Christ is here announcing a radical reinterpretation of suffering – if it is experienced because of allegiance to Him. Rather than being endured, it should be received with rejoicing as a seal of authenticity upon our faith. Even more, suffering on earth for the sake of Christ builds up eternal treasure in heaven.
These are hard words for Christians living in the United States, particularly those of us who live and work in the higher income / quality of life strata of an already wealthy nation. Although some of us may have experienced real persecution because of our faith, many of us simply have not.
In part this may be due to the partial victory of Christian mores, at least in lip service, in our culture (though this influence is receding fast). But, for my part, I fear that there could be another reason. Is it possible that I’m not living my life as fully and openly as a Christian as I should? Is the lack of open persecution a telltale sigh that the bushel basket may be partially over the light of Christ in me? These are questions that must be faced. It’s possible that we live in a society where many people will like us more (although some surely will like us less) if we live out our Christian values more fully. Perhaps we should simply say that Christ calls us to ever-fuller obedience, regardless of the cost. If persecution is the price, rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven. If it is not, then you are still seeking to follow your Lord and Savior to the fullest where you are. There surely will be a reward in that as well.
It is nothing short of stunning to see how much meaning can be drawn out of just three of Christ’s sentences; and nothing short of hopeless to add anything of value to what He has said. In a very real sense it is folly to comment on His words. They contain a power and immediacy that can only be detracted from by the addition of more. And yet, we are compelled to respond to them, to enter a dialogue in which our poor attempts to understand are patiently, lovingly blessed by our Master. As with so much in Christianity we are forced to live within an unfathomable paradox, but one that offers “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b).