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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

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Matthew 10

There are those who will tell you that the church promises “pie in the sky” -- that if only you become a Christian, your life will be trouble free. Not only is it not trouble free -- the Lord goes to particular pains to make sure you understand it:

(Mat 10 NIV) He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. {2} These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; {3} Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; {4} Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. {5} These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. {6} Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. {7} As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' {8} Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. {9} Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; {10} take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. {11} "Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. {12} As you enter the home, give it your greeting. {13} If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. {14} If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. {15} I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. {16} I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. {17} "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. {18} On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. {19} But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, {20} for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. {21} "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. {22} All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. {23} When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. {24} "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. {25} 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, 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. {27} What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. {28} 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. {29} 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. {30} And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. {31} So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. {32} "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. {33} But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. {34} "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. {35} 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-- {36} a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' {37} "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; {38} and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. {39} Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. {40} "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. {41} 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. {42} 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."

Apostles

Most of us have in mind a concept of an Apostle: first, you have to wear a toga. You probably should be long dead, speak in King James English, and be far above anyone living today.

In fact, the opposite is the case. The word apostolos means ambassador or messenger. In a very real sense anyone who is an ambassador for Christ -- that means all of us[1]-- is an apostle in the original meaning of the word. And that carries with it some interesting meanings:

·         An ambassador, as here, is given a certain amount of authority. In this instance, the authority is (as it should be) commensurate with the task of announcing the kingdom.

·         An ambassador is not without limits. In this instance, the apostles were to go only to the house of Israel. Later the world, but now just Israel. Why?

·         There is an element of training here. Christ was preparing them for the world by sending them first to an easier place.

·         By most scholars, the house of Israel was to reject the Messiah -- but this had to happen before the Gospel could be sent to the world.[2]

·         Ambassadors are not selected at random. The president selects his ambassadors from amongst his friends. These apostles were selected from those who were disciples.

·         Disciple, of course, is a learner -- one who knows the mind of the Master.

·         Mark’s account says they were chosen to walk with Him.[3]

An ambassador is not just a delivery boy, however. In a very real sense he represents his country; that is to say, he is typical of his country -- or at least those who see him think so. So then, what does Christ want his ambassadors to look like? He says they are to be sheep among the wolves. This is just another way of saying they are to look like Christ, the lamb of God. As Paul told the Romans, (Rom 16:19 NIV) Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.[4]

You see the point, I hope. As each of us matures, we develop certain techniques in regard to how we deal with others. We practice them; what we should practice therefore is wisdom which is gentle and kind, not the kind of scheming the world so prizes.

One of those skills is expressed in the phrase, “freely you have received, freely give.” The conflict is well expressed in the Old Testament story of Naaman the Leper.[5] You will recall that Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, felt that Elisha had been too light on Naaman in return for the cure -- so he helped himself to the reward he thought his master should have obtained. He got the reward; he also got Naaman’s leprosy for his trouble. God gave the gift of healing to Elisha; it cost him nothing, and he gave it away for nothing.

So what, then, have we been given? Christ mentions two things here:

·         First, that the kingdom of heaven is “near.” In our case, it’s here!

·         Second, he gave these apostles the gifts of healing, resurrection and exorcism.

We may view these as mighty things, and wish that we had such gifts. That is not the question we face. Rather, we face the same question they faced: what shall we do with the gifts we have? Which brings us, quite naturally, to the question of money in the apostle’s life.

Money and the messenger

The first thing you notice about money in this passage is this: don’t take any. This gives new meaning to the phrase, “go for broke.” Let’s look at the specific injunctions:

·         First, take no money. Christ has already instructed his disciples that they will be cared for by their heavenly Father; now he’s putting them to the practical test.[6]

·         They are to take “no bag.” We might miss the significance of this. In ancient times the devotees of a particular god or goddess would (as a religious pilgrimage) go out begging. The disciples are not to do this.

·         They are to take no “extras” - no spare anything.

In short, they are to go out in complete, absolute trust of their heavenly Father for every material need. (Think about this as your corporate travel policy!)

Then there is the matter of residence. They are to go to the first house that will receive them -- and stay there. Again, we need to understand the times. There were no reliable hotels in those days; inns were often nothing more than brothels. So people developed networks of friends to stay with. In this passage, Christ is extending the concept somewhat. Picture it this way: the first house that is willing to receive you will (by the laws of probability) not be a rich and magnificent place. But later on you might achieve success, even fame -- and therefore be a desirable guest, a local celebrity. Don’t move on; you have what you need already. Remember Elijah and the widow?[7]

This is not just for your own benefit (that you should not bring worldly ambition into God’s church). It is also for the benefit of others. They should recognize at once that the Christian worker (full time or not) is “in it” for one thing -- the glory of God. The attitude is not one of disdain for money and lodging; the attitude is one that says, “I know God will provide.”

This, then, brings us to the thorny part. What about those of us -- the vast majority -- who are not itinerant preachers, or even resident preachers, but just stay at home Christians, asked to support such workers? They are to trust God for their daily bread (as we are); do we then have no obligation?

Perhaps it’s not so much an obligation as an opportunity. Christ tells us here that if you receive a prophet in his name, you will get a prophet’s reward (which tells us a good deal about God’s generosity.[8]) The definitive passage on the subject is 1 Corinthians 9:7-27; but perhaps the perspective that John the Apostle wrote in a personal letter might assist us:

(3 John 1:5-8 NIV) Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. {6} They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. {7} It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. {8} We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.

John is writing at the end of his life, no doubt when he was unable to travel. As an “old hand” he puts the point that our support is so that “we may work together for the truth.” The issue is not who supports whom; the issue is that we work together for the truth.

Persecution

If this hasn’t yet begun to look like some sort of insanity (and it is, from the world’s point of view), you need to look again at the passages on persecution.

One interesting aspect of this: how do you get Green Berets? You tell them that you need someone to do the impossible. There is in each of us -- buried deeply, perhaps -- a sense of the heroic, the desire to be, just once, the man who did the impossible. The point is artistic; look at Bilbo Baggins. The idea of “Everyman” on a quest is one of the enduring themes of modern literature (interestingly, the ancients seemed to need someone who was a hero to start with). Christ sets up that Everyman as hero with persecution.

Now, persecution comes in many forms in various times -- some more physically distasteful than others. But the sources stay the same:

·         The state is one. Governments of men eventually (and sometimes it doesn’t take long at all) decide that they are the supreme authority. That delusion will cause conflict with the church; that conflict will cause persecution.

·         The church (or synagogue, here) itself will cause some. Ask Martin Luther about that.

·         Finally, the most intimate source will be the family. “Family” and “authority” go together (or should); when that authority proclaims itself supreme, persecution will follow.

In all instances, the rub seems to be this: whenever any other authority decides that it is supreme, conflict and persecution are sure to arise.

Today we see persecution in subtle forms in America. {Discussion Point} One common form, which will shortly become more so, is “homophobia.” If you don’t agree that homosexuality is “just another life style,” (i.e., the moral approval that homosexuals keep claiming they don’t want or need) then you are obviously not fit to hold a job as a ....

Relationship to the Master

Christ tops this discourse with a statement about our relationship to him. We are his servants, and the servant is not above the master. Let’s follow the logical argument, and see if we can fill in the gaps:

Þ    The servant is not above the master, therefore

Þ    If they treated Christ in such manner (like, for instance, the Crucifixion) then you should expect the same. So far so good; the private should not expect better treatment than the general.

Þ    Therefore you should not fear them. (Huh?)

Þ    Why not? Because everything will be revealed. (Huh, again?)

In the sequence there is a profound truth. The persecutor must dissemble, must conceal, must claim righteousness publicly. Why? No one will support a persecution unless there is a good reason. We “persecute” bank robbers by throwing them in jail, for example. Thus,

·         the persecution must be wrapped in secrecy (call it being “discreet.”) At all costs, the truth must not be known.

·         which means that they know exactly what they are doing. They are promoting evil, and they know it, and want it.

·         to do so, they must claim authority -- and so must claim authority over the church.

But fear not! The truth will come out; the story is not over yet. The Resurrection, and the Judgment, are yet to come.

What weapons, then can the Christian bring to bear? All these are grounded in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

We can expose the secret things to the light of day.

·         Certainly, we must turn the lights on to watch the cockroaches run.

·         But also, we must expose what we are told in secret -- for in this the world may see the value of the hidden life in Christ.

·         We must practice Confession -- the regular statement, before others, that we are indeed followers of Christ. Prayer is secret; Confession is its public result.

We should not fear death

·         Fear God -- and dread naught. It’s important to realize that however much we fear what man may do to us, God ultimately can do more -- to us or for us.

·         And, we have his promise that He will care for us -- even in death.

Recognize Who is Supreme

The key to this entire section is the supremacy of Christ. Anything, anyone, who claims your loyalty over Christ is in the wrong, and must be resisted.

We are called to take up the Cross. I ask you to consider again the power of paradox. Take up the Cross; take up suffering; take up the world’s derision -- and feel the joy of Christ.

(Mat 10:39 NIV) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

 


[1] Not an unreasonable extension of “us” in 2 Corinthians 5:20

[2] See, for example, Romans 11:11-15

[3] Mark 3:14

[4] Another formulation is in 1 Corinthians 14:20

[5] 2 Kings 5

[6] Luke 22:35 tells us they passed.

[7] 1 Kings 17:9-24

[8] See the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16, for another example.

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