The Demands of Discipleship ... and the Courage To Meet Them
In Matthew 10, Jesus lays down some very specific and alarming warnings and
instructions for His rag-tag band of followers. By the time Jesus summons His
apostles to go out and preach in Galilee, they had already seen some marvelous,
miraculous things done by their Master. But they'd also gotten a glimpse of the
opposition that Jesus, and later they themselves, would face.
In the middle of the instructions to these men Jesus says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!" (Matt 10:24-25). The message is plain: If they expected to share in His glory, they could also expect to inherit His sufferings. But even as He imparts foreboding words of warning to them He also offers words of consolation whereby they could take courage. The message He offers extends to saints even today.
Saints suffer, but the Father knows and cares!
Jesus said, "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known." (Matt 10:26). The reason is that God sees all! Just as He sees each sparrow and knows when it falls to the ground (Matt 10:29-31), so He sees each diligent saint, serving his Master and knowing that the Lord looks out for His own: "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." (2 Chr 16:9).
Sometimes the persecution may be extreme, even to death, but Jesus seems to be saying, "Don't be afraid! The worst they can do is kill you!" (Matt 10:28a). While death, and a violent, painful one at that, seems pretty bad, we're reminded that there is something worse than physical death: the destruction of "both soul and body in hell." (Matt 10:28b). The faithful saint will recognize that, to be like his Lord, he'll have to take the punishment that comes with the territory knowing that his faithfulness will keep him in his Father's favor. Even when faced with the prospect of death for his union with Jesus and testimony of the gospel, the diligent disciple knows that his earthly demise only hastens the rewards promised by the Savior. Easy? Of course not, but the Lord has promised that there will no test, trial, or temptation that His follower cannot overcome IF he leans on Him for support. (1 Cor 10:13).
Relationships will be ripped, but life will be found! The Lord spoke of a sword that He would bring a sword of division that would penetrate even the deepest, most intimate relationships. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household." (Matt 10:34-36). Harsh words indeed but history bears the accuracy of Jesus' chilling prophecy: Children, parents, and siblings betraying one another to oppressive authorities simply because of one's identification with Christ. (See Foxe's Book of Martyrs) But, this is the U.S. of A! It can't happen here, right? Well, maybe a Christian will never be handed over to the executioner (yet) in this country, but hardly a Christian hasn't been touched by the sin that remains in his loved ones after he himself has been converted. As brother Kenneth Chumbley wrote in his excellent commentary on Matthew, "Because of Christ, division can break the family circle. The truly converted mother, for instance, will turn with horror from the impurity of her daughter, a believing wife will risk separation from her husband before joining him in sin, and a godly son will part company with his father before sanctioning his ungodliness."
Yet, even as we suffer the heartbreak of changed relationships, Jesus reminds that there is a relationship, an association, that transcends even those that are nearest and dearest to us on earth: Knowing the Savior. The Lord said that when we confess Him (own Him, identify with Him), He in turn "owns" us before the Father (Matt 10:32) and in being confessed before Him, we have life; real, lasting life. "He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it." (Matt 10:39). In all of this, the demands of discipleship are high, and so is the courage required, and provided, by God. He who asks us to "lose" our lives for His sake, also offers us the strength and succor we need to see this difficult life through.
By Zeke Flores
From Expository Files 12.7; July 2005