“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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 5:10-12)
William Barclay was correct: “A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order to be a Christian.” (The Gospel of Matthew, 1:107). A.W. Tozer also asserted that “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely.”
Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Tozer declared in another place that “The Christian, the genuine Christian, realizes that he is indeed a lonely soul in the middle of a world which affords him no fellowship.”
This world is no friend of grace, nor of those who live by and offer it. There is a reason Jesus put “peacemakers” just before “persecuted” when enumerating His Beatitudes. Yet Jesus’ words do speak of a deeper fellowship than the world can offer, indeed, a fellowship that is truly found only in the world’s rejection. It is fundamentally a communing fellowship with the King Himself. To the rejected, despised, persecuted and reviled, Jesus promised a present experience (“is”) of “the kingdom of heaven.” Which at least means that such folk get to come under that special reign and relationship with the King Himself right now, in the present. Jesus’ words may mean more than simply that, but they do not mean less.
There is then (marvelously, but only secondarily) down this painful road also the fellowship that is found with “the prophets who were before you.”
Again, I affirm that Barclay was correct: “A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order to be a Christian.” But he was also correct when he then later wrote, “… no man ever suffers persecution alone; if a man is called upon to bear material loss, the failure of friends, slander, loneliness, even the death of love for his principles, he will not be left alone, for Christ will be nearer to him than at any other time. …. When a man has to suffer something for his faith, that is the way to the closest possible companionship with Christ.” (1:113, 114)
Is it possible that your present hardship is not an evidence of Jesus distancing Himself from you, but, quite the contrary, an evidence that He is drawing near to you? Is it possible that current distress is only God’s answer to your prayer to know Him more deeply?
John J. Murray, was speaking about God’s plan for building our character, but I wonder if his words do not also fit with this matter of bringing us into true fellowship with Himself: “We might be tempted to ask whether God can [give us true intimacy with Himself] without suffering. That is a hypothetical question. He has not chosen to do so.” (p.15, Behind a Frowning Providence)