Thursday, August 23, 2012

You're Not Alone - So Don't Live Like It! - Matthew 10:24-39

God's Got Your Back!
24 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.
25 "It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!
26 "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
27 "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.
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.
29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
30 "But the very hairs of your head are numbered.
31 "So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."
Let's move chronologically this time. With Jesus's first couple of sentances in this passage, it's like, "What's His point...?" But let's look at context: immediately before (see previous post) and after, He's talking about persecution. So what Jesus means is, we're not going to suffer differently than He already has - and keeping this in mind will help us endure suffering.
Now, what's "Beelzebul" got to do with that, and doesn't the part about "how much more" will they do the same to us contradict what He just said? Well, Beelzebul is another name for Satan - the worst of the worst in the spiritual realm. It takes a lot of gumption and certainty to call someone something absolutely terrible, but less so to call someone something just bad. So what I think Jesus is saying here is, they've already called Him the worst thing imaginable - so it will be easy for them to call us, His followers, bad things as well, such as saying that our spiritual gifts and empowerment by the Holy Spirit come from demons. So, this is a warning: When you try to do good, people will say you have bad motives, sources, etc.
Verse 26 is a tad cryptic, as well, but it becomes clear when considered in context. We don't have to enter into the scarry world of persecution blind; God's not going to keep criticaly information from us. He will provide us with the faith, fortitude, and understanding necessary to endure. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also [escape from falling into sin, not escape from persecution], so that you will be able to endure it." I fully believe that this verse applies to persecution as well, as giving in to persecution and denying Christ is not only a sin, but a crtically dangerous one as we will soon see.
Next, we read the bit about proclaiming to the world what God has taught us each individually. This fits into the passage because it is the perfect picture of how we would act if we truly lived without any fear. Think about it: Why do people avoid sharing the Gospel with others? Because they're afraid of being rejected, made fun of, ostracized, persecuted (whether physically or something like losing their job or getting bad grades in a class), losing a friend, and messing up. Key word there: afraid. A life without any fear is the ultimate ability to share God's love - and the ultimate goal for us.
Now, in verse 28, we see a rare threat of hell. We're so used to God bringing us to Him through His love - probably because this is what is preached, because it sounds nicer so it makes the preachers more popular. But there's a balance here - we shouldn't view God as a scary, evil dictator constantly threatening us with eternal torment, but neither should we view Him as some peace-loving hippie who will let us get by with anything. And, in the context of persecution, think of this: love can sometimes trump fear, but a greater fear always trumps a lesser fear. In this, the threat is actually incredibly helpful.
And immediately after this threat, Jesus once again reminds us of His never-ending love for us. He uses the example of the most worthless animal (a pair of sparrows cost a penney in Israel at that time; for a modern reference, think of something like a pet goldfish), and says that He even cares enough about them to keep track of when they live and die. And think about the hair on your head: the number of hairs you have is completely irrelevant to you, but He knows the precise number of hairs every person in the entire world has! That is how much He cares about us! With this in mind, it becomes crystal clear that even when we are terrified, we can rest assured that He is watching, and He is in control. Nothing outside of His will can happen to us on His watch, and He is always watching.
Our God Is a Warrior
32 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.
33 "But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
38 "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
39 "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lsot his life for My sake will find it."
There's not much I can add to this passage, because Jesus states everything quite bluntly - and with good reason: The more bluntly He says it, the harder it is for us to find (false) ways around it! There's a lot of hard-to-swallow stuff in here.
First up, denying Christ - even if you live amidst persecution and are threatened with torture and death - is not an option. It is that serious. If you say, "I am not a Christian," it doens't matter whether or not you meant it - you meant it, whether you accept that or not. There is no such thing as a "closet" Christian.
A couple of quick thoughts about denying Christ... First, there are many ways to "deny" Christ - the way we act, what we say (or do not say), etc. These are not necessarily as serious, because we repent of these sins (and we don't want to wander into saved-by-works territory!), but I just think any un-Christ-like act is a form of denial. Am I being clear here, or just confusing and making it sound worse than it is? ;-) Second, if you've denied Christ once and have now returned to Him and openly acknowledge your faith, it's not like you're screwed for life - this is not a "you screw up once, you're done - no second chances" kind of deal. Remember - Peter did the same thing! You can follow his saga from warning that he would deny Christ to restoration aftwerward in Mark 14:29-30, John 18:12-27, 20:1-8, 21:1-4, 21:7-8, and 21:15-17.
Alright, so Jesus didn't come to bring peace? Isn't He the Prince of Peace? Yes, but those Messainic prophesies are for at the End of Time, after the war for the souls of mankind is completed. And that's just it - the world is a spiritual warzone. When there's conflict, war must come before peace is arrived at - and that holds true in the spiritual realm, as well.
We see a repeat of the concept of families being split apart from our last study. This happens in wordly wars, too - perhaps most notoriously, in the American Civil War. Jesus states quite frankly that we have to love Him more than our families - that is, if your spouse, or child, or whoever is closest to you said, "You have to choose between me and Jesus," you'd better pick Jesus. Seriously, imagine that scenio for a moment. It is a terribly hard thing to accept, but it's true. If we are to follow Jesus, we have to be willing to give up anything and do whatever He says, whenever He says - that is what taking up our cross entails.
Let's look at verse 39: "He who has found his life will lose it, but he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." This is not saying that you have to be martyred to go to heaven; losing your life means giving up your claim to your life for Christ - this "cross" for you may mean a career, or a relationship, or a location, or whatever. When we are willing to surrender any aspect of this life for Jesus, we will find that the eternal life awaiting us is totally worth it.
Questions for You
When you have been suffering (even something not remotely related to persecution), has it helped you to remember that Jesus has experienced physical and emotional pain as well, as can understand your suffering? How does realizing how very much He cares for you (think of the sparrows and hair) change your outlook on life - and your actions?
What has God taught you that you need to proclaim to the world? What does taking up your cross look like for you? What examples can you think of as "little" denials?
Share these, and any other questions and comments, by leaving a comment below. :-)
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: Tibetan Snowfinch by John Gould and Henry C. Richter. Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-old}} Public domain in the European Union. {{PD-1923}} Public domain in the United States.
Image Nubmer Two: Battle of Fort Fisher by Kurz and Allison. Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-US}} Public domain in the United States.

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