“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
Nearing the end of the Beatitudes lies this promise of heaven for those persecuted for righteousness—those who faithfully strive to lead moral and ethical lives according to God's will. For the audience there that day, they would have understood this to live by the Torah. It was not a new message, but one that established the things valued in God's kingdom. This heavenly kingdom was based on meekness, humility, mercy, peace, and righteousness for which they might be persecuted. This Messiah was not quite the earthly King and deliverer they expected.
This verse also predicts what Christ's followers could expect. As history attests, many in the early church did suffer and faced death in their pursuit of righteousness. Persecution is not confined only to the early believers; the oppression continues to this day. People are still being martyred for Christ. But in that warning of potential persecution lies the promise of entry into God’s heavenly kingdom. A kingdom where based on the beatitudes of Christ’s message -- “Blessed are …”
Father God, we give you thanks for your grace. We ask for your help to lead righteous lives. To stand faithfully for what is just and right. This faith may come with persecution, like others around the world face today. While we don't know them by name and don't know where they are, we raise them to you as our sisters and brothers in Christ. Father, we give you thanks for the promise of a place in your future kingdom. Help us this day to be your shining light into the world. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
For more information about modern-day martyrdom, you can check out The Voice of the Martyrs.