Sermon for Sunday June 25th, 2017, the Second Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Ps. 86:1-13; Genesis 21:8-21; Romans 6:1-11; Matthew 10:24-39
Text: Matthew 10:24-39
Topic: “Conditions of discipleship”
Every young person who wants to enlist in the Armed Forces has to meet certain conditions, such as fitness, a certain maximum weight, good eye-sight and overall good health. Not only must one meet these requirements, but also there are requirements of character. For example, a tendency to be rebellious will not get one far in boot camp. No army wants unhealthy soldiers, or soldiers that cannot discipline themselves, or follow the orders and discipline of their commanding officers.
Just as those who serve in the military have to meet certain conditions to enlist and to serve, Christians must conform to Christ’s standards of discipleship, and at all times maintain the right attitude.
THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE’S ATTITUDE
The context of Jesus’ exhortation to his disciples is the Mission of the Twelve Apostles to Israel. These exhortations are like instructions given to soldiers before an assignment.
The first instruction concerns Christians’ attitude and preparedness. None must think proudly, or more highly of himself than he ought to think, since the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord (Matt. 10: 24). Our goal must be to conform to the example and maturity of the Lord Jesus Christ in all things, to become like him, and to follow his orders. In the Christian life, becoming like Christ means sharing in his call, his mission, and his rejection. As an example of this, the Lord tells his disciples to expect to be reviled as belonging to the Devil, just as he himself was called Beelzebub (Matt. 10:25). In other words, the Lord Jesus might be saying this in more modern language, “Take the right attitude! You are not greater than I am. It is enough for you to be like me, follow my orders, and have my maturity. Just as I was opposed, rejected and ridiculed in this world, you will be too, and even more so.”
Now these words are apt to strike fear into the hearts of his listeners. Therefore the Lord Jesus at once addresses the question of fear. He orders his disciples not to be afraid of their persecutors and enemies, who are really the enemies of Christ himself. Why must they not be afraid? The first reason not to fear is the fact that nothing in the lives of their persecutors can remain hidden or secret. The Lord’s judgement will expose all secrets, all hidden sins, and every hidden agenda. The second reason that they should not be afraid is that Christians should not fear those who can kill the body only, but not the soul. The only one that they must fear is God, who has the power, Jesus emphasizes, to destroy both body and soul in hell. Why would the Lord Jesus at this point remind his disciples of God’s power to destroy both body and soul in hell? One answer may well be that he was putting fear in perspective. Living in fear of the enemies of the Gospel might well cause many Christians to fall away from their faith. But the more profound truth behind this severe warning is surely that Christians must live their lives under God’s orders and instructions, following his will, since he holds the ultimate power over their eternal destiny. It is better therefore to suffer persecution and even martyrdom for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel, than to compromise our faith and witness by trying to please those who are really the enemies of our soul. The fear of God, which really amounts to profound respect and awe for God reflected in a life of wholehearted obedience to Him and love for Him, is the most important fear of all, and the only fear which Christians must have.
The third reason Christians should not fear is their value and precious worth in God’s sight. Even sparrows, two of which were sold for the equivalent of a farthing (UK currency withdrawn in 1961, and equal to a quarter of an old penny), shall not die without the knowledge of God the Father. How much more valuable to God is a Christian!
In view of all this, two options remain open to everyone – to confess or deny Christ before the people of this world (Matt. 10:33-34). We can choose, but we must remember that whoever confesses Christ before men will be confessed by Christ before the Father, and whoever denies Him will be denied before the Father in heaven. In all that we do, it must be obvious to others that we stand for Christ, and bear witness to him. We must not be like soldiers that abandon watch, or even desert the army for our own safety’s sake.
Members of the military always appreciate returning home from the war zone, and coming back to a peaceful home. They don’t expect trouble at home when they return at the end of a long deployment. But Christians, being soldiers of Christ, must not expect everything to be at peace always within their families, for Christ brings division between those who love Him and those who don’t love Him, who believe they have more important priorities in life. So the Christian is not promised even a happy family life!
For all of his listeners who might object even to their families being divided by the Gospel, the Lord sets another condition of service as a disciple: do not love any family member more than you love the Lord Jesus Christ. Family loyalty must never hinder or obstruct your love for Christ and your determination to do God’s will in all circumstances.
It is easy for preachers these days to offer people comfort for following Christ, assuring them they will lead happy and peaceful lives, but the opposite picture emerges here. So that people are quite sure how difficult the Christian life will be, the Lord warns them that anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Him is not worthy of Him, that is, worthy of being a disciple of Christ. In the first century A.D., criminals being executed by the Romans for their crimes had to carry the crossbeam of their cross to the place of execution. Not only does this saying mean that Christians must be prepared to suffer execution and martyrdom for the sake of Christ, but also it implies that anything in our lives which is our weakness or burden for the sake of the Gospel we must be willing to carry, even if it means opposition, rejection, or persecution because of it.
Finally, to summarize the attitude of self-denial for Christ’s sake, the Lord proclaims this paradox (Matt. 10: 39):
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
A paradox is an apparent contradiction expressing a deep truth. How can anyone that finds and seeks his own life, lose it? How can the person who loses his life for Christ’s sake, gain or find it? The same Greek word psyche is used for “soul” and “life”. If your concern is only for yourself, your material prosperity, or some other form of success in this life, you will lose your life (soul) eternally, but if you give your life (soul) to Christ, to follow His will and obey His orders, then you are in a sense losing your life for Christ’s sake, and might lose the loyalty of friends or family members. But you will find your soul eternally, keeping it for eternal life with Christ.