Tupac Shakur, one of the most famous and influential hip-hop artists ever, was a complex man. A lyricist with talent beyond his years, but also a troubled man that seemed to be a magnet for violence in his time.
The last album Tupac recorded before he died was entitled “The Don Killuminati” in 1996, and was released with Tupac using the stage name Makaveli. The interesting thing about this album was not so much the music (though quality hip-hop in it’s own right), but the album cover. In what created a huge controversy, the front cover showed a painting done with Tupac hanging from a cross being portrayed as a crucifixion.
In the name of art, it was thought-provoking if nothing else. Tupac wanted that image to represent how he had been “crucified by the media”, a theory represented in much of his music. Be it soft words of criticism from Dan Quayle or police brutality experienced first hand, Tupac did what he could to shoulder the concerns of many blacks in America who felt mistreated. What many outsiders saw as vulgar music, Tupac and his fans saw it as an expression of life on the streets.
As eye opening as it was to see that image of Tupac on a cross was, we need to step back and ask a question: was Tupac facing real persecution? Did he have to fear for his life day in and day out because of his beliefs? Were his words so disconcerting that enemies formed against him continually? I don’t know really. I can’t speak for him. But I do know that the persecution Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:11 is a form we rarely see in America today.
Jesus says “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Mt. 5:11) Heavy words when you consider the types of persecution we see in the New Testament church. Take Stephen, the first martyr in church history who was stoned to death for his beliefs. Or Paul, who faced numerous jailings and illegal trials. And take Jesus, God who came as man and declared Himself a Savior. A man who eventually was crucified, and this after beaten brutally beaten with a whip and mocked endlessly.
Yet here in this passage He is telling us that we are blessed when we are persecuted. Why? It’s actually a normal part of the Christian life. 2 Timothy 3:12 says"Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." How difficult is that to consider? If we’re truly living a godly life, persecution in some form is bound to happen.
The persecution we deal with in America is trivial compared with other places. Here we feel like we’ve been beaten down if someone disagrees with us politically. Here we feel like our world is falling apart if someone looks at us strange, or makes an underhanded comment indirectly intended for us on facebook. We don’t deal well with petty matters. How would we be with real persecution? How would we deal with what Christians in other countries face?
On April 18, 2007, three Christian men were holding a bible study in a town in Turkey. Five local men, claiming to be “seekers” looking to learn more about the Christian faith, joined the three missionaries in their time of study.
After one of the Christian men read a chapter from the Bible, the five local men who were actually Muslims, took the Christian men hostage, tying their hands and feet to their chairs.
What happened over the next three hours was one of the most horrific and troubling instances of persecution you’ll ever hear about. The Muslim men went on to disembowel the three men, pulling their intestines out in front of them. They then went on to emasculate the men, then cutting off their fingers and toes. As they were still alive, they sliced open their noses and mouths, then eventually slitting their throats to the point of near decapitation. One man was stabbed 99 times, one 156 times, and the other had stab wounds too numerous to count.
What is persecution? Being refused the chance to go to church every Sunday because our job requires us to work? Is it being bashed on a message board for opposing abortion? Is it being mocked for not watching rated R movies? Is it watching our friends being brutally murdered because they shared a Bible with a Muslim?
The scene from the murders in Turkey was gruesome, but not singular in it’s impact. There are thousands of similar stories from Christians throughout history that have been persecuted.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted…"
Even in the darkness of the tragic stories of missionaries slain for sharing the gospel we are given hope. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says this:
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
Tupac’s crucifixion was artistic expression. Jesus’ crucifixion was brutal. It was bloody, gruesome, tragic, and beautiful. His persecution is what gives us life today. Are you experiencing persecution today? What are you doing about it? Are you considering it a blessing? “Blessed are those who are persecuted…because of me.”