Text: Matthew 10:16-23
We are continuing our four week look at servanthood with the second portion of Jesus’ conversation with his newly-appointed Twelve Disciples in Matthew 10. Last week we talked about how we are to go about serving. Today, we will be talking about what to expect as we pursue the course of servanthood. In today’s passage we move from looking primarily at the Twelve disciples’ immediate ministry in Galilee to a broader and more sweeping view of what challenges followers and disciples of Jesus will face as they carry on the work of spreading the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Three times in these eight verses Jesus makes promises or assurances – few of them positive – of things that will happen to His followers on account of His Name, His reputation, or His work. In verse 16, it is Jesus who sends His followers “out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” In verse 18, his followers will be brought before courts, synagogues, governors, and kings “for My sake.” In verse 22, the disciples and those who walk in their footsteps “will be hated by all because of My name.”
That makes me wonder: what do you live for? If someone were to bring you or me before a court or government authority and bring accusations on account of what our life is about, what would the accusations center on? Jesus tells the Twelve that they will be afflicted, oppressed, and hated because of their connection with Him. What would the world see in us? If they were to accuse any one of us for centering our life around something, what would our life’s evidence reveal?
I’m afraid that for many of us – myself included – the evidence might reveal that our lives have been lived not for the sake of Christ and His name and renown, but for money. Or perhaps for work. Or for the pursuit of relaxation. Maybe we live for each spring and the planting of a garden. Maybe we live for the harvest. Maybe we live for the beach. Maybe our life is built around the next good novel or movie that is released. Maybe it’s around a sports team or particular athlete. Maybe we get all worked up about traveling here there and yonder. Just last month Apple released the fourth version of its iPhone, and people spent the night – some of them for up to a week – in order to be among the first to get Apple’s latest device. Some people live for the Next Big Thing. What gets us excited about life? What gets us moving? What makes us eager to wake up in the morning and face a new day, whatever challenges we might reasonably expect based on how yesterday went?
As Christians, we should have only one source of inspiration, direction, and momentum: and that is Jesus Christ, His Name, His sake, His Gospel message proclaimed worldwide. Everything else in life is or should be only an accessory, a tool to use the help us in our primary objective of proclaiming the Gospel, growing as a disciple, and helping others to grow as disciples. Everything else should be as Paul’s trade of tentmaking: a resource to utilize in pursuit of Christ and His kingdom.
Either life is about Christ and His Name and His Gospel, or it is not. There is no middle ground. There is no doing both. Earlier in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” The call of Matthew 10 is to choose a life of service devoted to Christ, His work, and His message. Jesus has already in this chapter named Twelve who have made that commitment and who will lead the charge. And now he is telling us what that will look like if we commit to making our life, “for His sake.”
The first thing we should expect when we surrender our lives to being servants of Jesus is to need and utilize wisdom as we face coming challenges. Jesus uses two analogies to make his point, which we read in verse 16. He tells us that as He sends us out, we will be as sheep among wolves. It was common in the Old Testament for God’s people to be referred to as His sheep, His flock. Sheep are utterly dependent on the shepherd who cares for them, especially for their defense. The image is that of a sheep who is cast into the middle of a pack of hungry wolves. Without a loving and able shepherd to support and defend it, the sheep would be lost. What we need as we go into the world is the wisdom of God. We will have to rely on it.
The second image is a combination of the popular views in that day of the serpent and the dove. The serpent was seen as a conniving, sneaky creature, an image created due to the account of the fall in Genesis 3. Masquerading as a snake, Genesis describes Satan using the full force of his intellectual persuasion against Eve to convince her to partake of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That intellectual prowess is precisely what Jesus is telling us we will have to rely upon if we commit to living our lives and going out into the world as His servants, for His sake. Satan relied on shrewdness combined with deceit and cunning to convince Eve of her need to eat the fruit. We will need to combine shrewdness with innocence.
Originally, the word for innocence was intended for wine that was not mixed with water, or of a metal not alloyed with anything else and therefore pure. The idea of innocence is that of purity, unmixed with evil. When shrewdness has no hint of evil to color it, it guides and directs us to the right path to follow in any circumstance. And that is precisely what we can expect to need and utilize in a life devoted to Jesus’ name, to living for His sake. As one commentator noted, “Alone, [shrewdness] produces evil and [innocence] results in gullibility. But together, they produce the spirit which enabled the early Christians successfully to storm citadels of sin.” We can expect in our life of service to need and rely upon this combination of wise cunning and innocent purity; this godly wisdom.
The second thing we should expect in a life devoted to the sake of Jesus is difficulty and conflict as we go about doing His work. Specifically, Jesus says that we will be handed over to sanhedrins, flogged in synagogues, and even brought before governors and kings, all on account of our chosen Lord. Sanhedrins are councils similar to juries, and they are not specifically the ruling Sanhedrin that presided over Jesus’ trial and continually brought questions to Him. Synagogues would be any religious group exercising discipline and authority. Acts records how the apostles did indeed go before all of these groups. They were indeed flogged and passed around from court to king to governor. Paul himself experienced all of these things.
We, too, can look to experience trouble should we decide to live our lives entirely for the sake of Jesus. We may not be flogged, but we might be vilified. We are accustomed to the liberties of a Christian-founded government and social order. However, as the tide continually shifts away from the Judeo-Christian order of the preceding centuries, the freedom we have had from fear of government reprisals will fade as Christian beliefs and values are replaced with other values. And Jesus says to expect hardship and difficulty. To expect the government to stand in our way. We may have forgotten what that is like here in America, but others know it all too well.
But the import of these difficulties, hardships, and trials that we can expect is not to fear the threat of punishment – however light or severe. The weight of being brought before a Congressional session, a town meeting, or the Supreme Court is that we will be able to testify to leaders and shakers, to large audiences we might never hope to reach, about the Gospel of Christ. It comes back to making and using everything in our lives as a vehicle for the sake of Christ. Even the difficulties and hardships Jesus warns us to expect.
So we can expect to need wisdom. We can expect difficulty and hardship. Third, we can expect the Spirit to aid us. The thought of being brought into the Oval Office or forced to defend ourselves before the leading politicians or thinkers of the day can be intimidating. It was especially true for a rough-and-tumble, possibly uneducated, tradesman from Galilee. To speak with that accent and without the rhetorical force of the likes that would normally surround a political leader would have rightly sent the disciples’ knees knocking.
But Jesus says that when – emphasis on the when – we are brought before the government and religious leaders of the world and we are challenged by them because of our devotion to Jesus, we can expect help from the Spirit. The Spirit had rarely been handed out. Moses had God’s Spirit with him, as did Joshua after him. Saul, Israel’s first king, was given God’s Spirit, but the Spirit was taken away as Saul drifted away from following God wholeheartedly. Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion of the spirit when the elder prophet prepared to transfer the role to the younger. But those were rare, exceptional events.
Here, Jesus said that all of us who are witnesses to him will be able to rely on the Spirit specifically when we stand on trial on His account. We can rely on the Spirit to give us the words we need to say in the moment in order to best proclaim the Gospel to the crowd and people gathered around us at the time. Now this is not free rein for any preacher to flip open his Bible randomly on a Sunday morning and “let the Spirit lead.” When we have time and warning to prepare, we should do so. We should be studying and memorizing Scripture so that the Spirit has something to draw from when the need arises. But the Scriptures to use, the word choices to make, the framing of the argument – all of those will be guided by the Spirit in the moment when we find ourselves encountering such opposition due to our faith.
Fourth, Jesus warns us that we can expect even our friends and family relationships to break down and turn against us. There are stories of this happening among German occupied lands in Europe during World War II. We can expect that in our devoted servanthood to Jesus, even what should be trustworthy relationships will break down and fail us. Jesus is actually echoing a prophecy from Micah 7:6, which says, “For son treats father contemptuously, Daughter rises up against her mother, Daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; A man’s enemies are the men of his own household.”
Suddenly this following Jesus thing is really starting to look like a difficult road. This is a far cry from health and wealth that we often want to hear preached. When the going gets tough, Jesus says that we can expect people to be people. They are going to look after themselves. Some will know that the only true way to look after ourselves is through the Gospel of the Kingdom, but some will do whatever they need to do in order to preserve life and limb here. Family relationships will not stand the pressure. When we commit to Jesus fully, not even our blood relatives are allowed to stand in the way of serving fully. Even when family turns against you, you are expected to stand firm. Just read some conversion stories from a Muslim nation to see this being played out today.
Finally, Jesus offers a word of some cross between prodding and encouragement. The fifth thing we should expect when we fully commit to being servants of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom is that, no matter what, we should expect to continue in the work of the Kingdom. Whatever one group or city or person does to us, it simply must not divert us from our course of ministry: proclaiming the Gospel message everywhere. Specifically, the disciples were told that when a city turned to persecution, flee from it and go on to the next city. This is similar to what he said in verse 14 regarding a city that did not welcome or respond well to the message: shake off your feet and move on. If ministry cannot continue here, it will continue somewhere else. No matter how bad things may be now, the message of the Kingdom still goes on. The ministry continues.
I ask you: what are you committed to? If your life were put under examination, what would we learn that you were sold out to? Jesus told us explicitly that we cannot serve two masters – much less three or ten! Only one thing can be our master. Fortunately, we have a choice in the matter. It is up to us to decide what or whom we will serve. Jesus offers much: forgiveness, eternal life, real and abundant life. But the stakes are equally high. If we decide that He will be our Master, we can expect on account of Him to have rely on His wisdom, to face difficulties, to benefit from the Spirit in tight situations, to watch close relationships turn against us, and to be required to continue on despite whatever we might encounter.
So often we think of faith in very personal terms: about what it does for us and what we will get out of it. Forgiveness of sins. A room in God’s heavenly mansion. Eternal life (which is often primarily about seeing friends and relatives that have gone before us, rather than the real benefit of eternity with God). Jesus offers a corrective in these verses. It’s not about us. It’s about Him. It’s His sake that pushes us to do, say, live, and accomplish the things that we do in life, to overcome the hardship and challenges we face out of our love for Him.
Faith in the message of Jesus is not an easy road. It requires carrying a cross. It requires surrendering everything. It requires looking through God’s eyes and not our own. It requires giving up serving ourselves in order to serve God. It requires exchanging this life that we have for the guaranteed promise of the life that God offers, with all of its challenges, hardships, and ultimate rewards.
What is your life saying? For whose sake are you living, acting, breathing, speaking, doing?
H. Hobbs, “An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1965), 123, quoted in Craig Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary. p. 174, n. 1.