MESSAGE FOR JUNE 15, 2003 FROM MATTHEW 10:32-33
(9th in a series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church)
This week we look one final time at the 10th chapter of Matthew where for the past few weeks we have been examining what Jesus has to say to us about the mission of the church. We are not leaving this series on the mission of Christ’s church yet as we have not yet treated what are perhaps the most important and motivating truths about our mission. In this Matthew text Jesus is preparing his disciples for a short-term missions trip. In the first 15 verses he gives them general instructions and encouragement. In verses 16-33 he gives them a series of warnings, making them understand that as they bring this message of the kingdom to those who need to hear it, they will meet hostility. They will be like sheep among wolves and they should not expect a friendly reception as they spread the good news of the kingdom. Along with these warnings, he issues three separate commands to them to not be afraid even though the context for their message will be hostile, perhaps even to the point of their own martyrdom. Along with these commands He gives three reasons why we, in the midst of our hostile context should not be afraid. The third reason why we should not fear we dealt with last week from verses 29-31.
There Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Jesus reassures the disciples that they don’t have to be afraid to witness to the message of the kingdom because if God in his providential care and guidance is aware of and superintending small details like each sparrow that falls to the ground and the individual numbering of the hairs on your head, then how much more will he care for his children. Last week we sang as our closing hymn, William Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” and we must never forget the thoroughly biblical truth in that hymn, “behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.” That means that as we encounter trials and difficulties as we live in a fallen world and as we are faithful to witness for Christ in a world that hates him, the providential leading and directing of God will sometimes be very hard. But when you peel back the sometimes frowning, difficult, perhaps even lethal providence of God, you will find a God who is your Father and whose goodness and mercy underlies everything he intends or allows into your life. That means in this context that if you are faithful to speak the kingdom message and people hate you for it, you don’t need to be afraid because a good and caring God who could have kept that from you, planned instead to allow it into your life for your ultimate good and for His glory. We can have confidence in that truth and fend off fear by it. If God providentially cares that intensively for sparrows then he will certainly give that intensive care to his own children.
These three commands to not fear, accompanied by truth shields to hold up against the fear which seeks to paralyze us into apathy, closes this section of chapter ten. In the last section of the chapter in verses 34-42, Jesus broadens his focus beyond this particular mission and tells the disciples that this kind of sometimes-hostile existence is simply part and parcel of the life of a disciple. He teaches here that this kind of sometimes conflict-filled existence is just part of the necessary, attendant cost of being a disciple of Christ. Suffering persecution and a willingness to face death is not reserved only for the pioneer missionaries, it’s something ALL of Christ’s disciples should see as part of what it means to follow Him in faith. Jesus brings this point to a head in verses 37-38 where He says, “"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”[NIV] Anyone who is to be counted worthy of Christ will have so much love for Him that it will eclipse their love even for their closest relative and will motivate them to live a cross-carrying life of self-denial. One implication is that being a faithful follower of Christ will eventually bring you into disfavor with, and persecution from the world. That’s Jesus’ teaching in the last section of Matthew chapter ten.
In between the section of the chapter on warnings and the last section on the cost of discipleship is a bridge in verses 32-33, which connects the two and it’s on those two verses we want to focus this morning. Again, Jesus has just given three reasons why we should not be afraid of speaking the message of the kingdom. You’ll recall that two of the three reasons Jesus gave were rooted in having an eternal perspective. You should not fear first, because one day in eternity the truth will be vindicated and second, because all your persecutors can do to you is kill your body, but God can throw your body and soul in hell. Jesus tells us we are, with our upcoming judgment in mind, to allow a healthy fear of God to trump our fear of man. Both those reasons to not fear revolve around having an eternal perspective. As Jesus ends this section and transitions to the last one in the chapter, he concludes with a summary truth which once again places the focus on having an eternal perspective on your life and your witness for Him. I’m going to read from the NASB translation, which is more literal so you can hear the connection between these verses and the preceding ones "Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33"But whoever shall deny me before men; I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
So in these two verses we return to a reason we already cited as to why we in the church are not impassioned about spreading God’s glory here and to the nations and that is because “we do not live with an eternal perspective.” Don’t miss the fact that in a text with a number of reasons implicit in it for not being impassioned about the mission of the church, THREE of them have to do with being afraid of man due to an absence of having an eternal perspective. Mark it down--if you are not impassioned about reaching your next door neighbor or Namibia with the gospel, a BIG part of that is because you are not living with an eternal perspective and there is NOTHING in the world that will cause you to think this way or live this way. The world is ALL about the here and now. Why do you think they are constantly trying to make 70-year olds look like 40-year olds? It’s because this life is all they have. The religion of the world is thoroughly MAN centered and that means by definition it must be oriented to THIS life. Biblical Christianity is GOD-Centered and that means by definition it must be oriented toward the NEXT-life with God in eternity.
That means the only encouragement you will get to be God-centered and therefore eternity-oriented is in the word of God and in those other people past and present who are eternally oriented in Christ’s church. You not only won’t find any encouragement in this world to live for the future, but you will be hated for living for an unseen God and the unseen pleasures he has for you in eternity. Being able to live with an eternal perspective doesn’t just happen to us. It requires that we intensely fight against the downward pull of this NOW-oriented world. As we fight against the NOW centered world our only weapons are the word of God and others who are God-centered and eternally oriented. Because of that we MUST inundate ourselves with biblical truth and God-centered fellowship with the body of Christ. It also helps greatly to read biographies of the saints who have come before us because there just aren’t that many people around in today’s church of Vanity Fair who are truly living for heaven. The moment we stop fighting against the downward pull is the moment we begin to drift back toward valuing the treasures of this world more than eternity.
Jesus says, “Everyone (not just the 12 but everyone) who shall confess me before me, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” When you look at the tenses of the verbs Jesus will IN THE FUTURE be either confessing or denying those people before His Father on the basis of whether they in this life confess Him or deny him. The crucial words for us to understand are these words translated in the NASB as “confess” (other translations have “acknowledge”) and “deny.” What does Jesus mean by “confessing” and “denying” Him? In order for us to better understand what Jesus means by both these words, let’s go to a powerful biblical illustration of both of these concepts in the gospel of John chapter nine. You may recall that the story in John chapter nine is about a man born blind. Jesus encounters this man, makes some mud with his saliva, rubs it on him and tells him to go rinse off in the pool of Siloam. The man is miraculously given his sight.
The story is so powerful in part first, because of the response this healed man gives to the Jewish religious leadership and second, because of Jesus’ response to this man. Jesus, as he often did in the gospels healed this man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees, as they often did in the gospels had a cow about it. They were far more concerned that Jesus in their deceived minds had violated the Sabbath law than they were about this man born blind who could now see. They came to this man and held an inquiry into this matter and in John 9:17 we read, “Finally they [the Pharisees] turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him [Jesus]? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”[NIV] The man obviously concludes that based on Old Testament history, only prophets like Moses, Elijah and Elisha do miracles. This man did a miracle—therefore he must be a prophet. The Pharisees ignore the man’s response and go interrogate his parents to verify if the man had truly been born blind.
At the prompting of the man’s parents, the Pharisees go back to the man to conclude their interrogation. Verse 24 says, “A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God," they said. "We know this man is a sinner." 25He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" 26Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
27He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?"[NIV] You have to love this guy! He was not the least bit intimidated or impressed by the Pharisees. They had walked by him hundreds of times as he was sitting there begging in the streets and THEY had never healed him. In fact, he knew they believed that he was born blind because either he or his parents were full of sin. That’s what the religious teaching of the day held about people who were born with some kind of disability. The apostles begin this whole story by asking Jesus the question in verse two, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” So this man had no reason to be impressed by the Pharisees. But this prophet Jesus comes along and he not only doesn’t condemn him. He heals him and for the first time in his life he can see. It doesn’t take long for this man to decide who he is going to throw his lot in with. So, in a response laced with sarcasm he asks these Pharisees, whose hostile attitudes towards Jesus by this time were well known, “Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
The Pharisees know they are being “made sport of” and they don’t like it one bit. Verse 28, “28Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from." 30The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out. [NIV]
In response to this man’s bold confession of Jesus, he is excommunicated. They threw him out of the synagogue, which wasn’t like being disciplined out of one local church only to go to another one, down the street. This was very serious and it’s clear that they did it first because they had been utterly humiliated by someone who in that culture had no, zero position. Second, John tells us in verse 22 when the Pharisees are interrogating his parents, “…the Jews had already agreed, that if anyone should confess Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”[NASB] That word “confess” is the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 10:32—“Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.”[NASB] As much as this man’s limited knowledge permitted him, he confessed Christ and for that confession he was excommunicated.
The very best part of the story for me is what happens next in verses 35-38. “35Jesus heard that they had put him out; and finding him, He said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36He answered and said, "And who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?" 37Jesus said to him, "You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you." 38And he said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped Him.” [NASB] When Jesus hears about this man’s excommunication and he goes looking for him. Jesus, when he hears about this man and what has happened to him he searches him out. Isn’t that great!? When someone confesses Jesus and suffers for it—he goes looking for THAT person! He evidently interrupts his other ministry to go and speak to THAT person. When Jesus finds him, notice the man’s response to Christ is much different than it was to the Pharisees. Jesus has earned his respect and trust. First, he calls him “Lord.” Second, when Jesus asks him if he believes in the Son of Man he wants to know who the Son of man is so that, at the word of Jesus, he will sight unseen believe in him. That’s faith. Although his knowledge of Christ is incomplete, his confession OF Christ sprung from faith IN Christ. And when Jesus reveals himself more fully to him and tells him He is the Son of Man this man says, “Lord, I believe. And he worshiped Him.” More literally, he prostrated himself.
Do you see from this story that confessing Jesus is NOT just about being able to give a doctrinally accurate statement about him, though our confessing of Jesus should be accurate doctrinally. It’s more than that. Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess[same word] with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Notice that confession is about relationship and that relationship for the Christian is Lordship. Saving faith, as I was reminded this week from John Piper, is expressed by confessing Jesus as Lord—not just the Jesus who died for us, but also the One we LIVE FOR. Notice also the connection between the spiritual condition of your heart and the confession of your mouth. The bible teaches there is a direct relationship between what is in your heart and what is in your mouth.
Jesus says to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” In Luke 6:45 he says to his disciples, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. What we have in our hearts about Jesus will make its way over our lips. To confess Jesus means having a heart filled with love for and allegiance to Jesus resulting in that love and allegiance to Him coming out of our mouths in confession. Is it possible to love Christ but deny him? Yes, Peter did. But Jesus is saying in Matthew 10, “If you, as a regular pattern of your life confess me, then at the day of Judgment, I will as Judge render this verdict to my Father: “He belongs to Me. I purchased Him with my blood. He is forgiven, justified, made acceptable by Me. He has a new, regenerated heart that by the grace of God loves me and that enabled Him to confess me in life. I now confess him to You, Father.”
The man Jesus healed in John chapter nine is an example of what it means to confess Jesus, but we can also go back to this story in John to give us insight into what DENYING Christ means. In chapter 9, the man believes and confesses but his parents, who also knew perfectly well what Jesus had done, refused to confess him but instead told the Pharisees not to inquire of them but to speak directly with their son. Verse 22 says, “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed, that if anyone should confess Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. [NASB] His parents were afraid of the Jews. Their fear of the Jews was greater than their fear of God and that shut their mouths. They were not GOD-centered, they were MAN-centered. They were not living with an eternal perspective—they just didn’t want to be thrown out of the synagogue. They weren’t willing to confess Jesus. To support this argument that their silence about Jesus constitutes a denial of him look with me at John 12. Jesus is doing miracle after miracle but many Jews still did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. But it says in verse 42-43, “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing [same word] him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” [NASB]
These people believed Jesus was the Messiah—they had seen the miracles and on the evidence of the miracles they held the correct doctrinal view of Christ. But they refused to confess Christ because “they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” This is a piercing, Holy Spirit analysis of their hearts and what motivated them. Like the blind man’s parents, they had seen enough to believe, but they didn’t want to be thrown out of the synagogue and GOD SAYS that means they loved the praise of men more than God. They too were MAN centered, not GOD-centered. Denying Jesus is not only a matter of doing what Peter did by verbally denying the truth about his relationship to Jesus. It certainly includes that but it also includes more. It also includes remaining silent about Jesus when we should speak about Him. That’s what the parents of the man born blind should have done and that’s what these rulers should have done in chapter 12. In their silence about Jesus, they denied him before men.
Part of what this means to us is this. If someone you know asks you, “Why do you not get drunk at cocktail parties like the rest of us? Or, “Why didn’t you go to see that movie or watch that television show that so many of the rest of us have seen?” Or, “How is it that you don’t allow your kids to do this or that?” Or, “Why do you spend so much time at your church?” If, in response to those questions the only things we say are things like, “Because I was raised with a different set of values.” Or, “I guess I’m just old fashioned” Or, “I just have a bit different set of values than most folks today.” Or, “Different strokes for different folks.” Or, any one of a 1000 other responses that we oh so carefully word so as not to offend someone or to not cause their opinion of us to go down; then in that moment we have denied Jesus through our silence about HIM.
The vast majority of the time this isn’t about being gracious or diplomatic—it’s about denying Jesus. If the fundamental reason I act a certain way is because of Jesus but when queried about it, I explain my actions by saying something other than making THAT confession. When I do that I have denied Jesus because of the fear of man or because “[I] love the praise of men more than praise from God.” When we remain silent when we should speak, we are MAN-centered, not God centered and we love this world more than we love him. When we do that, we are showing that we are not living for eternity but for this life. We are showing that our hearts are not filled with love for and allegiance to Jesus, which naturally spills out over our lips, but are instead filled with self-love and a desire for self-preservation. Picking up your cross as a disciple of King Jesus does not correspond with someone whose heart is set on self-preservation.
Jesus says that if a person regularly denies him like that and in other ways, then in the judgment he will deny them before the Father. He will say, “He does not belong to me. My blood has not covered him. He stands condemned for his sin. His heart was set on Himself, and what others think about him, not Me. Therefore Father, as Judge I convict them of the mountainous charges your law has leveled against them. In life they denied me. I now deny them before you and sentence them to hell.” As we are sent out with this message of the kingdom Jesus says a crucial, even primary motivation is living for eternity, which includes the judgment. It also includes living for the blessed, eternal fellowship with your Heavenly Father and enjoying “eternal pleasures at his [your] right hand.[Psalm 16:11] If you are regularly confessing Jesus then it is almost assured that you do so in part because you are not fundamentally living for this life—your heart has not been captivated by the temporal praise of man or paralyzed by the temporal fear of man. You long for God and his smile on your life—He is your love—He is your passion and to deny Him would be grievous to you because you don’t want to deny someone you love so dearly. You WANT to confess him in the same way a new bride isn’t ashamed to tell anyone how wonderful her husband is.
If we are as a pattern of life denying Christ through our deafening silence on his behalf, the problem is not with our mouths, it’s with our hearts. May God give us the grace to repent of our sin and live with an eternal perspective so that we might be able to with joy and a sense of honor, confess Christ here and to the nations
Page last modified on 6/29/2003
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