21 March 2022
This morning, in my quiet time, I was meditating on Matthew 10:16-25. The passage focuses on the communication of our Lord Jesus to the twelve Apostles. Verses 16-25 elaborate on the persecution that will come the way of the twelve, and the Lord was informing them ahead of time to be prepared.
I am familiar with the words of the Lord Jesus when He told those who seek to follow Him to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. But in this passage, what the Lord said came through in a very powerful and succinct manner. Although the communication was to the Apostles per se, yet it applies to all disciples of His in varying degrees (vv 24-25).
Notice the following:
They are to be expected to be delivered over to be flogged (v17);
They will be delivered to governors and kings to testify and they are not to be anxious when this happens(18-20);
They are to expect betrayal by family members – brother, father, children and be prepared to be put to death(21);
They must be prepared to be hated by all for the sake of the Lord’s name (v22);
They are to endure to the end and then be saved (22).
Jesus then elaborated:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above the master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household”(vv24-25). Here it is clear that these statements apply to all disciples and servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have pondered over the sufferings, agonies, pain and mockings inflicted by those who hated Jesus, and endured by Him at the cross; If they did that to the Master, we, as His servants should not expect any less. And the communication to the Apostles and His disciples is to prepare them to face such persecutions.
What is perhaps rather alarming is to realise the degree and severity of persecutions that are to be expected. They certainly are not just verbal abuse, bullying by making things difficult in the workplace or malicious gossip and derogatory statements to cause anger, discouragement and loss of self esteem. The level of persecutions takes the form of physical beatings, floggings; betrayals by those closest to us and here the pain is more intense; hatred by many for just being loyal to the Master; and the call to endure and to persevere even until death.
But as we live today in the last days (between Christ’s first coming and second coming), believers and even churches in developed countries seem to buckle even under the lightest of persecution and many are well prepared to abandon the Lord and the faith at the slightest provocation and danger.
True, there are many individuals and churches who are loyal to the Lord even to the point of death and the number of martyrs in this generation far exceeds the total number of martyrs in the history of the church. But the number of those who compromised is no small number.
The call of the Lord Jesus to the seven churches in the book of Revelation is to endure and overcome even in the face of imprisonment and death. When we observe believers ‘whining’, ‘complaining’ and ‘murmurings’ in the midst of some difficult times and emotional upheavals in daily living, we wonder whether we would be able to respond positively to the communication of our Lord in Matthew 10.
For the record, we know that all the Apostles, except Apostle John who wrote Revelation, died as martyrs for the Lord. But their foundation caused the spread of Christianity far and wide such that the Bible is the best selling book today and churches are established all over the world.
What is the degree of our commitment to the Lord Jesus today and what is the quality of our discipleship? We know we cannot do it positively on our own but with the enabling of God’s Spirit, can we be counted to carry on the mission and the fight for God and holiness to the end?
The acid test for commitment and discipleship (A)
We go on to consider further the Lord Jesus’ communication to His Apostles in Matthew 10:26-39.
Here the Lord exhorted them:
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known (vs 26)..And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the souls. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (vs 28)…Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows (vs31)…but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven (vs33)”.
It is obvious that the Lord Jesus was pointing to the certainty of final judgement as nothing will be hidden from Him, even the inner motives of man. Hence, for believers, the important thing is to be faithful to Him and to maintain a right heart with proper and positive motives – God will see the heart and judgement will be directed at the reality in our hearts. The pretenders and hypocrites have no escape.
Notice also that as the Lord exhorted His followers not to fear, He pointed them to the final judgement that would involve judgement of the souls. We may lose our lives and bodies in our commitment to Him here on earth but we can be confident that our souls would be preserved and renewed. But those who persecute believers and kill them cannot kill the souls; instead, they ought to fear God who, in HIs judgement, would destroy their bodies and souls. Indeed, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! In this regard, believers need not fear.
In the face of persecution, pain and suffering, believers can take heart and know for certain that God cares for them and He loves them. The Lord Jesus pointed to sparrows and affirmed that if God cares for insignificant creatures like sparrows, we must not doubt His care and love for us.
Do not be overwhelmed by the persecutions and ill-treatment; instead our loyalty to God and He would not deny us ultimately. But the warning is there: those who deny the Master must expect that He in turn would deny them. The acid test is unwavering loyalty and commitment to the Master until the end.
The acid test for commitment and discipleship (B)
We continue to ponder over more of what the Lord Jesus had to say to His followers in Matthew 10 and perhaps this passage from vs 34 to vs 39 can be rather disturbing to some believers:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (vv 34-37).
Is it not true to our understanding that the Lord Jesus came to bring peace, reconciliation, forgiveness – then why did the Lord declare that He had come to bring a sword? It seems contradictory but it is not! The peace that He came to bring is peace between God and man; the reconciliation He spoke of is reconciliation between sinners and a holy God, reconciliation between and among men. It is true that He came to offer forgiveness to fallen man but all these can only be true when fallen humanity in Adam which is condemned to judgement can be forgiven and reconciled to God and ‘adopted’ into a renewed humanity and creation in God. We have seen previously that this can only be achieved when God’s wrath against man can be ‘satisfied’ and propitiated (implying the penalty and guilt of sin must be met and corrected); and this can only be done by a man who is sinless and is willing and worthy to take the place of fallen humanity as a substitute, and such a man must be one with such supernatural ‘reserves’ to drink the “cup of God’s wrath” and triumph over death and the evil one by His unique resurrection. Such a One is the God-man, Jesus Christ, and He loves fallen humanity so much that He willingly gave His life as a substitute for us at the cross.
We then see why the Lord Jesus has the ‘right’ and ‘position’ to declare that those who love family members more than Him are not worthy of Him. Only those who deeply appreciate the love of Christ (and are eternally grateful that His love translated into Him taking our place of punishment and damnation, and giving us eternal life, hope, inheritance and kinship in God’s family) would understand why they ought to love Christ above all others and all else. Conversely, those who are not willing to put Him first and love Him above all else may not be born-again or are among those who are grossly ungrateful and despicable.
We come to this significant statement by the Lord in vv 38 and 39:
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.
Note the mention of taking our cross and following Him. Note also the willingness and choice of losing the life here on earth( in a fallen humanity and fallen world) in order to gain and find the true eternal life in God (the ultimate fulfilment of this in full only to be realised at the second coming of the Lord Jesus).
So for those of us believers who feel that Christ’s demands for His disciples seem ‘unreasonable’ and ‘unattainable’ should realise that they are more than reasonable and in fact, they are obligatory. The Apostle Paul wrote that we must be willing to live for Him who died for us and rose again, and this involves the dying to the life here on earth, if need be, to gain the life in Him with whom we are united in our repentance and regeneration before God. It means loving HIm who died for us above all else and all others, even those closest to us. This is the acid test of our true discipleship and loyalty in Christ.
Some implications on what the cross does for us believers:
Any man or woman who is saved, is saved by the cross, and to be saved means that your sins are forgiven, that you are reconciled to God. You become a child of God, and you begin to receive H:is blessing.You have no fear of death or the grave and the judgement. You know you are going to inherit glory. No wonder Apostle Paul declared, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Are we taking our cross and following Him? Do we count it unreasonable to do so after understanding what the cross achieves for us in Christ?
The cross is the test of our profession of Chriistianity. It is the test of our church, of our whole position and profession. There is no more important test of our understanding than our attitude to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the cross passes judgement upon us all, immediately and of necessity. You cannot remain neutral in the presence of the cross. It always divided mankind and it still does: it is either an offence to us or else it is the thing above everything else in which we glory. Do not be surprised at this division and hostility; do not be alarmed when the world hates us.
The cross proclaims that we are not saved by ideas or thoughts or philosophies. We are not saved by idealism. We are only to see the damage, conflicts, in this world today from environmental damage, exploitation and calamities to conclude that man’s idealism cannot save the world or humankind. There is one ultimate problem with respect to the cross for mankind without God – pride. The pride of fallen humanity would end in her damnation!