Blessed are the Persecuted

Matthew 5:10-12

“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.”

INTRODUCTION

Those who belong to Christ will be persecuted. If the Master himself was persecuted, his disciples will be persecuted too.

1. PERSECUTION IS INEVITABLE (John 15:18-20).

(a) Persecution in the workplace.

Such was the experience of a committed Christian who tried to set things right in the corrupt government agency she worked in. She was ostracized and given a desk in a corner of the workplace where in virtual isolation she practically had no choice but to be left alone and to leave others alone.

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The Athenian Plague of 430 BC

While reading Thucydides’ On Justice, Power and Human Nature (Selections from The History of the Peloponessian War), I came across his description of a terrible plague that struck Athens in 430 B.C. What made a great impression on me was the similarities between that plague and the present pandemic, and the possibility that that plague was much worse, all other things being equal, than covid-19. According to a footnote in the book, “Thucydides’ description does not match any disease that is known to us now.” Either that disease is extinct or Thucydides was exaggerating. At any rate, the realization dawned on me that what we’re going through at present is merely a repetition of history, albeit at a larger scale, probably because of the ease people nowadays can travel to different parts of the world via modern transportation.

At any rate, here’s his description of how the plague began:

“[The] Peloponessians had not been in Attica for many days when the plague first began among the Athenians. Although it was said to have broken out in many other places, particularly in Lemnos, no one could remember a disease that was so great or so destructive of human life breaking out anywhere before. Doctors, not knowing what to do, were unable to cope with it at first, and no other human knowledge was any use either. The doctors themselves died fastest, as they came to the sick most often.”

Just like at present, the doctors (the frontliners) were among the first to die. Here’s his description of the symptoms that those who caught the disease exhibited:

“If anyone was sick before, his disease turned into this one. If not, they were taken suddenly, without any apparent cause, and while they were in perfect health. First they had a high fever in the head, along with redness and inflammation of the eyes; inside, the throat and tongue were bleeding from the start, and the breath was weird and unsavory. After this came sneezing and hoarseness, and soon after came a pain in the chest, along with violent coughing. And once it was settled in the stomach, it caused vomiting, and brought up, with great torment, all the kinds of bile that the doctors have named.”

There were worse symptoms than these, but I’m not going to mention them here. As far as I can tell, covid-19 would be considered tame compared to what hit the Athenians. I’d like to mention however what happened to some of those who got the disease and eventually survived:

“But those who had recovered had still more compassion, both on those who were dying and on those who were sick, because they knew the disease first-hand and were now out of danger, or this disease never attacked anyone a second time with fatal effect. And these people were thought to be blessedly happy, and through an excess of present joy they conceived a kind of light hope never to die of any other disease afterwards.”

Thucydides also makes mention of the effect the plague had on people’s mental health, and it’s not much different from what people at the present time are also experiencing.

“But the greatest misery of all was the dejection of mind in those who found themselves beginning to be sick, for as soon as they made up their minds it was hopeless, they gave up and made much less resistance to the disease.”

Also alarming is the fact that “[The] plague struck Athens again the winter of 427 B.C [.i.e., around 3 years after] and lasted over a year.” It is believed over a quarter of the Athenian population was killed by the plague. Is a second wave of the present pandemic forthcoming?

Except for the fact that the present plague is world-wide in scope, it isn’t really novel. It’s a repetition of history. Theologically speaking, it is part of what it means to live in a fallen world where sickness and death still prevail. We are still waiting for the liberation of creation from its bondage to corruption, which will coincide with the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-25). In the meantime, we hope, we trust, we do the best we can and we pray.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Yvonne

She is God-given
like dawn’s beams
on a cool morning
after darkness has fled.

And darkness has fled indeed
and I am happy and free,
ready to embrace full-force
the sweet refreshing dawn – Yvonne!

Copyright 1997 Dennis M. Cortes

Sushi and the Sun

Just one thing:
like sushi
in Jiro’s life.

Reminds me of the Sun.

The Sun at the center,
outshining everything.
No stars, no moon, no planets
are visible to the eye.
They are hidden from sight
by the one supreme light.

Whether this is a life worth living,
I am not sure.
Hyper-focused on one thing
to the exclusion of all else –
Is that not an idolatrous waste
of energy and time?

To look at the sun
straight in the eye,
never averting one’s gaze,
is to be blinded by light.

(Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash)

The saddest words I have ever read

The saddest words I have ever read are found in Ecclesiastes ch. 12, “To the making of books there is no end, and too much reading is a weariness of the flesh.” But then I realise that this is also good news: books won’t end, therefore they’re eternal. There will be books in heaven. The reading life does not end! (John Piper) And the good news is: in heaven there will be no weariness of the flesh because we will be reading with our glorified bodies, glorified eyes, and glorified minds. I’m looking forward to heaven!

Interestingly, many of the books in heaven will be law books and biographies. According to Revelation many of the books there will be filled with accounts of everything people have done, and according to their deeds they will be judged, which means I think that these books will also cite the laws which people have either kept or broken. I’ll be reading about your lives and your deeds, and you’ll be reading about my life and my deeds! Now that is frightening.

Maybe that’s the reason why the Bible says that at the last day there will be tears in our eyes – because all the things that we’ve done will be uncovered and publicly revealed. But these tears of shame and sorrow for all the sins we’ve committed God will wipe away – all of them. In the presence of all creatures, angelic or otherwise, he will confirm the fact that we are justified from all things, cleansed from every sin, by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But I digress. Going back to books and reading, even in heaven, Virginia Woolf once wrote, St Peter who stands watch at Heaven’s gate will say, upon seeing people coming in, carrying their books with them – he will say with a note of envy in his voice, “Look, we have nothing to give them here. They have loved books.”

Heaven is a library where reading will never end.

Vacation

I will be taking a break from blogging as I will be taking a vacation with my family. I plan to make use of the time with as little engagement with digital devices as possible.

Hope to be back after a month’s time.

John Owen and blogging [updated]

“Gifts are given to trade withal for God. Opportunities are the market-days for that trade. To napkin the one and to let slip the other will end in trouble and disconsolation. Disquietness and perplexities of heart are worms that will certainly breed in the rust of unexercised gifts. God loseth a revenue of glory and honour by such slothful souls; and he will make them sensible of it.”

(from John Owen’s An Exposition of Psalm CXXX)

Yes, yes, I know I posted yesterday that I will blog daily no more, and that my next post will come out on Monday. But the above quote from John Owen made me change my mind. As applied to blogging, I take him to mean that to neglect opportunities to consistently blog for God’s glory is a failure of stewardship, for which I will be held accountable! So, instead of blogging once a week, I’ll try blogging every MWF TTh. And in my defence I invoke the platitude “Only fools do not change their minds!”

Daily blogging no more

I tried to follow Seth Godin’s advice and for a couple of weeks I blogged every day except for Sundays.

However I don’t think I will be able to keep this up. I have a lot of obligations to fulfill and the fact is blogging for me is not a top priority.

Still, I think blogging is something worth doing, so I plan to keep on blogging, but on a weekly rather than on a daily basis.

My next blog post will therefore come out on Monday.

God bless!

Seth Godin, Status, and the Christian

I’ve been listening to an audiobook of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing. He talks about the importance of status as the reason why people do things and the difficulty of getting them to change if it means going against what gives them status. According to Seth, people acquire status by affiliation or domination, i.e., “I’m part of this group,” or “This is mine!” He tells a story about young men in a tribe who acquire status by killing lions as their rite of passage. This has led to a significant decrease in the number of lions in their area. And he says that trying to change them by trying to convince them that killing lions is wrong or bad won’t work. What works is getting them to change their perception of acquiring status. For example: Be a lion-saver, not a lion-killer!

I think there’s an insight here that relates to Christianity. Part of the motivation involved in the change in a person’s conduct when he becomes a Christian has to do with the way he perceives his status: he is now affiliated with Christ and he identifies with his fellow Christians. They read their Bibles, so does he. They pray and sing hymns, so does he. They go to church, so does he.

This isn’t peer pressure or herd mentality; this is biblical teaching, or if you like, biblical psychology. You see yourself in a new way, you then act in a new way, and it helps that you’re part of a group that sees and acts in this new way. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self…” “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (See Colossians chapter 3).

New identity, new self, new affiliation, new practices. New status!

My Blog Hacked!

I tried accessing my blog post entitled Fixed-Term Employment Contract only to discover that someone else’s post appears in it even though the title remains the same. It’s one of my most visited posts. I don’t know what happened. I have to check my other popular posts to see if they’ve been hacked too. Anyway I’ll be reposting the “Fixed-Term Employment Contract” post in a little while.