Suffering with Purpose - Matthew 10:17-42
My wife has a friend whose mother-in-law was heavily influenced by the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is a heretical doctrine that teaches God wants you to have everything you want. He wants your health to flourish. He wants your finances to flourish.
So when her husband was diagnosed with cancer, she couldn’t make sense of it. She had claimed wealth for her family. She had claimed health for her family. As he continued to digress she thought if they ignored the diagnosis, ignored his cancer, then God would bless them. She didn’t think anyone in her family could or would suffer.
The prosperity gospel leads you to believe if I do X then God will give me Y. It’s formulaic. It’s an exchange of goods so to speak.
I hope you reject the prosperity gospel, but I do think there is a real temptation to believe our lives and relationship with God are formulaic.
Even more, we believe that if we live a life of kindness and generosity we will never suffer. We believe if we treat others well, God owes us. We don’t want to believe that good people can suffer. In our minds, only evil people actually deserve to suffer.
But if Jesus, the perfect son of God suffered, why should we expect not to suffer?
This morning’s passage shows us that we will suffer, but it also shows us that God is with us even in our darkest hour.
Those who trust in Christ shouldn’t suffer in isolation. Instead, because of Jesus we should trust that we have a friend and advocate in him.
Because of Jesus, you will suffer. Because of Jesus, you can be courageous. Because of Jesus, you have nothing to lose.
Because of Jesus, you will suffer (vv. 17-25)
Our passage begins on the tail end of Jesus sending out the disciples. He sends them out and then warns them in verses 17-25 that they will be persecuted.
Tough words to hear? Who wants to hear, “oh because you follow me, people will persecute you.” Wouldn’t that be a great opportunity for the disciples to leave?
But that’s not what happened. We learn that the persecution they’ll face will start small on the local synagogue level and increase to the more powerful kings and authorities.
The disciples will face all sorts of persecution. They’ll be beaten (v. 17), humiliated before authorities (v. 18), hated (v. 21) and killed (v. 21).
But the Lord promises to never leave them.
I had a friend who was a missionary in Brazil and he told me an incredible story about being carjacked at gunpoint. While the thieves were carjacking him, they decided they wanted to take his wife hostage.
What do you do in that situation? What do you say?
As they were leaving with his wife, he pleaded with them to take his car but leave his wife with him… and they did.
Have you ever been under intense pressure to say just the right thing? Your words could set someone free or they could get someone killed.
Jesus promised the disciples they would face the most intense level of scrutiny. The kind where simply saying the wrong thing will get you killed.
Jesus understood this well. But he offers incredible comfort to his disciples: Don’t worry about what to say.
In the most stressful situation you can possibly imagine - the Holy Spirit will be with you and He’ll give you the words to say.
Jesus tucks a word of comfort right in the middle of his discussion about persecution. He continues with his description of the persecution they will face.
Family members will turn on each other and have each other killed. But when they face persecution in one town, Jesus instructs them to leave and head to another town.
But again, right after mentioning persecution he offers comfort. He says, the one who endures to the end will be saved. If you’re trusting in Christ you can face persecution because you have a heavenly hope.
Then he says, “You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
Until the very moment of Jesus’ glorious second coming on the clouds of heaven the good news of salvation would be spread not only among other nations but also among the Jews.
It’s like he’s saying, “I will return to you. And I’m not through with Israel.”
Again more words of comfort while discussing suffering.
But why should the disciples face suffering at all? Look at verse 18. you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake.
And again in verse 22. you will be hated by all for my name's sake.
Jesus told the disciples they were going to face persecution because of their devotion to him. People were going to hate and eventually kill the disciples simply because of Jesus.
That’s why Jesus says, a disciple is not above his teacher and a servant is not above his master. If the teacher or master experiences one thing, it’s likely the disciple or servant will experience the same thing. The Pharisees and Sadducees had attempted to malign Jesus by suggesting his power came from demons like Beelzebub.
If Jesus had to endure these things, it was inevitable for his disciples as well.
We know how the lives of most of the disciples ended. Peter and Paul were martyred under the Roman Emperor Nero. Thomas was stabbed by soldiers. It’s believed that only the apostle John died of natural causes, but even he was exiled to the island of Patmos. That’s just a few of them.
Why would the disciples of Jesus willing to face persecution? They actually believed Jesus was who he claimed to be.
What are you willing to endure for the sake of Jesus Christ? Anything? Nothing?
It all depends on who He is to you. If you believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of Sinners -- it changes everything. It’s no longer business as usual.
There’s a fork in the road. Either Jesus Christ means everything to you or he means nothing at all. There is no middle ground.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
Who is Jesus Christ to you?
Because of Jesus, you can be courageous (vv. 26-33)
Jesus follows up his hard discussion on suffering by encouraging his disciples to share the gospel message without any fear. To be fair, at this point in salvation history the gospel was not as clear as it is today.
Jesus foretold his death and resurrection to his disciples over and over again and each time it sailed right over their heads. Included in that, is also the persecution they’d face. They didn’t know who or exactly why they’d face persecution. It was all unclear.
I got glasses when I was in 9th grade. I wear contact lenses now, but I’ll never forget sitting on the front row of my English class and not being able to figure out why I couldn’t read the board.
I ended copying notes off of the kid sitting next because I couldn’t see the board. And then I got glasses and all those hazy letters on the board were clear.
I remember thinking, does everyone see like this all the time?
The disciples hadn’t gotten their glasses yet so to speak.
All the details of the gospel message had not yet come into focus. But one day, everything that has been concealed will be revealed: the enemies of the gospel will make themselves known.
At that exact moment, the gospel was a whisper, but soon it was going to be something they’d be proclaiming from housetops for all to hear.
In essence, the disciples knew that being followers of Jesus meant they would face trials of various kinds, but Jesus reminds them not to fear man.
No man can fully destroy your being. Only God can destroy both body and soul in hell.
Regardless of what any person does to you, they’ll never be able to destroy your soul.
Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to believe their physical bodies are more important than their soul. The truth is that your body will die, but your soul will live for eternity in either heaven or hell.
Jesus mentions hell in this passage and it’s not an enjoyable topic. Many pastors are afraid to talk about hell. I can confirm it’s not exactly a compliment to a pastor if you say they preach hellfire and brimstone. I think the main reason is because they don’t want folks to think they’re fear mongers. Ideally, you want people to trust in Christ out of love for him and not out of fear of hell.
But here’s an interesting fact: Jesus talked about hell more than he talked about heaven. In fact, Jesus taught on hell more than any other person in the Bible. People need to warned of the reality of hell.
Rarely will someone want to debate you over the reality of heaven, but many people want to deny the reality of hell. But here’s the kicker, Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, taught on the reality of hell as a real place of torment.
Maybe you’ve heard of the magician, actor, comedian, TV personality Penn Jillette. Penn Jilette is an outspoken atheist but he said something one time that I thought was quite profound.
In a Youtube video he said he supports the right of religious folks to share their faith with others. But then he said, “if you believe in hell, how much do you have to hate someone not to tell them about it?”
He’s exactly right.
But Jesus doesn’t end his discussion on suffering with hell. He shares how deeply the Lord cares about them.
You can really feel the love and tenderness in this passage. God cares so much for his children that he knows the number of hairs on their head. He knows the sparrows and when one falls to the ground but he is so much more concerned with his children.
And then Jesus shares his commitment to those who follow him. He says,
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Two thoughts regarding these famous verses. First, the word acknowledge means to fully confess. Jesus isn’t talking about someone who sort of tips their cap to Jesus. Like yeah, he was a good guy or a good example for us to follow.
To confess Christ means to acknowledge him as Lord of your life and to do so openly, perhaps even in the midst of those who hate him.
Second, this statement from Jesus would have given the disciples confidence. As long as you stand for Christ, Christ is going to stand for you on the last day. But if you deny Jesus he is going to deny you on the last day.
The reason that particular statement - if you acknowledge or confess me, I’ll acknowledge or confess you - would have been such a confidence booster for the disciples is because they’d left everything to follow Jesus. The disciples were all in at that point.
I’ve had a few conversations with an athletic trainer recently about working out, diets, programs, etc and he’s always telling me it depends on your goals.
His point is, if you want to run a marathon then you need to train months in advance in order to build your endurance and work your way up to that distance.
If you start with the end in mind, then you can backtrack the steps to get there.
This is what’s going on in verses 26-33; the disciples were getting a brief taste of the assurance Christians can have in Christ.
Christians know the end. And because we know the end, we can be bold and courageous now because our salvation is secure in Jesus Christ.
You and I can be courageous with the good news of Jesus Christ because we know the end. You know that if you trust in Christ you are indeed his and nothing can snatch you out of his hand.
Christians know the end and therefore can live with purpose now. Too often we take that for granted. Folks who aren’t Christians don’t know what purpose their lives serve. I’ve had conversations with people about this and they’ve told me they just want to be a good person. And so I asked him, “What is good?” “Good” can mean anything which is nothing.
Only those who know Jesus Christ can live a courageous, purposeful life.
Because of Jesus, you have nothing to lose (vv. 34-42)
What Jesus says in verses 32-33 sets up what he says in verses 34-39. Jesus forms this division between those who will confess him and those who will deny him. But he takes that division even farther in verses 34-38.
He says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Faith in Jesus Christ can and will divide just like a sword. Friendships and marriages can and often have ended because of Jesus Christ.
Look at verses 35-38.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Faith in Christ can and will divide you from all sorts of people. But most painfully, it might divide you from your own family.
Normally, we think of Jesus as bringing people together. We don’t normally think of him as a super divisive figure, but he was then and he is now. His description of himself really flies in the face of the caricature that’s become so popular in American culture. The whole “Jesus is my homeboy” mentality.
The disciples had to consider, “is Jesus Christ worth it?” “Is he worth losing my family?”
That’s why he says, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Jesus makes a subtle nod to what will soon take place for him on the cross. The key to understanding verse 38 is the word “follow.”
You see the Christian is called to lay down their life and follow Jesus no matter where he leads. More than that, Christ calls us not to look to ourselves or our own strength for fulfillment. Rather we should forsake our desires and wants in order to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads.
The essence of verses 38-39 can be summed up in this question: If the decision is between pursuing your own personal interests and following Jesus Christ, which one will you choose?
Your life may not be easier when you follow Jesus Christ but it certainly will be more rich and meaningful.
Look at verses 40-42. Jesus says Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.
The disciples are told that whoever receives them as representatives of Jesus Christ are accepting Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus reckons himself treated the way the prophet or righteous person is treated. If someone is willing to put him or herself at risk in order to receive them, that individual is receiving Jesus Christ and even more importantly receiving the Father himself.
Even the smallest act of kindness, giving a cup of water to a disciple of Jesus does not go unnoticed.
There is eternal consequences for accepting and listening to the disciples of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes you have to give something up in order to get something even better. As a joke around Christmas time, a coworker my Dad worked with would buy some folks scratch-off lottery tickets. Just to be clear I’m not condoning gambling. I’m just simply relaying a story.
But one coworker in particular scratched off a ticket and won $50. Great, right?! Quit while you’re ahead, right? Well this guy decided to reinvest that $50 into more tickets and ended up winning $500!
He didn’t buy the tickets, so he wasn’t losing anything when he reinvested the $50 winnings back into more tickets.
Frankly, he had nothing to lose.
The Christian life isn’t a way to a better more fulfilled life. In many ways, it’s the opposite. It’s a bid to come and die. Following Christ may not necessarily mean you’ll physically die, but it does mean you’ll die to yourself.
Those things in your life that you love but know don’t honor God are the things he asks us to give up. If the choice is between what you want and what God wants, who wins that battle?
We operate under the belief we’re in total control of our lives. But is your life your own?
Did you decide to be born on your birthday? Did you pick your parents? Did you pick your children’s personality? Did you know every little intricate detail about your spouse when you got married? Of course not!
Your life is a majestic tapestry being woven by God himself. Dying to yourself is acknowledging to God what he already controls.
You see, if you’re willing to die to yourself you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Dying to yourself means gaining eternal life with Jesus Christ.
There’s even a sense to which dying to yourself is suffering. When you continually give up your desires for Christ - it hurts. It’s painful to let go of those things.
Suffering is the theme that runs throughout the verses that we’ve looked at this morning. We know the hard times will come.
But here’s what we learn from these verses: Even in the darkest moments, the tragedies, the pain, the loss, Jesus Christ is there and he wants you to cast your pain on him.
You’re not alone. He even says this at the end of the Matthew, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Here’s the difference between our experience and what Jesus experienced. We know that we have a friend and advocate in him in those dark times, but Jesus faced the cross alone.
He was, as Isaiah says, “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, but ultimately, it’s by his wounds we are healed.”
In many ways because Jesus went to the cross and suffered we’re able to face the challenges of tomorrow.
Tim Keller wrote in Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”
If you don’t believe that God is with you, your suffering will be unbearable, the gospel will be powerless, and you’ll never truly trust Him.
May you and I trust Jesus Christ enough to follow Him through the difficult seasons of life.