July 5, 2009

Proclamation, Persecution and Preservation

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Matthew Scripture: Matthew 10:24–33


Proclamation, Persecution and Preservation

Matthew 10:24-33
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Pastor Randy Smith

It has been said by many that Matthew chapter 10 is the clearest explanation of our Lord's demands regarding discipleship. A disciple (mathetes) means a learner. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Despite some poor teaching throughout the years, one may not get saved and then become a disciple when he or she is ready. We come to Jesus Christ not as a title of "fire insurance." We come to Jesus Christ as Lord. Conversion is a call for commitment. Conversion is a call to discipleship.

The call to come to Jesus is a call to receive Him on His terms. And His terms require the highest allegiance imaginable. He is expecting a desire to become just like Him. He is expecting a willingness to submit to His teaching without reservation. He is even expecting a readiness to suffer for Him if necessary. This is what it means to become a disciple. This is the clear instruction found in Matthew chapter 10.

Over the past two sermons, I presented to you six definites of true discipleship. I said disciples have a definite target - a specific vineyard in which to labor (verses 5-6), a definite message - the gospel (verse 7), a definite attitude - love and compassion (verse 8), a definite faith - trusting God (verses 9 and 10), a definite standard - terms of salvation (verses 11-15) and a definite expectation - persecution (verses 16-23). A good illustration of this is seen in Acts 13:44-52.

We know the twelve are about to be sent out on their first short-term missions trip. These men sat under our Lord's teaching. Now they will put His instruction into action. Yet before they depart, our Lord has some departing comments. Without mincing His words, He will lay before them what He expects in the clearest terms possible and what they can expect when God-loving individuals confront a God-hating world.

Verse 16, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves." Verse 22, "You will be hated by all because of My name."

Now that stuff just applies to the apostles, right? Think again. This week I was reading about Hani, a young Christian man living in northern Egypt. In describing him, the writer said, "He treated people kindly; they could see joy and the love of Christ in [him]. His Christian lamp was filled with oil and shone brightly for all to see." During Hani's time of required military service, his commanding officer pressured him to convert to Islam. "I'll never leave the Lord… I love Him… I will remain a Christian and die a Christian," replied Hani. The persecution began and intensified. It started with forcing him to recite prayers from the Koran to sleep and food depravation. The made him crawl on the floor and mocked his beliefs. Sometime later Hani's family was informed that their son had drowned in the Nile River. Yet when they arrived to identify his body, they discovered that Hani was a subject of abuse and murder. His hands and feet were burned, his teeth and ribs were broken, strangle marks were on his neck and the tattooed cross on his wrist was scraped off with a blade. The article concludes, "Jesus said all men would hate His followers because of Him (Mt. 10:22), but we rejoice knowing Hani 'stood firm until the end.' His body was broken, he was brutally martyred, but Hani's lamp was not extinguished. His life and witness is the oil that keeps the lamp glowing now through others - through those who hear his testimony" (Voice of the Martyrs, April 2008, p. 5).

It is unmistakable. 2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Maybe our persecution is of a different flavor than the thousands, perhaps millions, suffering for their faith overseas. Maybe for us it is the rolling of the eyes or the clucking of the tongue or the exclusion from a group or being thought of as foolish, uneducated or strange. Different, but persecution is inevitable even in America if we speak of our Lord as He expects; if we are, Romans 1:16, "not ashamed of the gospel."

My goal is not to make you afraid. My goal is to carefully teach you what Jesus said so you can be prepared. This is a sensitive subject, but not one without help for these difficult times. I know speaking boldly for the Lord comes with inherent fears. Yet I trust today's lesson from the Bible will encourage you to be more courageous.


I begin with point number one, a certain expectation.

Look with me at verses 24 and 25. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master." Stop right there.

Classic verses on discipleship. Disciples imitate their Master. Disciples submit to their Master. But in the context, Jesus is making a specific point. Disciples suffer like their Master.

Our Savior was persecuted basically from the day He was born. And that persecution intensified once He entered His public ministry. He was rejected by His family, denied and betrayed by His friends and detested by the religious establishment. Without doing anything wrong, they tortured Him and executed Him out of sheer hatred. In other words, "If they treated Me like this," says Jesus, "And you as a disciple do what I do and say what I say, you can expect similar treatment."

The ending of verse 25 makes this point crystal-clear. "If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!"

Who is "the head of the house?" Jesus! Who is "Beelzebul?" Satan! Jesus went about doing nothing but good (Ac. 10:38) and though He was the head of God's house, people witnessed his actions and heard His words and called Him the devil, the ultimate of all blasphemies.

Inference: if Jesus was treated like this, how do you suppose they will treat you? If the head of the household was treated this way, how will they treat the members of the household? If the world that He sought to benefit did this to Him, and He was sinless (!), what do you suppose they will do to you as a still imperfect disciple seeking to walk in His footsteps?

The more attractive we become to Christ and other Christians, the less attractive we will become to the world. J.C. Ryle once said, "If we let the world alone, it will probably let us alone. But if we try to do it spiritual good, it will hate us as it did our Master" (Matthew Commentary, chapter 10).


"O.K. Pastor, now you've got me scared to death!" Listen my friends, Proverbs teaches us "the fear of man brings a snare" (Pr. 29:15). Fear is possibly one of Satan's number one tactics. He knows that when we are fearful, we are silent. We become the deer in the headlights. We become the Arctic River - frozen at the mouth. Fear strangles evangelism and that was naturally the last thing our Lord wanted as the twelve stood prepared for their first missions trip! Therefore our Lord in the verses that follow brings them and us the words of encouragement we need.

I once remember listening to a sermon by R.C. Sproul, and he stumped me (as he often does). It was a rather simple question. "Which command did our Lord repeat most often?" The answer was nothing I would have even considered. The answer was, "Do not fear." In our passage alone, we see it spoken three times! Verse 26, "Therefore do not fear them." Verse 28, "Do not fear those who kill the body." Verse 31, "So do not fear."

So as we move to the second point, I would like to provide three reasons using our Lord's three "fear not's" as to why we need not fear; three reasons that will encourage you to be courageous, three reasons all based on a better understanding of who God is. Fear: moved by Satan. Courage: understanding God.

Reason One - The Lord Vindicates

Here we go. Verse 26, "Therefore do not fear them." The "therefore" refers back to those who will persecute us in verse 25. The answer why we need not fear them is given as we continue reading. "For there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known."

The first reason that we need not fear man is because the Lord vindicates.

We live in a world of injustice. Wrong seems to be rewarded and right seems to be rejected. The respectable are worthy of little respect. Morality is mocked. Standing for righteousness is politically incorrect. Do the greatest good like Jesus, and they hang you on a cross. Simply put, the unfairness of life breeds fear.

Yet what is not visible now will someday be seen. What is rejected will be rewarded. What is wrong will be righted. And what is done for God will be vindicated. All of this does not happen in this life. We should not expect it. But the day will come at our Lord's return when all things will be revealed and all things will be made known. Everything will be turned upside-down. Those who sought to make Christians fearful will have everything to fear themselves (2 Thes. 1:6-10; Rev. 6:16). And those who were persecuted for doing the Lord's will, will receive the Lord's commendation. One day God will vindicate. We must look forward to that day.

And since the Lord vindicates in the future, Jesus commands us to be bold in declaring His words in the present. He tells us in verse 27, "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops."

What Jesus taught His disciples in boats and along dusty roads and in upper rooms they were to proclaim to the world. In the same way, what Jesus teaches us in church sanctuaries and small groups and personal readings we too are to announce it to a world of unbelievers.

Does that scare you? Think about it, if I warn someone about the eternal judgment of hell for rejecting Christ who should be more afraid? Look to the day of vindication.

Reason Two - The Lord Dominates

So the Lord will vindicate us. The second reason we need not fear is because the Lord dominates.

Look with me at verse 28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

You see beloved, we as Christians too often have this whole fear thing backwards. We laugh at a giant German shepherd cowering when confronted by a little poodle. We snicker at the child who trembles over the "boogie-man" and things that go bump in the night. Yet we rarely consider how we as adults can so ridiculously misplace our fears.

On a daily basis we are given a choice to either please man or please God. And far too often out of fear we seek to honor man at the expense of disowning God. The excuses are legion: "I don't want to offend." "I don't know my Bible well enough." "I didn't have a good opportunity." Yet the bottom line is we are fearful. We are scared to speak about Jesus. Simply put, we are more fearful about man's disapproval than we are of God's disapproval. Our Lord's point? "That's crazy!" Why fear the one who can kill the body more than the One who can destroy the body and soul in hell?

Now please don't misunderstand our Lord's point. He is not saying Christians should fear condemnation and hell. According to the Bible, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Jesus is simply making the point that I am attempting to clarify. Why in the world are we as Christians expressing more fear toward the one who is able to do to us the lesser harm? Think about it. What is the worst man can do? Kill you. The worst they can do is send you to Paradise (Phil 1:21). And what is the worst God can do? Destroy your body and soul in hell. God dominates all, so proper fear is rightly directed toward Him.

The book of Proverbs teaches us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Pr. 9:10). We are to come before God with a reverential respect and holy awe. And if we have this healthy fear of God, I promise you we will have no need to fear anything else. We will trust His ways and seek to please Him with all of our hearts. We will never say "yes" to man at the expense of saying "no" to God.

If you want some biblical examples: Remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego? "[They] replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up'" (Dan. 3:16-18). Remember Daniel? "Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously" (Dan. 6:10). Remember the apostles - the very ones who directly received this information? All of them, save John, were martyred for their bold testimony regarding Jesus. And remember Jesus Himself? Just before His execution, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done" (Lk. 22:42).

Reason Three - The Lord Cares

Let's briefly cover the third reason why we are not to be fearful. We should not fear because the Lord cares for us.

Follow along as I read verse 30: "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." So God has numbered all the hairs on my head. How is that supposed to encourage me to be courageous - especially if I happen to be a little more challenged in that area?

We miss the point if we suppose God is equating the amount of our hair with the amount of His love. The point in this context is simply that His care extends even to the smallest issues. He does not merely "count" our hair; the verse says He "numbers" our hair! Personal concern, deep familiarity, genuine intimacy.

We see this again in verse 29. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father." Whether the passage is saying God knows how often a sparrow dies and falls to the ground or simply how often the sparrow touches the ground (the grammar allows for either), we once again see how involved God is with the affairs in His created world. Tiny sparrows sold for a half of cent each are cared about and under the sovereign concern of almighty God. And not just some distant almighty God, but as verse 29 affirms, "Your Father."

The implication stated in verse 31 then goes without saying. "So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." If God is concerned with hairs and worthless birds, how much more is He concerned about you? And if God is this concerned about you, why fear? As the great missionary Henry Martyn once said, "If God has work for me to do I cannot die."

Many have said that a good gauge of our Christian life is the degree in which we are persecuted. It is a known fact that the more we are like Christ, the more we will be persecuted by the world as Christ was. Persecution is not fun, but God does have His sovereign purposes behind it. And as we experience this reality of the Christian life, our Lord has provided us three reasons to comfort our hearts and encourage us to persevere.

First, we know the Lord will ultimately vindicate His own. Second, we know the Lord dominates so we should fear Him and not man. And third we know that the Lord cares and is intimately concerned with our welfare as everything is bathed in His sovereign love. Notice all of these encouragements start with having a right perspective about God, and a right perspective about God will always drive away fear.

Jesus has warned us about persecution. Jesus has encouraged us how to persevere through persecution. And Jesus expects us to speak despite the persecution. Verses 32 and 33, "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." We'll pick it up from here when we gather next Sunday.

other sermons in this series

May 1


The Great Conclusion

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:16–20 Series: Matthew

Apr 24


Resurrecting Hope (2)

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:1–15 Series: Matthew

Apr 17


The First Prerequisite To Resurrection

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 27:57–66 Series: Matthew