“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:22-23)
Jesus was very clear that to be a true follower of Him would mean trouble and persecution. Jesus warned his disciples that “…all men will hate you because of me…” (Matthew 10:22) and “If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first – if they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:18, 20) The Apostle Paul reinforced Jesus warning when he told Timothy “…everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Timothy 3:12)
Jesus says “blessed are you” when we endure persecution for the sake of being obedient to Jesus…but who really wants this blessing? Well, I don’t think Jesus told His followers this so that they would go out “looking” for persecution! But Jesus also knew that if they were to be truly obedient to His will and commands there would be hardship and rejection. So Jesus gave His disciples something to hang on to – something to help them endure the suffering they may encounter in following Him. Jesus gave them a reason they could “leap for joy” in the midst of their persecution – “great is your reward in heaven!” There is in the life to come an eternal reward and joy that will far outweigh any rejection or suffering that we might have to endure for the sake of following Jesus!
While I don’t believe Jesus wants us to only be motivated by the thought of rewards, I do believe Jesus talked about rewards to motivate us to continue to be faithful especially in the midst of suffering, injustice, and opposition. In Matthew 16:27 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done.” Paul also talks about “…each one being rewarded according to his own labor.” (I Corinthians 3:8) Now, while I believe that Jesus Himself will be our “great reward”, I also think that the Scriptures teach that there are greater rewards for those who endure through persecution and remain faithful to Christ. The question is: Do we really believe this? Are we willing to suffer now and to face rejection now in order to receive a greater reward in eternity? Who would really believe that the reward and joy that Jesus promises in the future is infinitely worth more than whatever it may cost to be obedient to Jesus now? And the answer is – only those who really believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! The Resurrection of Jesus assures us among other things that Jesus can and will keep His promises. Jesus said in John 2:19 “Destroy this temple (His body) and I will raise it again.” Who could promise such a thing and keep their promise – only Jesus! And if He kept that promise, we can be sure that He will keep this promise as well; that those who endure suffering and persecution because of His name will be greatly rewarded! You can believe it so much that, as a follower of Jesus, you can “leap for joy” over it!
“He has risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6)