The Christ who cares - Matthew 10:16-31
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I wonder if you have ever felt completely overwhelmed by a problem or utterly daunted by the size of a task you must fulfil. Well if so, then spare a thought for the footballers of Stockport Town FC, who play in an amateur Sunday pub league, but by a strange mistake found themselves playing one of the top teams in the Czech Republic. The problem arose when the Czech team, FK Meteor wanted to celebrate their 150th anniversary in style by playing one of Englands good teams. So they wrote off to the team they wanted. But due to a misunderstanding in communication, they didnt contact Stockport County, a club with a good reputation in the English Football league, but rather Stockport Town, a club filled with pie eating, beer swilling unfit thirty somethings. The men from Stockport got suspicious when they arrived at FK Meteors ground. The red carpet was out, programmes had been printed and there were lots of journalists covering the game. FK Meteor had even flown in one of their stars who was on holiday in China. The poor lads from Stockport were hardly in a fit state to play the game, given that as soon as they had stepped off the plane the day before they had set about consuming vast amounts of Czech beer at 20p a litre. One of the Stockport players said that they were flagging after ten minutes, and another said: "We were able to match them right up until the kick off." The penny dropped halfway through their 14-1 defeat, but fortunately the Czechs saw the funny side.
Well how would you have felt if you had been one of the disciples receiving this teaching from Jesus in Matthew 10. I guess daunted would be an understatement. If were here last week, youll remember how we looked at the first half of this chapter and we saw Jesus command to the disciples to go out and preach in his name. It is a passage about mission. And we saw that some timeless principles: That each of us are to be involved in that great work, in praying, in giving and in going. The harvest is ripe and Jesus is sending out his harvesters. But in this passage, the tone changes. Jesus is now looking forward to a much broader mission, not simply the immediate task Jesus is giving his disciples in Judea, but a greater task of taking the message about Jesus to all people. And there is a new theme. It is the theme of persecution. Jesus doesnt mince his words. He is very realistic about the task facing us. Those who stand up for him will be persecuted.
And all you need to do to is to open the pages of a Christian paper and youll see that all over the world, Christians are being actively persecuted. In this months "Evangelicals Now" I came across stories like these: "Burma: Military Regime bans church services. Saudi Arabia: Christians physically tortured in prison. Mexico: village pressures evangelicals." And whilst we dont experience that level in Britain, yet I know of a man who was refused a promotion because he was a Christian, I know of a family that was divided through one member becoming a Christian and many of us will have encountered the cold shoulders and personal jibes that are sent our way through standing up for Christ. And that says Jesus is the lot of the Christian. He makes no apology: Christians will be persecuted. The world hates the message.
And quite frankly when we come across passages like this in the Bible it is very daunting. How on earth can we fulfil Jesus commands to tell others about Jesus in the face of this opposition. Who is up for the task? Well the wonderful thing about this passage is that not only is Jesus very frank about what we will face for our witness, but he also gives us at least four wonderful incentives to keep going. And it is those that we are going to focus on this morning:
1) Remember the Promise (vv 16-20)
2) Look Forward to the Future (vv 21-23)
3) Follow the Master (vv 24-27)
4) Trust the Father (vv 28-31)
1) Remember the Promise (vv 16-20)
So first then, remember the promise. Now here in this passage Jesus makes it clear that Christians are in a very difficult situation. Verse 16: "I am sending you out as sheep among wolves." Its a well known fact that sheep and wolves dont mix well. You may have seen the Gary Larson cartoon which shows a wolf looking over his shoulder as he is offering a bunch of flowers to an eager looking sheep. And the caption reads: "The relationship was doomed to failure- Howard kept worrying about what the rest of the pack would think, whilst Agnes simply ate the flowers!" And the Christian who witnesses for Christ is like a sheep among wolves. The world is opposed to God and his King Jesus, so it should not surprise us when it opposes us too, as well see later. And Jesus gives his disciples some advice: "Therefore be as shrewd as snakes, and as innocent as doves." Snakes are very shrewd. Very rarely will you see an adder in Britain, though they are pretty common, simply for the reason that they shrewdly avoid contact with humans. And in evangelism were to be shrewd, not deliberately avoiding people like adders, but prudent, not deceitful, but using our minds to the best of our abilities to win some for Christ. Well think carefully about making the most of our opportunities and actively think how we can reach our friends. We wont deliberately place ourselves in difficult situations without forethought. But were also to be innocent as doves. That is we are to be pure, godly and open, not naïve and gullible. Its a hard balance to get but it will put us in good stead if we can be like that. As JC Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool said: "Great grace and common sense are perhaps one of the rarest combinations."
But sometimes says Jesus, we will have to give an account of our faith in public. Jesus warns his disciples in verses 17-18 that they may have to endure physical persecutions such as flogging, or the stressful task of telling about Jesus before a governor or king, all because they are Christians. What hope have they or we in that situation? Well in verse 19 comes Jesus great promise: "But when they arrest you [notice it is when not if] do not worry about what to say or how to say it, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." The promise here is of the Holy Spirit at work in the disciples as they testify. Now this promise would literally come true in the pages of Acts, when they disciples were hauled up before kings and governors to give an account. And they were given words to say by the Spirit. And whilst this is a specific promise for a specific situation of testifying before authorities in times of persecution yet more generally, each Christian, being born again and having the gift of the Spirit, can have the assurance that God is with them through his Spirit when we witness to him. That is the great promise for the believer. God wont abandon us when we have to speak for him. He is there with us. Now this isnt an excuse for not preparing well, or not training ourselves to be able to answer the questions our friends may fire at us. But there is here the wonderful assurance, which we find throughout the rest of the NT, that God wont leave us or forsake us. He equips us to witness to him, even in the most testing of situations. And many, many Christians down the ages have seen this promise in action. You may know it from your own life. I think of times when I have been talking with people about Christ, and I have been given wisdom by God to answer questions in just the right way. Or I think of a friend of mine at university who stood up in a room full of five hundred students to defend the resurrection of Jesus and was given wisdom to speak. Hed prepared for hours and prayed for Gods wisdom, and God was at work in him and through him on the night. Gods promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Thats one great reason to press on with this God given task of mission. Remember the promise.
2) Look Forward to the Future (vv 21-23)
But then secondly we must look forward to the future. I guess one question we might ask when we are experiencing trouble in telling others about Christ, or when things are particularly bad for us, is "when will it all end"? Well Jesus reminds us in these verses that there is an ending. Our suffering is not forever. Now sometimes things can get pretty bad. Verse 21: "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me." Its not exactly great advertising for the Christian life is it? But Jesus is clear- stand for him and it will be costly. Families may even be split as the Christian puts his allegiance to Christ above family ties. Jesus isnt saying the resulting trouble is good, simply that it will happen. And certainly under some oppressive regimes, family members have sold their fellow brothers, sisters and parents to death, simply because they were Christians. And even in our country, some families are greatly troubled by members becoming Christians. As Jesus says: "All men will hate you because of me." And who knows how long it will be before we suffer for publicly standing up for Christ in this country. In our society which is increasingly secular and pluralist, saying that Jesus is the only way, or that homosexuality is wrong may lead to grave consequences in the years ahead. There may be a heavy price to pay for such beliefs. "All men will hate you because of me," says Jesus. Because they are opposed to God and his message about Jesus, so they will be opposed to the messengers who come in his name.
But in those times, when things are at their worst, we need to remember the end is coming. Verse 22: "He who stands firm to the end will be saved." If you persevere then you will be saved. Its not that our salvation is in doubt right up until the last moment. Rather we show our true colours as we stand firm for him and that means to the end. But the great news is there is an end. And that end will come when Jesus returns. He will bring all history to a close and take his people to be with him. And there will be a day of reckoning for those who have rejected Christ and his messengers. So in the present trouble, whatever suffering you are enduring, keep going with one eye fixed on the end. I think thats what Jesus is saying also in verse 23. Whatever Jesus means there at the end of verse, and theres a lot of debate, the point is, he has set an end. And that is the goal we look forward to. He is coming again, and he will take his people to heaven. And that is the hope which gets us through tough times.
One of the biggest names in the early Christian church was a man called Chrysostom. He was a great preacher who stood up for Christ and his gospel. One time he was brought before the Roman Emperor and threatened with exile unless he stopped being a Christian. To this threat, Chrysostom replied: "You cannot banish me, for this world is my Fathers house." "Then I will kill you," replied the Emperor. "You cannot," replied Chrysostom, "since my life is hidden with Christ in God." "Then I will take away your treasures." "You cannot for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there." "Then I will drive you away from every person in the world, and you shall have no friend left." "No, you cannot. For I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you. For there is nothing you can do to harm me." Chrysostoms heart was in heaven and he knew there was nothing anyone could do to take it away. And that must be our perspective when things are tough, for that is what we hang on to. Whatever the world throws at us, we can survive if we set our sights on heaven. Whatever the world takes from us, we can survive if we set our sights on heaven. For that heaven is the reality and everything else is shadowlands. Look forward to the future.
3) Follow the Master (vv 24-27)
Then thirdly, follow the master. If we are to keep going in this tough mission that Jesus has given us, if we are not to give up despite the opposition that may come our way, were to remember that Jesus has been there before us. Verse 24: "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household." The simple lesson that Jesus is teaching us here is this: We follow in the steps of our master Jesus. If he was persecuted then so will his servants be. Now I take that to be a great encouragement, as in Jesus we follow someone who knows what it is like to be rejected, despised, hated and sidelined. He was even called the devil at one point. That is what Jesus means when he says that some have called him, the head of the house, Beelzebub. Its another name for the devil. And they thought Jesus was demonic, the our modern day opponents will also think us demonic. They may not be so crude as to say it, but they may well think us mad, stupid and brainwashed. And the encouragement is, were not the first. We follow a master who has trodden where we are treading, who has suffered what we suffer and much more, who has felt what we feel and who knows betrayal, disappointment and rejection. So we mustnt be afraid. That is the master we follow. And its his message that we proclaim. What he has said to his disciples must be proclaimed to all, verse 27. Speak it in the daylight, proclaim it from the housetops. The reason is it will all be revealed at the final day of judgement, including how people have treated us. So dont waste any time. Proclaim the gospel of Jesus while theres still time. Follow in the masters footsteps.
And its worth asking ourselves if we truly do follow in our masters footsteps. Jesus says to us, not just do what I say, but walk where I have walked. Are we prepared to walk that walk. He was prepared to do it for us. He became a servant to be a ransom for us, to die on the cross in our place. And now we must be prepared to serve him, to give all for him. We dont just proclaim Christ, we live him as well. And he must come before everything. Later on in Matthew 10, Jesus says these words: "Whoever acknowledges me before men I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven." Sobering words. Having a master who has gone before us is a great encouragement, but its also a great challenge. So follow the master.
4) Trust the Father (vv 28-31)
But then lastly, in the face of opposition, were to trust the father. And first we are to trust the father because hes the one we should really fear. Verse 28: "Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell." And the One Jesus means is God the Father. He is the only one who has the authority to cast people into hell. Hes the one weve really got to fear, because in his hands is our eternity destiny. All people can do to us is kill the body. But the real problem is not so much what people make of us in this life. It is what God makes of us in the next. So who do you fear? That is the question. And here fear of God is not the fear which makes us run away from him. It is the fear which drives us to him. It is the fear of the author of the Proverbs who says: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Fear here is respect, awe, a realisation that he is the one to whom we must answer. We dont answer to men and women in the ultimate sense. We answer to God. Fear him. Live life with him as the boss. Thats what Jesus means.
And I guess one of the reasons we find evangelism among friends and colleagues and relatives so hard is fear. We are afraid. One dark winter evening, a crowded commuter train full of tired city business men and women was heading into Dorking station, when it stopped unexpectedly in the countryside outside the town. It was in those days when you could easily open the door and get out as opposed to being locked in. Well one man who had fallen asleep was awoken suddenly by the train coming to an abrupt halt. Afraid he was about to miss his stop, he leapt to his feet, grabbed his briefcase, opened the door and stepped straight out into the darkness. There was a strangled yell and a few moments later, the man was clambering back into the carriage looking dishevelled and bruised and red faced with embarrassment. "Terribly sorry," he said. "Made a complete fool of myself- got out on the wrong side." Whereupon he walked across the compartment, opened the opposite door and did exactly the same thing on the other side. The fear of looking a fool and being embarrassed can be crippling for the Christian. And yet we need to ask ourselves: "Who do I really serve? Who is my real master? Who do I really fear and respect with awe?" Jesus says it is the living Go who has the power to cast people into hell. Fear him, says Jesus.
But finally were to trust the father because he is the one who really cares for us. Verse 29: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So dont be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." The point here is that if God knows about and watches over the small things of life, like the life and death of sparrows which are two a penny, and like the number of hairs on our heads, then how much more can he be trusted to look after us and do what is best for us. He is the father who cares. Trust him, because he loves you. We are worth so much more than sparrows. Look at the way he cares for them, and think how much he cares for you. He didnt send Jesus to die for a sparrow; he sent him to die for you and me. That how much he cares. So trust him. And nor is fear of him and trust in him incompatible. The people who most fear God trust him the most because they know his character and see what a loving a trustworthy God he is. Trust the Father: For hes the one to truly fear, and the one who truly loves.
Well if you are anything like me then you will be daunted and overwhelmed by the task before you of sharing your faith with others. Its made no easier by the reminder that opposition is a reality and it is the norm for the Christian. And yet in this passage, Jesus reminds us that in those difficult times God does not leave us without help and hope. Rather he shows us that we should remember the promise of Gods Spirit to help us; that we should look forward to the future and the end that Jesus will bring; that we should follow the master who has gone before us; and that we should trust the father, the one we should truly fear and the one who truly cares. Yes, says Jesus, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, but remember I am with you always to the very end of the age.
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