Preaching in Persecution

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

Matthew 10:27-33, “Preaching in Persecution”

Preach the word!  That was the exhortation from Paul to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:2.  Paul had warned Timothy of perilous times that were coming, the same sorts of perilous times of which Jesus had warned the 12 apostles.  Although there was a plentiful harvest of souls (people ready to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and be saved), there was also a certainty of rejection by others.  Yet even in the midst of that rejection, the apostles were still to preach the gospel of the kingdom.  Jesus was honest about what they were about to face, and wanted them to be fully prepared to face it.  Now that they were prepared, what were they to do?  They were to continue to preach the gospel.

It’s the same with us.  Jesus tells us what He told the apostles: Be bold – be fearless – be faithful.  God loves you & cares for you, even when you are persecuted.

Coming out of the context of vs. 26: "(26) Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known."  [Review]

  • Therefore” – Jesus had prepared His apostles (and those who would follow in their footsteps) for the fact of persecution.  It wasn’t an “if” but a “when” persecution would happen.  Christians would be handed over to government authorities for jailings & beatings – Christians would be turned in by their own family members – Christians would be reviled as workers of the devil, and much more.  The Biblical record, later history, and modern experience all show this to be true.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim 3:12)  Persecution is not a possibility for the believer; it’s an inevitability.  Not all persecution looks the same – some Christians face physical danger for their faith; other places Christians are simply reviled and treated with disgust by certain people.  Yet it’s all based in the same thing, and Jesus plainly warned the apostles (and all of us) that persecution is a fact that we will face.
  • Be brave/fearless.  This is going to be a recurrent theme in Jesus’ teaching today, just as it is a recurrent theme throughout the Bible.  The OT saints were told not to fear, but to be strong and courageous as they set out doing the things that God was calling them to do & equipping them to do.  The NT saints were told not to fear as they walked in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  The apostles being spoken to by Jesus had no reason to fear because God the Son was personally sending them out as His messengers.  Guess what?  It’s no different with us today!  We have no reason to fear because God the Son has personally sent us out as messengers of His gospel!
    • This obviously doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer.  It DOES mean that we have no reason to fear the suffering we might face.  To read accounts of Christian history can be a sobering thing as you find stories of Christians during times of immense persecution.  People were burned at the stake, mauled by lions, and killed in all various torturous kinds of ways, and yet the consistent testimony is that most of the Christians faced these onslaughts with quiet bravery and power.  Did their tortures hurt any less?  No.  Were they oblivious to what was going on to them?  No.  What made them different?  Only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we have the assurance that our physical bodies and eternal souls are ultimately in the hands of the Son of God who conquered the grave, even the worst that this world can do to us is strictly temporary.  Faith casts out fear – always.
  • Reason #1 to be brave: because our God is the Judge.  One day those things which are “hidden” will be “revealed.”  Which day?  The day of judgment.  The actions that people take against Christians will one day require an account at the hand of Almighty God.  On that day, it doesn’t matter how secret the conspiracy or how easily someone “got away” with it, every sin will be revealed & accounted for at the Great White Throne of God.  God is not ignorant to the sufferings of His saints.  Just as any father would take out his vengeance upon someone who dared to hurt his children, so our Heavenly Father will do the same for those who have been made the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  We see an example of this in the book of Revelation as it describes the martyrdom of the saints who come to faith in Christ during the days of the Great Tribulation.  In Rev 6 when the 5th seal of the scroll is opened, the Christians who have been killed for their faith cry out “How long?” as they ask Jesus to judge and avenge them.  Jesus does not ignore them, but rather consoles them to wait a little while until the timing was right.  In Rev 18-19 the timing is right when the wrath of God falls upon the system/city of Babylon & a multitude in heaven erupts in praise to God because He had avenged the blood of His servants (Rev 19:2).  The point?  God is not blind to the actions and hatred of the world against His people.  If you belong to God the Father through faith in Christ Jesus, you can be assured that whatever persecution you may face will find an answer in the righteous judgment of God.  In light of that, be brave!

Matthew 10:27–33 (NKJV)
27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.

  • Be bold.  This is in stark contrast with the hidden actions of those who would hate the Christians.  Jesus certainly had a very public ministry, yet there were many times in which His teaching was done in private with the apostles.  Even His private teachings were to be proclaimed openly – nothing was to be kept secret.  Those who hated the Christians would want to do things in the dark, but those who are in Christ kept their witness in the light.  The apostles (and all of us) were to be bold in their faith, no matter what the reaction of the world around them might be.
  • Christianity is something that cannot be contained.  Obviously not everyone is gifted to be an evangelist (though Jesus was specifically speaking to 12 men that He had called to do that very thing), but evangelism is not something that is only done by those with the gift.  ALL of the Church has been entrusted with the good news of the gospel, and we’ve all been commissioned by our King to share it with others, both through our words and in our actions.  It’s simply part of being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:14–16, "(14) “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.(16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." []  Our lives that have been transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ are to be lived openly as a public witness to the world that Jesus is God.  When we walk in purity towards God and in compassion towards others, people cannot help but see the work of Jesus.
  • That said, Jesus does expect us to use our words.  Even though we’re not all called to “preach on the housetops” (as were the apostles), we cannot leave our actions to be the only witness we have of Jesus.  Eventually we need to use our words as well, which is the entire emphasis of verse 27 (“speak…preach…”).  We have a tendency to look at evangelism in strictly black/white terms: either we preach the gospel or we do good works…either we live by example or we hand out tracts, etc.  In truth, Jesus never draws a distinction between the two.  We’re the ones that attempt to divide up the work of evangelism for whatever reason (humans tend to like categorizing!)…perhaps if we can divide up how evangelism works then we can absolve ourselves of some of our own personal responsibility.  Yet in the New Testament, evangelism is always painted in terms of words AND work, something in which every child of God participates.  So however you do it, preach Christ, and preach Him boldly!

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

  • Be fearless.  Again, anything that the world can throw at us in its hatred of Christ is strictly temporary.  Someone may live out the rest of their days in prison for his/her faith in Jesus, yet even that has an expiration date because the world cannot touch our eternal soul.  Objection: “But their persecution still hurts!  Why wouldn’t we fear it for what it is?”  Jesus never denies or minimizes the concept of suffering.  Jesus never tells someone to just “grin & bear it” and pretend a façade of toughness, as if nothing ever bothers him/her.  Yet He does tell us not to fear.  Why?  Because even the worst the world can throw at us has a limitation.  They can “kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”  Have you ever noticed how knowing the limit of something helps you endure it?  No one likes to be stabbed, but if you know the limit is one needle taking a vial of blood, we can endure it better.  No one likes pressure at work, but if you know the limit is a few weeks at the most, then you can put up with it for a time.  Many times the fear and anxiety we experience comes in when we have no idea of the limit – when the suffering will ever end or how much suffering we will experience.  The fear comes hand-in-hand with the uncertainty.  Jesus here removes the uncertainty & tells us what the limits are.  Those who persecute Christians can do much to a body even up to death, but that’s ALL they can do.  They cannot do a single thing against a Christian’s soul because our soul belongs to Christ Jesus alone.  As Martin Luther wrote in his great hymn, “The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”
  • We’re to be fearless when it comes to man, but not when it comes to God.  If you’re going to fear, fear rightly: fear God alone.  Man has limits on what it can do to man, but God is limitless.  Man can only hurt a body temporarily up till the time of death.  Man cannot touch a person’s soul.  God has no such limits.  God is eternal and His destruction and wrath is eternal.  God’s destruction upon those He determines to destroy is limitless.
    • Note this does not teach annihilation (the idea that hell is not eternal, but rather lasts only for a time in which God completely wipes someone out of existence).  The context is on the power of God, which is limitless.  The whole idea here is not one of finality, but of eternity.  Elsewhere Jesus clearly teaches hell (Gehenna) to be a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mk 9:43-48).  If God is eternal, then His destruction can stretch out over eternity as well.  Truly this is Someone that ought to be feared!
  • Question: is Jesus saying that instead of being afraid of the world & running away in terror from them, that we ought to take that same fear and apply it towards God?  As if God is some monster from which we ought to run & hide?  No – Jesus is simply helping us to keep the right perspective.  Granted, those who are in rebellion against God and have not been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ have every right to want to run in terror away from God because it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!  Yet Jesus is not speaking to non-Christians, but to His own disciples.  These are people saved by the grace of Jesus Christ because they had trusted their lives to Him as their Savior and Lord.  We do not fear the wrath of God because God poured out His wrath upon Jesus instead of us.  Jesus served as our substitute for the wrath of God (He is our “propitiation”), so if we are truly in Christ, we need not fear that God is going to send us to hell.  That’s not the kind of fear that we’re to have.  We’re to fear God rightly by remembering who He is.  He is the God who is fully capable of destroying someone in hell.  He is the God that created the entire universe out of His sheer will.  He is the God that gave us life and knows the number of our days.  He is the God who saved us by His grace.  He is all-powerful, and absolutely deserves our reverence and respect.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10) – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7).  When believers in Christ maintain a proper fear of the Lord, we maintain the proper perspective of who God is and why we ought to obey Him.
  • Yet contextually, Jesus isn’t so much teaching about fearing the Lord for obedience, but fearing the Lord in comfort.  The world has a limit on its power, but God is limitless.  When we fear the limitless Almighty God, then we have zero fear of the world.  What can man do to us?  We’re children of the omnipotent God!  Remember whom it is that you serve.  Those who belong to Jesus Christ have no reason to fear because our fear is in the right place: focused upon our loving heavenly Father.

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.

  • Reason for fearlessness #2: God is in control.  Even over the smallest things in life, God is absolutely sovereign.  Sparrows were abundant in the day, so much so that when we compare the statements of Jesus here in Matt 10 where 2 sparrows are sold for a single copper coin, and in Luke 12:6 where He says that 5 sparrows are sold for two copper coins, we don’t find a contradiction, but an economic deal.  Buy 4 sparrows, get the 5th one free. J  They were so common, the people who sold them could practically give them away.  Yet God sees the sparrows – God exercises His will over the birds.
  • We serve a sovereign God.  There is no aspect over this universe that He cannot exercise control.  He created it all – He reigns over it all.  Some people have a problem with this idea in that they believe that it makes God the author of suffering.  They think that because God controls the weather that God kills people through drought, kills other people through tornadoes, etc., making God a capricious being capable of immense evil that is produced every day.  There’s no doubt that the Bible clearly teaches the sovereignty of God – but the Bible also clearly shows that God is supremely good.  These two things are not in contradiction with each other.  There are some questions that are left somewhat to mystery, as Job learned in his own experiences.  God had sovereignly allowed Job to be afflicted by Satan, though God did not personally afflict Job (God actually limited what Satan wanted to do!).  God did not even reveal to Job what had gone on behind the scenes that was the cause of Job’s suffering.  When God did finally answer Job, He only answered with one prevailing truth: God is the awesome sovereign God, and we’re not.  We may not like that answer, but it’s the best one we can receive.  There are certain mysteries that are beyond our understanding, and to which we get no answers.  Why tornadoes hit one house and jump over another are mysteries to us – why one person dies and another lives from the same accident is a mystery – the only answer we have is that these things do not surprise God, and that this universe is not spinning out of control.  Ultimately we know that God is good, God is working things for His glory, and God is supreme.  He allows certain suffering to come into the world, but He has not abandoned us to the world.

30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

  • Reason for fearlessness #3: God loves you.  The truth of the love of God ought to always be proclaimed in hand-in-hand with the sovereignty of God.  To think that God allowed Job to suffer can be rather cold until we remember that God absolutely loved Job.  God was actually so proud of Job that He bragged on him in front of Satan as someone who was totally unique among the entire population of the earth.  God loved him, just as God loves us.  The sparrows sold 2 for a penny, 5 for two pennies, and God knew the sparrows.  But God loves us more.  Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught how God the Father cares for the birds of the air, feeding them & clothing them (Matt 6:26), but God loves us more.  More than knowing the numbers of the birds, God knows the numbers of our hair follicles.  (Including which ones are turning grey & which ones are falling out!  That’s a rapidly changing number for some people, and God keeps track of it all.)
    • Just think about the immensity of that statement for a minute.  Jesus obviously said this to give an extreme example to make the point of God’s care for us, but Jesus would not have said it if it weren’t true.  Apparently the average adult human has an average of 100,000-150,000 hairs on their head.  The world’s population is over 6.8 billion people.  That’s over 680 trillion hair follicles, which changes on a minute-by-minute basis.  Some of us have trouble remembering a handful of birthdays, and yet God knows infinitely more than that!
  • God’s care for us goes far beyond that of the sparrows – He values us so much more.  Some might object & claim, “Surely God loves all His creation equally!  We are not much more than animals ourselves, so surely Jesus is simply exaggerating a bit to let us know that God loves us just like He loves all of His creatures.”  That’s not at all what Jesus says, and that’s not at all the Biblical record.  Jesus says we have more “value” than sparrows.  How does someone determine the value of something?  By looking at what was spent to purchase it.  Sparrows could be bought for half a penny, but humans were only bought with one thing: the blood of Jesus Christ.  How much does the Almighty Sovereign God love you?  He loved you so much that He sent His Son to die for you.  Your salvation was valued at the price of Jesus’ life – and Jesus spent it on your behalf.
    • Be careful that you do not throw this gift back into the face of God!  Some people wonder why is it that God would send people to hell simply for not believing in Jesus.  The real question is: how could God NOT send people to hell for rejecting the price that was paid for them?  God the Son loved you so much that He gave up His life for you!  Jesus shed His blood upon the cross, suffered and died for you.  That was the punishment you deserved; not Him.  And to give you proof that Jesus really is God in the flesh, Jesus rose back to life from the grave.  To reject God’s gift of grace is a slap in the face of Almighty God.  Don’t refuse His love – gratefully accept it & rejoice in the gift that He freely offers you!

32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.

  • Notice the “therefore.”  In light of everything Jesus has said so far, here’s the summary instruction.  Be bold, be fearless…and be faithful.  In preaching from the rooftops, the apostles were being bold in their witness, taking the gospel of the kingdom to the world into which Jesus was sending them.  In fearing God instead of the world, they were keeping the right perspective on the limits of persecution, and the love of God.  Now Jesus tells them to be faithful in their confession – to consistently identify themselves with Christ in front of a world that would hate them for doing so.
  • What does it mean to “confess” Christ?  It means to agree with Him/to speak the same thing as Him…technically, the Greek here is to agree IN Him.  Jesus is teaching about a public unity that we have with Christ, telling the world that we belong to Him & are identified with Him.  This isn’t so much a statement of faith, but rather a confession that we are in the faith.  When the ancient Christians stood strong against the command to make and offering & say “Caesar is Lord,” they made sure to proclaim “Jesus is Lord,” identifying themselves as recognizing one God and King alone & above all, and it wasn’t the guy seated on the Roman throne.  The very term “Christian” (which was given to the Church by people outside of Christ – in Antioch, Acts 11:26) is a label that defines people as identifying with the “Christ.”  Those who confess Jesus as the Christ (God’s chosen King – God in the flesh & the fulfillment of all the promises of the Bible) are Christian, by definition.  This is one of the primary purposes of baptism – it’s that public proclamation (the confession) that we have been identified in Christ, and we have gratefully received Him as Lord & King into our lives.
  • Not only is there a confession by us, but there’s a confession by Jesus.  We confess in Christ before men on earth, and Jesus confesses in us before God in heaven.  We unify ourselves with Him here; Jesus shows Himself united with us before the throne of God.  IOW, those who claim Jesus as their own here find that Jesus has claimed us as His own in heaven.  Jesus is our mediator before God – Jesus is our advocate – Jesus is our friend & co-heir.  He brings us to His Father as His own, and our salvation is secure in Him.  Whatever we face here on this earth, when we’ve been faithfully identified with Jesus, we can be sure that Jesus has claimed us as belonging to Him & we can look forward to that day when we see Him face to face.  The same God that is to be feared as One who can destroy both body and soul in hell is the God who will receive us gladly because we belong to His Son.
    • Please note that our assurance is not found in what we do, but in what Jesus has done.  It’s not our confession that assures us our place in heaven, but Jesus’ confession.  We are saved by His grace, not our works.  Our works and our confession merely reflect what Jesus does for us on our behalf.

33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

  • Scary verse!  First things first: Does this verse apply to Christians or non-Christians?  Those who do not belong to Jesus Christ as one of His own obviously deny Jesus’ rightful place as God.  Thus they would be denied before God the Father at the Judgment.  Yet why would Jesus give this teaching to 12 men He was specifically sending out as His apostles?  Obviously they all (with the possible exception of Judas) had saving faith that Jesus is the Son of God.  Thus this seems to be a warning to those who might claim in secret to believe in Christ, but openly would deny Jesus.  Verse 27 talked about being bold in our witness for Jesus; contextually verse 33 seems to refer to those who would walk away from that boldness & hide what Jesus had given them through the good news of the gospel.
  • If this does apply to believers, is Jesus saying that someone can lose his/her salvation if they publicly denied Jesus?  Be careful about jumping to conclusions here.  Scripture gives us a very famous example of someone denying Jesus: Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest.  Three times Peter was given the opportunity to affirm that he was one of Jesus’ disciples – three times Peter denied it, going so far as to swear an oath that he didn’t even know the Man. (Matt 26:72)  Yet obviously Peter was still saved.  He was used by God in marvelous ways in establishing the Church, and Jesus made a public example of restoring him to ministry.  Of course Peter’s actions in denying Christ are not held up in the Scripture as a good example for us to follow – but they certainly show that a temporary lapse in courage does not send someone straight to Hell.
  • So what would it mean for Jesus to “deny” someone who had denied Him?  Some scholars take this to be a reference to the Bema Seat judgment.  True born-again Christians do not fear the eternal decision of the Great White Throne judgment because our sins were paid for when Jesus died upon the cross for us.  Yet there is still a judgment day that every believer will face: the Bema – the judgment seat of Christ.  This is a judgment not for punishment, but for reward, in which all those who are in Christ will receive a reward for things done here in the body whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).  It’s this judgment that some scholars believe Jesus refers, with the thought that those who deny Christ will be denied reward that would have lasted throughout eternity.  The tough part for that argument is the parallelism Jesus is using.  The same word for “deny” is used on the part of both the man & of Christ, and the same action is implied.  Jesus would not have been denied any reward when a person denied Him; the person was denying that he/she ever knew Jesus at all (i.e., did not “confess” Jesus before men.)  Likewise, verse 32 is plainly speaking about a public witness that someone agrees with Christ, and Christ would agree before God the Father that the person is His.  That makes a reference to the Bema Seat somewhat unlikely.
  • There’s one other possibility: Jesus is referring to a false convert.  The grammar for “whoever denies Me” is not referring to a particular action in time, but a general “snapshot” summary (aorist tense).  IOW, this seems to describe a continual action.  Someone who (1) claims to be saved, yet consistently denies publicly that he/she belongs to Christ or (2) acts in such a way that consistently denies the saving work of Christ in his/her life shows that person to be a false convert.  In the first case, it would be the person who is consistently two-faced in their supposed Christianity.  Around Christians they claim to be a Christian; around the world they want to push away any possibility of them being connected with the faith.  They are supposedly believers in secret – not out of fear of persecution, but out of shame.  In the second case, it would be the person who walks into a church building with a holy face on Sunday, but acts completely like the world as soon as they walk out the doors.  There would be absolutely no indication outside of the Sunday morning meeting that they are a believer at all because their entire life denies that they know the Lord Jesus.  In either case, why would Jesus say this to the 12?  Perhaps because there is at least one potential false convert among them: Judas.  The warning then becomes clear.  It’s not being grouped in with a bunch of other Christians that guarantees your salvation – it’s not doing certain acts associated with Christianity that means you’re saved – you have to be known by Christ as one of His own, or you will be denied by Him.
  • Denial is damning.  When Jesus denies someone to God the Father, they are eternally denied.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about the false convert who would come before Him claiming, “Lord, Lord, look at all the good things I did in your name!” & Jesus would respond, “I never knew you, depart from Me.” (Matt 7:21-23)  If you are not known by Christ, you will not be confessed by Christ, but rather denied by Him & at that point you have every right to fear in absolute terror regarding the God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  This is not a position in which anyone wants to be & it’s not a position in which anyone HAS to be.  Jesus’ offer to save & be known & confessed by Him is available to every single person on the planet – will you respond to it?

Conclusion:
Will we face persecution?  Most certainly.  Yet this does not change the mission on which Jesus was sending the 12 apostles, nor does it change our mission today.  We have been sent out by the Lord Jesus to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven in the midst of a world that is going to reject us.  How are we to face that rejection and persecution?  Jesus tells us.

  • Be bold.  Whether by good words or good works, we are to proclaim what Jesus has done for us in His saving work.  We are to tell the world the things He has told us, and we are to boldly point people back to Him.  Boldly take a stand for the Lord Jesus, knowing that Jesus boldly took a stand for you when He went to the cross.
  • Be fearless.  Jesus does not minimize the reality of the suffering that many people experience for His name, but He does show us the limits to which we can suffer.  Those who hate Christians can only kill the body, but they cannot go further.  We belong to an infinitely more powerful Heavenly Father who is sovereignly in control of the universe and who loves us with an everlasting love.
  • Be faithful.  Let your life be a consistent confession of Christ as you are publicly identified with Him.  Be baptized, but let your confession go far beyond your baptism into your every day.  As people look at us, we want them to see Jesus in us.  And as we confess Christ, we have the glorious assurance that Christ also confesses us to God the Father.

Perhaps you’ve been hesitant in your witness of Christ Jesus.  You’ve experienced shunning from your family & friends, or you’ve been mocked by others, or maybe you’ve even gotten a taste of physical persecution.  Or maybe even you’re scared about something that hasn’t happened yet – just the possibility.  Jesus doesn’t call us to fear – He calls us to faith.  Don’t be hesitant any longer!  Take heart in the work of Jesus – take heart in the sovereignty of God – take heart in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  When you belong to Christ, you can be sure that God loves you & cares for you.  He will give you what you need to face what you will face.

Maybe you’ve never confessed Jesus as your Lord & King.  Perhaps you’ve been one to mock Christians in the past, and now have come to the realization that you’re going to face Almighty God on Judgment Day.  Perhaps you know that your so-called Christianity has just been a farce & superficial while you’re around Christians, but that’s the extent of it.  Today is the day that you can be saved.  You can be forgiven – you too can receive that assurance that Jesus confesses you to God the Father as being one of His own.  Turn away from your sin, and turn to Jesus fully believing that He is God Himself who died for your sins & rose to life from the grave.  Trust Him as your God & King, surrendering everything you are to Him.

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