03/08/2008 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by David Holloway
"Being a Christian" in today's world is our title for the series on these Sunday mornings. Today we have come to the subject of “STANDING FIRM”. And to help us in our thinking I want us to continue looking at Matthew chapter 10 - the passage we looked at when we thought about “being a Christian among pagans” a couple of weeks ago. And we will start at verse 24. And after some words of introduction, my headings will be,first, NEGATIVE FEEDBACK AND THE CHILLING EFFECT; secondly, THE SEDUCTION OF WRONG UNITY; and, thirdly, THE COST AND BENEFITS OF DISCIPLESHIP.
By way of introduction, let me just put this into context. In Matthew 10 Jesus is saying that the best way to be a Christian in the ancient or modern world is by telling people the good news about him and his kingdom. But doing that is not always going to be an easy ride. Look at verses 21 and 22 of chapter 10:
"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
So how do you stand firm? Well …
First, Jesus teaches us how to deal with NEGATIVE FEEDBACK AND THE CHILLING EFFECT
Look at verses 24-25
"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It 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 [or the Devil], how much more the members of his household!”
Doing any kind of good in this world is hard. And working for Jesus Christ is hardest of all. It is much easier not to work for him. When you witness directly or indirectly – when you commend your faith in Christ to people, or when you take a moral stand as a result of your faith, you will be verbally attacked sooner or later. For example, if you suggest that, while God forgives all our sins and failures, nevertheless, as the Bible teaches, the married heterosexual family is morally right and best for children, parents and society; but other sexual relationships and family forms are wrong and not ideal, you will be called right wing, bigoted, intolerant, judgmental, and some will threaten legal action – my wife has had that sort of thing as a doctor – a paediatrician. And if you suggest that the claims of the creeds we say in church are true and that Christ is truly God and truly man, born of the Virgin Mary and rose from the dead such that a tomb was empty. And now risen, ascended and reigning he will come again not to save this time but to judge the living and the dead. And if you add that Christ taught he is the only way to the Father and you believe that, you will be called not only right wing, bigoted, intolerant, and judgmental, but also extremist, fundamentalist, prejudiced, unthinking and a lot worse.
The problem then is that all this negative activity and feedback has a chilling effect. Christians start to be muted in what they say. There is an element of fear. They wonder, “will I be censured for talking about my faith at school or on the ward or wherever?” But if you are not imposing your faith on anybody – as you never should do – but just proposing it, for others to think about and consider, you should do that anywhere and everywhere with a good conscience. Of course, as we saw last time, Jesus said, “be shewd as serpents but as innocent as doves.” Judge your moment. But Jesus implies that the temptation for most of us is to keep silent when we should speak. He, therefore, addresses this “chilling effect” that a negative feedback can produce in verses 26-27:
“So do not be afraid of them [Jesus is very concerned that fear will stop Christian work and witness – so he repeat this command not to fear three times - here in verse 26 and in verse 28 and in verse 31; ‘so do not be afraid of them’] There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”
Don’t let this chilling effect stop you from being a megaphone or loudspeaker for Christ. That is what is being said here. Jesus is saying that his disciples aren’t necessarily to follow his methods. His work generally was a quiet work – of quiet words – more one to one or with the small group of twelve. Only occasionally was it with the thousands. In this new mission, however, Jesus wants some broadcasting as well – “proclaiming from the roofs”. Jewish flat roofs provided great platforms for addressing crowds. Jesus wants his disciples to get the message out across the world, more than he himself had done as we learn from his Great Commission in Matthew 28.18 – 20. That’s why we believe our internet ministry where all our sermons are published and now Clayton.TV, are so important in our work and witness. Do pray for and tell your friends about that new Christian internet TV station – www.Clayton.TV; and do look at it yourself. But how do you personally counter this chilling effect?
Well, there are two considerations why we should continue preaching the gospel or standing up for Christ over issues of right and wrong. And, of course, Jesus’ mission following on his resurrection will always involve both those activities – making new disciples and teaching others Christian ethics. Jesus’ Great Commission at the end of Matthew (chapter 28 verse 19) says:
“go and make disciples of all nations … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
It is not an either/or but a both/and. So what are the two considerations to encourage us to stand firm and witness?
First, we are to keep eternity in mind. There is going to be a judgment day. What we have done in this life will be examined. And common sense says we should be more afraid of God than of silly ignorant 21st century people. Undoubtedly, as the pendulum swings, such people will be changing their minds before long but, sadly, when probably it is too late. Look at verse 28 of Matthew 10:
“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.”
If one day all will be “disclosed” (verse 26), and if hell is a reality – and Jesus teaches it is – who does common sense say you ought to fear the most? Should you fear most people who oppose you in this life, who may even be launching physical attacks such as is happening to Christians in Nigeria. There churches are being destroyed by Muslims and people are being brutally assaulted. Ben Kwashi, a great Nigerian Archbishop at GAFCON who some of us know, was brutally attacked along with his family for their faith last year for a second time.
The same is happening in the Sudan and other parts of the world. But, says Jesus, such opposition stops with this life. For this life is not all there is. Heaven awaits – but so does hell. Sin is not going to be tolerated for ever. Sin is a reality and God hates sin and Jesus Christ one day will judge sin. Now is the day of salvation. When he returns he will return not as the saviour but as the judge. So Jesus doesn’t mince his words. And remember, it is Jesus - the one who can say in the next chapter (Matthew 11), “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” – it is this Jesus who now 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.”
“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” so says the book of Proverbs (Prov 1.7). It also says, “The fear or man will prove to be a snare” (Prov 29.25). What could be clearer? So the first consideration for not fearing negative feedback is that, as we keep eternity in mind, we see it is more sense to fear God.
The second consideration is there in verses 29-31:
“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. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Jesus is saying no opposition, attack or insult can happen without God’s permission and knowledge. This is God’s sovereign, providential care. God knows all about the dangers and difficult situations you have to face; and nothing can happen to you “apart from the will of your Father” (verse 29).No illness or major problem in your life can happen without God’s permission and knowledge. And that is true of your death. Jesus is admitting that sparrows do die (and by implication that you will die – if Christ does not first return). But the death of every single sparrow is under God’s controlling hand. So that is true of the day you will die. It is known and controlled by God. It is “from the will of your Father”. And that will is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12.2).
“So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
You say, “but can God be concerned with every detail of life?” Jesus says,”yes” – verse 30:
“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid.”
So keep God’s sovereign providential care of his creatures in mind. Yes, there will be negative feedback as you work and speak for Christ. That will cause a chilling effect. But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” One, think of eternity – have that eternal perspective. Then, two, remember God’s sovereign providential care that operates at all times. Let’s move on …
… secondly, to what I have called THE SEDUCTION OF WRONG UNITY
Look at verses 34-37:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 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.”
As Christians, the Bible says, you are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4.3). But here Christ is telling people who are to be working for him that there will be experiences of disunity and a lack of peace.
The word “sword”, by the way, is a metaphor. Jesus is using an Old Testament quotation and using a dramatic Hebrew way of speaking. This can be seen from Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching on this subject where Luke has the word “division” for “sword”.
But you say, “Isn’t Christ the Prince of Peace. When he was born didn’t the angels talk of ‘peace on earth’?” The answer is “Yes.” Christ “is our peace ... He came and preached peace” (Eph 2.14, 17). But that preaching of Jesus caused divisions. Why should it be any different for his followers? Nor can you blame Jesus or the gospel. The problem is the sinful human heart that has an anti-God instinct. You see, the message of peace that Christ brought was much more than an absence of fighting. It was about a restored relationship with God. So the Christian messenger today – of whatever sort – says that peace is still on offer. But there has to be an acceptance and a rethink. You must realize that you have been defying your maker who knows the number of the hairs on your head. So you need to turn round and trust Christ, God the Son, who offers you forgiveness through his death on the cross and new life through his Holy Spirit.
Who needs to do that this morning? Too many don’t. But in any group where one turns to Christ and another doesn’t, there will be division. And it will be most acute in human families. Because division and disunity is so sad and bad, Christ came to bring peace and unity. That is why you must work and pray for unity and make sacrifices for it. But you must never sacrifice the truth or your conscience. All that is why there is a great seduction about unity. No one wants conflict; but sometimes that is necessary for the truth’s sake. As an aside - do pray that the result of the current Lambeth Conference will not be a sacrifice of truth for the sake of unity. If some people have their way, I fear it will be.
But if you sacrifice Christ’s truth for the sake of any unity, that destroys every thing. For his truth (the truth of the gospel) is what the world needs to hear and know (the truth as it is in Jesus) – to bring lasting peace and true unity. Yes, it is hard standing firm against the tide. To do so will cause some friction. That is particularly hard in a family. Some here this morning, I suspect, know that only too well. But Jesus Christ says, he must have your first loyalty. He must come before your family members.And this is important not just for believers in families where there are non-believing members, but for believing families. It is possible for believers to put family life before loyalty to Jesus Christ. Of course, there are obligations we all have to our families. But it is possible to use those as an excuse for disobeying the call of Christ to some piece of Christian work or witness. Jesus 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.”
You say this all sounds so hard. It is and it isn’t, because being a disciple of Christ has enormous benefits as well as a cost. So
Thirdly, and finally let’s think about THE COST AND BENEFITS OF DISCIPLESHIP
Look at verses 38-42:
“Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
Sadly people today can refer to a small inconvenience as “a cross”. In Jesus day to “take your cross” meant shame, as you carried it through the streets of the city with jeering crowds. Then it meant excruciating pain as you were nailed to the cross. Some people want to follow Christ pain free. It never can be this side of heaven. You must be ready for a loss of power, position or popularity if necessary. It is costly being a disciple. It is costly in the church - teaching in the Sunday School, being in other youth groups, being a sidesman, doing the crèche, being involved in the music, leading a Home Group, helping in the international work or doing the tea and coffee or 1001 other things. Doing properly anything for the Lord has its cost. And it is costly at work when from time to time you take a stand for what is right or true. And it is costly at home or among your friends, showing Christian love if others are unpleasant to you because of your faith.
One reason people do not stand firm for Christ is that they think his service means continuous health, wealth, and pleasure. When they find it isn’t, they give up. They are like the seed sown on the rocky ground in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in a few chapters time. In Matthew 13.21 we read that at first there is “joy” but then,
“when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, [they] quickly fall away [and don’t stand firm].”
Old Bishop Ryle put it like this: “Christianity holds out a crown at the end but a cross on the way.” But there are benefits even in this life. For with the sacrifices made you will receive much more in return. When you lose your life, you find it, says Jesus. There are new interests, friendships, challenges, experiences and much else from being a disciple of Christ - infinitely more than money can buy. However, in heaven the rewards are going to be quite disproportionate. Giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty traveller in those days was almost a duty. But Jesus says welcoming one of his disciples, just at that level, will be rewarded.
You may not be a teacher or preacher in the church. But the mission of Christ needs your practical help which also can be costly. And remember, says Jesus, helping and providing practically for his workers is all part of your relationship with God:
“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (verse 40).
I must conclude.
To recap: to counter negative feedback from your work and witness for Christ and any possible chilling effect, keep eternity in mind and God’s sovereign, providential care of your life. Then strive for unity but don’t be knocked off balance by disunity and division. Finally, Jesus teaches there is a cost to discipleship, but also there are benefits now and especially for all eternity.
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