Sorry, there is no audio for this message at this time. As of the post date, I am battling a cold and severe laryngitis.
Matthew #34 . Matthew 10:16-31
Last time we began to look at this passage, where Jesus is essentially training his disciples for mission work. He is sending them out immediately after he finishes speaking, and so much of what he says applies to their immediate mission. However, it is clear that there is much within these verses that also applies to the ongoing mission that the disciples will have after he dies, is resurrected, and ascends to heaven. In fact, it applies to us also as we engage in the ongoing mission of Jesus in this world.
So for instance, when Jesus tells the disciples to go only to the towns of Israel, and to avoid Gentiles, those instructions are limited to this first training mission. On the other hand, there is no evidence that the disciples were particularly persecuted while Jesus was still on earth, and so his warnings about persecutions were given to prepare them for the future, for the time after he had returned to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.
The point is, most of Matthew chapter 10 is still relevant for us today. As we learned last time, we are called to engage in Jesus’ mission just as those first disciples were. Jesus’ words here are therefore also for our training.
Jesus says that those who follow him can expect to be taken to court. We can us expect public floggings; public trials where everyone would like to see us convicted; ridicule; struggle and strife. Our persecutors may be religious people. They may be people of great worldly power. Following Jesus might even bring strife into our family relationships. It could cost us our lives.
I don’t want to minimize these things. Jesus said them, and he clearly meant them. In fact, these things have been coming true since the day he sent his Holy Spirit to his disciples. From that time on the historical record is filled with evidence that those who followed Jesus are persecuted. For the past 2000 years there have always been places in the world where Christians are persecuted. And it continues even today. Just this week, I have been reading about the severe persecutions of Christians in Iraq and Syria. One Christian couple sat down with their children and explained to them that they might be threatened, even physically harmed, even killed. But they told their kids to hang on, that was only temporary, that soon all of them would be together with Jesus. This happened just this past month; it isn’t just something from long ago.
So why does Jesus tell his disciples these things? Why is it here for us? I think in this day and age, it is very important for us to understand that following Jesus is not necessarily a path to an easy life here on earth. This whole chapter portrays a life that could be hard. If and when persecutions come we should not be surprised, or even dismayed.
In some small degree, I have even felt little bits of adversity myself. Someone in my extended family compared me to an Islamic terrorist for holding to my conviction that the Bible is the word of God. Twice, in my ministry as a pastor, I have been called “David Koresh.” Koresh was a depraved, wicked cult leader, whose actions led to the destruction of many lives. Those who said it obviously meant that I am controlling, wicked and depraved. I’m not perfect, obviously, but I know I’m certainly nothing like either a terrorist or David Koresh. I remember these words of Jesus:
A disciple is not above his teacher, or a slave above his master. It is enough for a disciple to become like his teacher and a slave like his master. If they called the head of the house ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more the members of his household! (Matt 10:24-25, HCSB)
“Beelzebul” was a common name for “ruler of the demons.” Some people said Jesus did miracles because he was in league with the devil (we read that in 9:34), and I think that is what he is referring to. He is reminding all of us that if we are ridiculed and insulted and slandered, we are in good company – his company. These words are a comfort to me.
And in fact, there is a lot more comfort here too. These words are not meant to scare us or depress us – they are meant to encourage us when hardship comes along, especially when the world seems against us for our faith in Jesus Christ. Listen to Jesus:
“Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matt 10:26-31, HCSB)
I think this is a good place to stop and “camp” for a while. What I mean is, let’s give some attention and meditation to these particular verses. In the Greek, verse 29 says, literally: “Are not two sparrows sold for one penny? And yet not one of them falls to earth without your father.” Some English versions say “without your Father’s will” or “consent” or “knowledge” but the Greek is just “without your Father.” The picture here is that even when common a little bird dies, our Heavenly Father is there. To put it a different way: not even a sparrow dies alone. Sparrows do die sometimes. In fact, all them do die, eventually. The same is true of human beings. But the Father is there. He is with us, in every circumstance, even death. He isn’t distant, unaware of what is happening with you. He is right here with you. Not only does he know what is happening with you, he is right there with you in the middle of it. Paul understood this when he wrote this:
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom 8:31-39, HCSB)
You may look back on your life and remember times of trouble and say “where was God in that?” I encourage you to turn that into a prayer. Instead of complaining, come to him humbly, honestly in your hurt and say, “That was awful. Where were you in the middle of that, Lord? Will you show me?” If you are presently in the midst of trouble or suffering, I encourage you to ask him the same question, only about the present time.
I know someone who was not a Christian until she was fifteen years old. Her childhood before that included some tragedies – the kinds of things that can mess up a person for a long time. In her middle twenties, the Lord began to bring up her memories of the very hard things she had been through. Only this time, she could see Him there in the memories. Obviously, the Lord hadn’t prevented the tragedies, most of which were due to the choices of other people. But he showed her that he had been right there with her in the middle of those things; he offered her comfort in those moments in her memories, and when she was able to see that, she experienced a great deal of peace and healing.
One of my favorite fantasy fiction book series is The Riddle Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKilip. In the story, the main character, Morgon goes through many exciting and terrible struggles as he searches for answers to questions that will change the fate of the world. He suffers pain, loss and fear. He loves his friends, but loses some of them in his quest. Among his other questions, he wonders why he must suffer so much. And then, when he first finds the answer, this is what happens:
[Morgon] closed his eyes. His heart beat suddenly, painfully in his throat. He wanted to speak, but he could not. The harpist’s silence circled him with the peace he had found deep within living things all over the realm. It eased through his thoughts into his heart, so that he could not even think. He only knew that something he had searched for so long and so hopelessly had never, even his most desperate moments, been far from his side.
Even as I write this, Christians in the Middle East are suffering terrible persecutions, like the ones Jesus describes here. But none of it happens without the presence of the Father with them. If you live very long, you will experience hardship and suffering of one sort or another. The Lord is never, even in your most desperate moments, far from your side. Though Jesus warns of this, he also says, “Do not Fear!”
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.
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