Fitted for Hard Times (2 of 3)
Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
REVIEW: Part One was the Conditions of Discipleship
Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship
There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that cannot be proven he either said or wrote. Nonetheless, it is amusing and has a good truth, especially in these times of overreaching governments: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”
In our passage today Jesus is still preparing to send out the Twelve Apostles on their short-term missions project. He is completely honest, even brutally honest, in warning them what it will cost them to follow Him. They will be the lambs contesting the wolves of the world around them.
Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.
1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your innocence but not your virtue (vs. 16-18)
By “innocence” I mean naiveté; you will see the world as it truly is. For the sake of our own comfort and sanity we tend to assume people are most often have good intentions and that the world is safe. Jesus shattered any false sense of safety by saying He was sending the disciples out LIKE SHEEP AMONG WOLVES. WOLVES is an oft-used image for persecutors of the Church (for example, Matthew 7:15; John 10:12; Acts 20:29). SHEEP is an even more frequent biblical symbol of God’s people (for example, Psalm 23). Even though He sent them to THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL (v. 6), the disciple were not assume everyone they meet will accept or even tolerate their message of repentance. In v. 14 He warned them some people would not WELCOME or LISTEN to them.
By “virtue” I mean a refusal to hold a grudge, get revenge or in any way compromise God’s standards. SNAKES were an Eastern symbol for prudence. Though DOVES are used otherwise in the Bible, Jesus used used it as a symbol of innocence. Disciples are not to close their eyes to evil, but are to deal with it directly and even assertively. We keep our virtue after our innocence is lost by being smart, which is exactly what Jesus is teaching here.
The effect of this transformation is for you to BE ON YOUR GUARD. Be prepared; as sure as sparks fly upward, so will disciples suffer persecution. Jesus’ teaching about His Second Coming required His disciples to be on their GUARD. You do this by never giving up. They were warned to be ON GUARD AGAINST MEN (v. 17) because men are prone to prioritize self-interest.
2. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you your freedom (vs. 18-19).
Persecution can come from the top down as well as the bottom up. V. 18 is a contrast with v. 17. In. v. 17 Jesus warned them against local level persecution: city government (COUNCILS) and Jewish SYNAGOGUES. In v. 18 Jesus warned them against persecution brought by GOVERNORS AND KINGS. In v. 21 Jesus warned a third group - family members - may be among a disciple’s persecutors. God’s purpose in their being persecuted is to give them an opportunity to be WITNESSES to the Jews and eventually to the GENTILES too.
Is your freedom - your rights - more precious than your salvation? Is your search for personal comfort more important to you than your duty as a disciple? If the priority is on salvation and discipleship, you’ll be encouraged by Jesus’ promises and commands.
3. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause you to suffer persecution and rejection (vs. 22-25).
Persecution comes to Jesus’ people because evil people hate Jesus. I wonder how much persecution the Apostles actually faced when they went out?
It’s clear He prepared them to face opposition in vs. 17-20 just as He did in vs. 11-16. But vs. 17-20 have a feeling of looking further into the future; that Jesus is speaking here about circumstances long after His death, things the Twelve will have to face as they represent Jesus in other parts of the world.
This interpretation is based on more than intuition; in v. 18 Jesus promised they’d be WITNESSES to the GENTILES as well. But at this moment their mission is to the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL exclusively (v.6), the GENTILES are not included. This warning is more appropriate to the decades after Jesus’ Ascension than this immediate situation.
To the degree that it helps to know your persecutors are not making it a personal issue, Jesus warned, ALL MEN WILL HATE YOU BECAUSE OF ME. These words also take a broader view than just this short-term mission. This is their future. ALL MEN should not be understood as “everyone.” It can be translated as “all kinds of men,” which takes in the locals mentioned in v. 17, the VIPs in v. 18, and family members in v. 21.
Jesus said, “A STUDENT IS NOT ABOVE HIS TEACHER, NOR A SERVANT ABOVE HIS MASTER,” explaining why hatred for Him automatically becomes hatred for His disciples. Jesus did not die on the cross to make us happy or feel fulfilled, or to improve our self-esteem. Jesus suffered and died to save us. As His disciples we must share in His sufferings if we want to also share in his glory (Romans 8:17). Our attitude toward suffering should be the kind expressed by the apostles in Acts 5:21 who were overjoyed to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name.
Jesus has provided us with recourse to persecution: a promise, path, and a finish line.
His promise: v. 22 promises those who remain ON GUARD and STAND FIRM TO THE END they will be saved. This command is similarly expressed in…
- Philippians 3:16 = ONLY LET US LIVE UP TO WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED.
- Revelation 2:25 = ONLY HOLD ON TO WHAT YOU HAVE UNTIL I COME.
Disciples experience seasons of growth and seasons which threaten us and/or tempt us to give up. In those seasons, it is perfectly acceptable to dig in and prevent losing any ground, to cling fiercely to the measure of faith we have, and refuse to be moved. To be faithful TO THE END means to the end of one’s life or to the Second Coming, whichever comes first.
Jesus’ path = In v. 23 Jesus advised the Twelve, “WHEN YOU ARE PERSECUTED IN ONE PLACE, FLEE TO ANOTHER.” In other words, “You don’t have to stand there and take it.” In this teaching and in others, Jesus authorized the use of passive resistance and non-violent protest as responses to persecution. He did not call His disciples to be door mats: He commanded us to be as SHREWD AS SNAKES but as INNOCENT AS DOVES.
For example, a SHREWD alternative to just standing there and allowing yourself to be persecuted is to get out of the way of your persecutors. We have an example of this happening in the history of the Church: Acts 8:1 says the members of the church in Jerusalem scattered into neighboring provinces in the face of persecution in the city.
Jesus’ finish line = YOU WILL NOT FINISH GOING THROUGH THE CITIES OF ISRAEL BEFORE THE SON OF MAN COMES. This is Jesus’ promise that He would not leave any of His disciples to suffer their fate. He did the opposite: He promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20). This is an occasion where it’s especially important to be aware of the context of the verse. Jesus has just instructed them to flee persecution. What is he saying here is that there will always be a fall-back position, until Jesus comes again, and fall-back positions will no longer be needed. We’ve already observed that Jesus’ instructions look beyond the time in which they were given. This statement looks forward to the end of time.
4. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause a loss of false peace (vs. 34).
Jesus didn’t come to be “nice,” if that word means being completely benign, inoffensive, no trouble, no confrontations, or no harsh words of any kind. Jesus said it plainly, but people don’t want to hear it, so they start off a comment with “Well…” and proceed to make excuses to water down Jesus’ radical statements. To them I say, “Grow up.”
Jesus said “DO NOT SUPPOSE THAT I HAVE COME TO BRING PEACE TO THE EARTH. I DID NOT COME TO BRING PEACE, BUT A SWORD.” Similarly, in Luke 12:49-51 He said, “I HAVE COME TO BRING FIRE ON THE EARTH AND HOW I WISH IT WERE ALREADY KINDLED. BUT I HAVE A BAPTISM TO UNDERGO, AND OW DISTRESSED I AM UNTIL IT IS COMPLETED! DO YOU THINK I CAME TO BRING PEACE ON EARTH? NO, I TELL YOU, BUT DIVISION.” This is not Jesus’ desire to be a troublemaker nor is he authorizing us to merely be troublemakers. Instead, He is offering another explanation of why people hate Him.
Telling the truth has a polarizing effect on people. People who are living a lie hate the truth because it exposes them as liars and thereby feels like an accusation. People who live in the truth love the truth because it encourages and affirms what they’re doing. Jesus told the truth, but more than that, He IS the truth (John 14:6).
Discipleship is following Jesus’ example in seeking the truth, which will produce both peace and judgment in a single circumstance. Jesus is called the PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6-7) because He brings inner peace to His disciples (Philippians 4:7). At the same time, He is a galvanizing figure whom people will love or hate. Hear this: the most faithless reaction to Jesus is apathy (Revelation 3:14-16). Just as history has been divided by Jesus (A.D. versus B.C.), so are people divided into for or against.
5. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you some family relationships (vs. 21, 35-37).
Our first family is our church family. We’ve observed Jesus’ warning in v. 21: “BROTHER WILL BETRAY BROTHER…A FATHER HIS CHILD…CHILDREN AGAINST THEIR PARENTS.” This is such an important point, it is essentially repeated in vs. 35-37. Note the deadly consequence of these betrayals: TO DEATH. Jesus is offering families as an example of people we would normally expect to trust, but as we know family members are not any more likely to agree or be agreeable than complete strangers.
Jesus’ attitude toward family may surprise you. In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8, Jesus responded to a call to join His family by saying, “MY MOTHER AND BROTHERS ARE THOSE WHO HEAR GOD’S WORD AND PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.” Verse 37 is a similarly provocative statement: “ANYBODY WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.” The Bible does place a high value on family relationships, but in terms of priorities, it is clear our church family comes before our birth family.
Even in families, some people will react to your discipleship with division. Discipleship demands extreme devotion to Jesus, a situation that will not sit well with all the members of one’s family. The polarizing effect of Jesus and the followers who imitate Him can be deep enough to part close but superficial relationships.
6. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your life (vs. 38-39).
Salvation is free and it costs you everything. Salvation is FREE in the sense that it cannot be earned. It is available to us only because of God’s grace. Salvation COSTS us everything in the sense that following Jesus must be our first priority. Anything that is more important than loving God is actually an idol: including family. We can claim anything we want, but we can’t actually be a disciple of Jesus if we prioritize anything else above Him.
There are three aspects of discipleship Jesus mentioned in this passage.
Take up your cross. In Jesus’ culture, the cross was a symbol of shame. Jesus transformed it into a sign of victory, but He did so only by means of sacrifice. Taking up our own cross means to do a similar thing, to sacrifice self on the altar of devotion to God. In our culture, this will involve the sacrifice of choice, convenience and comfort, things we insist upon.
Follow Jesus. Finding something to die for is, in some ways, easier than having something to life for, because living requires the hard work of being faithful in the mundane details of everyday life. Following means letting Jesus lead. Whenever we want to dictate the terms of discipleship or tell Jesus what we’re willing to do, that’s where falsehood enters in.
Lose your life for His sake. This is obviously a figure of speech but it describes the radical depth of commitment a disciple shows. Disciples are mostly unconcerned about their own rights. They give evidence of humility and a servant’s heart in word and deed.
Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.
In this second of three installments, we have observed Jesus preparing His disciples by frankly telling them what it will cost them to follow Him. In all the years since, the cost of discipleship has not changed. The rewards are literally out of this world but they are realized only by faith and sacrifice.
One place where discipleship can become difficult is when the faith collides with the world. Jesus did not want to send His people into the world naively expecting to be appreciated.
I read recently that expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are “good” is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian. The bull simply does not care. In all walks of life, in all situations and experiences, you will encounter resistance against your faith. People will not care.
In those moments, Jesus does not expect us to be a witty debater, a fiery preacher, or anything other than our selves, clinging resolutely to what we know to be true. We do not require the world’s agreement or approval to be disciples; with the Holy Spirit in us, we operate under a greater authority. Quiet confidence and a ready reply is what’s needed when the world starts knocking our faith down.
PREVIEW: Part Three will be The Courage to be a Disciple