[August 3, 2008] All four gospels are beautiful remembrances that make our Lord Jesus present to us in the Holy Spirit. Matthew is the first of the four gospels. It is very organized, like a manual for believers. After the introductory story of Jesus’ birth (chapters 1-2), He is baptized and the Father reveals that HE is the Beloved and obedient Son of God, and then He is tested in the wilderness (chapters 3-4a). After that, Jesus comes out, announcing that the kingdom of the heavens has come to Israel in His own person, and He calls disciples to enter His place, His sphere, which He describes in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 4b-7).
The Sermon on the Mount was the first speech in Matthew. There are four more. Each one is preceded by a story section that introduces it. The second is chapter 10. It is all about mission: the mission of the church is evangelism. We are sent to bring others to Christ. Chapters 9 and 10 show how Jesus went out and called people. Literally, Jesus sends forth His disciples to do as He did. Figuratively, the stories are pictures of the church’s mission. (In the Gospel of Luke this theme is developed much more fully.)
Chapter 10:5-42 is the speech. On January 20, I spoke on 9:35—10:15, including the first half of this speech. There, Jesus sends His community out to be as friendly as possible with people, to enter their homes and eat with them, to accept their hospitality, to bring them peace, and to share their concerns in prayer and the power of the Spirit. Using people’s homes as their base, and in particular their dining-room table, they are to reach their friends and neighbors. The message you are to share with people is the coming of the Messiah and the coming of God’s kingdom in Him—in other words, the Good News about Jesus. Jesus expects people to be receptive.
In fact, people have been. Everywhere His disciples have gone, people have welcomed Jesus into their hearts and lives. The whole world is full of Christians, and to this day the Gospel continues to spread in Asia and Africa, in spite of the struggles we have in Europe and the United States. Jesus’ powerful presence in people’s lives is a reality everywhere, in spite of opposition.
Beware of Men: The Certainty of Persecution (Matthew 10:16-25)
However, Jesus warns us that there will be opposition. “Behold,” He says, which means, pay attention. The opposition will come from those institutions whose responsibility is to ensure conformity—in Israel these were the sanhedrins (the courts) and the synagogues (whose patriarchal function included education). In the modern world, what are they? The government and courts, of course, but primarily the marketplace, the media, the schools, social assemblies—whether religious (liberal or conservative, classical or New Age) or political (whether the old guard or social activists)—and gossip.
In particular, Jesus warns that persecution will come from within your own family. The family normally claims your first loyalty, but Jesus now comes from outside the family circle and demands your first allegiance. If the members of your family understand your commitment to Christ, this will be very threatening to the unity of the family, until they convert. “I came not to bring peace but a sword” into your homes, Jesus says. “If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me” (The Message paraphrase).
If your Christianity is real, and you really do put Jesus first, of course this is a threat to order and unity. It is a threat to the government, the marketplace and even—or especially—the family. They will say all kinds of things about you and against you. Many things will be untrue, but they will also identify every fault, and everything that can be construed as a fault, and they will use it to accuse you. Since you are only a fallible human being with a difficult history, there will always be plenty of ammunition against you.
You will be discouraged and want to give up.
But where does this persecution come from? It really comes from what the Bible calls the “world.” The world is not just people. People may not be so bad. The world is a system that they are enslaved to. It is a collection of perspectives and values, images and ideas, that people share and that, collectively, controls the society. These things are far more powerful than we usually realize. In fact, they are what the Bible calls “powers,” and behind them are “principalities.” For example, “capital” and “technology” are tremendous powers. So is racism. So are ideas such as “progress” or “Marxism” or “democracy” or “happiness.” Usually they are the very things we take for granted. They are so powerful that we do not normally see them, though there are ways to identify them.
Behind all these powers that control the world is our rebellion against God, our drive to exist independently of God, to exclude God. As a result, all these powers are unwittingly obedient to Satan, the world-ruler whom Jesus utterly defeated by His obedience unto death. However, Jesus’ overcoming of Satan is not something felt in the world except by the presence of His kingdom in the church. Hence, the reason for persecution.
Jesus warns us that the world situation will not change until He comes again. If the world persecuted Him, it will surely persecute us (verses 24-25).
In Matthew 9:36 Jesus looked on the crowds and saw them as sheep. Now He says we are like sheep in the midst of wolves. On the one hand, people are like sheep, and we are sheep among them. On this basis we must share the Gospel with them, being open and friendly and accepting their hospitality. On the other hand, though, we must beware of wolves.
Jesus does not say we should stupidly welcome persecution. He says “Beware of men.” Even though we go out like sheep among sheep, we must be prudent as serpents. That means that we must be wise. We should not provoke or give an excuse for persecution. We must be wise to protect ourselves, but we also must be on guard to never cause harm. It is better to suffer harm—even death—than to cause harm. Though others may hurt us, we must never retaliate. So we must be careful how we protect ourselves. Sometimes we can flee. Other times we must allow ourselves to be brought before governors and kings for His sake, so that we can testify about Christ to the Gentiles. The word “martyr” means one who testifies.
To be a martyr requires great bravery. This bravery comes not from ourselves but from the Spirit of the God. The history of the martyrs of the church shows us this. The Spirit of God also gives us the words to speak. In those moments of crisis, we become prophets. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father of Jesus Christ, inspires us with the words to say. This witness before the powers of the world has an unseen but tremendous impact on the structure of the world system. The sacrifice of our lives may seem like a waste, but it is not, and Christ will reward us when He comes again.
“He who has endured to the end, this one shall be saved” (verses 22). Here salvation does not refer to eternal life—in which case, the believer already has forgiveness and the assurance of being the Father’s child. This refers to entrance into the kingdom, Christ’s pronouncement of “well done” on our life, and His reward of those who denied themselves and stuck with Him faithfully.
Do Not Be Afraid (10:26-33)
Jesus tells us not to be deterred from our mission because of our fear of opposition. “Beware of men,” He says, but also, “Do not be afraid of men.” “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light, and what you hear (whispered) in the ear, proclaim on the housetops.” Jesus sees more clearly than we do just how real is the danger we face. We think we are safe in America, but the danger lurks just beneath the surface and the lion may come out to devour us at any time. Yet Jesus also says that this does not give us the option of remaining silent. You may flee, He says, but you may not be silent.
We are silent. We are afraid of witnessing to Christ. We say, “I will witness to Christ by my actions. I do not ever have to say anything.” May we all bear witness by our actions. May our good works speak far louder than our words. But if we do not confess with our mouth, it is because of our fear of persecution. “We are not worthy,” we say. We are right. I know this myself. Anyone can point to my actions or my lack of action and accuse me. No one is good enough. But Jesus does not accept our excuses. To not confess Christ with our mouth is simply disobedience.
You are afraid of men, He says. But that is because your perspective does not include the Father. If you were more aware of your Father, the danger of men would not seem so great at all. On the one hand, nothing can happen to us—not a hair from our head can fall—apart from the Father’s will. We are of more value to the Father than sparrows. We are always in His hand. So for this reason, do not be afraid of men. What can men do to you? Nothing.
On the other hand, if we deny Christ before men, then on the Day of Judgment, Christ will deny us before the Father. Do not be afraid of men but DO be afraid of this. You do not want to be rejected from the kingdom. You do not want to see your life, all the toil of your life, all that you built on the foundation of Christ, to be consumed in the flames of judgment. Jesus speaks of this here, but Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 3. You may be saved on the Day of Judgment, but “so as through fire”—that is, by the skin of your teeth. Your life may be saved, but you may lose everything else. Are you going to let that happen because you are afraid of men?
Then you must confess Christ before men. You need to share your Savior with others. Really, you should be motivated by your love of Christ, your love of God and your love of other people. If you were filled with love, you would never have to have any fear. Perfect love casts out fear. The only reason for fear is because our love is too little. Love others. Do not be afraid of them.
The Cost of Discipleship (10:34-39)
Jesus tells us how absolute we must be. Being a Christian is not civil religion. It is not about our “religion” at all. It is about our allegiance, our loyalty, our total commitment. Jesus does not ask to be a part of our life. If that is what Jesus is to us, a part of our life, than we do not deserve Him. He demands to be our Lord. He demands to own us completely. Not even our most intimate ties with father and mother, or even children, can get in the way of His first claim on our life. Have you given Jesus your total allegiance? Do you “try to fit Him in” or do you surrender to Him? Call upon Him and give Him your heart now.
He says, “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me,” He is saying that you must be willing to die for His sake. That is a big choice, and He says we need to be willing to make it. But also we need to daily put Him in the center of our little choices, even if it means dying to a part of ourselves. Taking up our cross means dying to our loves (even if they be the closest and most intimate and permanent), our desires, our happiness, our opinions, our reputation, our plans, our ambitions. Whatever it is.
“He who finds his soul shall lose it.” To find your soul is to satisfy yourself, your desires, your happiness, your own ideas. If we choose ourselves over Christ, we will lose our happiness. We will end up profoundly dissatisfied. Maybe you feel this way already because you do not put Christ first. It will only get worse. On the other hand, if we choose Christ over ourselves, over the desires of our families and friends, over all our other allegiances, our other desires, we will end up profoundly happy and satisfied. We will, in fact, find ourselves and our true home. Both now and even more at His coming.
The Reward for Those Who Receive You (10:40-42)
Jesus ends by saying something about all those people who listen to you, who receive you, and who give you hospitality. This is the true meaning of Matthew 25:31-46 (this passage does not refer to our own judgment but rather the judgment of the Gentiles). These final words are about them, not you. When we speak for Christ, we are like prophets and righteous ones. In Matthew 18, Jesus calls all the believers “little ones.” Everyone who receives a believer because they are a believer will be rewarded and will even gain entrance into the kingdom. If you share Christ with others, you give them this opportunity.