"The Eternal Stand"
(Delivered Sunday, January 29, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I'd like to share a story with you from the life of the apostle Paul. As I have reflected on this morning's passage over the last week, I found myself thinking back to this story often.
It tells of something that happened during Paul's first missionary journey. He and his missionary associate Barnabas were appointed by the Holy Spirit to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. Many people heard the message of the cross and believed; but the two missionaries met with opposition from the Jewish leaders everywhere they went.
They went to Antioch in Pisidia, and many heard the gospel and believed - both Jews and Gentiles. But it wasn't long before the Jewish leaders began to blaspheme Christ and to oppose the missionaries - stirring up many people against them. So, they left and went to Iconium and again began to preached the gospel. But once again, the unbelieving Jews poisoned the minds of the people against them - to the point that a plot was formed to stone the two missionaries to death. So, when they became aware of it, they fled to another city called Lystra.
No sooner do they arrive at Lystra than God heals a crippled man through Paul. As a result, the whole city was turned upside-down with amazement; and they actually went so far as to believe that Paul and Barnabas were gods and began to worship them. The two missionaries quickly corrected the people and preached to them the truth about Jesus; calling them to worship Him.
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Now let me share the story with you as I imagine it. As Paul spoke to the people of Lystra and preached to them publicly about Jesus Christ, calling them to place their faith in him; he noticed a mob form around him. They were shouting and shaking their fists at him. Paul's co-workers were in a panic. All around him was chaos and confusion. He felt himself grabbed and shoved into an open area; and then, suddenly, BAM! - he felt a sharp and vicious blow to his head. The force of the blow was so powerful that he was thrown to the ground; and he felt the earth slam against his face. He hardly had time to think about what was happening when BAM! - he felt another violent blow to his shoulder. He rolled over in pain. BAM! - another blow to the back. He could barely breath.
As he lay on the ground in pain, he could hear the shouts of blasphemy and cursing from the crowd. And as he saw from the corner of his eye the figures of angry men gathering up large stones, he realized what was happening. There was a shout; and then BAM! - another blow to his back; BAM! - another stone crashed against his knee; BAM! BAM! BAM! - as blow after deadly blow thudded against his body. Paul thought to himself, "They're stoning me! I'm going to die!"
The Bible tells us that the Jewish leaders who had followed the gospel missionaries into town had successfully persuaded the people of Lystra to kill them. And as the heavy stones beat against Paul's body in rapid succession, he began to lose consciousness. He felt his body jerk and roll with each blow. The stone-throwers were becoming shadowy figures in his eyes; and their shouts and curses were becoming muffled sounds in his ears.
And with what little bit of consciousness he had left, Paul's mind drifted back to something that had happened long ago.
As a young man, he had stood by and watched as a Christian named Stephen - a leader in the early church, and powerful preacher of Jesus Christ - was stoned to death in Jerusalem. A false accusation had been raised by the Jews against Stephen; and yet, he boldly stood before the council of the Jewish leaders and proclaimed Christ. Paul was there; and he remembered how the leaders were filled with rage against Stephen. He remembered how they rose up against him, drug him bodily out of the city, and began to cast deadly stones at him. Paul himself had hated the gospel that Stephen preached; and he now remembered how he stood with the Jews and consented to Stephen's execution - how he even watched their cloaks for them as they picked up the stones to mercilessly hurl at the preacher.
But Paul also remembered how bravely Stephen died for Jesus - how as he testified, he turned his eyes up to heaven and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"; how as they stoned him, he committed his spirit to the Lord; and how, with his dying breath, he prayed for those who were killing him.
Paul could never forget the courageous love for Jesus that he saw in Stephen's dying face. And now here he himself was - being stoned in the same way as Stephen had been; and perhaps soon to meet the Savior that Stephen bravely stood for.
BAM! - another stone struck Paul on his hand. He could feel the crunch of breaking fingers. BAM! - another to the stomach. He could hear a rib snap. BAM! BAM! BAM! With his last conscious thought, he committed his spirit to the mercy of Jesus Christ.
Soon, he heard nothing - saw nothing - felt nothing. Everything went black.
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After a time, as he slowly opened his eyes, Paul didn't see what he expected to see. He thought he would see the smiling face of His beloved Savior Jesus in heavenly glory. Instead, he saw the agonized faces of his friends huddled around him. The surroundings looked different.
He heard someone shouting, "Look! Paul's still alive! He's moving!" Paul hoped that it was one of his friends who was saying that! And when he heard someone else say, "Thank you, Lord! Thank you for hearing our prayers!" then, he knew he was safe.
Barnabas' face suddenly appeared over him. Barnabas affected a smile; but Paul could see the seriousness in his eyes. "Paul; can you hear me, dear brother? Listen to me. Don't move. We're going to take you out of here."
"The people - !" Paul muttered. "They . . ."
"They're gone. They drug you out of town, thinking that they've killed you. They've left; and have gone back into the city. You're safe for now. Thanks be to our Lord that you're alive! He has had mercy on you - and on us! But we've got to get you away from here and into one of the smaller villages. We'll find a physician to treat you there; and then, we'll get you back to Galatia as quickly - "
Paul struggled to push himself up. He winced; and groaned in pain. "No, dear brother!," Barnabas pleaded. "Lay still!"
But the small body of missionary workers and the tiny band of new Christians gasped as Paul staggered to his feet; wobbled dizzily; straightened himself out; and - with great pain, but with great determination on his face - began to limp his way slowly back into the very town of people who had just sought to murder him.
The Bible tells us, in Acts 14:20, that "he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe" - that is, to the very next city on their missionary journey. There, they preached the gospel and made many disciples. And then, they returned back to Lystra; and then back to Iconium, and then to back Antioch - "strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (v. 22).
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I have thought much about Paul's courage. I have wondered what you or I might have done if we had we been in his situation. Would we have given up as soon as we had gotten up? Would we have said, "If people have this much of a hatred for the gospel, then I'm going to find another line of work." If people walked up to us after all that and said, "You are not also one of this Man's disciples, are you?"; what might we be tempted to say?
The fact is that we live in a world that is very hostile to the message of the gospel. Jesus has told us that we will be hated by all for His name's sake (Matthew 10:22); that we will be delivered over to councils and brought before rulers and authorities as His witnesses (vv. 17-18). He warned that we will be called derisive names because of Him (v. 25); and that some of us will even be delivered over to death because of our association with Him(v. 21).
Jesus knew that, in such an environment, we would be tempted to deny that we are His. But that's when we come to this morning's passage; and find that He takes away all middle-ground from us. He lets us know that, when the day of challenge comes, He expects us to keep our eyes on the eternal prize and stand faithfully for Him no matter what the cost. And He lets us know that if we will not stand for Him on earth, we cannot expect Him to stand for us at the judgment seat of heaven.
Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).
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Let's examine these two remarkable verses closer. First, let's ask . . .
1. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "CONFESS" JESUS BEFORE MEN?
The word translated "confess" (homologe§) is basically one that means "to say the same thing". Here, the idea is that of openly, willingly, publically declaring our relationship to Jesus Christ. We tell the truth openly and boldly, and confess Him before men.
I'll never forget something that happened to me when I was still a very young Christian. I used to work in the warehouse of a moving and storage company. This warehouse was in the middle of the industrial district of downtown Seattle; and there was a hamburger place a few blocks away. (This was back in the days when you had to walk up to the window of the burger place and order from the outside.)
One day, I wore a t-shirt that I bought a few weeks before then from a local Christian book store. It had a McDonald's symbol on it with a cross next to it; and it had a christianized version of McDonald's old slogan. It said, "He did it all for you." And so, with my Christian t-shirt on, I took a lunch break and went to this outdoor burger place.
There I was standing outside with about twenty or thirty warehousemen, construction workers, forklift operators, and truck drivers. There was a whole lot of cussin' and spittin' and swearin' going on all around me; and there I was standing in the middle of it all - wanting nothing more than a burger. And when I got up to the window to order my food, the guy inside jokingly complained because I had a McDonald's t-shirt on. That, of course, got everyone's attention.
Then, with all these other big guys listening in, he very loudly read my shirt - where it says, "He did it all for you" - and asked me, "'He' who?" And I could swear that the whole place suddenly went silent. Everyone was looking right at me - waiting for my answer.
Now; I'm not going to deny that there was a temptation to say something else - anything else - than what I knew I needed to say. I was intimidated. But nevertheless, I said, "Jesus." Then I explained, "Jesus did it all for me." I declared openly that I belong to Him. I confessed Him before men.
I admit - it's not as good a story as Paul's. But it is mine. That's what He calls us to do here - to faithfully confess Him before men when the call comes to do so.
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Think about it! Every day - in a multitude of different ways - God calls upon us to confess Jesus Christ before men. Consider with me about the different ways His call comes.
The most obvious way, of course, is when we're required to openly proclaim that we have placed our faith in Him. The Bible says, "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). When someone asks us why we have hope in times of trial, or why we are able to bear up under struggles, or why it is that we have joy, we're to tell them about Him. We're not to whimp out, shrug our shoulders, and say, "Oh, that's just the way I am, I guess." We're to tell them the truth! We're to explain that we have placed our trust in Him and He is our Lord and Savior. We're to let them know that He's the reason for our joy in life. That's certainly one way that we are called upon to confess Him to men.
But there are other ways as well. One other way is when we are called upon to faithfully defend the biblical truth about Him. Whenever we hear someone saying that they believe something about Jesus that we know from Scripture is not true, or when they hold to some unbiblical speculations about Him, or even when they even openly deny the truth about Him - we then "confess" Him before men when we say, "No. What you say about Him is not true. Here's what the Bible says about Him . . ." We, in this sense, "say the same thing" about Jesus the apostles said about Him, as their testimony is recorded for us in Scripture. This is another way we are to confess Him before men.
Another way we may be called upon to confess Him before men is when we openly claim His teaching as our guide and rule for life. People claim many different philosophers or teachers as their guides in life. But we confess Jesus to the people around us when we say, as Peter once said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). We confess Jesus to men when we let them know that, as we walk the journey of life, we trust Him as our divine Counselor and Guide.
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Now, those are ways that we confess Jesus before men with our words. But we are not to confess Jesus with our words alone, but also with our actions. We confess Him before men, for example, when we take a moral stand as a result of our submission to Him. We may say that we have trusted Jesus as our Savior. Many people are glad to do that - if that's all they have to do. But we make a loud and clear confession of Jesus before men when we willingly stand alone on an issue of principle BECAUSE we have trusted Him and have submitted ourselves to Him. When everyone else around us is lying, and we - as His followers - speak the truth, then we are confessing Him before men. When everyone else around us is compromising, and we - as His followers - willingly standing strong and acting with integrity, then we are confessing Him before men!
We also actively confess Jesus before men when we live a life of obedience to His commands before them. A man may confess with His mouth that Jesus is His Lord, and yet deny that confession by the fact that - when it comes down to it - he won't do what Jesus commands him to do. Jesus Himself said so: "But why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things I say?" (Luke 6:46). When we obey Him, we are confessing Him as Lord through our obedience.
I would even suggest that we also confess Jesus before men - with more than just words alone - when we willingly accept the shame of His cross. The Bible teaches us that the message of the cross is "foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Corinthians 1:18a). The cross was a shameful thing - an instrument of the most humiliating of executions, inflicted upon only the most despised and rejected of criminals. It's a thing of great shame. And what's more, the message that God's Son would become a man and die on such an instrument of shame for our sins is ridiculous nonsense to the "wise people" of this world. But we confess Jesus to men when we willingly accept the shame of the cross; because "to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (v. 18b).
So as you can see, there are many aspects to what it means to "confess" Jesus Christ before men. Our confession is to be with our words; but it is to be with far more than just our words alone. It is to be with our whole life and with our whole heart attitude.
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And this leads us to the next question . . .
2. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "DENY" JESUS BEFORE MEN?
To "deny" (arneomai) Jesus before men, as the word is used in this passage, means to disclaim our association with Him. It means that we know in our hearts that He has full claim to us, and that we belong to Him; and yet deny before men that He has any influence upon us, and convey the impression that we don't really belong to Him. I suppose an easy way of defining this is to say that we "deny" Him before men every time we have an opportunity to "confess" Him before men but refuse to do so.
What is it that might tempt us to deny Jesus before men? If you read the passages that proceed these two verses, you see that Jesus Himself anticipated the cause. It's fear - the fear of men. He said, "Do not fear them" (v. 26). There are several ways that the fear of men may cause us to "clam up" and deny Him.
The first and most obvious way is through a violent and angry response from those who might reject the gospel. Paul, of course, could tell us all about this! It's true that facing men can be a fearsome prospect, because they truly can kill us! But Jesus warned us, ". . . Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul" (Matthew 10:26). God has drawn a limit to what the violence of men can do. They can kill our bodies; but that's the worst thing they can do to us. They can't touch our souls. They cannot rob us of our eternal destiny.
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Now, it's rare that, here in our culture, someone may physically attack us for speaking to them about Jesus. The type of persecution that we're more likely to receive in our culture is of a social nature. So, we may be tempted to deny the Lord before men out of a fear of open ridicule and scorn for our relationship to Him. We all hate being laughed at, or made fun of, or made the butt of jokes. Our Lord warned us that this would happen. He told us that, if they called Him horrible names, they will call us names too (vv, 24-25). They even laughed at Him as He hung on the cross for sins.
We may also be tempted to deny the Lord before men because of a fear that we will be misunderstood or misrepresented. People are very quick to misconstrue what they don't want to accept. We might fear that, if we confess Jesus before men, we will be made out to be something we're not - such as religious freaks or fanatical kooks.
Another fear that may tempt us to deny our Lord before men is the fear of being thought of as "old-fashioned" or "out of step". This is usually a very polite form of ridicule - something that you receive on a college campus or in a public forum. You mention the Lord, and you receive a smile and a little roll of the eyes. You'll be thought 'quaint'; and will be politely reminded which 'century' this is. In a relativistic culture such as ours, nothing is considered worse than being thought of as outdated. And if matters of faith are considered by our culture to no longer be 'relevant', then we might feel tempted to be silent about the Lord of eternity.
We might fear being associated with certain preachers or certain movements. The unbelieving world loves to hold up the most ridiculous or outlandish "preachers", or the most offensive "street evangelists"; and make it seem like we're all screaming and shouting messages of hate. We may be hesitant to confess our Lord out of a fear that people will put us in the same category - even though God knows we are not.
When you stand for Jesus Christ and confess Him, you sometimes find that others will not join you. And so, one thing that might tempt us to deny our Lord is the fear that we will have to stand alone. No one likes that feeling - the feeling of being all on your own, or that everyone else is backing away from you. And of course, the fact is that, sometimes, God DOES call us to stand apart from others - but never alone!
And of course, there's always the fear that we might unintentionally offend others. That's always a legitimate concern. We certainly don't want to hurt people unnecessarily. We should make sure that it is the message that offends; and not our manner or our discourtesy in the way we communicate that message. But there's no way around the fact that the message of the gospel IS an "offensive" one. There's no way around the fact that Jesus' entry into this world as "the Savior of sinners" is an insult to those who don't want to leave their sins or who don't think that they need to be saved.
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So; when we're called upon to confess our Lord , how do we overcome the fear of men that may tempt us to deny Him? I suggest that the answer is found in what Jesus says about Himself in this passage.
It would be hard to find a passage in the Bible where Jesus presents Himself in more exalted terms than in this one. He makes some remarkable claims about Himself in it. Think of it! He claims that God is His Father; making Himself to be God's unique Son! What's more, He claims that, as the Son of God, our eternal destiny hinges on whether or not He "confesses" us or "denies" us before the Father. This highlights the divine majesty and final authority of the One we are to confess before men.
In a similar passage, Jesus contrasted the greatness of His majesty with the wickedness of the age in which we are to testify of Him. He said, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Now think of that! How foolish it would be to be ashamed of the Lord of holiness and glory, before a generation that is adulterous and sinful! How foolish it would be to deny our Savior before men, when He promises to come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels!
I believe we will be tempted to deny our Lord to the extent that we take our eyes off of Him, and focus on the hostilities and objections of people instead. And by contrast, we will be emboldened to confess Him to the extent that we take our eyes off men, and keep them focused on His divine majesty instead.
How crucial it is, then, that we remember the truth about our glorious Savior! How crucial it is that we keep our eyes on the glorious Son of God that we preach, and not on the men to whom we are to preach Him!
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As you can see, Jesus takes away all middle ground. We cannot be on both sides of the fence at once. If we belong to Jesus, then we must - we absolutely must - be willing confess ourselves as His before men!
This leads us to another question . . .
3. WHAT IS THE CONSEQUENCE IN ETERNITY OF THE STAND WE TAKE ON EARTH?
Notice the first promise He makes. Whoever confesses Him before men, He will confess before His Father who is in heaven.
Dear brothers and sisters; I suggest to you that it doesn't matter what we may suffer on this earth. It will never matter what men may do to us. No experience of suffering upon this earth will ever come close to the glory, and the thrill, and the eternal joy, of having Jesus Christ claim us as His own on that great day of judgment! We will never regret any suffering or shame before men; so long as we will be able to hear the Lord of glory look upon us in response to our faithfulness, turn to His Father - and before the holy angels - and say, "I confess this one to be Mine, Father. Before all of heaven, I testify that this one belongs to Me; and that I will claim this one to Myself forever!"
But He also says that whoever denies Him before men, He will deny before His Father in heaven. Think of that! Can you think of any greater horror than to stand before the Son and have Him deny you before the Father? Can you think of a greater horror than for Him to point to you and say, "Father, I deny knowing this one"?
And tell me honestly; how can we expect Him to confess us as His own then, if we will not confess Him as our own now? How dare we expect Him to claim us before the Father, if we continually, habitually deny Him before mere men?
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I can't leave this subject without addressing one more question . . .
4. WHAT CAN WE DO IF WE HAVE NOT STOOD FOR HIM AS WE SHOULD?
We have to be honest. There have been many times when we have had the opportunity to profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior - many times when we have had the chance to take a bold stand for Him, or profess the truth about Him - but have failed to do so. We chickened out. We became afraid of men. And while we may not have openly "denied" Him, we have often refused to confess Him as clearly and as forthrightly and as actively as He has called us to.
Not all of us have been courageous like Paul. What will happen to us? Will the Lord now deny us before the Father?
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I began this message by pointing to one apostle as a great example of courage before men. I believe that another apostle gives us reason for hope when we prove cowardly before men.
The apostle Peter denied our Lord horribly. He had boasted that He would never deny the Lord. He said, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will not deny You" (Matthew 26:33). But it wasn't long afterward that Peter denied Jesus. In fact, he denied Him three times. He didn't just deny the Lord out of fear of men! He denied the Lord out of fear of little girls (vv. 69-71)!! He dared to curse and swear; saying with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" (v. 74).
Now given all that, what right would Peter have to expect that the Lord would confess Him before the Father? Wouldn't Peter be right to expect the Lord of glory to look upon him and say, "Father, I do know know the man!" Could anyone do worse than Peter?
And yet, the clear testimony of the Scriptures is that the Lord forgave him. Even before he denied Him, Jesus told him that he would do so. The Lord told him that He had prayed for him; and said, ". . . when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (Matthew 22:34). And when the Lord rose from the dead, the angel told the women at the tomb, ". . . Go, tell His disciples - and Peter - that He is going before you into Galilee . . ." (Mark 16:7); specifying the very disciple that had denied Him! Both Luke (Luke 24:34) and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5) tell us that the Lord made a special post-resurrection appearance to Peter privately. Then the Bible tells us that Peter - this one who denied the Lord - went on, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to become a great leader of the early church, one of the most esteemed of the witnesses of our Lord, and eventually a martyr for Christ - being given the honor of being crucified for the Lord that He had, at one time, denied (John 21:18).
Here's the point. Peter denied the Lord; but he didn't live a life of continual denial of the Lord. He repented of his denial; and was forgiven wonderfully. We can have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Peter - the cowardly disciple who denied the Lord - will be gladly confessed by the Son of God before the Father on that great day of judgment. He may have denied Him; but he repented and went on to confess Him.
There is always hope for those of us who, in fear of men, fail our Lord and deny Him - but who then confess our failure to Him, repent of our denial, and then go on to bravely confess Him before men in the power of the Holy Spirit.
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Have you denied Him before men? Then the thing to do is to confess your denial to Him, repent of your fear of men, and go on to confess Him faithfully. If He forgave Peter, He will certainly forgive you.
But better yet, let's see to it that we never deny Him. Instead, let's seize the opportunities He places before us; and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, let's boldly confess Him before men as our Lord and Savior. And let's remember His promise in 1 Samuel 2:30; that "those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."
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