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Sermon Message

 

"When They Hand You Over"

Matthew 10:17-25
Theme: Jesus gives us hope and purpose in times of persecution

(Delivered Sunday, January 8, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)

We return this morning to our study of Matthew's Gospel. And in particular, we return to Jesus' commission to His twelve disciples in chapter 10; in which He sends them out to preach before Him in the cities of Israel.

* * * * * * * * * *

This whole chapter of Matthew's Gospel is a very serious and sobering one. The tone is set for it in verse 16; where Jesus tells the twelve, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

Jesus lets the twelve know that He is sending them out into a hostile environment; and to preach about Him before a people who will be as dangerous to them as wolves are to sheep. Therefore, He urges them to be very wise and circumspect; and to conduct themselves with innocence and sincerity.

Now, there is much that Jesus says in this commission that is particular to the twelve. What He says in verses 1-15 should only be understood as applying to them. But what He goes on to say in the rest of this chapter was very clearly meant to extend beyond the situation of the twelve - and far into the succeeding centuries that follow after the ministry of the apostles.1 They even extend up to the time of Jesus' return.

This means that the words of this morning's passage are even intended for you and me - as we seek to testify of Jesus during our own time, and in the midst of the culture in which we live. And they are serious words indeed! Our Lord has said;

"But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But He who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!" (Matthew 10:17-25).

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters; what Jesus says in this morning's passage was meant by Him to be heeded by you and me. It applies to us as we go to our jobs or to our schools, or as we relate to our neighbors, or as we interact with our family members, or as we faithfully serve as "salt" and "light" in our communities and in the world.

As His followers, we are called to be faithful witnesses for our Lord all of the time and in all situations. And the sobering promise of the Bible is that we will suffer for doing so. It teaches us that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). We are sent on a mission by our Lord; and we can absolutely expect to suffer the hostility of this world because of it.

We sometimes act as if it were an unspoken goal in the Christian life to "avoid" persecution. But Jesus does not promise us protection from persecution. In fact, His words indicate persecution is to be an expected part of our life as His followers. Look carefully through this morning's passage, and you will see that Jesus speaks as if He EXPECTS that we will be persecuted: He tells His disciples, "But beware of men, for they WILL deliver you up . . ." (v. 17); "You WILL be brought before governors and kings for My sake . . ." "But WHEN they deliver you up, don't worry about how or what you should speak . . ." (v. 19). "Now brother WILL deliver up brother to death . . . children WILL rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death" (v. 21); "And you WILL be hated by all for My name's sake" (v. 22); "WHEN they persecute you in this city, flee to another . . ." (v. 23).

In fact, He even expects that His listeners will be persecuted to the point of death! Why else would He say the sort of things He says elsewhere in this chapter? "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (v. 28); ". . . he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (v. 38); "(h)e who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (v. 39).

And so, in this morning's very serious passage, Jesus is not going to teach us how to avoid persecution while living for Him in this world. It's inevitable that you and I - if we are faithful to follow Him - will experience persecution. Instead, Jesus gives us instructions on what to do during those times of persecution. He teaches us in this passage how to respond to persecution in such a way as to glorify Him and bring honor to His name.

* * * * * * * * * *

What shall we do when persecution comes because of our faith in Jesus Christ? First, we see that our Lord encourages us to . . .

1. EXPECT GOD'S HELP (vv. 17-20).

He begins by telling us why we will need such help. He says, "But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake . . ." (v. 17-18a).

Do you see why divine help is needed? Who among us is prepared - in our own power and wisdom - to give a testimony of Christ before hostile councils and kings?

* * * * * * * * * *

Look at the word "beware"2. It suggests that we are to take heed of men and be on guard against their hostility. But if we were to read further in this chapter, we'd see that we are not to be afraid of them. Jesus tells us, in verse 28, that we are not to fear even dangerous and hostile men. He says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul."

To be fearful of men is a very improper thing for a follower of Christ. When we "fear" the hostility of men, we fail to behave as God would have us behave before them. As it says in Proverbs 29:25, "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe." But Jesus doesn't tell us to "fear" ungodly men. Rather, He tells us to "beware" of them.

Our Lord even warns that there will be times when "church" and "state" are joined together in hostility toward those who are His followers. Men will deliver His followers up to religious councils and authoritative assemblies; and will bring them before governors and kings. All of these things, as you know, happened to Jesus Himself. He was brought before "the chief priests, the elders, and all the council" (Matthew 26:59); and He was delivered over to Pilate the Roman governor (27:2) and to the puppet-king Herod (Luke 23:7), to eventually be scourged (Matthew 27:26). He lets us know that, just as they did these things to Him, they will do them to us as His followers. But in all of this, He teaches us not to "fear" men - only to "beware" of them.

There is a great deal of difference between 'fearing' men, and 'being on our guard' around men. We are not to allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence by the anger and the threats of the people of this world; but neither are we to trust them when they appear to accept us and approve of our message.

* * * * * * * * * *

But in all of it, Jesus affirms a divine purpose. He says that though His followers will be brought before leaders and authorities for His sake; it will be "as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles" (v. 18b). In the midst of hostile persecution against the gospel, God's unseen hand of providence is at work - advancing the testimony of His own Son through the persecuted!

The apostle Paul himself experienced this. When he wrote his letter to the Philippian believers, he was - at that time - in prison for preaching the gospel. And he told them,

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren, in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).

What a wonderful word of encouragement this is to His church in a hostile world! Jesus is letting us know that, whenever governments or religious councils close the pulpits to the preaching of the gospel, God sends the message out even louder from the prison cells!

* * * * * * * * * *

And this leads us to consider the help that Jesus promises to those who are persecuted for His sake. He says, "But when they deliver you up [that is, before religious councils or governmental authorities], do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you" (vv. 19-20).

Now forgive me for digressing just a bit; but I have to point out that this promise is often taken out of context and abused. There have been many preachers or Sunday School teachers who have used this passage as an excuse for not preparing their sermons or their lessons in advance! They just trust (in a presumptuous way) that the Holy Spirit will give them the words when they step up to speak. But that's often nothing more than a presumptuous mask for laziness! This promise is of no help to such people.

Now as a preacher, I can personally testify to lots of times when circumstances made it hard for me to prepare as much as I would like; and the Holy Spirit HAS helped me when I have asked. In fact, I hope I can say that He helps me ALL of the time. But ordinarily, the way the Holy Spirit helps me is through my putting in the time and labor to prepare.

This promise, then, isn't meant to excuse teachers and preachers from doing the hard work of preparation. Rather, this is speaking of a very specific kind circumstance - that of being brought before hostile councils and governing authorities because of our faith in Jesus. It speaks of a situation for which ordinary preparation would be impossible - that is, of a time when one of His followers is suddenly, unexpectedly brought forward in a hostile manner to give an account for their faith before leaders and officials.

And if we should find ourselves in such a situation, Jesus encourages us that - at that time - we will receive the help we need. What to say will be given to us in that very hour. In fact, it will be the Holy Spirit of our Father who speaks through us.

How should we apply this? First of all, I think we should make ourselves ready in the way that the Bible tells us to. I suggest that we make it our policy to follow the counsel of the apostle Peter when he said, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you . . ." (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, we should do our part to make sure we have set Jesus apart as Lord in our hearts. As one Bible teacher has said, "The real preparation is to have a heart already full."3

And then, at such times as we may be brought before the authorities to give an account for His sake, we will have no need to be anxious or fearful. We can rest confidently upon His promise that, when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will give us the very words that are needed.

Afterwards, we will be able to say what Paul said; ". . . The Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear" (2 Timothy 4:17).

* * * * * * * * * *

A second thing that Jesus teaches us to do in a time of persecution is to . . .

2. ENDURE TO THE END (vv. 21-22).

Now first, He lets us know why supernatural endurance will be needed. He lets us know that hatred toward our faith will be so intense at times that it will exceed even the bounds of natural love. He says, "Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death" (v. 21).

I suspect that some of us have experienced a measure of this kind of pain first hand. Some of you know what it's like to have family members turn against you and reject you because you have believed on Jesus Christ and trusted Him as your Savior. You know what it's like to be misunderstood by those you love. Some of you have been accused by family members of following a 'cult'; and some of you have been rejected for thinking that you're 'better than everyone else'.

To a degree, we should expect such things. Later in this chapter, Jesus warned that He came "to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (v. 35). Nevertheless, it's an unspeakably painful thing to experience animosity from your family because of your faith in Jesus. Our Lord Himself knew what that felt like. Even His own brothers taunted Him and didn't believe in Him (John 7:3-5).

But here, Jesus is speaking of something even more painful and intense. He is telling His church that there will be times when the animosity toward the gospel will be so fierce that it will incur the death penalty to be a follower of Jesus. And at such times, even family members will turn believers over to death! A father will betray his own child to death - if you can imagine such a thing! And a child will turn in his own parents. A brother will deliver up his own brother to death because of Jesus!

It's a sobering "call to prayer" to realize that such things are actually happening to some of our brothers and sisters - even as we speak - in some parts of the world.

When such animosity becomes directed at us from family members, we should know that it is a part of a much larger pattern. Jesus says, "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake" (v. 22a). The apostle John echoed these words when he wrote, "Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13).

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, forgive me if I digress again. But I think it's important that we must make sure that - if we are hated - we hated for the right reasons.

The honest truth is that we Christians are sometimes hated because we behave in a hateful manner. We are, on many occasions, foolish and insensitive and sinful in our conduct toward unbelieving people. The apostle Peter wrote about this. He wrote his first letter as a great "manual" for Christians suffering persecution; and in it, he said,

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now
"If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?"

Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:12-19).

It's very important that we make sure we don't "suffer" because of wrongdoing - and then make ourselves think it's "persecution" for our faith. But if we truly ARE suffering because we bear the name of Jesus - that is, because we truly ARE "Christians" - then the thing that we are encouraged to do is to 'commit our souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator'.

* * * * * * * * * *

And this reflects the encouragement that Jesus offers. He says that we will be hated by all for His name's sake; "But he who endures to the end will be saved." I take "to the end", in this context, to even include the idea of facing death; but I also see it as including all other kinds of suffering short of death. It would mean that we stay true to Him and refuse to deny Him, no matter what may be thrown at us - whether the threat of the firing squad, or the polite ridicule in the office lunchroom or student lounge.

But please understand; Jesus is not saying that we can somehow "earn" our salvation by our endurance in the faith while under persecution. Rather, He is saying that our endurance - even to the very end - serves as a demonstration of a salvation that is already ours. I think here of how the persecuted believers to whom Peter wrote kept on looking to the glory that will be revealed in them at Jesus' coming. He said,

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).

The persecution doesn't save us. It simply demonstrates and refines a saving faith that was already there.

So; Jesus encourages us - even in the face of intense persecution; even in the face of rejection and betrayal by those we love - to endure to the very end. When we do, we prove that our faith is the real thing, and that we truly are saved.

* * * * * * * * * *

A third thing Jesus exhorts us to do in a time of persecution is to . . .

3. WATCH FOR OPPORTUNITIES (v. 23).

It's interesting how He tells us this. He says, "When they persecute you in this city, flee to another."

Jesus, here, gives His disciples permission to flee persecution - if they can. And it may surprise you to think of this, but do you realize how much missionary work has been accomplished by God in this world through His people fleeing persecution? That, in fact, was how the gospel was first spread from out of the regions of Jerusalem. The Bible tells us that a great persecution arose against the church that was in Jerusalem; "and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles" (Acts 8:1). And then, we're told, "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (v. 4).

Read through the Book of Acts sometime. It amazing to see how much of the church's early preachers spent their time "fleeing" from one place to another - preaching all along the way!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now there's a lesson implied for us in this. In proclaiming the gospel to this world, we are not left here to fight against the people of this world. We don't need to drive our heels into the ground and stand and fight against those who persecute us. It's true that we're at war; but not against people. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). When it comes to people, we are commanded, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).

So, Jesus doesn't call us to be combative against people - even against people who are opposed to our faith. He does not call His preachers to stay and aggressively expose themselves to unnecessary danger. And of course, they were certainly not to "invite" persecution - as so many zealous "preachers" in the past have been sadly prone to do! Christ's cause is not advanced when we bringing "persecution" upon ourselves unnecessarily - as a way to bring "honor" upon ourselves!

Rather, Jesus commands His persecuted followers to flee - if they can. And so, if the people of this world hate the message of Christ, and they threaten us and demand us to leave, we should - if we can - humbly comply with their wishes, peacefully leave, and take the message of the gospel elsewhere.

But here's the encouragement. When we are legitimately forced to flee from one field of service, it is so that we may enter another. This is to the loss of those who persecute us; but to the blessing of those to whom they inadvertently send us.

And this means that persecution cannot ultimately stop the spread of the gospel. Jesus assures us of this when He says; "For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes." His preachers may be forced to flee from one place to another; but the spread of His message will not be prevented. He promises that "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

* * * * * * * * * *

This leads us to one more thing that we are taught regarding times of persecution; and that is to . . .

4. FOLLOW JESUS' EXAMPLE (vv. 24-25).

Jesus begins by stating a principle. He says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master" (v. 24-25b). And we all, of course, know this from experience. Rarely does anyone rise above the level of his or her teacher. We expect the experience of the teacher to be reflected in the student.

But then, notice how Jesus applies this principle. He says, "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of the household!" If they call Jesus names, then we can expect them to call His followers even worse names.

"Beelzebub" was the name of a pagan god; and the Jewish people played-around with the name and changed it to "Beelzeoul"; which means "lord of the flies". It was a vulgar insult - something like suggesting that someone was the devil - and it was thrown at Jesus more than once (Matthew 9:34; 12:24, 27). And Jesus is saying that, if they call Him names like this - even to the point of insulting Him and calling Him an instrument of the devil - we should remember that they are saying such things about "the Master of the house". How much more insulting will they be toward us who are the mere members of His household?

And again, none of this should come as a surprise to us. We should expect it. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus told His disciples;

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world wold love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me" (John 15:18-21).

We will be called names because that's what they did to our Master. But there is no shame in suffering ridicule or being called names because we are connected to Him. In fact, we should see it as a great honor to be called names because of our connection to Jesus.

* * * * * * * * * *

But I suggest that we also be careful to follow His example in how we respond. Peter wrote;

"For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
"Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth";

who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously . . . (1 Peter 2:19-23).

* * * * * * * * * *

In closing, let me share with you how the early Christians responded to times of persecution. Acts 5:41-42 tells us that they were pressured by the authorities to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were beaten and threatened. And we're told that they departed from these threats, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching jesus as the Christ."

Imagine that! They counted it an "honor" to suffer "shame"! It was "shame" for the name of Jesus; and that's what made the persecution an honor.

We should count it an honor too.


1There are several reasons why we should see these words as extending beyond the situation of the twelve apostles.

First of all, these words speak of the evangelization of the world. When Jesus gave His commission to the twelve, He told them, "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (vv. 5-6). In other words, Jesus limited their ministry to that of speaking only to their fellow Jews. And that's as far as the ministry of these twelve went at that time - no further than to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." But in this passage, we find that He tells them that they would be brought before governors and kings for His sake "as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles". These things didn't happen to any of Jesus' followers until after our Lord was raised from the dead. So; these words are meant to extend beyond the present situation of the twelve, and to the time when the church would bear her witness beyond Israel and to the nations.

Second, these words speak of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. At the time that Jesus spoke these words to the twelve, the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them. And yet, here, Jesus tells them that they were not to worry about what they would say when they were brought before the authorities. It would be given to them what to say; "for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you" (v. 20). So; it makes sense to see these words as looking ahead to the time after the Holy Spirit had been given to the church.

Third, these words are very similar to the things Jesus said regarding the end times. In Mark 13, where Jesus teaches about the times just prior to His return, He told His disciples; "But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Mark 13:9-13).

The words of Jesus as recorded by Mark were spoken by Him at a different time and in completely different circumstances - that is, in His teaching about the end times. And yet, what He said then is much the same as what He says in this passage. And so; the application of His words should be understood as extending even as far as to the church during the time of tribulation just before His return.

And finally, these words openly speak of the time of His return. He says, "I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes" (v. 23). When He spoke those words to them, He had not yet left them. But He speaks in them of the time of His return. And so, they clearly speak far beyond the immediate circumstances of the twelve.

2Prosex§; to have, to hold to. When it is followed by the preposition apo, as it is here (see also Matthew 7:15), it means "to beware of, to take heed of, to guard against".

3Alan Hugh M'Neile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (London: MacMillan & Co. Ltd., 1957), p. 140.

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