“Blessed are Those Who Are Persecuted for the Sake of Righteousness,
for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”

Scripture – 2 Timothy 3:10-12

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, December 4, 2022


As we come to the final beatitude, we might expect Jesus to build to a robust crescendo – to end with a blessing that elevates everyone to a pinnacle of hope. Perhaps, blessed are those who forgive, for they will enter God’s realm. Or blessed are those who love God and love others, they will savor unceasing love. However, Jesus ends on no such note. Instead, he says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you!” Really Jesus? When we are maligned, threatened, and physically abused we should rejoice? When we are harassed, tormented, and oppressed, we should count our lucky stars? Talk about a surprising finale!

We teach our children that if they do the right thing, they will be rewarded. Complete all of your chores and you receive an allowance. Make good grades so you will get into a good school. Treat others with kindness and they will likely be kind to you.

As people of faith, we know that if we live according to the teachings of Jesus, life will likely be rich, fulfilling, and hopeful. However, in his final beatitude, Jesus says, “Not always.”

Rather than sugar-coating his message, Jesus warns that following him can be harmful to your health. You might be persecuted for it.

We know that was the experience of the first followers of Jesus. Many of them were ostracized by their families and snubbed by their communities. And those were the lucky ones.

Most of the 12 disciples and the Apostle Paul were not merely persecuted, but died as martyrs because they refused to name Caesar as Lord. They chose instead to worship a crucified criminal of the state.

Professor Rebekah Eklund narrates the story of some of the early Christian martyrs. “In the year 203 CE, two women were in prison in the city of Carthage (present day Tunisia) awaiting execution. One came from a wealthy family. Her father visited her and begged her to deny that she was a Christian so that she could return home and raise her newborn baby. She refused. Her name was Perpetua. The second woman was a slave and she was pregnant. Her name was Felicity; she also refused to deny that she was a Christian. The night before they died, Perpetua had a vision that their deaths would defeat Satan, the ancient enemy of God. According to the account of their martyrdom, they marched into the gladiator’s ring and died calmly and courageously.”1

However, the persecution of Christians did not end once Christianity became the official religion of Rome. Throughout the centuries, people have been persecuted in large and small ways for remaining true to the way of Jesus.

Many were persecuted in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation. In 1523, two of Martin Luther’s followers were handed over to the local civil authorities to be burned to death for speaking out against the Roman Catholic Church. In 1536, William Tyndale was executed for translating the Bible into English. Queen Mary I of England, rounded up almost 300 Protestants and burned them at the stake.2

“In the 20th century, a Russian noble woman named Elizaveta Skobtsova, fled to Paris after the Bolshevik revolution. She eventually became an Orthodox nun and took the name Maria. Her home was a soup kitchen and a shelter for refugees. She was arrested for smuggling Jews out of Paris during the Nazi occupation and was taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She took the place of a Jew who was slated to be sent to the gas chamber and she died as troops were approaching to liberate the camp.”3

It is no accident that the final beatitude of Jesus is a word of warning. Being persecuted is often the result of faithfully following the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” You remember that the same Greek word that is translated “righteousness” can also be translated “justice.” The persecuted are blessed because they dare to do what is right or just regardless of the consequences.

In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Warren Carter writes that the Beatitudes envision a just way of life that challenge the status quo. This challenge arouses opposition in those who benefit from the way things are.4

Jesus did not establish persecution as a goal of the faithful. He did not yearn for his followers to suffer and die as he did. However, he knew so well that if you seek justice for all people, some may strike out at you.

You may know the story of Clarence Jordan, a farmer in Georgia, who was troubled by the racial and economic injustice that permeated his state. He earned a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia in hopes of improving the conditions of sharecroppers through scientific farming techniques. However, during his college years, he became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic, so following college, he went to seminary. He became a Baptist minister and earned a PhD in Greek New Testament.

As his faith deepened, he became convinced that to be a faithful follower of Jesus he had to do something about the segregated and racist society in which he lived. He set his sights on establishing a farming enterprise where blacks and whites could live and work together. He created a community that was committed to racial integration, non-violence, and a faithful stewardship of God’s creation. He founded a farming community in Americus, Georgia that he named Koinonia, after the Greek word for “fellowship” or “community.” It was based on the notion that all people are created in God’s image and are called to live in accordance with Christ-like love.

This peaceful community, where blacks and whites worked together and studied the Bible together became the target of white racists. In the 1950s, they were constantly harassed. Their fences were cut, their crops were stolen, and garbage was dumped on their property. Nearly 300 fruit trees were cut down and someone poured sugar into the gas tank of one of their trucks and ruined the engine.

And that was only the warm-up. Things turned violent. Night riders sprayed machine gun bullets at the houses. Fires were set on the property and crosses were burned on the lawns of black families. The farmers’ roadside market was bombed several times, and eventually destroyed. The opponents of Koinonia started an economic boycott hoping to destroy the farm’s business of selling pecans. Jordan switched to a mail order pecan business because the local people could not control the U.S. mail. You have to love their marketing theme for their mail order business: “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”5

Clarence Jordan knew what it meant to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness. He knew that being faithful to God requires courage. He said that “Fear is the polio of the soul which prevents our walking by faith.”6

If you chose one word to sum up this final beatitude of Jesus, the word would not be persecution. It would be courage. To faithfully follow Jesus demands a brave spirit.

In the 19th Century, many white Christians who spoke out against slavery were persecuted for standing up to the majority. In the early days of the 20th Century, people were beaten and imprisoned for standing up for the right of women to vote. In the 1960s, many were beaten and some killed in the struggle for civil rights. Three spiritual giants – Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oscar Romero were assassinated for the sake of righteousness – for their laser-like focus on justice for all. In the 21st Century, Christians have been persecuted for protesting the Iraq war, for standing up for gay and transgender rights, and for standing in solidarity with people of other religious faiths.

If you protest gun violence or march with Black Lives Matter or support Palestinian human rights, you may not be physically persecuted, but you may find yourself scratched off some people’s invitation lists. If you faithfully follow the way of Jesus by working for peace, and striving for equal justice for all you may pay a price.

Just a few days ago, Indiana’s Attorney General asked his state’s medical board to discipline an Indiana doctor because the doctor performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim. In my mind, this doctor is being persecuted for doing what is right.

Gandhi said something that ought to ring in the ears of all people of faith.  He said, “Fearlessness is the first requisite of spirituality.” I wonder if Jesus saved “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness” for last, because he knew that the most critical attribute of people of faith is the courage to live our faith.

May each of us strive to develop an intrepid spirit so that we may embrace and embody the challenging beatitudes of Jesus.



  1. Rebekah Eklund, The Beatitudes through the Ages, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2021), p. 258.
  2. Ibid, p. 268.
  3. Ibid, p. 259.
  4. Ibid, p. 262.
  5. Followingjesus.org, “Clarence Jordan”
  6. Clarence Jordan, “The Substance of Faith: and Other Cotton Patch Sermons”, (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005), p. 45.