MESSAGE FOR JUNE 1, 2003 FROM MATTHEW 10

 

            Why, if spreading the gospel message of Christ lies at the center of the purpose of the church are so many supposed Christians not impassioned by this mission?  That is the question we have been asking the past few weeks in this series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church.  Why don’t we give more money and time and energy and prayer to spread the message of Christ locally, regionally, nationally and internationally since that is after all, the primary mission of the church?  If as we have seen, part of the essential nature of the church or the individual follower of Christ is to be impassioned about spreading the gospel but we are NOT impassioned, then something is wrong with us.  At worst, it’s because we aren’t really followers of Christ.  At best, its because we are like water buckets filled with holes.  We are created to be filled with God’s passion for his glory through the spreading of his good news to the lost but perhaps there are sinful, self-centered holes in our hearts through which that passion is leaking out.  We have looked at a few possible reasons for our indifference or the holes in our hearts. 

First we said perhaps one reason for our lack of passion is because we don’t personally treasure the gospel.  If we do not treasure the saving message of the gospel for ourselves—if we do not ourselves frequently go back to the cross and meditate on what God has done for us and revel in the power of Christ’s blood and the payment that was made there for our sins—if we do not personally cherish the message of the cross and the righteousness we have in Christ, then that will take away a significant motivator for us to share that message with others.  It is an axiom that we talk passionately to others about what we treasure ourselves.  If we treasure the gospel and the Lord then it would only make sense that in whatever way we are able, we will want to share that with others.

            Another possible reason why we are not impassioned about spreading the kingdom of God to the nations is because we don’t care all that much about the plight of lost people.  Most people sitting in evangelical churches on Sunday morning know that Jesus described the lost as poor who need good news, as the imprisoned who need to be set free, as the blind who need their sight and as the oppressed who need to be released from their oppression.  That’s a pathetic picture of the spiritual state of the person outside of Christ but our hearts are hard and to be honest, as bad off as we know lost people are, many times the problem is we simply just don’t care.  We don’t have God’s heart for people without Christ and if we don’t that’s another sinful, self-centered hole in our heart out of which our passion for the spreading of God’s glory will leak. 

            Last week, we looked at another possible reason for our indifference about the spreading of the kingdom.  We looked at Matthew chapter 10 where Jesus sends the 12 out on a short-term missions trip.  Before they go, he prepares them for the reception they will receive from the world.  The gist of what he told them was, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves…”  That pictures an inherently hostile relationship given the fact that wolves by their nature prey on sheep.  He repeatedly makes the point that when they bring the message of the kingdom of light into the kingdom of darkness there will be opposition and at times it will be fierce and even lethal opposition.  He looks ahead to the time when they will be fully commissioned apostles and tells them they should expect harsh opposition. That reaction of the world to the truth of the gospel and to spiritual truth has not changed.  That’s why we said perhaps another reason why we might not be impassioned about the mission of the church is because we are not willing to be hated and persecuted by the world. 

            Jesus said in 10:22, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  It is inevitable that you will be hated if you are serious about the mission of the church.  That’s the way it is no matter how gentle or patient or pleasant you may be.  Its not fundamentally about the style of the message or the graciousness of the messenger, its about the subject of the message.  People will hate messengers of God’s word Christ said, “because of ME.”  They hate the real, true biblical Christ as much as they might argue to the contrary and because they hate the biblical Christ, they will hate anyone who clearly represents him in word, deed and conviction.  If there aren’t people who hate you because of your relationship to Christ something is wrong.  Either you have locked yourself into a Christian ghetto and have sinfully “sanitized” your life from all significant contact with lost people or, as you relate to the world you aren’t clearly presenting the biblical Christ.  If you are out IN the world and you are showing the world what the real Jesus looks like in word, deed and conviction they will either be influenced positively for Christ or they will hate you.  Jesus says he is the Great Divider.  Verse 34 says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace but a sword.”  When he enters a person’s life even the closest relationships will be divided.  That’s because people hate him.  This dividing of relationships is part of what it means to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  Its not only for certain Christians, its for ALL who seek to be his disciple.

            We said the reason a follower of Christ is willing to have people hate them is because we love Jesus so much more than we love the esteem of the people around us, we are willing to, with Paul (and with great joy) count everything a loss that we might gain the surpassing greatness knowing of Christ Jesus as Lord, for whose sake we are to be ready to loose all things. Unless we are willing to be hated and persecuted and even killed for Christ’s sake we will not have the passion for the gospel we need and it will leak out of the holes in our lukewarm hearts.  This week we want to return to Matthew chapter ten to begin to discuss one more reason why perhaps we are not as impassioned for the spreading of the glory of Christ as we should be.            Let’s read beginning in verse 24. 

Jesus says, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! 26"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jesus gives another reason closely related to the one we looked at last week as to perhaps why so many of us are not burdened as we should be for the greatest cause.  One more reason for our indifference is perhaps because we live without an eternal perspective.

Three times in this text in verses 26, 28 and 31 Jesus commands his disciples, “Do not be afraid…” and then he connects each of these commands to a truth we are to use as a shield to fend off the fear that will seek to control us as we bring the message of the kingdom into this hostile context.  When you know you are moving into a hostile context the natural fallen reaction is to be afraid.  That’s why Jesus equips us with shields to fend off the fear.  The most basic truth from these texts is we don’t have to be afraid even when someone is trying to hurt us or kill us for the sake of Christ.  It’s a lie to say we MUST be afraid when we are placing ourselves in the line of the enemy’s fire.  As we’ll see each one of those shields against fear as we’ll see has to do with having a perspective that is rooted NOT in the here and now but in the future.  If we live with a consistently eternal perspective we will be equipped with the shields of truth that will cause these temptations to be fearful to bounce off of us.

            The first reason we are not to fear is because we are to know that we will one day be vindicated for living out and giving out the truth.  This comes out of the second half of verse 26.  Jesus has been saying in essence, “it is inevitable for the world to hate you because as my students or disciples, as my servants you will be identified with me and they call me Beelzebub—the devil.  They are completely deceived about me and whom I represent.  Therefore you will be hated in their eyes because they identify you with me.”  The world is deceived about Christ and spiritual truth because in their sin they have chosen to suppress the truth by their wickedness and because the god of this world has blinded them to light of the gospel. We come to them with spiritual truth and they hate us because in their self-deception they believe the same lies that Jesus’ detractors believed about Him.  That is, WE are bigoted or narrow minded or self-righteous or judgmental or nutty or naïve or whatever.  They were deceived about the person of Jesus when He was on earth and if we clearly reflect Him, they will be deceived about us too.  Now it is possible for an immature or counterfeit Christian to actually be self-righteous and judgmental and all of the rest of those things, but even if you are more mature and are not those things in the least, the world will think and say those things about you because they thought Christ was the personification of evil. 

            Having said that, he continues in verse 26, “So [or, Therefore] do not be afraid of them.  There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.”  When you look into the original language and you see from the tenses of the verbs it more literally reads, “There is nothing that is now concealed that will not in the future be disclosed, or what is now hidden that will not in the future made known.”  What Jesus means is this.  Right now, the world is deceived into thinking it has the truth on eternal life and other spiritual issues.  Their so called truth is currently defined by their understanding of words like “tolerance” and “diversity” and by statements like “God is big enough to understand my sin” or “God will have to forgive me of my sins—that’s what God is for—to forgive sins” or, “My God would never…” and fill in any one of a thousand things that God has plainly declared that he HAS done, IS doing and WILL INDEED do in the future.  The world believes those lies and when we confront those ideas with the truth, they will hate us in some way. They may hate us by feeling sorry for us because we are so primitive and unenlightened or they may hate us by beating us bloody in a back alley somewhere but they will in some way hate those who rightly bear the truth of the gospel.

            The temptation for us is to fear that kind of persecution—no one likes to be thought a fool.  No one likes to be called an idiot or persecuted in some other way and our fallen response to that is to, out of fear, put a bushel over the light of truth and keep our mouths shut about the gospel or not go to the nations when called.  To fight that temptation to fear, Jesus injects this promise to claim by faith as a shield.  There is nothing that is now concealed that will not in the future be disclosed, or what is now hidden that will not in the future made known.”  Jesus here opens the window and lets the light of eternity pour into fearful hearts.  He helps us to fight this fear of living in a hostile world filled with lies and deception that contends against gospel truth-tellers.  He says in essence, “Now these people are blind to the truth—their self-deception causes them to persecute you, but there is a day coming when the truth about Me will be disclosed to them—the truth that is now hidden to them will one day be made known to them.”  Do you hear how he wants us to fight the temptation to fear by looking to the future of eternity?  NOW, they think you are a fool, NOW, they may lash out at you, NOW they may hurt you and kill you and think they are actually doing good.  But the deception about me that underlies their attitudes and actions about you will in the future be stripped away and they will see the truth.  In that day, the truth and all those who bear the truth will be vindicated.”

            This is not about believers having the last laugh.  This is not about being able to stick out our tongues at the enemies of Christ as they are being hauled kicking and screaming to hell.  This is about living life with an eternal perspective.  What I mean by that in this context is this—One day, the truth about Christ and the gospel will be revealed to all.  There’s not always going to be conflict between the truth and the lie.  One day God is going to settle the argument for all people by revealing the truth to all people and at that point all mouths will be shut—discussion over!  There will be no more charges or arguments or debates or insults, or persecution or martyrs—truth will be revealed once and for all.  Truth will be vindicated and all those who live out and tell the truth will be vindicated and all those who bear the truth to the nations will be vindicated.  Part of what Jesus is doing here is giving us the reassurance that we who bear the gospel are right and if you know you are right and will one day be proved right and if you are a humble servant instead of someone who just likes to win arguments that will have a powerful, fear-repulsing impact on you. 

            Think about the how this should impact us as we are confronted with the temptation to fear.  Let me illustrate.  This past week the national spelling bee was held and the winner had to spell some ridiculous word no one ever uses.  The kid, who won the bee when he heard the final word he needed to spell, felt no fear because he had not all that long ago studied that word and he knew exactly how to spell it.  When he heard the word he didn’t stand up there with his knees knocking or worry about whether he was right or wrong.  He knew he was right because he had just recently studied that word.  He went at his task with a sense of excitement because he knew he was right and would win the contest even before he spelled the word.  Now, I will grant you there is no persecution involved in most spelling bees, but the point is similar.  If we know the truth and we know we will be vindicated one day—that emboldens us.  What that means for us is that we need to regularly be thinking about eternity because Jesus assumes that in this promise.  If you don’t regularly think about the last judgment and eternity—if you are not living for there, and not here then this promise will not be all that encouraging to you. But if you are regularly thinking about eternity, this truth that you will be vindicated one day as you live and give the truth will bring boldness to your testimony.  Again, if this promise doesn’t bring us much comfort the problem is not with the promise, it’s with our hearts, which are tightly fastened to this world.  For those who are living for eternity, this promise is a great, fear-deflecting shield.

            A second way to fight off the temptation to fear the world is in verse 28 where Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  A second way to deflect fear with truth is allow a healthy fear of God to trump your fear of man.  In certain card games you have trump cards—cards that when you lay them will allow you to win the hand or beat your opponent’s play.  Jesus says here that God has given us a trump card against the fear of what the world will do to us if we faithfully speak the truth for Jesus and that trump card, which will defeat the fear of man, is the fear of God.  Implicit in this teaching is the truth that we have two basic constitute elements, body and soul.  One of them, the body is temporary but the soul is eternal.  The body lives about 70-80 years generally speaking and then it dies.  But your other constitute element is the soul and it lives forever.  When the body dies you still have the soul.

            Satan and this world, with God’s permission can kill your body.  God will in his sovereign wisdom at times give them control over that temporal part of your make up.  With His permission they can do all sorts of things to your body up to and including killing it.  But they do not have one ounce of power over your soul when you die.  Satan and this world can’t send anyone to hell.  The One who ultimately and exclusively controls the destination of your eternal soul is God.  As Judge of the Universe, He makes the determination about where the only eternal part you have will end up forever.  Jesus wants us to see that because God will judge our soul, which is eternal, he is to be feared far more than those who can kill your temporal body.  It’s impossible to accurately illustrate the vast gulf separating what the world can do to us if we are faithful to give out the gospel and what God can do to us in judgment for a faith-less life.  The reason it’s impossible is because ultimately the difference is between 80 years and eternity.  No one’s pencil is sharp enough to figure out the infinite difference between those two.

            To give us a very inadequate illustration of this, think about this scenario.  You walk into a room and there are two pieces of furniture with a man standing beside each.  One piece of furniture is a barber chair and standing beside it is your barber or beautician.  The other piece of furniture is a guillotine and standing beside it is a nine-foot tall executioner.  The one man tells you he is going to give you a haircut—the other man tells you after you have had your haircut; he is going to decapitate you.  The barber is going to cut off your hair, which, barring decapitation normally grows back.  The other man is going to cut off your head, which will permanently end your physical life. When you walk into that room and survey the situation, which of those two men will you fear more?  That illustration fails horribly to accurately show the difference between the fear God is worthy of and the intensely smaller fear the world could get from us.  Again, the reason it fails so badly is because the difference between a haircut and a decapitation, though it seems profound to us, doesn’t even approach the massive difference between being physically killed and being thrown into an eternal hell.

What does Jesus mean by the fear of God in the context here?  Ed Welch in his wonderful book “When People are BIG and God is Small” says it this way in this context of witnessing to Christ.  “We see opportunities to testify about Christ, but we avoid them.  We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (fear of the Lord)”[Welch p. 40].  If we feared God as we should in comparison to the world then we would without hesitation speak of Christ even if we knew it meant our brutal murder.  Jesus wants us to see how completely backward and upside down it is to fear the world more than fearing God.  To fear the world more and what they say about you more than to fear God is far more foolish(!) than it would be to fear your barber more than your executioner. And yet every time we keep our mouth shut or shut our hearts to a call to foreign missions because we fear more what the world will think about us or do to us than we fear God and sinfully disobeying his Great Commission, we are doing just that.

            Jesus wants us to fear God—to have such incredible reverence and awe for Him who sits on the throne of judgment, that THAT fear will trump the temptation to fear man.  How do you get a fear of God?  Many ways, but here are two.  First, ask Him to give you a healthy, biblical fear of Him. When was the last time you asked God to give him a healthy fear of Him?  You have not because you ask not.”  God wants you to rightly fear him more than you do—ask Him to cause you to fear Him enough so that it will override your fear of man.  That’s one way.  But also do something that very few believers do these days and that is spend time thinking about eternity.  Think about heaven and think about hell a lot. Read, memorize and meditate of texts like Psalms 16:11.  You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Meditate often on being at the right hand of God—the place of closest fellowship with God enjoying the eternal pleasures there.  Likewise, think about what it would be like to be one of those people Jesus talks about in Matthew 7:22 who will look their Judge in the face and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”  And think about what it would be like to hear at that moment and have these words echo in your mind throughout eternity, “I never knew you.  Away from me you evildoers.”  Regularly place yourself in that context. Think long and hard about the biblical metaphors for hell—outer darkness—eternal fire—a place where there the worm—the parasite never dies because it always has something to feed on—the eternal souls of the damned.  A place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Don’t believe the lie that says to think on those things is morbid or maudlin—why do you think God put them in the bible?!  They are profitable for us and we should spend a lot of time thinking about heaven and hell because one of those places is where we are going to spend the vast majority of our existence.

One of the huge reasons why so many of us fear the temporal consequences of humiliation and ostracism and hatred and maybe even physical death at the hands of this temporal world is because our hearts are super glued to this world but tied only by a thin thread to eternity.  The things we love the most and best belong to this world—our kids, our family, our money, our homes, our toys, and our hobbies.  For so many in the church heaven is just a destination place—it’s a place to go after this body dies—that’s all.  Its like the last stop on a bus route—its where we end up.  Its not really home for so many who call themselves Christians.  The big reasons many people want to go there is it’s much preferable to the alternative, because they get tired of the suffering of this world and because they have departed loved ones there.  They don’t think about heaven as the place of eternal pleasures at the right hand of God—of knowing the joy of being in HIS presence.  And when it comes to hell, many believers just don’t go there with their minds because it just too…repulsive.  It’s REALITY and if we fear the world more than we fear God it will be OUR reality.

One reason why we aren’t impassioned about the spread of God’s glory is because when we are actively doing that it will mean persecution from the world and without an eternal perspective that fear will paralyze us into inactivity for the kingdom.  Jesus has more in this text to tell us about the value of having an eternal perspective as we fight against the temptation to fear this world and the things they can do to us.  We’ll look at more next week.  For right now, may God give us the grace to regularly peer into eternity where the truth will be vindicated and where we will stand before the Judgment seat of Christ.         

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