Fitted for Hard Times (3 of 3)
Please read Matthew 10:19-20, 26-33, 40-42.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
REVIEW: Part One, The Conditions of Discipleship & Part Two, The Cost of Discipleship
NEW: Part Three, The Courage to be a Disciple
I imagine all of us has experienced driving behind someone who is driving another car ahead of us, showing us the way. This experience was much more intense in the olden days before cell phones to ask questions and smart phones to find your own directions, so bear with me if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.
Anyway, the person you’re following is your lifeline between where you are and where you want to be. At some point a traffic light comes between you. True to their usual form, the leader speeds through the yellow light, leaving you behind at the red. Distance and cross-traffic cars coming between you cause you to lose sight of the leader. You can hope to catch up or you can hope they pulled over to wait for you, but those are pretty much your two options. What sounded like a simple trip has now become more complicated.
That’s a little window on what following Jesus can feel like. Sunny days and good times can make discipleship seem easy. But then difficulties emerge and we feel separated from our Savior. In those moments, courage is needed. Here’s good news: Jesus provides courage for His disciples!
Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.
1. We can have courage because God supplies us with the right words (vs. 19-20).
Jesus warned we would face persecution and informed us these were opportunities to witness. As we saw last week, facing persecution was one of the costs of discipleship. Jesus warned it would be present in all levels of society: at the family level, city government, regional government, and across the Roman Empire.
Surprisingly, the result of persecution at all levels could be DEATH. Jesus spared the disciples none of the truth, warning about the worst-case scenario.
He promised to supply the words when witness opportunities arise. This is kind of ironic because several years ago, public speaking was supposedly the number one fear people had, with death being number two. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on those survey results: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld, retrieved from https://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/article/do-people-really-fear-public-speaking-more-than-death on 28 May 2020.)
So here we have Jesus directly addressing the so-called number one fear, saying, “When you have opportunity to witness to the authorities, don’t worry about it, the Holy Spirit will be talking through you.” Wow. OK, now that we have the number one fear dealt with, let’s move on to number two; being put to death by those guys.
But seriously, Jesus told His Apostles, “Of all the things you may worry about, don’t let the fear of WORDS stop you, because we’ve got that covered. It’ll be our words, not yours.” Or, as Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, “IT WILL NOT BE YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU.” You will be God’s “mouthpiece!”
This is an excellent perspective to have on all of life, so let’s put it on a bumper sticker: “Life is not about me and now, it’s about God and eternity!” Use that as your “north star” and life will be a lot easier and more productive.
2. We can have courage because the secrets of our persecutors will be revealed (vs. 26-27).
Evildoers prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness. The first fear to be overcome by courageous disciples was fear of words. The second fear is fear of the dark. Unlike a childish fear of the dark, this might be a fear of being swept under the rug; of having one’s witness made ineffective by a cover-up.
We do not fear their darkness because it will all come to light. Jesus overcame the fear of words with a promise to supply words. He overcame this fear of darkness by promising that the evil deeds done in darkness will be made known; they will be brought into the light. More than that, their witness will not be in vain. Instead, the words Jesus gives them in secret they will proclaim in the DAYLIGHT from the rooftops!
There is a third way to understand this promise. The Gospels tell us (Matthew 8:20; John 14:26; 16:12-15) that there were times the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching. After His Resurrection, however, the meaning became clear to them and they proclaimed those truths.
3. We can have courage because we fear God, not man (v. 28).
God has complete power over everything that might make us afraid. This is the third fear Jesus discussed w/t Apostles. Here is where fear of death is addressed.
People of faith realize death is not a fearful thing, but is our release from this world. Neither death nor dying are to be feared, because our faith focus is on God, not evil people. It is natural to dread dying; the physical pain and loss of health that precedes death.
But Jesus is not talking about death in general terms, as we have been. He is talking about MEN who will use pain and the threat of death to cause the disciples to recant their faith. Such individuals are not to be feared because their power is limited to the BODY only. They cannot harm the SOUL.
Here again, the matter is one of perspective: keep your attention on God, who is capable of destroying both BODY and SOUL in hell. Don’t worry about what people can do to you; their worst is still only temporary. As it is written in Proverbs 29:25 = FEAR OF MAN WILL PROVE TO BE A SNARE, BUT WHOEVER TRUSTS IN THE LORD IS KEPT SAFE.
Even death is not the end of our witness. This fact is implied in the survival of the SOUL who shows respectful fear of God. The SOUL who does not respect God has no place in eternity: as v. 28 plainly says, it is destroyed, not “tormented.”
4. We can have courage because we’re very valuable to God (vs. 29-31).
When we are frightened, it is natural to feel God’s “absence.” Some call these “wilderness experiences,” times we feel as if God has abandoned us in the wilderness, left us to fend for ourselves.
But the Bible is clear that God’s character and His will do not change. So if we feel as if God is distant, it’s not because He moved!
This fourth fear Jesus addressed is fear of abandonment. When we are in the throes of it, the feeling of God’s distance can seem very real.
As God is in the details, He is also in charge of the “big picture.” When we feel abandoned, we need to remember God is in charge and He is still with us, working His will in our lives. Jesus offered two examples of God being involved in both the details and the big picture.
Example #1: sparrow flight. SPARROWS were the food of very poor folk because they were cheep (pun intended)! Jesus said two of them were sold for a PENNY - an asarion - one-sixteenth of a working man’s daily wage.
We assume FALL TO THE GROUND as a reference to a sparrow dying on a tree limb and dropping to the dirt. Actually, it pictures a routine flight from the limb to the ground. How many times a day does that happen? Wouldn’t this be the very example of “the small stuff?”
It’s as if Jesus said to them, “Listen, guys, a sparrow doesn’t travel from branch to ground without your Father knowing it. I think you can trust Him to keep track of YOU!” “After all,” He continued, “you’re worth more than MANY pennies!”
Example #2: scalp census. Jesus assured the Twelve that God knew them so intimately, He knew the number of hairs on their heads. (Some of us make it easier for God to keep track of that number!) It is funny. When we’re having a “pity party, table for one,” we think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen. Nobody sees or cares how much I’m suffering.” False! Jesus reassures us God knows us and keeps track of us, even down to a useless statistic like the number of hairs on our heads. Psalm 40:12 is interesting in connection with v. 30.
FOR TROUBLES WITHOUT NUMBER SURROUND ME; MY SINS HAVE OVERTAKEN ME, AND I CANNOT SEE. THEY ARE MORE THAN THE HAIRS OF MY HEAD, AND MY HEART FAILS WITHIN ME.
In these two examples Jesus may be using exaggeration to make His point, but in any case, He’s assuring us we are not abandoned. Just the opposite; God knows us intimately and cares for us completely.
5. We must have courage because these days have eternal significance (vs. 32-33, 40-42).
Our discipleship in this world reveals our eternal destination. We need to be careful here; on the surface it seems Jesus is teaching we can earn salvation by acknowledging Him and that we can lose our salvation by disowning Him.
The truth goes deeper than this; our salvation is not so easily gained or lost. In fact, it is not by any works of ours gained or lost. It is God’s gift; His grace to us.
Instead, what Jesus teaches here is two-fold. First, acknowledging or disowning is not just a verbal act and it is not a single action. Rather, it is the course of a person’s life. Our character, the general trend of our days is in view.
Second, it is the testimony offered by our day-to-day decisions that gives evidence of our salvation. People headed toward acknowledgement before the Father will behave in faithfulness to His teaching. People headed to being disowned will behave in ways that deny God to the world.
Jesus has just candidly addressed four fears and offered promises to encourage His followers to remain faithful in the face of those fears. Here he describes the outcome of those who give into fear (disowning) and those who resist fear (acknowledging).
Our discipleship in this world determines our reward in the next (40-42). These verses are actually more for the people who will assist the Apostles than for the Apostles themselves, but they are instructive for all of us.
Judgment Day will settle two important issues for each person. The first and most important is the salvation. Persons who receive God’s gift of salvation are true disciples and will be welcomed into God’s presence for all eternity; the receive immortality.
The secondary determination is related to works; the kind of things we did in our time on Earth. For the unbelieving, those who will be destroyed in hell (v. 28), any revelation of their works simply proves God’s condemnation; the evil they did proves they deserve the Second Death.
For the believers, an inventory of each disciple’s good works is the basis for heavenly reward. In the Bible these rewards are pictured as CROWNS. It is true that eternal life with God in heaven is reward enough. But God, in His extravagant grace, further rewards good deeds.
Jesus states the principle in v. 40, elaborates on it in v. 41, and offers an example in v. 42.
The Principle. The Apostles were to be encouraged, because the people who receive them peaceably (vs. 11+12) have, by proxy, actually received God the Father.
The Elaboration. The person who receives a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN has received someone whom the Lord is using to represent Himself to the world. They will receive the same REWARD the Lord has prepared for the PROPHET and the RIGHTEOUS MAN.
The Example. Receiving a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN need not be a complicated matter; a simple act of kindness like sharing a CUP OF COLD WATER is sufficient to merit a reward if the motive for the act is recognition of his discipleship.
The REWARD referred to in v. 42 is not the primary REWARD of salvation, but the secondary REWARD given to the saints upon their admission to heaven.
Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.
As we’ve seen, this passage takes a long view on the subject of discipleship. It encourages us to be disciples by reminding us that what we do in our daily lives has repercussions into eternal life.
Writing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra Nathan C. Schaeffer took a similarly long view and wrote the following: “At the close of life, the question will not be, ‘How much have you gotten?’ but ‘How much have you given?’ Not ‘How much have you won?’ but ‘How much have you done?’ Not ‘How much have you saved?’ but ‘How much have you sacrificed?’ It will be ‘How much have you loved and served,’ not ‘How much were you honored?’”
(Retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/life%E2%80%99s-close on 28 may 2020.)
It takes courage to be Jesus’ disciple. In the verses we surveyed today we saw Jesus address five fears that would be very typical in the experience of those who genuinely want to follow Jesus. He addressed fear of words, fear of the dark (evil), fear of death, fear of abandonment, and fear of failure. In each case, He taught that our response must be trust in God and that our response matters.
Jesus did not promise to relieve us of those fears or help us to avoid them. Instead, He offered courage through the Holy Spirit and a perspective on fearful circumstances that is faithful to see and follow-through on these opportunities to witness. Our courage for discipleship, like our status as disciples, is Jesus’ gracious gift.
RESOURCE: Message #1323