I don’t have a favorite book of the Bible or a favorite verse. I do, however, have a favorite chapter and, while I am generally drawn to the gospel of Luke, my favorite chapter in all the Bible is John 9.
John 9 is where we find the events surrounding the healing of the man born blind. The chapter is rich with lessons on how to live and how to treat other human beings.
Following his healing, multiple confrontations unfold for the formerly blind man. He is awash in controversy and pressure to explain his healed condition. It is ugliness to the extreme on parade. When confronted a second time by the Jewish leaders regarding his healing, the Jews pressed upon the man to proclaim Jesus a sinner. When the man refused to do so, this was the result:
They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
– John 9:34, ESV
Let that phrase resonate with you. “They cast him out.”
The man was trying to do what was right, refusing to falsely condemn another man, and ultimately was wrongly condemned himself. This is the type of foul treatment Jesus spoke of when he said:
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
– Luke 6:22-23, ESV
“Blessed,” from μακάριος (makarios), is often explained or defined as “happy,” and that’s not inaccurate, but it goes even more deeply than just happiness. Makarios is a term of the extension of benefits or blessing. It is descriptive of one who is in an enviable position because of the extent of those blessings or provisions. It is excessive good fortune, such as when I look at my wife and think, “Damon, you are one blessed man.” That goes well beyond simple happiness.
The paradox of our life in Christ is that Jesus says we find this makarios in persecution. Yet we are resistant to anything that might result in us being unpopular with our peers, or that might result in physical discomfort for us, or things that might lead to us being “cast out” as the man in John 9 was. Our tendency toward self-protection causes us to avoid persecution when Jesus says it is in persecution that we find that excessive good fortune.
But there is a caveat.
Jesus did not say that makarios comes through being persecuted for sinful behavior, careless behavior, or bold stupidity. That’s on us. But, when we are persecuted for righteousness, that’s an entirely different matter.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:10, ESV
The apostle Peter expanded on this concept.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
– 1 Peter 4:12-16, ESV
We see examples of this in the apostles and disciples. When Paul and Barnabus were persecuted in Pisidian Antioch, they were expelled from that region. They wiped the dust off their feet against the people of the region, and we are told the “disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”1
When the apostles were beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching the name of Jesus, we are told, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”2
Persecution around the world is intense, and it is slowly making its way to the west. When that happens, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will embolden us to find joy in honoring the name of Jesus, refusing to compromise, just as “Christ also suffered for us.”3
1. Acts 13:52
2. Acts 5:41
3. 1 Peter 2:21