Trouble Ahead: The Kingdom Advances Through Suffering (Matthew Sermon 38 of 151)
November 10, 2002 | Andrew Davis
Persecution, The Kingdom of Christ
The Trail of Blood
Open your Bibles to Matthew Chapter 10. We'll be looking this morning at verses 16 through 25, as Jesus prepares His apostles for their mission. I think in this section of Matthew 10, it becomes clear that He's really preparing the whole church throughout all the ages for trouble ahead, the suffering that is indispensable to the advance of the Gospel. In the time that we're living in American history and world history, especially recently, over the last two years or so, we're starting to see more and more of an aggressive militant spirit among our Muslim neighbors, friends around the world. We're seeing Islam, I think, for what it really is. I know our president called Islam a religion of peace, but the fact of the matter is, both in precept and in history, Islam has advanced behind the curved scimitar, behind the aggressive militant “conversion or die' approach that Islam has always taken. From the very beginning, Islam advanced by the sword. There was a time when North Africa was the Bible belt of the world. That's where Augustine and Tertullian were, and many other heroes of the faith lived in North Africa. But about 100 years after Muhammad, Islam swept through behind the power of the sword and basically forced everyone who lived there to either convert or die.
That is one pattern or one example of a way that a religious kingdom can advance. Jesus gives us a different pattern here, doesn't he? He has given the apostles the approach that we are to advance the kingdom, not by causing suffering, but rather by being willing to suffer ourselves even at the point of death. Not that we would grab the sword and wield it, and we know that some have done that in Christ's name, but rather that we would humble ourselves below the sword and be willing to die, that the Gospel might advance. While we recognize that many Muslims are themselves peace-loving people, we see that that whole pattern of advance, that's so intrinsic to Islam must be rejected by Christians, because Jesus Christ has said, "Behold I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves."
Jesus says, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But be on your guard against men, they will hand you over to the local councils and flog in their synagogues. On My account, you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 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, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 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. 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. 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. At the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household."
We see Jesus preparing the twelve apostles for a difficult mission, a mission in which He is going to be willing to pour out their lives, even to death. Now, what is the context of Matthew 10? We've seen throughout Matthew's Gospel the context is that of the advancing kingdom of heaven. “The kingdom of heaven is here," Jesus said. John the Baptist preached it, and then Jesus Himself said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Gospel of Matthew is written to portray Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, as the King of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew is seeking to give His credentials both in word and in deed, in genealogy and in His miracles. In one way after another, he brings out the evidence for how Jesus is truly the King of the kingdom of heaven.
Fearless Sheep Surrounded by Ferocious Wolves
At the end of all of that evidence, at the end of Matthew Chapter 9, we have a sense of Jesus' heart of compassion and the reason behind the advancing kingdom, what He's seeking to do by the advancing kingdom of God. Above all things, He's seeking to advance for the glory of God and for the reputation of His name, but he has clearly in mind some loss sheep. He has clearly in mind people who are [Matthew 9], “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." He calls His disciples around Him and He says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out laborers into His harvest field." He says that we need to pray, we need to ask the Lord of the harvest, so that there would be workers for this vast harvest of souls of lost people.
He's compared these lost people to harassed and helpless sheep. They're tormented in every way, tormented by their lives, tormented by demonic presence, tormented by temptation, tormented by sin and by fear of death, and ultimately, they may even be tormented by the wrath of God and hell. This is a terrifying situation. He has compassion on them, and He urges the disciples that they should pray for laborers. But it's not enough that we should simply pray, is it? It's not enough to say, "Well, I don't need to witness. I don't need to share the Gospel with a suitemate at college or with a co-worker or with a neighbor. I don't need to reach out to a relative who doesn't know the Lord. What I'm going to do is I'm going to pray, and I'm going to ask God to send somebody to go talk to them." You know that's not going to work, because the Lord is going to lay that person on your heart so fully and so completely that you must go, you must say something. The twelve apostles are selected out, and Jesus gives them authority to drive out demons and evil spirits, and to proclaim the Gospel as they go out. The apostles were not the only ones that were to be sent out, but they were the forerunners and we're following in their lead. In Matthew 10 are His instructions to the twelve as they go out to preach the Gospel.
Now we come face-to-face with some of the difficulties. The twelve were sent out with a specific mission, and they're going to go out two by two, and they're going to go out for just a little while. After a little while, they're going to come back and get more training from their mentor and their instructor. But the words of Matthew 10 go well beyond that limited first mission, don't they? In verses 16 through 25, we see very, very clearly how these instructions were meant for all time, not just for that limited mission. Jesus said in Verse 5, "Do not go among the Samaritans or enter any town of the Gentiles. Don't go among the Gentiles, stay away from them,” but here in this section, He says, "On My account, you'll be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." Clearly, these instructions go well beyond this first moment, they go to the end of history.
We're being prepared, we're being shaped and molded for a very challenging mission. We're being told that our lives are forfeit now that we're Christians. Isn't this ironic? He sees the lost people, He compares them to harassed and helpless sheep, and then He says, "I am sending you out like sheep to be surrounded by wolves." Who are the wolves? Could it be that they're the harassed and helpless sheep who haven't come to Christ yet? Could it be that some of the greatest persecutors of Christians are those who are about to become Christians themselves?
I myself was a great persecutor of the person who led me to Christ. For over a year I was rude and unkind to Steve. He would come and sit next to me at a meal at our fraternity, and I would look at him and I would get up and take my plate and go to some other place. Then I'd come back and get my silverware, and then come back and... I probably took four trips and did it on purpose, to let him know I had no desire to sit next to him. Why? Because he was rude or vicious or unkind? No. Because he was telling me the truth, I needed a savior. For a year he was willing to lay down his life, metaphorically in one sense, to stand up to the kind of abuse that I was giving him.
Jesus sends us out like sheep to be slaughtered in a sense. In Romans Chapter 8: 35-36, Jesus says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long. We are considered as sheep for the slaughter.' Behold, I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves. The Greek is actually intensive in Verse 16. "I myself am sending you out that way. I'm sending you out to die."
How could that be loving? How could it be loving for Jesus to sit up there at the right hand of God Almighty and watch Stephen in Acts 7 be stoned to death? Actually, He was standing. Stephen says, "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. And at this his persecutors cover their ears, screamed at the top of their voices, and began to stone him to death." Right before they did that, they took off their outer cloaks and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul who was there giving approval to his death. They stoned him to death, and Stephen sank to his knees and said, "Lord Jesus, do not count the sin against them." He died very much like Jesus did when Jesus said, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."
How could Jesus, at the right hand of power, omnipotent power, not raise a finger to save Stephen? Why? Because He wanted Saul of Tarsus converted, and He was willing to give Stephen up for that. Stephen was going to heaven. Jesus was standing to welcome Stephen, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." He's ready to take him in. But Saul of Tarsus’ heart is full of hatred against Christians and against Jesus Christ Himself, and He must be converted. That path is tortuous and difficult, and it involves the blood of martyrs, at least one martyr, Stephen. He's willing to pour out Stephen's blood so that Saul and others can be converted. Are you willing to have your blood poured out? Are you willing to be sent as a sheep to be surrounded by wolves?
In this section, we see that the persecutors are government officials and the Sanhedrin. Therefore we see an example of government gone demonic. The government was meant to be provider and protector. Instead, here in this section, it's persecutor and punisher. Jesus says, "I'm sending you to be surrounded by ferocious wolves." Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, is it? It's against the rulers and authorities and powers of this dark world, and against spiritual force of evil in the heavenly realms. Yet they use, in so many cases, human governments and authorities to pour out Satan's hatred against the church. Jesus says, in Verse 17 and 18, “Be on your guard against men, they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On My account, you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles."
Romans 13 portrays government as a good servant of God for the benefit of the people. It commands us to be subject, for the Lord's sake, to every authority instituted among men, the governing authorities. "He is God's servant to do you good.” [Romans 13] But Revelation 13 portrays government gone demonic, the beast from out of the sea, the anti-Christian government, and so it has been for twenty centuries of church history. It's first seen, I think, in the vicious attacks of the Jewish Sanhedrin and council against the early church. Then they hand the baton of persecution off to the Roman government, and so it has gone through generation after generation. We have a hard time accepting this because we live in a free country. We live in a free country, where government has not been, up to this point, a persecutor. It may not continue that way. But around the world, it is not so. In so many places government is the vicious demonic persecutor of the church. Perhaps one of the best examples of demon-possessed government is that of Adolf Hitler, who I believe was demon-possessed. His generals behind his back, mind you, called him"Teppichfresser," which means carpet chewer. From time to time, he would be so enraged that he would throw himself down on the carpet, rolling around, foaming at the mouth, and chewing the carpet. He did this in front of emissaries from other nations. The man was probably demon-possessed. Now, we know what he did to the Jews. We know about Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and all of these terrible concentration camps, but we also know that he was attacking the church as well. What is not so well known is that he intended, as soon as the war was won, to eradicate Christianity forever, to destroy it forever. He's a good example of the demon-possessed government leader.
But we've had this scene repeated again and again, the Godly, humble, meek sheep of a servant before the powerful demonic government council. It began, of course, with Christ before Pontius Pilot and with Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, then all the twelve apostles again before the Sanhedrin, and then Stephen, as we've mentioned, later Paul before Felix, and Agrippa. Again and again, the scene is repeated. Finally, Paul, before Caesar himself. And then on into church history. There was Polycarp in Ephesus, standing up for the Gospel, even at age 87. And Jan Hus, in Bohemia, 1414, willing to seal his teaching in his final words, "I will seal my teaching with my blood." Courageous. Martin Luther in 1415, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer before the German tribunal. Again and again, the servant of God has been called to stand before the earthly human tribunals and give account. What is the reason? He wants a witness. He says, "as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." He wants them to hear the Gospel, and He's willing to pour out your earthly life in order to get a good clear Gospel presentation out of you. He's willing to trade your earthly life for somebody else's immortal soul.
What are His marching orders? He calls on us to be shrewd, innocent, cautious and trusting. Look at Verse 16, He says, "Therefore, be a shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." In verse 17, however, He says, "Be on your guard against men." You’re going to have to be shrewd as a snake. That means a little bit tricky, a little bit wise. Ever heard of the story of the Roman Christians in the catacombs, and the fish symbol, they would trace half of it with their foot or their toe in the sand? If the other person was a Christian, they'd know to complete the curve, so that they would know that they were in the presence of another Christian. They were shrewd and they were careful. Why? So, they could maintain their earthly lives. But meanwhile, they had to be harmless or innocent as doves, leading pure lives, with no hidden agenda, not insurrectionists or revolutionaries, but simply Christians living for the glory of God. They had to be cautious and guarded against their neighbors. Today, be careful about what you say. If you're living in a communist country today, perhaps like in China or some other place, you have to be so very, very careful whom you talk to and how you act. Then Jesus says, "Be trusting." Yes, be cautious and shrewd and careful, but be trusting in God."
Look at Verse 19 and 20, "When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, it will be given you what to say, for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." I want to clear away, for any of you that are in seminary preparing for the ministry, any misconceptions. This does not mean that you don't have to prepare sermons or study or read commentaries. You can go and take this verse right to your preaching professor and say, "I don't need to prepare because God is going to give me what to say at that time." The professor will tell you, "You know something, you haven't learned much from your New Testament interpretation class. You're ripping it out of context. I'm not a persecuting counsel. I'm a professor of homiletics at the seminary, and you will prepare your sermons." A preacher does need to rightly divide the word of truth, study diligently in order that they might rightly divide. That's not what it's talking about. He's talking about when you are in the cell, waiting for your capital trial, you know that your head is on the line, and you don't know what to say, that the entire reason for you being there is your witness to the resurrection of Christ. You're afraid that at the last moment you're going to wimp out, you're not going to be able to give a good clear presentation of the Gospel. You know your weakness. Up until this point, you weren't even able to cross the street and witness to a neighbor. You weren't even able to say anything to a relative perhaps. But now you're arrested for your faith, will you at that moment be able to speak? He said, "Don't be anxious ahead of time what you will say, because the Spirit of your Father will be speaking through you." Some of the great moments in church history have been the statements made by people dying for Christ. Like Perpetua, the Roman Christian who's in front of the Roman governor, and she's stating to him, "While I live, I shall defeat you. And after I die, I shall defeat you even more." You can't come up with that kind of thing. The Holy Spirit speaks that through you. Jan Hus speaks, "I will seal my teaching with my blood." You can't generate that kind of courage. "Here I stand," said Martin Luther. Polycarp, "For 87 years, I've been a servant. He's never done me wrong, how can I turn my back on Him?" You can't write that out ahead of time. It's the Holy Spirit. He's not going to miss the significance of what's happened.
Second Timothy chapter 4 is the fulfillment of what's going on in Matthew 10. Jesus says, "On my account you'll be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." Who is the king of the Gentiles back then? It is the Roman Emperor. The Roman Emperor therefore must hear the Gospel; Jesus mandated it. Who is the messenger who is going to bring that gospel message to the Roman Emperor? It would be none other than Saul of Tarsus, who himself originally was a persecutor but converted by the power of God. In Acts 9, Ananias was called to baptize Saul but didn't want to go because he feared arrest from Saul. Jesus told him to go ahead and go. “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." So Ananias complies; he goes and baptizes Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul.
From the very beginning Paul was set on a mission that would end up in Rome, witnessing to Caesar. At his trial in Palestine he says he appeals to Caesar because he’s a Roman citizen. As he's sailing across the Mediterranean there's a terrible storm, and an angel appears to Paul and says, "Don't be afraid, you must stand before Caesar and I have graciously given you the lives of everyone else on the ship." It was all about the mission. At the end of Ephesians 6, Paul says, "Pray for me that I might fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should. Pray for me, pray that I might be bold and courageous, pray for me because I might not do it. At the last moment I might give in, cave in, I might not proclaim the gospel to Caesar so please pray for me.” [Ephesians 6]
In 2nd Timothy 4: 16 , Paul says, ”At my first defense no one came to my support but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them." There is Paul all alone, all alone, or is he? “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength so that through me the message of the Gospel might be freely proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it”. Who is included in “all the Gentiles”? Caesar himself. Paul then says, "And I was delivered from the lion's mouth." I do not believe that has to do with Paul's earthly physical life. What lion do you think Paul has in mind there? Some physical lion? No, he already knows he's going to die, he says, "I've fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith, I'm ready to go, ready to die." What is he talking about? He was delivered from Satan who wanted him to wimp out at the last moment and not proclaimed the Gospel to Caesar, but Jesus stood at his side and gave him strength so that he didn't do it. He proclaimed the Gospel fully and boldly. Do you look on yourself as a bold, courageous proclaimer of the Gospel? Ask Jesus for help; “He's the same yesterday, today and forever.” Say, "Lord Jesus, you stood at Paul's side and gave him help, stand at my side and give me help. Help me to go across the street and say something to a neighbor. Help me to go across the office and say something to a co-worker, maybe even to a boss, help me to witness for you." The Lord stood at Paul's side and gave him strength.
Betrayed Fugitives and an Unfinished Task
In Matthew 10 Jesus says, "You must be witnesses for me, for my sake, for my name's sake and I am going to speak through you." What is the cost of that witness? It's going to be vicious and brutal through church history. This is not just theoretical death. This is actual physical death for many. 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.”Do you still want to sign up? Do you still want to go? Betrayal. Do you know what the word betrayal means? It means somebody who was precious to you, somebody you loved, somebody that was close to you, a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, brother or sister, a good friend, they'll turn you in to death. This is going on in the Muslim world, did you know that? If you come to faith in Christ as a Muslim your family is under obligation to turn you into the Imam and have you killed, and it happens. They think they're saving your soul and you have to be courageous enough to face that betrayal to death. The cost is great, but you know the wonderful thing is that when you become a Christian you will enter into a whole new family. You've got new brothers, new sisters. There was a time when they came and said to Jesus, "Your mother and brothers are here." and he said, "Who were my mother, who is my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples he said, "Here are my brother and sister and mother for anyone who does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” You've got a new family. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt when your family rejects, it's difficult, it's hard. If your family is unbelieving and you try to lead them to Christ and they don't listen, it's hard, and for years you have to bear that burden. For years and it's painful and it hurts. Are you still willing to do it? Then Jesus says, "All men will hate you because of me." This is one of those times when the word “all” does not mean every single solitary person because there's going to be some people who will respond, who will love you, who will cherish you, who look on you as in the Book of Galatians, like an angel from God bringing the Gospel to you.What this does mean is that you'll be hated by all possible categories of people, even parents, even family members, even good friends, former friends. Lots of kinds of people will hate you. Don't be shocked and don't be surprised. But Jesus says, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved."
It's not those who start, it's those who finish. It's not those who walked the isle and pray a prayer, it's those who live the life by the grace of God the entire life. Have you heard the martyr story of forty martyrs for Christ in Sebaste during the time of the Roman persecution? The Roman governor Licinius had determined to persecute Christians. The Thundering Legion, it was called was stationed at Sebaste and 40 men in that Thundering Legion were identified as Christians. The order went out that they should be executed by freezing to death on a frozen lake, they were stripped of all of their clothes, sent out in the middle of a frozen lake. Waiting nearby is a warm fire, bowl of stew, some warm clothes and full acceptance back into the Thundering Legion for any that turned back and came across that lake and renounced Christ.
They began to sing, "O Lord, forty wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee, Grant that forty wrestlers may gain the victory. Forty have begun; grant that forty will finish." Through the bitterly cold night they kept singing; “Forty wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee. Grant that forty wrestlers may gain the victory.” Towards the end of the night one of them said, "That's it, I've had it." He crawls back to the Legion, he looks for that stew, that warm fire, he seeks to save his life and he is welcomed back, he's given clothes. A Roman centurion saw him come back and he heard the few that were left still singing the song. “Forty wrestlers have come forth for thee. Grant that forty wrestlers may gain the victory” but there's only thirty-nine people out there now, so he went out, took off his clothes, went out there and joined them and died with them, fulfilling the prayer. "He who stands firm to the end will be saved." Persecution has the effect of weeding out false Christians from the church. It can be acceptable societally and culturally to be a Christian and then the church gets mixed, but when you have to pay for your life, for your Christian witness, then things get serious and the church gets weeded out.
You may think, “I can't make it, I can't survive.” Now you're getting back into that worrying that he told you not to do. If you are a true Christian, no one will be able to snatch you from Jesus' hand. You will find not within you, but outside of you by faith the resources to meet that trial and you will most certainly stand firm to the end. Hebrews 3:14, "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first." And then he says, "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." The persecution is going to come. I know it's hard for you Americans to understand this, but the fact is it will come and what he says is, try to preserve your life, flee. Try to live as long as you can. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I'm going to go on working in this body and it's fruitful labor for me, I want to keep doing that labor, so flee, try to save your life if you can.
Why does it says, "Because you're not going to finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes." That's a difficult verse. I think basically what he's saying is there's always going to be more work to do. There's always going to be another city to go to. I [God] am the one who decides when it's over. I'm the one who says when you've done enough or when the work of the Church is finished. It was God's hand that shut Noah's Ark's door, sealing it off. God decides when the work is finished and he says there will still be work to do until the day the Son of Man comes. So keep going, keep ministering even to the end.
What Did You Expect? The Master was Crucified.
The final question I want to ask you today is what did you expect? Look at verse 24 and 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, how much more the members of his household." What did you expect? How did they treat Christ? They called him Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies. They treated him shabbily and very soon after Him saying this they would terminate his life with extreme prejudice, they would crucify him. And he says, “That's the best treatment because I'm the master of the household. How are they going to treat you? They're going to treat you worse. It is enough, however, for you in the end to be like me.” What does it mean to be like Christ? He said, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains by itself a single seed, but if it dies it bears many seeds, much fruit." If you want to be like Christ, die. Die to yourself, die to your earthly ambitions.
Brothers and sisters, this gospel is a message that was born or birthed in blood, the blood of Jesus Christ. I wish I could look into your hearts today and know which of you is on un-regenerated, which of you is not born again because you're still under the wrath of God. God has been keeping a careful record of all your sins and you've been storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed. Don't leave today without trusting in Christ.
Secondly, this is a Gospel message which is borne or carried by blood as well. People who are willing to die for their faith.. The remaining bastions of unbelief, what the mission board calls the 1040 window, is the Muslim world, the communist-Chinese world, the Hindu-India world, and it's not going to be taken easily. It's going to be taken by people who are willing to lay down their lives, all their possessions everything they own. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God's truth abideth still, his kingdom is forever.” People who are willing to live that out, those are the ones who are going to be able to crack those fortresses for Christ. We have to be willing at least to do our part and to pray that we might be prepared for doing that.
Finally, I want you to go out under marching orders and be willing to suffer. Don't expect an earthly comfortable existence. Don't be surprised when the liberal media portrays Christians as narrow and bigoted. Don't be surprised when you go across the office to witness to your boss, he rejects the Gospel and you get no raise next year. Don't be surprised when you try to share the gospel with your family member or a friend and they reject you. There's no government authority they'd turn you in to but they would if they could. That's the level of hatred. Don't be shocked, don't be surprised because that's how they treated your master, but are you willing to pay the price that some might be saved? Commit yourself not just to pray for others as Matthew 9 notes, but to go and witness and invite them to come to worship.