Text: Matthew 10:24-39
Someone has said, “Discipleship…is not a matter of life and death – it is much more serious than that.” Think about a scene you have witnessed – whether in a movie, on TV, in a novel, or in real life – when decisions were being made that would make a difference about whether someone would wake up again the following morning or any morning after that. Seven years ago, I worked for a summer as a hospital chaplain as part of my masters degree program. There were several of us who were training as chaplains, and we rotated being on call. We would be on call for a day, and we would also be on call over night. The chaplain on call at the hospital was responsible for responding to all requests for a chaplain, deaths, and code blues – when someone was in some kind of arrest requiring immediate attention.
The scene when a Code Blue is called can be described as organized, focused chaos. To an outside observer, it seems as though everybody is going every which way. It looks like a nightmare with everyone rushing. It looks amazing when no one unintentionally gets stuck by a needle, stepped on or over, or knocked down. There’s a reason: someone is literally dying. Every doctor and nurse comes running with an intensity and focus uncommon even in a hospital setting. Doctors bark orders. Nurses scramble for medications and needles. Sometimes the shock cart is necessary. It’s a matter of life and death, and the mood is grave. The intensity is palpable. The focus is unmovable.
Life and death are serious matters. When a friend or loved one is faced with a critical situation, we drop everything and go. That project that loomed over and displaced vacations and significant life events suddenly gets shifted to someone else at work, or just put on hold. What had been urgent is allowed to be pushed to the back burner, or even entirely taken off the stove. Life’s priorities manage to shift, even when they seemed like fixed elements before. Yes, life and death make us choose things we wouldn’t otherwise choose. But they do so only because it is so serious.
Yet…discipleship isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s much more serious than that. What do you think? Is that an accurate description of discipleship, particularly the discipleship that seeks to be a follower of Jesus Christ? If so, does your living reflect it? If discipleship necessitated taking a lower paying job, would you be willing? If discipleship demanded that your garden be left to dry out and rot or go to the birds, would you let it? If discipleship asked you to surrender everything, like you would do in a heartbeat for a friend dying of cancer, would you?
Being a disciple means being a follower of someone else. And being a follower of someone else means a couple of things: doing what they tell you to do, and trying to become more like them. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” And in John 15:12, he says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” And in Matthew 25,
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Both in His life’s example and in His commands, Jesus has shown us that discipleship – being His disciple – means serving and loving one another. And so we continue today with the third of four messages on servanthood taken from Matthew 10.
We’ve talked in the last two weeks about how to go and what to expect in this life of service that we who have chosen to be disciples of Jesus are to live. Today, I want to talk to you about what Jesus says we should do as we walk this road of serving.
Remember, Jesus has just been accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. He then chose what we came to know as the Twelve Apostles and sent them out is six teams of two throughout the region of Galilee, empowered to do the same kinds of works in their going out as He himself had just done in Matthew 8 and 9. The discourse does not stop with the disciples’ own immediate work in Galilee, but Jesus goes on for another thirty verses about what doing the work of his ministry will look like. And it is not a pleasant stroll through a park – in fact, a lot of it is highly unpleasant. It reminds us of Paul’s words that, apart from the hope of the resurrection, we of all men would be the most pitiful.
But as we go about serving in this life of discipleship we choose if we do indeed choose to follow Christ, then this is what we are to do: we need to aim high, fear right, speak boldly, and surrender everything. We are servants, disciples. We call ourselves Christians. “Christian” simply means, “little Christ.” In our walk, in our words, in our life, we need to pursue a lofty goal. We need to strive to be like Christ. As our Master, teacher, and Lord, Jesus reminds us that we can expect to be no better or greater than He. But think of who He is! He is the Christ. He is the Second Person of the Trinity. According to John, He was the very Word that God used to speak the creation into existence. He raised people from the dead and healed the sick. He had angels greet His birth and proclaim His resurrection.
We should seek to have our lives molded in the image of this Christ. To love deeply, walk purposefully, serve gracefully, pray fervently. To be sinless. To honor God in all things. To serve completely, without holding anything back. You see, we need to aim high. And the focus of our aim needs to be squarely on Christ. My Mom taught in public schools, and she often said that it was her experience that children rose to meet the expectations teachers and other adults had of them – and no higher. We are no different. If we aim to be mostly good, mostly good is the best we will ever be. If we aim to be half holy, half holy is all that we will be. If we aim to be an occasional pray-er, we will only pray occasionally. But if we set our sights on Christ, make Him our model, and aim so high as to imitate Him, as Paul called himself in 1 Corinthians 11:1. If we aim, as Matthew 10:25 says, “to become like [our] teacher,” then…then we can truly claim to be Christians.
Aiming high – seeking to be like Christ – is essential to our servanthood. Jesus is the ultimate servant, and being like Him will make us better servants. But in our service, we also need to fear right. That doesn’t mean that we need to be afraid of the people who sign their names with their right hands, or the pitchers who throw with their right arm, or the politicians who hold to a conservative political persuasion. What I mean is we need to fear correctly. Fear is often perceived to be a bad thing. Fear causes us to tremble, to make mistakes, to discount ourselves, to become paralyzed. Debilitating fear is a bad thing.
But not all fear is debilitating. Fear is also a good thing. It keeps us from going to close to the edge, for we are liable to fall off. It tells us to stop when the action of going would bring harm to ourselves or others. It heightens our senses, allowing us to be more aware of our surroundings than we ordinarily are. Fear can inspire us to challenge ourselves to be something other than what we are, or something more than what we are.
The Old Testament speaks often of the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Faithful Israelites feared God. Unfaithful, wandering Israelites were said to not fear the Lord. Fear is in a sense respect. Fear causes us to give credence to warnings of punishment that someone gives. That’s precisely what Jesus warns his disciples about in Matthew 10. The world and all of those who are against God will threaten Christ’s followers with any and every kind of ailment, punishment, and affliction in an effort to get us to denounce and turn away from Him. They may even follow through on a promise to kill us. Jesus says: do not fear them. Their power and authority is limited.
Instead, we are to fear God. He is the one who will have the final say over our eternal destiny. He is the one who will decide the fate of our body and soul. He is the one who can not only kill the body, but send us to perpetual torment in the outer darkness, where there is to be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
God is the one we are to fear, not the world or anyone who is in it. When we fear God, we will keep His commands, follow His guidance, adhere to His teaching. We will see with His eyes and speak with His voice. There have been some news reports over the last several years from inside the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea. The North Koreans who are allowed on camera stick to scripted responses and the party line. Why? Because they fear what the empowered elite will do at the behest of their Dear Leader. Unlike Kim Jong Il, who has only his own interest at heart and not his people’s, we serve a master and leader who does have our interest at heart. He knows us intimately – not just knowing the total number of hairs on our head, but actually enumerating each one individually. He is the God who in Psalm 139 knew us as He knitted us together in our mother’s womb. He wants the best for us. The God who does not miss noticing when a sparrow falls thinks much more highly of His grandest creation, the one made in His image. He expects the best of us. We need to fear right by fearing God and only God.
Third, in addition to aiming high and fearing right, we need to speak boldly. In verse 27, Jesus says, “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” He goes on to say that what we proclaim from the rooftops or do not proclaim from the rooftops will have echoes in heaven: if we confess Him, He will in turn speak on our behalf to God the Father. But if we do not, neither will He mediate for us at the Father’s throne.
We must always have an answer for why we have such hope. We need to be ready to preach in season and out of season, all the time. And when the opportunity arises, we cannot hold back. This message is too important! We need to speak from our convictions. We cannot afford to hem-haw around and offer niceties, pleasantries, or sugar coated truths. We need to speak plainly and clearly the message of the Kingdom. Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand. You – yes, YOU – have sinned before God. There’s nothing you can do about it. You have broken His law, forsaken His covenant. You stand condemned. Our only hope is the offering of an innocent Lamb who will take our punishment for us. Someone pure and holy enough that His blood can overcome our darkest stain. This is our message. We cannot be intimidated into shying from it. We cannot weaken or soften it to make it more palatable to the world in which we live. Certainly, we need to communicate it in the language and means that the world understands, but we cannot in any way water it down. We must proclaim the one true Gospel message of the One True and Living God.
We must speak boldly.
If we are aiming high, fearing right, and speaking boldly, what is left? The point is, there shouldn’t be anything else left. The last thing Jesus tells us about what to do as His disciples and servants in this discourse on servanthood is that we must be prepared to surrender everything. And by “everything” I don’t leave room to make an exception for anything. We must surrender our health. We must surrender our homes. We must surrender our marriages. We must surrender our children. We must surrender our jobs and careers. We must surrender our time. We must surrender our 401(k)s and IRAs. We must surrender our tomorrows. We must surrender our yesterdays. We must surrender our hopes. We must surrender our fears. We must surrender our dreams. We must surrender our hate. We must surrender our greatest loves. We must surrender our hardest victories. We must surrender our excuses. We must surrender our very lives.
Some years ago, while I was working at a Christian bookstore, Bruce Wilkinson’s book, The Prayer of Jabez took off. It was a phenomenon. There was the book. Then the study guide. Then the teen’s edition. Then the children’s edition. Then the toddler’s edition. There was artwork. There were writing pens and accessory pins. There were ribbons. There were verse memory packs. There were dishes. It was a bona fide run away hit on all fronts. The prayer of Jabez is recorded in 1 Chronicles 4:10, which says, “Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!’ And God granted him what he requested.” The idea people took was that if we merely asked God, He would “enlarge our territory” – namely, make us wealthy and successful, keep us from harm, and keep us free from pain. Because that’s what God did for Jabez.
But that is not at all what Jesus tells us will happen to His servants. We will be persecuted, driven about, flogged, beaten, ridiculed, and killed. We can expect our families to hand us over to government authorities. We can expect friends to try to whittle us down. We can expect to be no better than our Master – who was rejected, tried, despised, and hung on a cross.
The phrase “carry our cross” has been white washed in our vernacular. We speak of carrying our cross for any minor inconvenience or difficulty. Some even use the word sarcastically when speaking of taking a plush assignment or vacation “or to have to serve the Lord and carry my cross in Hawaii!” But it is no minor or belittled thing. Jesus warns us of real danger if we follow Him. His cross was not a little thing He kept in His pants pocket. He bore His on His shoulder, then watched a stranger carry it when His strength failed. His ripped back rubbed against it, and His legs shuddered as it was dropped in the hole after the nails pierced His hands and feet to it.
That is our cross. That is the life we can expect. Not a Jabez-fueled life of ease and pleasure. But a life of hard work, obstacles, and giving away. You see, when we decide to serve God, everything we have becomes His. We cannot serve two Masters. We cannot serve God and our corporate calendar. We cannot serve God and our retirement dreams. We cannot serve God and anything else. It is Him and Him only. We must surrender everything.
Discipleship is not a matter of life and death. It is much more serious than that. And because of that seriousness, we need to aim high. We need to fear right. We need to speak boldly. And we need to surrender everything.
Where are you today? Have you up until this moment given your life to Jesus only part way? Have you given Him Sunday morning but coveted the rest of your calendar for yourself? Have you faithfully given your tithe, and then seen to it that every penny of the other 90% works hard for your own plans? Have you said “No” to the Nominating Committee for the fifth year in a row? Maybe you need to set your aim higher. Maybe you need to finally surrender what you have been holding onto for years.
Perhaps you have never let go. Perhaps you have kept everything for yourself and see it slipping from your fingers as your health fades or the job market collapses or the bank statements show numbers one-half or one-third of what they did two years ago. Perhaps you are tired of aiming only for what you think you can do. Aim higher. Perhaps fear of the unknown or of all of the mights has kept you inactive. Fear right. Perhaps you’ve been nagged by a feeling that you need to speak to your friend or co-worker or classmate, but you keep putting it off. Speak boldly.
By death or a trumpet sound, this may be your last chance. Come, speak to me today about serving God and doing all of these things.