingdom does not conform to the “us vs. them” narrative, because the “us” includes ALL to the point that there is no “them,” and this results in persecution.
When this occurs, Jesus tells us that we should rejoice because it is a signpost that we are going in the right direction, on the path toward the coming Kingdom.
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