A Challenge for All True Christians
Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10.32-33
All of us are familiar with challenges. It’s a challenge to start a new business, to play on a basketball team, to go to school at nights while supporting your family. These are big challenges, and sometimes we wonder if we can handle them? But one of the most important elements in our success is that we understand that something is a challenge, that we see it, expect it and plan for it.
Living the Christian life is truly a challenge. That is something that Jesus really wants us to understand. We can run from a challenge or face it. We can live in fear or we can live by faith. The words of our Lord are encouraging as we consider the difficulties that every true Christian will face.
1. A Walk Through the Text
Notice first that this Gospel lesson is taken from the tenth chapter of Matthew. That chapter opens with the calling of the twelve disciples. There were hundreds of disciples, but Jesus selected twelve to be a special group. These twelve were sent by Jesus to go first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10.6). Jesus knew that they would encounter many problems along the way. The words of our Gospel lesson are part of His exhortation and encouragement to them as they go proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus says that the disciple is not above his master (10.24). We usually understand that in a positive sense. The student learns the knowledge and skills of the teacher. But in this case Jesus is talking about negative things. Just as the teacher is criticized and condemned so will His students be criticized and condemned. They called Jesus Beelzebul. "Zebul" is the Hebrew expression for "heap of dung." That’s saying it in about as nice a way as I can. I think you know what Jesus is really saying. "Beel" is a form of the word "Baal." This was the ancient Canaanite god called Baal. "Beelzebul" therefore is a very derogatory way of referring to the devil. Just as men rejected Jesus, so they will reject the followers of Jesus. They will consider them the worst of evils.
But Jesus says "have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known…" There were many things that Jesus was teaching the disciples. Some of these teachings couldn’t be fully proclaimed until after His death and resurrection. These teachings would become the most controversial of all: Jesus is true God and man, the way of salvation, the one who will return on the Last Day. The followers of Jesus will be threatened. Some will even be killed. But again Jesus says not to fear those who can only kill the body and not the soul. There is a far greater problem ahead when we turn away from God’s grace. Jesus assures us that nothing escapes His notice. He does not fail to see every injustice done. The hairs of our heads are number. A sparrow does not die except that God knows. Those who confess Him before men will be mightily confessed by Him before the Father in heaven.
2. What Does This Mean - the Problem
When a person becomes a Christian, they soon find themselves involved in a struggle. There are many things that are opposed to Jesus and to anyone who has faith in Jesus. First of all there is our own human nature. Humanity does not naturally love God and look to Him. If that were the case, there would be no need for pastors, teachers, missionaries or Sunday school teachers. Like Adam and Eve in paradise, our human nature is to hide from God and to avoid Him. Second, there are demonic beings described in the Bible – fallen angels – All those who followed Satan in his rebellion against God. They are constantly leading people into rebellion against God. Thirdly there is the world that is deceived by Beelzebub and his hoard. It is this last challenge that Jesus is focused on in Matthew 10.24-33.
Yet in the midst of what seems to be an impossible situation – how can anyone possibly be saved? – Even in the midst of such formidable opposition God comes to save. Through His Son, Jesus, God has and is defeating these three divisions of darkness.
The problem with the world is the pressure it puts on Christians to conform to its sin-filled lifestyle. This pressure begins early in the Christian’s life. Christian children are challenged. It’s not cool to let your Christian faith show. Even in a Christian school some of the most popular kids will often be those who are the least committed to Jesus. Christian children will have friends that come from unchristian homes. They will eventually realize that not everyone worships on Sundays, not everyone respects their parents, not everyone has restrictions for watching TV or using the computer. In fact they will soon figure out that most kids in this world do not learn the Bible or certainly do not go to the effort to memorize it. They may even become convinced that the Christian faith is a challenge they just don’t need.
We just sang a beautiful hymn, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus. You might think this hymn as written for soldiers in the Civil War or World War I. But it was not written about any human war. This hymn was written after the death of a young pastor who had an especially strong ministry at a YMCA. Following his death a pastor preached a sermon and concluded with a little poem – the lyrics of this hymn. The Sunday School Superintendent copied the lyrics for the children, and eventually it became one of the most loved hymns in America. It was written for youth – facing the spiritual challenges of living the Christian life and telling others about Jesus.
Adults are by no means exempt from this pressure. In fact, while trying to help their children they find themselves challenged. The world is full of tantalizing lures that will pull us away from our walk with Jesus. We are attracted to the comforts of life – comforts that demand either a lot of hard work or worse, dishonesty. Comfort, pleasure and earthly happiness become the most important things in life. Following Jesus is a challenge. He calls us to sacrifice some of our earthly comfort to follow Him. He says that we should use part of our time to worship, to learn His Word, and to serve the needs of others. Adults may also be convinced that the Christian faith is a challenge they just don’t need.
God wants us to see these challenges. He wants us to check every little denial of Jesus with repentance and forgiveness. He knows that the little denials can add up to the big denial of God’s grace altogether. Absolom was hot-headed and rebellious. Eventually he rebelled against his father, against Israel, and against God. Judas pilfered from the treasury of the disciples. Eventually his little denials of God’s word led him to betray Jesus to death.
3. The Two Part Solution
Jesus gives us an answer to the problem. The answer has two parts. The first is a warning: Deny Jesus and you will suffer eternal separation from God. "He who denies Me before men, him will I deny before My Father in heaven."
All denials of Jesus, little or big, are taken seriously by God because they can only lead us in one direction – away from God. If we oppose God, God will oppose us.
The ultimate end of all this is not just a dislike of Jesus or Christians; it is hatred. Is that an overstatement? Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake" (Luke 6.22). And, "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17.14). A few months ago we offered a Bible study on the first three hundred years of Christianity. One of the important things we discovered was that the Roman government was very tolerant of other religions. But it was not tolerant of Christianity. The reason for this was that Christians refused to compromise with other religions. Jesus was Lord, not Caesar. God’s word was the truth, man’s philosophy or religious imagination was fouled by sin. They were not afraid to say that even it that meant facing wild animals or being put to the sword.
In 1999 Graham Staines was sleeping with his two young boys in a jeep in the Orissa state of India. Staines, a missionary from Australia, had been working with the lepers of India for 30 years. The boys were on winter break from school, and were spending time with the dad as he carried on his ministry. In the middle of the night on January 22 radical Hindu men dosed the jeep with gasoline and burned the three alive. A shocking incident? Yes. But what is more shocking is the Indian government's response. Government leaders said that the terrible crime indicated there was a need to look into the problem of Christian conversions. They don’t mind Christians. But they really don’t want people becoming Christians.
That brings us to the promise of Jesus: "Whoever confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father, who is in heaven." Despite the opposition the world has against God, everyday throughout all history there are many people who’s hearts have been opened and who believe that God is not to be hated, He is instead to be feared, loved and trusted above all things. People accept the truth that they shouldn’t become enamored with this world. There is something drastically wrong with it. They believe that they too are sinners and that even apart from all temptation there is an inner sickness of soul that needs to be healed.
In one of our current Adult Bible studies we read of Rahab of Jericho. Rahab was a prostitute. She lived in a culture that accepted prostitution much like our culture that accepts all sorts of sex apart from marriage. But Rahab learned about the Israelites. They did not approve of sexual relations apart from marriage. They believed in a holy God that redeems sinners and leads them in holy living. Rahab recognized that her own sins and the sins of her people aroused the wrath of God and deserved punishment. Instead of fighting against God, she repented, and she helped Israel defeat the city of Jericho. She confessed in God, and God confessed in her – it did not matter that she had lived so long as a prostitute. It was not the culmination of good deeds that caused her redemption, it was the forgiveness that God offers to all in Jesus Christ. Nor did Rahab turn out to be any kind of second class believer. God confessed her mightily before men by calling her to be the the great-great grandmother of King David and one of the ancestors of Jesus Himself.
The whole Bible is filled with true stories like this – of people who confessed Jesus before men and were mightily confessed by Jesus. We could go on and on talking about Abraham, who confessed his faith in the God of all nations instead of many national gods; of Moses, who courageously opposed Pharaoh's brazen mockery of God; of Joshua, who was the instrument of God’s judgment on those who denied God in the most wicked way; of Paul who once viciously denied Jesus but was transformed into His greatest missionary; and of Peter, who said he didn’t even know Jesus, wept bitterly, but was lovingly restored by the One who died for him.
Jesus will take you – no matter what you have done in the past – He will change your life if you will listen to Him and believe in Him. He knows the hairs on your head, so He knows all your sins. Why would you try to hide anything from Him? He knows and cares about every single sparrow that falls to the ground and dies. Just think how much He cares about you. We stand up for Jesus, because Jesus stands up for us.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, June 19, 2005
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2005
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