It is the strangest blessing under heaven, and its particular target is those of us who preach!

Archaeologists digging in the remains of a school for imperial pages in Rome found a third century picture of a boy standing, his hand raised, worshiping a figure on a cross. At first glance, the figure looks like a man; but if you raise your eyes a bit, you see this man has the head of a donkey. Scrawled underneath in the writing of a young person are the words, “Alexamenos worships his God.”

Nearby a second inscription tells the real story: “Alexamenos is faithful.” Apparently, a young disciple of Jesus was being mocked by his schoolmates for his faithful witness. However, he was not ashamed; he was faithful, and they finally could not ignore it.

Alexamenos was not alone. The fact is that in ancient Rome, crowds by the tens of thousands gathered in the coliseum to watch as wild animals tore Christians apart. Those early Christians lived on heaven’s doorstep with no fear of what would happen to them on the day that door opened.

In case you have not noticed, the persecution continues. Show me a faithful preacher with a few years of experience and I’ll show you someone with at least a few scars. On this very day, someone in your town is feeling the pressure that comes from representing Christ faithfully in word and deed. Not far from any of us, some group is scheming to remove a pastor for the grand “sin” of preaching truth.

Scars and schemes seem to be part of the proof that we are not just faithful but effective in the service of the Savior and a threat to His enemies. Look around the world. Today hundreds of faithful preachers are sentenced to die for the gospel they preach. Others languish in places that none of us ever would choose.
The Savior understands and empathizes. His hands, feet and side are ample testimony to just how deep His understanding is. As the best preacher who ever lived, He offers the strangest blessing under heaven; to show the level of His understanding, He targets especially us: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Blessing, indeed? Yes, says Jesus, it is a blessing to be persecuted. In His greatest speeches, Jesus sometimes speaks past the multitude and sends a stealth sentence into the hearts of a particular group within His audience. This is one example. Here the intended target is those who proclaim the gospel. The proof is in the last phrase, “so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is not just a good word for anybody with ears to hear. It is an especially good word for those who proclaim the gospel. Take it to heart the next time slander comes your way and rejoice, “for your reward is great in heaven”!

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