Archive for January, 2013

A Job To Die For!

Posted: January 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

In this second installment on Matthew 10:16-25 which is sometimes captioned “Persecution Will Come”, we will focus on Matthew 10:17-20. In these verses, Jesus says, 17 Beware of men, for (AA)they will deliver you over to courts and flog you (AB)in their synagogues, 18 (AC)and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, (AD)to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 (AE)When (AF)they deliver you over, (AG)do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for (AH)what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 (AI)For it is not you who speak, but (AJ)the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Jesus is talking about the cost of following him. He speaks it directly to the disciples but we hear him through the centuries. Jesus was telling his the disciples that even though they were Jews by birth they were going to be persecuted by their own kind for believing that Jesus was the Messiah. They would be persecuted by non-Jews for challenging their pagan belief systems. In this group of verses, we see two things. First, there is an inherent sense that Christ followers are called to action for it is by action that we will run into conflict. Second, an active Christ follower is one who completely depends on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. From these two points, Christ followers are called to have total trust in Christ through the Holy Spirit and get out there and make a stir!

 

From the Gospels, we find that the disciples were a pretty clueless lot while Jesus was alive in his human body on earth. We read the gospels and say, “Dudes, you just saw miracles occur at the hand of Jesus but yet you are clueless as to who He is!” With our hindsight historical advantage, we just want to slap them sometimes! However, after Pentecost, they got it! We owe our own acceptance of the Christ as our Savior to these men. Because of these men, Christianity spread quickly and widely through the Roman Empire and even some areas outside it. According to church historical tradition (though not attested to by Scripture), virtually every one of Jesus’ selected ones (stated this way to include Paul and Jesus’ brother, James) died horrible deaths.

 

According to Go To Questions[1], an internet resource for Christian questions:

 

  • The only apostle whose death the Bible records is James (Acts 12:2). King Herod had James “put to death with the sword,” likely a reference to beheading. The circumstances of the deaths of the other apostles are related through church tradition, so we should not put too much weight on any of the other accounts.
  • The most commonly accepted church tradition in regard to the death of an apostle is that the apostle Peter was crucified upside-down on an cross in Rome in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18).
  • Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword wound.
  • John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to what is now modern-day Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.
  • James, the brother of Jesus (not officially an apostle), was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He was thrown from the southeast pinnacle of the temple (over a hundred feet down) when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a club. This is thought to be the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the temptation.
  • Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed in present-day Turkey and was martyred for his preaching in Armenia, being flayed to death by a whip.
  • Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers, they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: “I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.” He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he died.
  • The apostle Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church there.
  • Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded. He preached in Syria but returned to Rome where he was believed to have been burned to death.[2]
  • The apostle Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero in Rome in A.D. 67. The events leading up to his death are chronicled in 2 Timothy but not the death itself.
  • Simon the Zealot traveled across many parts of the Roman Empire and is believed to have been crucified in Persia.[3]
  • The Apostle Thaddaeus (also known as Judas or Jude the brother of James) was crucified at Edessa.[4]
  • The Apostle James (James the Less) preached in Syria and it is believed that he was clubbed to death.[5]
  • The Apostle Philip became the sixth disciple of Jesus. Philip went to Carthage, Greece, Phrygia, and Syria where he preached and performed miracles. Philip was crucified (the Greeks say head downwards), and then stoned to death.[6]
  • There are traditions regarding the other apostles as well, but none with any reliable historical or traditional support.[7]

 

These men, when they finally “got it” were an unstoppable force. They knew of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 10:17-20. However, they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ after they had received the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to them at Pentecost. What was it that drove these guys to the ends of the earth and to willingly die for their beliefs? What was it that allowed them to speak so eloquently such that wherever they were sent they converted people to Christ? What was it that lead them to run afoul of either church or secular authorities each and every one of them (that led to each of their deaths or imprisonments)? The answer lies in two things.

 

First, they each had personally witnessed the resurrected Christ. This fact alone caused them to doggedly to the death refuse to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. People don’t go down to the death for a lie that they have been told. They actually saw the resurrected Jesus. Vividly they knew that Jesus was the Son of God. They felt shame for abandoning Him in his hour of human need but when they saw Him resurrected how much more humbled were they to know that they had been in the presence of God himself for the past 3 years. This stoked their flame. It indelibly burned and confirmed their salvation. However, all of these guys were just like any modern day worker, they had jobs. Seeing Jesus resurrected does not alone explain the amazing things they did after Jesus ascended to Heaven. They were humbled and Jesus knew it. They were fully ready in submission to Him. That’s when He sent the Holy Spirit. They were ready. They had hit rock bottom with Jesus death and their reaction to it. They were humbled by the physical presence of a man that knew to be dead but was risen. They were in awe of Jesus for they now knew fully that He was the Son of God. This is all well and good and they may have been great witnesses in their local towns and villages where they lived, worked and played were it not for the receiving of the Holy Spirit into a fully submitted and humbled heart.

 

These men who we know from the gospels to be silent observers of the glories of Christ ministry here on earth, but after Pentecost they changed the world. The combination of seeing Christ resurrected and receiving the Holy Spirit in total humility made them into the saints that we know today. These men gave up their professions and their homes to spread the good news. The good news that Jesus died for our sins because he was the final sinless sacrifice of atonement but yet, even better, they said He arose from the dead and was the Son of God as He said He was. In that fact, we have hope of eternal life if we only believe this to be true. Jesus said He came to give us life. There is life in Him. This is what these guys empowered by the Holy Spirit spread to the whole world. No longer were we slaves to our sinful ways. To non-Jews with their pagan gods, these guys spread the word of no longer needing to satisfy capricious gods of their own creation. The real God was one in whom there was life eternal through belief in Jesus Christ. They were willing to be imprisoned for it. They were willing to die for it. No human pride, no human possessions were so important to them that they would not walk away from it all to tell the world about their Master. The Holy Spirit gave them all the power of words that they needed to convince anyone and to anger those who were so far gone away from God to the point of killing these men.

 

Wow! When you think about it; these guys were just ordinary guys. Fishermen. Tentmakers. Tax collectors. They were ordinary just like you and me. What is different about these guys when compared to you and me? It’s this Holy Spirit vs. level of humility thing. It’s this belief in the resurrected Christ thing!

 

You and I receive the Holy Spirit at our salvation just like the disciples did at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us when we accept Christ as our Savior. As you and I know, it is still a battle after salvation. We do not automatically become saints. There is a battle waged between our sinful lusts and the Holy Spirit. Theologians call this battle sanctification – where over time our sinful self reduces and the Holy Spirit increases. The disciples were so humbled by their failure but yet finding love from the resurrected Christ that they were open to the full power of the Holy Spirit. That is where many of us, me included, struggle. We do not fully submit and I mean fully submit to the Holy Spirit in our lives in the way the disciples did. Yeah, but they were there and they saw everything. Yeah, that empowered them. Sure, that’s true and it would have been really cool to have been part of that. But, Jesus says himself after his resurrection in John 20:29 that “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Let’s remember, these guys were scared and in hiding even though they had seen Jesus in life and seen him for several weeks in resurrection. It was not until Jesus blessed them with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that they became empowered. Immediately, Peter gave the sermon of a lifetime which brought thousands to faith that day. Jesus told them the Holy Spirit would give them the words to say, but wow!

 

So, we have the same access to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at salvation. Then, why do I and maybe you not have the same effectiveness as the apostles did? It’s the amount of humility. In humility there is dependence. The apostles were so humbly in submission to their Master through the Holy Spirit that they feared no earthly impediment. Their feared not in the losing of earthly life. They had turned down the noise of their pride that the Holy Spirit absolutely took over their lives. They turned down the noise of what I want and when I want it. They turned down the noise of wanted that next big trinket or toy. They turned down the noise of wanting personal glory through that promotion or that next big business deal. They turned down that noise of worrying what will happen if I step out boldly for Christ. They turned down that noise of what I need to survive. They turned down that noise of the allure of creature comforts. They souls were quiet. There was no noise. That’s when the Holy Spirit can do mighty, mighty things for the kingdom of God through men who have quieted their souls. The Holy Spirit can do mighty things for the kingdom for men who are truly humbled by their failure as men and who rejoice gleefully daily in their unmerited salvation. The Holy Spirit can do mighty things in a soul that has no background noise. That have been mighty men and women of God who have been martyred through the ages because they quieted their souls and submitted to leadings of the Holy Spirit. These people changed the world. These people sacrifice their lives so that we could live in a world free from evil. Down through the ages there have been men and women who took up the torch of the apostles. At the same time, the apostles were rare men. The saints through the centuries have been rare men and women.

 

This is not to say that there are not believers who quietly are changing the world around them without the publicity of some who are doing the very same thing in a different place. God uses it all. So, this is not to bash believers for not doing things that bring the news media to our doors in awe of us. No, let’s remember it is only through the Holy Spirit that we know who these guys are because they were led to write the New Testament. Most assuredly, each apostle did not do what he did for fame and would feel a bit awkward about the celebrity status they have with us as believers. They did what they did in quiet anonymity at the time. They did what they did for Christ not for the press. Thus, the question becomes for us, how rare are we? Are we so submitted to the Holy Spirit in our lives that we will quietly make an impact in our world? Are we so submitted that we will start to be more bold? Are so submitted that we will allow the Holy Spirit to take over completely to the point that our boldness causes us to leave our comfort zone and do what the Holy Spirit leads us to do?

 

Man, this was difficult to write because I did not want it to come across that if we do not die for Christ then we have not done enough. That is not true. Many people have made huge impacts for Christ living the Christian life right where they live – just being an example. That can be the most powerful message of all – the humbled heart in total submission to our Lord doing exactly what God wants us to do right here in our own hometown without quitting one’s job and so on. Then, there are those that God has gifted to do just that and that leave it all behind to move to a third world country and do great things for the kingdom. However, in both cases, it is about submitting to the will of the Lord through the Holy Spirit. How submitted are you? How submitted am I? How much of my personal background noise have I gotten rid of so that the Holy Spirit can have full reign in my life? As John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease!” The apostles lived this! I pray that I am on my way there! I pray that I can get all the noise out and let the Holy Spirit run around all over my soul and lead me to my true ministry for the Lord whether it be in Duncan or Dubai! Amen and Amen!

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Matthew 10:16-25

Let us read from God’s Word:

 

Persecution Will Come

16 (X)“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be (Y)wise as serpents and (Z)innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for (AA)they will deliver you over to courts and flog you (AB)in their synagogues, 18 (AC)and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, (AD)to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 (AE)When (AF)they deliver you over, (AG)do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for (AH)what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 (AI)For it is not you who speak, but (AJ)the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 (AK)Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 (AL)and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. (AM)But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they (AN)persecute you in one town, (AO)flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel (AP)before the Son of Man comes.

24 (AQ)“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant[e] above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. (AR)If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign[f] those of his household.

 

At first this passage reminds me of that scene from “The Wizard of Oz” where the group begins to fear what may be out there awaiting them…Lions, Tigers, and Bears! Oh my!

 

In this passage, it’s “Sheep, wolves, serpents and doves, oh my!” These particular animal images are quite often used in the Bible. In the commonly used words of the Bible, doves and lambs have positive images in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The snake is often seen as both wise and evil. Wolves well their imagery in the Bible is fully negative. These animal images and their contextual usage in the Bible are important in this passage. Jesus’ disciple could easily identify what these images stood for because each of them was familiar with the Old Testament – the Jewish Bible. By opening with these images that are well known to his audience, he grabs their attention. Once he has it, we see that Jesus is driving home several points in this passage that are linked together. First, the imagery tells a story of its own that we can explore. Next, we will examine the hardships of being a Christ follower who is out there trying to make a difference in the world around him. Finally, we will examine the faith we must have when we are truly an off-the-couch Christian. Once we are done, one can see that being bold for Christ is never going to be easy regardless of whether it was in first century Palestine or in 21st century South Carolina.

 

In this first installment, we will look at these animal images. Jesus says that I am sending you out like sheep among the wolves and advised them to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Sheep are referenced numerous times throughout the Bible both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. They are frequently used as animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, but they are more interesting as symbols of wealth. Sheep provide milk, meat, wool and leather, all staples of a comfortable life in ancient times. Sheep are also docile, quiet, patient, and easily led when trained. They are practically defenseless against predators and require a shepherd to remain safe. The New Testament frequently refers to the followers of Jesus as a flock of sheep for these reasons. Jesus is the shepherd leading to salvation, but these sheep are also vulnerable to predators in the form of sin and temptation. They would be lost and ultimately destroyed without their shepherd.

 

Although there are several references to literal wolves in the Old Testament, nearly every mention of them in the New Testament is symbolic. A single wolf can be dangerous in the way it quietly sneaks up on its prey and attacks, but they are far more dangerous in packs. The wolves that are mentioned in the New Testament are those who would destroy Jesus’ flock through temptation and sin, threats that can come in force from the sinful world. Jesus himself also warned of false prophets who would appear as wolves in sheep’s clothing, once again using wolves as symbols of corruption and evil.

 

The serpent is found in the Garden of Eden near the tree of life as the tempter, an evil figure who motivates the fall of Adam and Eve, inciting them to transgress the laws of God. The serpent also represents faith, and redemption in the wilderness where a serpent is raised on a pole for the people to look upon and be saved from the bites of the poisonous snakes around them.

 

In Exodus, the prophet Moses appears before Pharaoh, changing his rod into a serpent, as one of many miracles he is able to perform. The Pharaoh’s magicians are able to do the same with their own rods. The serpent/rod wielded by Aaron, the brother of Moses, was then able to swallow up the serpents of the magicians, showing the greater power of Moses and his God.

 

In Numbers 21, the Israelites who have flown from captivity in Egypt into the wilderness are besieged by venomous snakes after cursing God and Moses for their trying situation of wandering in the wilderness for thirty-eight years. Moses is directed by God to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole so that anyone who looked upon it could be saved from the bites of the snakes. Those who looked were saved.

Much later, in II Kings 18, the Israelites turned this bronze serpent formed by Moses into an idol, lighting incense for it. Snake cults of the Canaanites have been found by archaeologists to have existed in the land at the time and it appears that the Israelites had adopted some of the rites and beliefs of their neighbors. The serpent created by Moses was then destroyed by Hezekiah, along with other examples of idolatry.

 

The serpent seen in the Garden may have not been threatening or frightening to the first couple as it has become to followers of the Bible today. He was serpent-like in his magical, enchanting ways when he whispered his reasoning in Eve’s ear. Eve was deceived, as II Corinthians 11:14 points out, because Satan appeared as an “angel of light.” According to the New Testament scriptures, this bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness represented Jesus Christ, who was to be lifted up in the same manner, so that those who look on him and believe would be saved. It was related to the biblical purpose for the law of sacrifice (see John 3:14-15).The serpent in the Bible thus represented both punishment and death and healing and life at the same time.
The dove is an emblem of peace (Genesis 8:7-12). After God’s wrath for sin had been executed upon the earth, the dove was thrice sent forth; at the first sending she found no rest for the sole of her foot until she put herself in Noah’s (or “comforter”) hand, and was drawn into the ark; on the second trip, she brought back the olive leaf, the earnest of the restored earth; on the third trip, she was able to roam at large, no longer needing the ark’s shelter. As the raven messenger “going forth to and fro,” alighting on but never entering into the ark, symbolizes the unbelieving that have “no peace,” “like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest” (Isaiah 57:20-21): so the dove, in its threefold embassy, represents respectively the first return of the soul to its rest, the loving hand of Jesus; its subsequent reception of the dovelike spirit, the earnest of the final inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14); and its actual entrance finally on the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21).

 

By sending his believers out amongst the wolves, Jesus is saying several things, I think. First, Jesus “is sending” us. We are not to simply remain among like-minded believers. Of course, being among like minded believers is one of the keys of the faith. It is in the flock of believers, the church, that we are built up, protected and nurtured by the shepherd. However, Jesus wants us to venture out of the flock and meet the world which of course if full of wolves. He is sending us out into the world to encounter it, to meet it, to change it. The wolves represent the godless world of sin, temptation, and evil’s disdain for Christ’s true followers. We, as sheep are defenseless against the onslaught of sin, temptation and evil on our own. We are just as human as any non-believer and susceptible to fall into the snare of sin, temptation and evil just as much as anyone. It is only through Christ that we can be strong enough to withstand this world. Wolves are a sneaky lot. The hide and observe their prey and wait for the right moment to pounce and destroy. Wolves also prefer to hunt in packs as well because it makes their individual jobs much easier. Together, they can easily trap, subdue and kill their prey. Often we the sheep find ourselves attacked or enticed by packs of wolves. The sheer number of the pack can be overwhelming to us as they entice to become wolves or as they tear us apart for our flawed character so as to prevent the spread of Christ’s name. However, it is this battle that must be won. Jesus sends us out into the world, not to barricade ourselves behind our church walls or behind our walled off inner sanctums called our homes. We are to be out in the world to subdue the wolves with God’s Word through Jesus’ power. The best way for a sheep to talk to a wolf is to tell the wolf how we, the sheep, were once bloodthirsty, “looking out for ourselves” wolves too. Without relationships with the wolves, they never have the opportunity to become sheep. We cannot defeat the wolf in our fellow man without first meeting him where he is at. We must be sent out among the wolves. Not a single person is saved by anything but the power of Christ. We are his messengers. A messenger is sent out. A messenger does not receive a message and then sit in his office and not share it. A messenger delivers the message to its intended recipients. As sheep, we are to be docile and subservient to our Master. Our master, the Shepherd, is sending us out in His power to break down the power of the wolfpack and to deliver his message.

 

In this passage, after telling us that He is sending us out, Christ admonishes us to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. These images are contrasting for sure. The snake or serpent is contrasting image in and of itself. The snake has both positive and negative images in the Bible. As we have seen, the devil appeared as a serpent to Eve and began the series of actions that brought sin as an ever-present problem in the world. Later, in Exodus, those who had the faith to listen to God’s instruction to keep their eye on the raised bronze snake instead of looking down at the live snakes all around them were saved by their faith. However, the general feel that the Bible gives us is that serpents are wily, crafty, worldly creatures. That is why many people see the raised bronze snake as a symbol of Christ in the OT. He was in human form just like you and me (we are like snakes – crafty, worldly) but in being raised up on the cross He became a sacrifice for us if we only have the faith to look upon Him as God tell us in the light that He was the Son of God, the final sacrifice for our sin.

 

In this context though, I think Christ is referring to the worldly, crafty, very human aspects of the snake. Christ is telling his disciples and us, the descendants of the disciples, to as wise about God, his Word, and the message of Christ as the world is wise about ungodly things. Further, we must be able to combat the untruths and half-truths of the evil one with the pure truth of God. Often, people with hearts that are not humbly submitted to God misuse God’s Word to suit their own agendas. We must be wise enough in God’s Word to combat these destructive works of the devil as well. However, we are to be innocent as doves. Doves are peaceful, cooperative animals. Thus, in rebuking the words of the devil, the temptations of the world, the sins of the world as wrong and offensive to God, we must be peaceful in doing so. In rebuking the world, we are not be like a street corner preacher telling you in fierce tones that you are going to hell when you refuse his pamphlet. Condemning street corner preachers have not shamed anyone into accepting Christ. We should lovingly share the rightly interpreted Word of God in ways that draw people unto the Lord. According to Strauss, “the person who is filled with God’s wisdom is not easily provoked into arguing. He isn’t quarrelsome or contentious, but consistently seeks a peaceful solution to the problem. He believes that strong, loving relationships are more important than winning arguments. He takes the exhortation of Paul seriously: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). He weighs his words carefully, and endeavors to phrase them in such a way as to avoid arousing antagonism in others. If others attack him with angry, exaggerated accusations, he refrains from responding in kind, but calmly seeks to understand their needs and what he can do to help them. He is a peacemaker, whom Jesus called a true son of God (Matthew 5:9). He knows how to avoid arguments and solve conflicts.”[1]We are to be like doves. We are to be of peace. We are to reconcile the world to Christ.

 

Sheep, Wolves, Serpents and Doves…oh my! Sheep and Doves…what Christ wants us to be. Sheep and Dove that interact with the world not staying in our pens or our comfortable nest. We are to be willing to be the sacrificial sheep and doves in service to Christ just as the actual sheep and dove were sacrifices in the OT sacrificial system. We to be totally sold out to the point of sacrifice yet so innocently faithful in Christ and the eternal future that He promises us that we are willing to sacrifice. We are willing to sacrifice our comfort zone, our worldly things, our worldly rewards, and sometimes our very lives. Jesus is sending us out.