THE MESSENGERS OF THE KING (Matthew 10:1-4)
10:1-4 And when he had summoned his twelve disciples, he gave them power over unclean spirits, so that they were able to cast them out, and so that they were able to heal every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first and foremost Simon, who is called Peter. and Andrew, his brother; James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, the tax-collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean and Judas Iscariot, who was also his betrayer.
Methodically, and yet with a certain drama, Matthew unfolds his story of Jesus. In the story of the Baptism Matthew shows us Jesus accepting his task. In the story of the Temptations Matthew shows us Jesus deciding on the method which he will use to embark upon his task. In the Sermon on the Mount we listen to Jesus' words of wisdom. In Matthew 8:1-34 we look on Jesus' deeds of power. In Matthew 9:1-38 we see the growing opposition gathering itself against Jesus. And now we see Jesus choosing his men.
If a leader is about to embark upon any great undertaking, the first thing that he must do is to choose his staff. On them the present effect and the future success of his work both depend. Here Jesus is choosing his staff, his right-hand men, his helpers in the days of his flesh, and those who would carry on his work when he left this earth and returned to his glory.
There are two facts about men which are bound to strike us at once.
(i) They were very ordinary men. They had no wealth; they had no academic background; they had no social position. They were chosen from the common people, men who did the ordinary things, men who had no special education, men who had no social advantages.
It has been said that Jesus is looking, not so much for extraordinary men, as for ordinary men who can do ordinary things extraordinarily well. Jesus sees in every man, not only what that man is, but also what he can make him. Jesus chose these men, not only for what they were, but also for what they were capable of becoming under his influence and in his power.
No man need ever think that he has nothing to offer Jesus, for Jesus can take what the most ordinary man can offer and use it for greatness.
(ii) They were the most extraordinary mixture. There was, for instance, Matthew, the tax-gatherer. All men would regard Matthew as a quisling, as one who had sold himself into the hands of his country's masters for gain, the very reverse of a patriot and a lover of his country. And with Matthew there was Simon the Cananaean. Luke (Luke 6:16) calls him Simon Zelotes, which means Simon the Zealot.
Josephus (Antiquities, 8. 1. 6.) describes these Zealots; he calls them the fourth party of the Jews; the other three parties were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. He says that they had "an inviolable attachment to liberty," and that they said that "God is to be their ruler and Lord." They were prepared to face any kind of death for their country, and did not shrink to see their loved ones die in the struggle for freedom. They refused to give to any earthly man the name and the title of king. They had an immovable resolution which would undergo any pain. They were prepared to go the length of secret murder and stealthy assassination to seek to rid their country of foreign rule. They were the patriots par excellence among the Jews, the most nationalist of all the nationalists.
The plain fact is that if Simon the Zealot had met Matthew the tax-gatherer anywhere else than in the company of Jesus, he would have stuck a dagger in him. Here is the tremendous truth that men who hate each other can learn to love each other when they both love Jesus Christ. Too often religion has been a means of dividing men. It was meant to be--and in the presence of the living Jesus it was--a means of bringing together men who without Christ were sundered from each other.
We may ask why Jesus chose twelve special apostles. The reason is very likely because there were twelve tribes; just as in the old dispensation there had been twelve tribes of Israel, so in the new dispensation there are twelve apostles of the new Israel. The New Testament itself does not tell us very much about these men. As Plummer has it: "In the New Testament it is the work, and not the workers, that is glorified." But, although we do not know much about them, the New Testament is very conscious of their greatness in the Church, for the Revelation tells us that the twelve foundation stones of the Holy City are inscribed with their names (Revelation 21:14). These men, simple men with no great background, men from many differing spheres of belief, were the very foundation stones on which the Church was built. It is on the stuff of common men and women that the Church of Christ is founded.
THE MAKING OF THE MESSENGERS (Matthew 10:1-4 continued)
When we put together the three accounts of the calling of the Twelve (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:13-16) certain illuminating facts emerge.
(i) He chose them. Luke 6:13 says that Jesus called his disciples, and chose from them twelve. It is as if Jesus' eyes moved over the crowds who followed him, and the smaller band who stayed with him when the crowds had departed, and as if all the time he was searching for the men to whom he could commit his work. As it has been said, "God is always looking for hands to use." God is always saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8).
There are many tasks in the Kingdom, the task of him who must go out and the task of him who must stay at home, the task of him who must use his hands and the task of him who must use his mind, the task which will fasten the eyes of all upon the doer and the task which no one will ewer see. And always Jesus' eyes are searching the crowds for those who will do his work.
(ii) He called them. Jesus does not compel a man to do his work; he offers him work to do. Jesus does not coerce; he invites. Jesus does not make conscripts; he seeks volunteers. As it has been put, a man is free to be faithful and free to be faithless. But to every man there comes the summons which he can accept or refuse.
(iii) He appointed them. The King James Version has it that he ordained them (Mark 3:14). The word which is translated ordain is the simple Greek word poiein (Greek #4160), which means to make or to do; but which is often technically used for appointing a man to some office. Jesus was like a king appointing his men to be his ministers; he was like a general allocating their tasks to his commanders. It was not a case of drifting unconsciously into the service of Jesus Christ; it was a case of definitely being appointed to it. A man might well be proud, if he is appointed to some earthly office by some earthly king; how much more shall he be proud when he is appointed by the King of kings?
(iv) These men were appointed from amongst the disciples. The word disciple means a learner. The men whom Christ needs and desires are the men who are willing to learn. The shut mind cannot serve him. The servant of Christ must be willing to learn more every day. Each day he must be a step nearer Jesus and a little nearer God.
(v) The reasons why these men were chosen are equally significant. They were chosen to be with him (Mark 3:14). If they were to do his work in the world, they must live in his presence, before they went out to the world; they must go from the presence of Jesus into the presence of men.
It is told that on one occasion Alexander Whyte preached a most powerful and a most moving sermon. After the service a friend said to him: "You preached today as if you had come straight from the presence of Jesus Christ." Whyte answered: "Perhaps I did."
No work of Christ can ever be done except by him who comes from the presence of Christ. Sometimes in the complexity of the activities of the modern Church we are so busy with committees and courts and administration and making the wheels go round that we are in danger of forgetting that none of these things matters, if it is carried on by men who have not been with Christ before they have been with men.
(vi) They were called to be apostles (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13). The word apostle literally means one who is sent out; it is the word for an envoy or an ambassador. The Christian is Jesus Christ's ambassador to men. He goes forth from the presence of Christ, bearing with him the word and the beauty of his Master.
(vii) They were called to be the heralds of Christ. In Matthew 10:7 they are bidden to preach. The word is kerussein (Greek #2784), which comes from the noun kerux (Greek #2783), which means a herald. The Christian is the herald Christ. That is why he must begin in the presence of Christ. The Christian is not meant to bring to men his own opinions; he brings a message of divine certainties from Jesus Christ--and he cannot bring that message unless first in the presence he has received it.
THE COMMISSION OF THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:5-8 a)
10:5-8a Jesus sent out these twelve, and these were the orders he gave them: "Do not," he said, "go out on the road to the Gentiles, and do not enter into any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the sheep of the house of Israel who have perished. As you go make this proclamation: The Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, cast out demons."
Here we have the beginning of the King's commission to his messengers. The word which is used in the Greek for Jesus commanding his men, or giving them orders is interesting and illuminating. It is the word paragellein. This word in Greek has four special usages. (i) It is the regular word of military command; Jesus was like a general sending his commanders out on a campaign, and briefing them before they went. (ii) It is the word used of calling one's friends to one's help. Jesus was like a man with a great ideal summoning his friends to make that ideal come true. (iii) It is the word which is used of a teacher giving rules and precepts to his students. Jesus was like a teacher sending his students out into the world, equipped with his teaching and his message. (iv) It is the word which is regularly used for an imperial command. Jesus was like a king despatching his ambassadors into the world to carry out his orders and to speak for him.
This passage begins with what everyone must find a very difficult instruction. It begins by forbidding the twelve to go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans. There are many who find it very difficult to believe that Jesus ever said this at all, This apparent exclusiveness is very unlike him; and it has been suggested that this saying was put into his mouth by those who in the later days wished to keep the gospel for the Jews, the very men who bitterly opposed Paul, when he wished to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
But there are certain things to be remembered. This saying is so uncharacteristic of Jesus that no one could have invented it; he must have said it, and so there must be some explanation.
We can be quite certain it was not a permanent command. Within the gospel itself we see Jesus talking graciously and intimately to a woman of Samaria and revealing himself (John 4:4-42); we see him telling one of his immortal stories to her (Luke 10:30); we see him healing the daughter of Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:28); and Matthew himself tells us of Jesus' final commission of his men to go out into all the world and to bring all nations into the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). What then is the explanation?
The twelve were forbidden to go to the Gentiles; that meant that they could not go north into Syria, nor could they even go east into the Decapolis, which was largely a Gentile region. They could not go south into Samaria for that was forbidden. The effect of this order was in actual fact to limit the first journeys of the twelve to Galilee. There were three good reasons for that.
(i) The Jews had in God's scheme of things a very special place; in the justice of God they had to be given the first offer of the gospel. It is true that they rejected it, but the whole of history was designed to give them the first opportunity to accept.
(ii) The twelve were not equipped to preach to the Gentiles. They had neither the background, nor the knowledge nor the technique. Before the gospel could be effectively brought to the Gentiles a man with Paul's life and background had to emerge. A message has little chance of success, if the messenger is ill-equipped to deliver it. If a preacher or teacher is wise, he will realize his limitations, and will see clearly what he is fitted and what he is not fitted to do.
(iii) But the great reason for this command is simply this--any wise commander knows that he must limit his objectives. He must direct his attack at one chosen point. If he diffuses his forces here, there and everywhere, he dissipates his strength and invites failure. The smaller his forces the more limited his immediate objective must be. To attempt to attack on too broad a front is simply to court disaster. Jesus knew that, and his aim was to concentrate his attack on Galilee, for Galilee, as we have seen, was the most open of all parts of Palestine to a new gospel and a new message (compare on Matthew 4:12-17). This command of Jesus was a temporary command. He was the wise commander who refused to diffuse and dissipate his forces; he skillfully concentrated his attack on one limited objective in order to achieve an ultimate and universal victory.
THE WORDS AND WORKS OF THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:5-8 a continued)
The King's messengers had words to speak and deeds to do.
(i) They had to announce the imminence of the Kingdom. As we have seen (compare on Matthew 6:10-11) the Kingdom of God is a society on earth, where God's will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven. Of all persons who ever lived in the world Jesus was, and is, the only person who ever perfectly did, and obeyed, and fulfilled, God's will. Therefore in him the Kingdom had come. It is as if the messengers of the King were to say, "Look! You have dreamed of the Kingdom, and you have longed for the Kingdom. Here in the life of Jesus is the Kingdom. Look at him, and see what being in the Kingdom means." In Jesus the Kingdom of God had come to men.
(ii) But the task of the twelve was not confined to speaking words; it involved doing deeds. They had to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, to cast out demons. All these injunctions are to be taken in a double sense. They are to be taken physically, because Jesus Christ came to bring health and healing to the bodies of men. But they are also to be taken spiritually. They describe the change wrought by Jesus Christ in the souls of men.
(a) They were to heal the sick. The word used for sick is very suggestive. It is a part of the Greek verb asthenein (Greek #770), the primary meaning of which is to be weak; asthenes (Greek #772) is the standard Greek adjective for weak. When Christ comes to a man, he strengthens the weak will, he buttresses the weak resistance, he nerves the feeble arm for fight, he confirms the weak resolution. Jesus Christ fills our human weakness with his divine power.
(b) They were to raise the dead. A man can be dead in sin. His will to resist can be broken; his vision of the good can be darkened until it does not exist; he may be helplessly and hopelessly in the grip of his sins, blind to goodness and deaf to God. When Jesus Christ comes into a man's life, he resurrects him to goodness, he revitalizes the goodness within us which our sinning has killed.
(c) They were to cleanse the lepers. As we have seen, the leper was regarded as polluted. Leviticus says of him, "He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp" (Leviticus 13:46). 2 Kings 7:3-4 shows us the lepers who only in the day of deadly famine dared to enter into the city. 2 Kings 15:5 tells us how Azariah the king was smitten with leprosy, and to the day of his death he had to live in a lazar house, separated from all men. It is interesting to note that even in Persia this pollution of the leper was believed in. Herodotus (1: 138) tells us that, "if a man in Persia has the leprosy he is not snowed to enter into a city or to have any dealings with any other Persians; he must, they say, have sinned against the sun."
So, then, the twelve were to bring cleansing to the polluted. A man can stain his life with sin; he can pollute his mind, his heart, his body with the consequences of his sin. His words, his actions, his influence can become so befouled that they are an unclean influence on all with whom he comes into contact. Jesus Christ can cleanse the soul that has stained itself with sin; he can bring to men the divine antiseptic against sin; he cleanses human sin with the divine purity.
(d) They were to cast out demons. A demon-possessed man was a man in the grip of an evil power; he was no longer master of himself and of his actions; the evil power within had him in its mastery. A man can be mastered by evil; he can be dominated by evil habits; evil can have a mesmeric fascination for him. Jesus comes not only to cancel sin, but to break the power of cancelled sin. Jesus Christ brings to men enslaved by sin the liberating power of God.
THE EQUIPMENT OF THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:8 b-10)
10:8b-10 "Freely you have received; freely give. Do not set out to get gold or silver or bronze for your purses; do not take a bag for the journey, nor two tunics, nor shoes, nor a staff. The workman deserves his sustenance."
This is a passage in which every sentence and every phrase would ring an answering bell in the mind of the Jews who heard it. In it Jesus was giving to his men the instructions which the Rabbis at their best gave to their students and disciples.
"Freely you have received," says Jesus, "freely give." A Rabbi was bound by law to give his teaching freely and for nothing; the Rabbi was absolutely forbidden to take money for teaching the Law which Moses had freely received from God. In only one case could a Rabbi accept payment. He might accept payment for teaching a child, for to teach a child is the parent's task, and no one else should be expected to spend time and labour doing what is the parent's own duty to do; but higher teaching had to be given without money and without price.
In the Mishnah the Law lays it down that, if a man takes payment for acting as a judge, his judgments are invalid; that, if he takes payment for giving evidence as a witness, his witness is void. Rabbi Zadok said, "Make not the Law a crown wherewith to aggrandize thyself, nor a spade wherewith to dig." Hillel said, "He who makes a worldly use of the crown of the Law shall waste away. Hence thou mayest infer that whosoever desires a profit for himself from the words of the Law is helping on his own destruction." It was laid down: "As God taught Moses gratis--so do thou."
There is a story of Rabbi Tarphon. At the end of the fig harvest he was walking in a garden; and he ate some of the figs which had been left behind. The watchmen came upon him and beat him. He told them who he was, and because he was a famous Rabbi they let him go. All his life he regretted that he had used his status as a Rabbi to help himself. "Yet all his days did he grieve, for he said, 'Woe is me, for I have used the crown of the Law for my own profit!'"
When Jesus told his disciples that they had freely received and must freely give, he was telling them what the teachers of his own people had been telling their students for many a day. If a man possesses a precious secret it is surely his duty, not to hug it to himself until he is paid for it, but willingly to pass it on. It is a privilege to share with others the riches God has given us.
Jesus told the twelve not to set out to acquire gold or silver or bronze for their purses, the Greek literally means for their girdles. The girdle, which the Jew wore round his waist, was rather broad; and at each end for part of its length it was double; money was carried in the double part of the girdle; so that the girdle was the usual purse of the Jew. Jesus told the twelve not to take a bag for the journey. The bag may be one of two things. It may simply be a bag like a haversack in which provisions would ordinarily have been carried. But there is another possibility. The word is pera (Greek #4082), which can mean a beggar's collecting bag; sometimes the wandering philosophers took a collection in such a bag after addressing the crowd.
In all these instructions Jesus was not laying upon his men a deliberate and calculated discomfort. He was once again speaking words which were very familiar to a Jew. The Talmud tells us that: "No one is to go to the Temple Mount with staff, shoes, girdle of money, or dusty feet." The idea was that when a man entered the temple, he must make it quite clear that he had left everything which had to do with trade and business and worldly affairs behind. What Jesus is saying to his men is: "You must treat the whole world as the Temple of God. If you are a man of God, you must never give the impression that you are a man of business, out for what you can get." Jesus' instructions mean that the man of God must show by his attitude to material things that his first interest is God.
Finally, Jesus says that the workman deserves his sustenance. Once again the Jews would recognize this. It is true that a Rabbi might not accept payment, but it is also true that it was considered at once a privilege and an obligation to support a Rabbi, if he was truly a man of God. Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said: "He who receives a Rabbi in his house, or as his guest, and lets him have his enjoyment from his possessions, the scripture ascribes it to him as if he had offered the continual offerings." Rabbi Jochanan laid it down that it was the duty of every Jewish community to support a Rabbi, and the more so because a Rabbi naturally neglects his own affairs to concentrate on the affairs of God.
Here then is the double truth; the man of God must never be over-concerned with material things, but the people of God must never fail in their duty to see that the man of God receives a reasonable support. This passage lays an obligation on teacher and on people alike.
THE CONDUCT OF THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:11-15)
10:11-15 "When you enter into any city or village, make inquiries as to who in it is worthy, and stay there until you go out of it. When you come into a household, give your greetings to it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not receive you, and will not listen to your words, when you leave that house or that city, shake off the dust of it from your feet. This is the truth I tell you--it will be easier for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that city."
Here is a passage full of the most practical advice for the King's messengers.
When they entered a city or a village, they were to seek a house that is worthy. The point is that if they took up their residence in a house which had an evil reputation for morals or for conduct or for fellowship, it would seriously hinder their usefulness. They were not to identify themselves with anyone who might prove to be a handicap. That is not for a moment to say that they were not to seek to win such people for Christ, but it is to say that the messenger of Christ must have a care whom he makes his intimate friend.
When they entered a house, they were to stay there until they moved on to another place. This was a matter of courtesy. They might well be tempted, after they had won certain supporters and converts in a place, to move on to a house which could provide more luxury, more comfort, and better entertainment. The messenger of Christ must never give the impression that he courts people for the sake of material things, and that his movements are dictated by the demands of his own comfort.
The passage about giving a greeting, and, as it were, taking the greeting back again, is typically eastern. In the east a spoken word was thought to have a kind of active and independent existence. It went out from the mouth as independently as a bullet from a gun. This idea emerges regularly in the Old Testament, especially in connection with words spoken by God. Isaiah hears God say, "By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return" (Isaiah 45:23). "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). Zechariah sees the flying scroll, and hears the voice: "This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land" (Zechariah 5:3).
To this day in the east, if a man speaks his blessing to a passer-by, and then discovers that the passer-by is of another faith, he will come and take his blessing back again. The idea here is that the messengers of the King can send their blessing to rest upon a house, and, if the house is unworthy of it, can, as it were, recall it.
If in any place their message is refused, the messengers of the King were to shake the dust of that place off their feet and to move on. To the Jew the dust of a Gentile place or road was defiling; therefore, when the Jew crossed the border of Palestine, and entered into his own country, after a journey in Gentile lands, he shook the dust of the Gentile roads off his feet that the last particle of pollution might be cleansed away. So Jesus said, "If a city or a village will not receive you, you must treat it like a Gentile place." Again, we must be clear as to what Jesus is saying. In this passage there is both a temporary and an eternal truth.
(i) The temporary truth is this, Jesus was not saying that certain people had to be abandoned as being outside the message of the gospel and beyond the reach of grace. This was an instruction like the opening instruction not to go to the Gentiles and to the Samaritans. It came from the situation in which it was given. It was simply due to the time factor; time was short; as many as possible must hear the proclamation of the Kingdom; there was not time then to argue with the disputatious and to seek to win the stubborn; that would come later. At the moment the disciples had to tour the country as quickly as possible, and therefore they had to move on when there was no immediate welcome for the message which they brought.
(ii) The permanent truth is this. It is one of the great basic facts of life that time and time again an opportunity comes to a man--and does not come back. To those people in Palestine there was coming the opportunity to receive the gospel, but if they did not take it, the opportunity might well never return. As the proverb has it: "Three things come not back--the spoken word, the spent arrow, and the lost opportunity."
This happens in every sphere of life. In his autobiography, Chiaroscuro, Augustus John tells of an incident and adds a laconic comment. He was in Barcelona: "It was time to leave for Marseilles. I had sent forward my baggage and was walking to the station, when I encountered three Gitanas engaged in buying flowers at a booth. I was so struck by their beauty and flashing elegance that I almost missed my train. Even when I reached Marseilles and met my friend, this vision still haunted me, and I positively had to return. But I did not find these gypsies again. One never does." The artist was always looking for glimpses of beauty to transfer to his canvas--but he knew well that if he did not paint the beauty when he found it, all the chances were that he would never catch that glimpse again. The tragedy of life is so often the tragedy of the lost opportunity.
Finally, it is said that it will be easier for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for the town or the village which has refused the message of Christ and the Kingdom. Sodom and Gomorrah are in the New Testament proverbial for wickedness (Matthew 11:23-24; Luke 10:12-13; Luke 17:29; Romans 9:29; 2 Peter 2:6; Jd 1:7 ). It is interesting and relevant to note that just before their destruction Sodom and Gomorrah had been guilty of a grave and vicious breach of the laws of hospitality (Genesis 19:1-11). They, too, had rejected the messengers of God. But, even at their worst, Sodom and Gomorrah had never had the opportunity to reject the message of Christ and his Kingdom. That is why it would be easier for them at the last than for the towns and villages of Galilee; for it is always true that the greater the privilege has been the greater the responsibility is.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE KING TO HIS MESSENGERS (Matthew 10:16-22)
10:16-22 Look you, it is I who am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Show yourself as wise as serpents, and as pure as doves. Beware of men! For they will hand you over to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, that you make your witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry how you are to speak, or what you are to say. What you are to speak will be given to you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and father will hand over child. Children will rise up against parents, and will murder them; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Before we deal with this passage in detail, we may note two things about it in general.
When we were studying the Sermon on the Mount, we saw that one of Matthew's great characteristics was his love of orderly arrangement. We saw that it was Matthew's custom to collect in one place all the material on any given subject, even if it was spoken by Jesus on different occasions. Matthew was the systematizer of his material. This passage is one of the instances where Matthew collects his material from different times. Here he collects the things which Jesus said on various occasions about persecution.
There is no doubt that even when Jesus sent out his men for the first time, he told them what to expect. But at the very beginning Matthew relates how Jesus told his men not to go at that time to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans; and yet in this passage Matthew shows us Jesus foretelling persecution and trial before rulers and kings, that is to say, far beyond Palestine. The explanation is that Matthew collects Jesus' references to persecution and he puts together both what Jesus said when he sent his men out on their first expedition and what Jesus told them after his resurrection, when he was sending them out into all the world. Here we have the words, not only of Jesus of Galilee, but also of the Risen Christ.
Further, we must note that in these words Jesus was making use of ideas and pictures which were part and parcel of Jewish thought. We have seen again and again how it was the custom of the Jews, in their pictures of the future, to divide time into two ages. There was the present age, which is wholly bad; there was the age to come, which would be the golden age of God; and in between there was the Day of the Lord, which would be a terrible time of chaos and destruction and judgment. Now in Jewish thought one of the ever-recurring features of the Day of the Lord was that it would split friends and kindred into two, and that the dearest bonds of earth would be destroyed in bitter enmities.
"All friends shall destroy each other" (2 Esdras 5:9). "At that time shall friends make war one against another like enemies" (2 Esdras 6:24). "And they will strive with one another, the young with the old, and the old with the young, the poor with the rich, and the lowly with the great, and the beggar with the prince" (Jubilees 23: 19). "And they will hate one another, and provoke one another to fight; and the mean will rule over the honourable, and those of low degree shall be extolled above the famous'" (2 Baruch 70:3). "And they shall begin to fight among themselves, and their right hand shall be strong against themselves, and a man shall not know his brother, nor a son his father or his mother, till there be no number of the corpses through their slaughter" (Enoch 56: 7). "And in those days the destitute shall go forth and carry off their children, and they shall abandon them, so that their children shall perish through them; yea they shall abandon their children that are still sucklings, and not return to them; and shall have no pity on their loved ones" (Enoch 99: 5). "And in those days in one place the fathers together with their sons shall be smitten and brothers one with another shall fall in death till the streams flow with their blood. For a man shall not withhold his hand from slaying his sons and his sons' sons, and the sinner shall not withhold his hand from his honoured brother; from dawn to sunset they shall slay each other." (Enoch 100: 1-2).
All these quotations are taken from the books which the Jews wrote and knew and loved, and on which they fed their hearts and their hopes, in the days between the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus knew these books; his men knew these books; and when Jesus spoke of the terrors to come, and of the divisions which would tear apart the closest ties of earth, he was in effect saying: "The Day of the Lord has come." And his men would know that he was saying this, and would go out in the knowledge that they were living in the greatest days of history.
THE KING'S HONESTY TO HIS MESSENGERS (Matthew 10:16-22 continued)
No one can read this passage without being deeply impressed with the honesty of Jesus. He never hesitated to tell men what they might expect, if they followed him. It is as if he said, "Here is my task for you--at its grimmest and at its worst--do you accept it?" Plummer comments: "This is not the world's way to win adherents." The world will offer a man roses, roses all the way, comfort, ease, advancement, the fulfilment of his worldly ambitions. Jesus offered his men hardship and death. And yet the proof of history is that Jesus was right. In their heart of hearts men love a call to adventure.
After the siege of Rome, in 1849, Garibaldi issued the following proclamation to his followers: "Soldiers, all our efforts against superior forces have been unavailing. I have nothing to offer you but hunger and thirst, hardship and death; but I call on all who love their country to join with me"--and they came in their hundreds.
After Dunkirk, Churchill offered his country "blood, toil, sweat and tears".
Prescott tells how Pizarro, that reckless adventurer, offered his little band the tremendous choice between the known safety of Panama, and the as yet unknown splendour of Peru. He took his sword and traced a line with it on the sand from east to west: "Friends and comrades!" he said, "on that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching storm, desertion and death; on this side, ease and pleasure. There ties Peru with its riches; here, Panama and its poverty. Choose each man what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part I go south" and he stepped across the line. And thirteen men, whose names are immortal, chose adventure with him.
When Shackleton proposed his march to the South Pole he asked for volunteers for that trek amidst the blizzards across the polar ice. He expected to have difficulty but he was inundated with letters, from young and old, rich and poor, the highest and the lowest, all desiring to share in that great adventure.
It may be that the Church must learn again that we will never attract men to an easy way; it is the call of the heroic which ultimately speaks to men's hearts.
Jesus offered his men three kinds of trial.
(i) The state would persecute them; they would be brought before councils and kings and governors. Long before this Aristotle had wondered if a good man could ever really be a good citizen, for, he said, it was the duty of the citizen ever to support and to obey the state, and there were times when the good man would find that impossible. When Christ's men were brought to court and to judgment, they were not to worry about what they would say; for God would give them words. "I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak," God had promised Moses (Exodus 4:12). It was not the humiliation which the early Christians dreaded, not even the cruel pain and the agony. But many of them feared that their own unskillfulness in words and defence might injure rather than commend the faith. It is the promise of God that when a man is on trial for his faith, the words will come to him.
(ii) The Church would persecute them; they would be scourged in the synagogues. The Church does not like to be upset, and has its own ways of dealing with disturbers of the peace. The Christians were, and are, those who turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). It has often been true that the man with a message from God has had to undergo the hatred and the enmity of a fossilized orthodoxy.
(iii) The family would persecute them; their nearest and dearest would think them mad, and shut the door against them. Sometimes the Christian is confronted with the hardest choice of all--the choice between obedience to Christ and obedience to kindred and to friends.
Jesus warned his men that in the days to come they might well find state and Church and family conjoined against them.
THE REASONS FOR THE PERSECUTION OF THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:16-22 continued)
Looking at things from our own point of view, we find it hard to understand why any government should wish to persecute the Christians, whose only aim was to live in purity, in charity, and in reverence. But in later days the Roman government had what it considered good reason for persecuting the Christians (see topic THE BLISS OF THE SUFFERER FOR CHRIST).
(i) There were certain slanders current about the Christians. They were accused of being cannibals because of the words of the sacrament, which spoke of eating Christ's body and drinking his blood. They were accused of immorality because the title of their weekly feast was the agape (Greek #26), the love feast. They were accused of incendiarism because of the pictures which the Christian preachers drew of the coming of the end of the world. They were accused of being disloyal and disaffected citizens because they would not take the oath to the godhead of the Emperor.
(ii) It is doubtful if even the heathen really believed these slanderous charges. But there were other charges which were more serious. The Christians were accused of "tampering with family relationships." It was the truth that Christianity often split families, as we have seen. And to the heathen, Christianity appeared to be something which divided parents and children, and husbands and wives.
(iii) A real difficulty was the position of slaves in the Christian Church. In the Roman Empire there were 60,000,000 slaves. It was always one of the terrors of the Empire that these slaves might rise in revolt. If the structure of the Empire was to remain intact they must be kept in their place; nothing must be done by anyone to encourage them to rebel, or the consequences might be terrible beyond imagining.
Now the Christian Church made no attempt to free the slaves, or to condemn slavery; but it did, within the Church at least, treat the slaves as equals. Clement of Alexandria pleaded that "slaves are like ourselves," and the golden rule applied to them. Lactantius wrote: "Slaves are not slaves to us. We deem them brothers after the Spirit, in religion fellow-servants." It is a notable fact that, although there were thousands of slaves in the Christian Church, the inscription slave is never met with in the Roman Christian tombs.
Worse than that, it was perfectly possible for a slave to hold high office in the Christian Church. In the early second century two bishops of Rome, Callistus and Pius, had been slaves. And it was not uncommon for elders and deacons to be slaves.
And still worse, in A.D. 220 Callistus, who, as we have seen, had been a slave, declared that henceforth the Christian Church would sanction the marriage of a highborn girl to a freed man, a marriage which was in fact illegal under Roman law, and, therefore, not a marriage at all.
In its treatment of slaves the Christian Church must necessarily have seemed to the Roman authorities a force which was disrupting the very basis of civilization, and threatening the very existence of the Empire by giving slaves a position which they should never have had, as Roman law saw it.
(iv) There is no doubt that Christianity seriously affected certain vested interests connected with heathen religion. When Christianity came to Ephesus, the trade of the silversmiths was dealt a mortal blow, for far fewer desired to buy the images which they fashioned (Acts 19:24-27). Pliny was governor of Bithynia in the reign of Trajan, and in a letter to the Emperor (Pliny: Letters, 10: 96) he tells how he had taken steps to check the rapid growth of Christianity so that "the temples which had been deserted now begin to be frequented; the sacred festivals, after a long intermission, are revived; while there is a general demand for sacrificial animals, which for some time past have met with few purchasers." It is clear that the spread of Christianity meant the abolition of certain trades and activities; and those who lost their trade and lost their money not unnaturally resented it.
Christianity preaches a view of man which no totalitarian state can accept. Christianity deliberately aims to obliterate certain trades and professions and ways of making money. It still does--and therefore the Christian is still liable to persecution for his faith.
THE PRUDENCE OF THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:23)
10:23 "When they persecute you in one city, flee into another. This is the truth I tell you--you will not complete your tour of the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man shall come."
This passage counsels a wise and a Christian prudence. In the days of persecution a certain danger always threatened the Christian witness. There always were those who actually courted martyrdom; they were wrought up to such a pitch of hysterical and fanatical enthusiasm that they went out of their way to become martyrs for the faith. Jesus was wise. He told his men that there must be no wanton waste of Christian lives; that they must not pointlessly and needlessly throw their lives away. As some one has put it, the life of every Christian witness is precious. and must not be recklessly thrown away. "Bravado is not martyrdom." Often the Christians had to die for their faith, but they must not throw away their lives in a way that did not really help the faith. As it was later said, a man must contend lawfully, for the faith.
When Jesus spoke like this, he was speaking in a way which Jews would recognize and understand. No people were ever more persecuted than the Jews have always been; and no people were ever clearer as to where the duties of the martyr lay. The teaching of the great Rabbis was quite clear. When it was a question of public sanctification or open profanation of God's name, duty was plain--a man must be prepared to lay down his life. But when that public declaration was not in question, a man might save his life by breaking the law; but for no reason must he commit idolatry, unchastity, or murder.
The case the Rabbis cited was this: suppose a Jew is seized by a Roman soldier, and the soldier says mockingly, and with no other intention than to humiliate and to make a fool of the Jew: "Eat this pork." Then the Jew may eat, for "God's laws are given for life and not for death." But suppose the Roman says: "Eat this pork as a sign that you renounce Judaism; eat this pork as a sign that you are ready to worship Jupiter and the Emperor," the Jew must die rather than eat. In any time of official persecution the Jew must die rather than abandon his faith. As the Rabbis said, "The words of the Law are only firm in that man who would die for their sake."
The Jew was forbidden to thrown away his life in a needless act of pointless martyrdom; but when it came to a question of true witness, he must be prepared to die.
We do well to remember that, while we are bound to accept martyrdom for our faith, we are forbidden to court martyrdom. If suffering for the faith comes to us in the course of duty, it must be accepted; but it must not be needlessly invited; to invite it does more harm than good to the faith we bear. The self-constituted martyr is much too common in all human affairs.
It has been said that there is sometimes more heroism in daring to fly from danger than in stopping to meet it. There is real wisdom in recognizing when to escape. Andre Maurois in Why France Fell tells of a conversation he had with Winston Churchill. There was a time at the beginning of the Second World War when Great Britain seemed strangely inactive and unwilling to act. Churchill said to Maurois: "Have you observed the habits of lobsters?" "No," answered Maurois to this somewhat surprising question. Churchill went on: "Well, if you have the opportunity, study them. At certain periods in his life the lobster loses his protective shell. At this moment of moulting even the bravest crustacean retires into a crevice in the rock, and waits patiently until a new carapace has time to grow. As soon as this new armour has grown strong, he sallies out of the crevice, and becomes once more a fighter, lord of the seas. England, through the faults of imprudent ministers, has lost its carapace; we must wait in our crevice until the new one has time to grow strong." This was a time when inaction was wiser than action; and when to escape was wiser than to attack.
If a man is weak in the faith, he will do well to avoid disputations about doubtful things, and not to plunge into them. If a man knows that he is susceptible to a certain temptation, he will do well to avoid the places where that temptation will speak to him, and not to frequent them. If a man knows that there are people who anger and irritate him, and who bring the worst out of him, he will be wise to avoid their society, and not to seek it. Courage is not recklessness; there is no virtue in running needless risks; God's grace is not meant to protect the foolhardy, but the prudent.
THE COMING OF THE KING (Matthew 10:23 continued)
This passage contains one strange saying which we cannot honestly neglect. Matthew depicts Jesus as sending out his men, and, as he does so, saying to them, "You will not complete your tour of the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man shall come." On the face of it that seems to mean that before his men had completed their preaching tour, his day of glory and his return to power would have taken place. The difficulty is just this-that did not in fact happen, and, if at that moment. Jesus had that expectation, he was mistaken. If he said this in this way, he foretold something which actually did not happen. But there is a perfectly good and sufficient explanation of this apparent difficulty.
The people of the early Church believed intensely in the second coming of Jesus, and they believed it would happen soon, certainly within their own lifetime. There could be nothing more natural than that, because they were living in days of savage persecution, and they were longing for the day of their release and their glory. The result was that they fastened on every possible saying of Jesus which could be interpreted as foretelling his triumphant and glorious return, and sometimes they quite naturally used things which Jesus said, and read into them something more definite than was originally there.
We can see this process happening within the pages of the New Testament itself. There are three versions of the one saying of Jesus. Let us set them down one after another:
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not
taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his
Kingdom (Matthew 16:28).
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not
taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power
But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not
taste death before they see the kingdom of God (Luke 9:27).
Now it is clear that these are three versions of the same saying. Mark is the earliest gospel, and therefore Mark's version is most likely to be strictly accurate. Mark says that there were some listening to Jesus who would not die until they saw the Kingdom of God coming with power. That was gloriously true, for within thirty years of the Cross the message of Crucified and Risen Christ had swept across the world and had reached Rome, the capital of the world. Indeed men were being swept into the Kingdom; indeed the Kingdom was coming with power. Luke transmits the saying in the same way as Mark.
Now look at Matthew. His version is slightly different; he says that there are some who will not die until they see the Son of Man coming in power. That, in fact, did not happen. The explanation is that Matthew was writing between A.D. 80 and 90, in days when terrible persecution was raging. Men were clutching at everything which promised release from agony; and he took a saying which foretold the spread of the Kingdom and turned it into a saying which foretold the return of Christ within a lifetime--and who shall blame him?
That is what Matthew has done here. Take this saying in our passage and write it as Mark or Luke would have written it: "You will not complete your tour of the cities of Israel, into the Kingdom of God shall come." That was blessedly true, for as the tour went on, men's hearts opened to Jesus Christ, and they took him as Master and Lord.
In a passage like this we must not think of Jesus as mistaken; we must rather think that Matthew read into a promise of the coming of the Kingdom a promise of the second coming of Jesus Christ. And he did so because, in days of terror, men clutched at the hope of Christ; and Christ did come to them in the Spirit, for no man ever suffered alone for Christ.
THE KING'S MESSENGER AND THE KING'S SUFFERINGS (Matthew 10:24-25)
10:24-25 "The scholar is not above his teacher, nor is the slave above his master. It is enough for the scholar that he should be as his teacher, and the servant that he should be as his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzeboul, how much more shall they so call the members of his household."
It is Jesus' warning to his disciples that they must expect what happened to him to happen to them. The Jews well knew this sentence: "It is enough for the slave to be as his master." In the later days they were to use it in a special way. In A.D. 70 Jerusalem was destroyed, and destroyed so completely that a plough was drawn across the devastation. The Temple of God and the Holy City were in ruins. The Jews were dispersed throughout the world, and many of them mourned and lamented about the terrible fate which had befallen them personally. It was then that the Rabbis said to them: "When God's Temple has been destroyed, how can any individual Jew complain about his personal misfortunes?"
In this saying of Jesus there are two things.
(i) There is a warning. There is the warning that, as Christ had to carry a cross, so also the individual Christian must carry a cross. The word that is used for members of his household is the one Greek word oikiakoi (Greek #3615). This word has a technical use; it means the members of the household of a government official: that is to say, the official's staff. It is as if Jesus said, "If I, the leader and commander, must suffer, you who are the members of my staff cannot escape." Jesus calls us, not only to share his glory, but to share his warfare and his agony; and no man deserves to share the fruits of victory, if he refuses to share the struggle of which these fruits are the result.
(ii) There is the statement of a privilege. To suffer for Christ is to share the work of Christ; to have to sacrifice for the faith is to share the sacrifice of Christ. When Christianity is hard. we can say to ourselves, not only, "Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod," we can also say, "Brothers, we are treading where the feet of Christ have trod."
There is always a thrill in belonging to a noble company. Eric Linklater in his autobiography tells of his experience in the disastrous March retreat in the First World War. He was with the Black Watch, and they had emerged from the battle with one officer, thirty men, and a piper left of the battalion. "The next day, marching peacefully in the morning light of France along a pleasant road we encountered the tattered fragments of a battalion of the Foot Guards, and the piper, putting breath into his bag, and playing so that he filled the air like the massed bands of the Highland Division, saluted the tall Coldstreamers, who had a drum or two and some instruments of brass, that made also a gallant music. Stiffly we passed each other, swollen of chest, heads tautly to the right, kilts swinging to the answer of the swagger of the Guards, and the Red Hackle in our bonnets, like the monstrance of a bruised but resilient faith. We were bearded and stained with mud. The Guards--the fifty men that were left of a battalion--were button-bright and clean shaved--we were a tatter-demalion crew from the coal mines of Fife and the back streets of Dundee, but we trod quick-stepping to the brawling tune of 'Hietan' Laddie', and suddenly I was crying with a fool's delight and the sheer gladness of being in such company." It is one of life's great thrills to have the sense of belonging to a goodly company and a goodly fellowship.
When Christianity costs something we are closer than ever we were to the fellowship of Jesus Christ; and if we know the fellowship of his sufferings, we shall also know the power of his resurrection.
THE KING'S MESSENGER'S FREEDOM FROM FEAR (Matthew 10:26-31)
10:26-31 "Do not fear them; for there is nothing which is covered which shall not be unveiled, and there is nothing hidden which shall not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim on the housetops. Do not fear those who can kill the body, but who cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are two sparrows not sold for a penny, and not one of them shall light on the ground without your Father's knowledge? The hairs of your head are all numbered. So then do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."
Three times in this short passage Jesus bids his disciples not to be afraid. In the King's messenger there must be a certain courageous fearlessness which marks him out from other men.
(i) The first commandment is in Matthew 10:26-27, and it speaks of a double fearlessness.
(a) They are not to be afraid because there is nothing covered that will not be unveiled, and nothing hidden which will not be known. The meaning of that is that the truth will triumph. "Great is the truth," ran the Latin proverb, "and the truth will prevail." When James the Sixth threatened to hang or exile Andrew Melville, Melville's answer was: "You cannot hang or exile the truth." When the Christian is involved in suffering and sacrifice and even martyrdom for his faith, he must remember that the day will come when things will be seen as they really are; and then the power of the persecutor and the heroism of Christian witness will be seen at their true value, and each will have its true reward.
(b) They are not to be afraid to speak with boldness the message they have received. What Jesus has told them, they must tell to men. Here in this one verse (Matthew 10:27) lies the true function of the preacher.
First, the preacher must listen; he must he in the secret place with Christ, that in the dark hours Christ may speak to him, and that in the loneliness Christ may whisper in his ear. No man can speak for Christ unless Christ has spoken to him; no man can proclaim the truth unless he has listened to the truth; for no man can tell that which he does not know.
In the great days in which the Reformation was coming to birth, Colet invited Erasmus to come to Oxford to give a series of lectures on Moses or Isaiah; but Erasmus knew he was not ready. He wrote back: "But I who have learned to live with myself, and know how scanty my equipment is, can neither claim the learning required for such a task, nor do I think that I possess the strength of mind to sustain the jealousy of so many men, who would be eager to maintain their own ground. The campaign is one that demands, not a tyro, but a practiced general. Neither should you call me immodest in declining a position which it would be most immodest for me to accept. You are not acting wisely, Colet, in demanding water from a pumice stone, as Plautus said. With what effrontery shall I teach what I have never learned? How am I to warm the coldness of others, when I am shivering myself?"
He who would teach and preach must first in the secret place listen and learn.
Second, the preacher must speak what he has heard from Christ, and he must speak even if his speaking is to gain him the hatred of men, and even if, by speaking, he takes his life in his hands.
Men do not like the truth, for, as Diogenes said, truth is like the light to sore eyes. Once Latimer was preaching when Henry the king was present. He knew that he was about to say something which the king would not relish. So in the pulpit he soliloquized aloud with himself. "Latimer! Latimer! Latimer!" he said, "be careful what you say. Henry the king is here." He paused, and then he said, "Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! be careful what you say. The King of kings is here."
The man with a message speaks to men, but he speaks in the presence of God. It was said of John Knox, as they buried him, "Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man."
The Christian witness is the man who knows no fear, because he knows that the judgments of eternity will correct the judgments of time. The Christian preacher and teacher is the man who listens with reverence and who speaks with courage, because he knows that, whether he listens or speaks, he is in the presence of God.
THE KING'S MESSENGER'S FREEDOM FROM FEAR-THE COURAGE OF THE RIGHT (Matthew 10:26-31 continued)
(ii) The second commandment is in Matthew 10:28. To put it very simply, what Jesus is saying is that no punishment that men can ever lay upon a man can compare with the ultimate fate of one who has been guilty of infidelity and disobedience to God. It is true that men can kill a man's physical body; but God can condemn a man to the death of the soul. There are three things that we must note here.
(a) Some people believe in what is called conditioned immortality. This belief holds that the reward of goodness is that the soul climbs up and up until it is one with all the immortality, the bliss and the blessedness of God; and that the punishment of the evil man, who will not mend his ways in spite of all God's appeals to him, is that his soul goes down and down and down until it is finally obliterated and ceases to be. We cannot erect a doctrine on a single text, but that is something very like what Jesus is saying here.
The Jews knew the awfulness of the punishment of God.
For thou hast power over life and death.
And thou leadest down to the gates of Hades, and leadest up again.
But though a man can kill by his wickedness,
Yet the spirit that is gone forth he bringeth not back,
Neither giveth release to the soul that Hades has received
(Wisdom of Solomon 16:13-14).
During the killing times of the Maccabean struggle, the seven martyred brothers encouraged each other by saying, "Let us not fear him who thinketh he kills; for a great struggle and pain of the soul awaits in eternal torment those who transgress the ordinance of God"(4 Maccabees 13:14-15).
We do well to remember that the penalties which men can exact are as nothing to the penalties which God can exact and to the rewards which he can give.
(b) The second thing which this passage teaches is that there is still left in the Christian life a place for what we might call a holy fear.
The Jews well knew this fear of God. One of the rabbinic stories tells how Rabbi Jochanan was ill. "His disciples went in to visit him. On beholding them he began to weep. His disciples said to him, 'O Lamp of Israel, righthand pillar, mighty hammer! Wherefore dost thou weep?' He replied to them, 'If I was being led into the presence of a human king who today is here and tomorrow in the grave, who, if he were wrathful against me, his anger would not be eternal, who, if he imprisoned me, the imprisonment would not be eternal, who, if he condemned me to death, the death would not be for ever, and whom I can appease with words and bribe with money even then I would weep. But now, when I am being led into the presence of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed is he, who lives and endures for all eternity, who, if he be wrathful against me, his anger is eternal, who, if he imprisoned me, the imprisonment would be for ever, who, if he condemned me to death, the death would be for ever, and whom I cannot appease with words or bribe with money--nay more, when before me lie two ways, one the way of the Garden of Eden and the other the way of Gehenna, and I know not in which I am to be led--shall I not weep?'"
It is not that the Jewish thinkers forgot that there is love, and that love is the greatest of all things. "The reward of him who acts from love," they said, "is double and quadruple. Act from love, for there is no love where there is fear, or fear where there is love, except in relation to God." The Jews were always sure that in relation to God there was both fear and love. "Fear God and love God, the Law says both; act from both love and fear; from love, for, if you would hate, no lover hates; from fear, for, if you would kick, no fearer kicks." But the Jew never forgot--and neither must we--the sheer holiness of God.
And for the Christian the matter is even more compelling, for our fear is not that God will punish us, but that we may grieve his love. The Jew was never in any danger of sentimentalizing the love of God, and neither was Jesus. God is love, but God is also holiness, for God is God; and there must be a place in our hearts and in our thought both for the love which answers God's love, and the reverence, the awe and the fear which answer God's holiness.
(c) Further, this passage tells us that there are things which are worse than death; and disloyalty is one of them. If a man is guilty of disloyalty, if he buys security at the expense of dishonour, life is no longer tolerable. He cannot face men; he cannot face himself; and ultimately he cannot face God. There are times when comfort, safety, ease, life itself can cost too much.
THE KING'S MESSENGER'S FREEDOM FROM FEAR-GOD CARES! (Matthew 10:26-31 continued)
(iii) The third commandment not to fear is in Matthew 10:31; and it is based on the certainty of the detailed care of God. If God cares for the sparrows, surely he will care for men.
Matthew says that two sparrows are sold for a penny and yet not one of them falls to the ground without the knowledge of God. Luke gives us that saying of Jesus in a slightly different form: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God?" (Luke 12:6). The point is this--two sparrows were sold for one penny. (The coin is the assarion, which was one-sixteenth of a denarius; a denarius was approximately four new pence; therefore the assarion was about one quarter of one new penny). But if the purchaser was prepared to spend two pennies, he got, not four sparrows, but five. The extra one was thrown into the bargain as having no value at all. God cares even for the sparrow which is thrown into the bargain, and which on man's counting has no value at all. Even the forgotten sparrow is dear to God.
The thing is even more vivid than that. The Revised Standard Version--and it is a perfectly correct translation of the Greek--has it that not one sparrow will fall to the ground without the knowledge of God. In such a context the word "fall" makes us naturally think of death; but in all probability the Greek is a translation of an Aramaic word which means to light upon the ground. It is not that God marks the sparrow when the sparrow falls dead; it is far more; it is that God marks the sparrow every time it lights and hops upon the ground. So it is Jesus' argument that, if God cares like that for sparrows, much more will he care for men.
Once again the Jews would well understand what Jesus was saying. No nation ever had such a conception of the detailed care of God for his creation. Rabbi Chanina said, "No man hurts his finger here below, unless it is so disposed for him by God." There was a rabbinic saying, "God sits and feeds the world, from the horns of the buffalo to the eggs of the louse." Hillel has a wonderful interpretation of Psalms 136:1-26 . That psalm begins by telling the story in lyric poetry about the God who is the God of creation, the God who made the heavens and the earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars (Psalms 136:1-9); then it goes on to tell the story about the God who is the God of history, the God who rescued Israel from Egypt and who fought her battles for her (Psalms 136:11-24); then finally it goes on to speak of God as the God "who gives food to all flesh" (Psalms 136:25). The God who made the world and who controls all history is the God who gives men food. The coming of our daily bread is just as much an act of God as the act of creation and the saving power of the deliverance from Egypt. God's love for men is seen not only in the omnipotence of creation and in the great events of history; it is seen also in the day--today nourishment of the bodies of men.
The courage of the King's messenger is founded on the conviction that, whatever happens. he cannot drift beyond the love of God. He knows that his times are for ever in God's hands; that God will not leave him or forsake him; that he is surrounded for ever by God's care. If that is so--whom then shall we be afraid?
THE LOYALTY OF THE KING'S MESSENGER AND ITS REWARD (Matthew 10:32-33)
10:32-33 "I too will acknowledge before my Father every one who acknowledges me before men. I too will deny before my Father who is in heaven every one who denies me before men."
Here is laid down the double loyalty of the Christian life. If a man is loyal to Jesus Christ in this life, Jesus Christ will be loyal to him in the life to come. If a man is proud to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is his Master, Jesus Christ will be proud to acknowledge that he is his servant.
It is the plain fact of history that if there had not been men and women in the early Church who in face of death and agony refused to deny their Master, there would be no Christian Church today. The Church of today is built on the unbreakable loyalty of those who held fast to their faith.
Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, writes to Trajan, the Roman Emperor, about how he treated the Christians within his province. Anonymous informers laid information that certain people were Christian. Pliny tells how he gave these men the opportunity to invoke the gods of Rome, to offer wine and frankincense to the image of the Emperor, and how he demanded that as a final test they should curse the name of Christ. And then he adds: "None of these acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be compelled to do." Even the Roman governor confesses his helplessness to shake the loyalty of those who are truly Christian.
It is still possible for a man to deny Jesus Christ.
(i) We may deny him with our words. It is told of J. P. Mahaffy, the famous scholar and man of the world from Trinity College, Dublin, that when he was asked if he was a Christian, his answer was: "Yes, but not offensively so." He meant that he did not allow his Christianity to interfere with the society he kept and the pleasure he loved. Sometimes we say to other people, practically in so many words, that we are Church members, but not to worry about it too much; that we have no intention of being different; that we are prepared to take our full share in all the pleasures of the world; and that we do not expect people to take any special trouble to respect any vague principles that we may have.
The Christian can never escape the duty of being different from the world. It is not our duty to be conformed to the world; it is our duty to be transformed from it.
(ii) We can deny him by our silence. A French writer tells of bringing a young wife into an old family. The old family had not approved of the marriage, although they were too conventionally polite ever to put their objections into actual words and criticisms. But the young wife afterwards said that her whole life was made a misery by "the menace of things unsaid."
There can be a menace of things unsaid in the Christian life. Again and again life brings us the opportunity to speak some word for Christ, to utter some protest against evil, to take some stand, and to show what side we are on. Again and again on such occasions it is easier to keep silence than to speak. But such a silence is a denial of Jesus Christ. It is probably true that far more people deny Jesus Christ by cowardly silence than by deliberate words.
(iii) We can deny him by our actions. We can live in such a way that our life is a continuous denial of the faith which we profess. He who has given his allegiance to the gospel of purity may be guilty of all kinds of petty dishonesties, and breaches of strict honour. He who has undertaken to follow the Master who bade him take up a cross can live a life which is dominated by attention to his own ease and comfort. He who has entered the service of him who himself forgave and who bade his followers to forgive can live a life of bitterness and resentment and variance with his fellow-men. He whose eyes are meant to be on that Christ who died for love of men can live a life in which the idea of Christian service and Christian charity and Christian generosity are conspicuous by their absence.
A special prayer was composed for the Lambeth Conference of 1948:
"Almighty God, give us grace to be not only hearers, but doers of thy holy word, not only to admire, but to obey thy doctrine, not only to profess, but to practice thy religion, not only to love, but to live thy gospel. So grant that what we learn of thy glory we may receive into our hearts, and show forth in our lives: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
That is a prayer which every one of us would be well to remember and continually to use.
THE WARFARE OF THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:34-39)
10:34-39 "Do not think that I came to send peace on earth: I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I came to set a man at variance against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies shall be the members of his own household. He that loves father or mother more than he loves me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me: He who finds his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it."
Nowhere is the sheer honesty of Jesus more vividly displayed than it is here. Here he sets the Christian demand at its most demanding and at its most uncompromising. He tells his men exactly what they may expect, if they accept the commission to be messengers of the King. Here in this passage Jesus offers four things.
(i) He offers a warfare; and in that warfare it will often be true that a man's foes will be those of his own household.
It so happens that Jesus was using language which was perfectly familiar to the Jew. The Jews believed that one of the features of the Day of the Lord, the day when God would break into history, would be the division of families. The Rabbis said: "In the period when the Son of David shall come, a daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." "The son despises his father, the daughter rebels against the mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and the man's enemies are they of his own household." It is as if Jesus said, "The end you have always been waiting for has come; and the intervention of God in history is splitting homes and groups and families into two."
When some great cause emerges, it is bound to divide people; there are bound to be those who answer, and those who refuse, the challenge. To be confronted with Jesus is necessarily to be confronted with the choice whether to accept him or to reject him; and the world is always divided into those who have accepted Christ and those who have not.
The bitterest thing about this warfare was that a man's foes would be those of his own household. It can happen that a man loves his wife and his family so much that he may refuse some great adventure, some avenue of service, some call to sacrifice, either because he does not wish to leave them, or because to accept it would involve them in danger.
T. R. Glover quotes a letter from Oliver Cromwell to Lord Wharton. The date is 1st January, 1649, and Cromwell had in the back of his mind that Wharton might be so attached to his home and to his wife that he might refuse to hear the call to adventure and to battle, and might choose to stay at home: "My service to the dear little lady; I wish you make her not a greater temptation than she is. Take heed of all relations. Mercies should not be temptations; yet we too often make them so.
It has happened that a man has refused God's call to some adventurous bit of service, because he allowed personal attachments to immobilize him. Lovelace, the cavalier poet, writes to his Lucasta, Going to the Wars:
"Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast, and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.
True; a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such,
As you too shall adore.
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Loved I not honour more."
It is very seldom that any man is confronted with this choice; he may well go through life and never face it; but the fact remains that it is possible for a man's loved ones to become in effect his enemies, if the thought of them keeps him from doing what he knows God wants him to do.
(ii) He offers a choice; and a man has to choose sometimes between the closest ties of earth and loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Bunyan knew all about that choice. The thing which troubled him most about his imprisonment was the effect it would have upon his wife and children. What was to happen to them, bereft of his support? "The parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place, as the pulling the flesh from my bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was like to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides. O the thought of the hardship I thought my blind one might go under, would break up my heart to pieces.... But yet, recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you; O I saw in this condition, I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children; yet thought I, I must do it, I must do it."
Once again, this terrible choice will come very seldom; in God's mercy to many of us it may never come; but the fact remains that all loyalties must give place to loyalty to god.
THE COST OF BEING A MESSENGER OF THE KING (Matthew 10:34-39 continued)
(iii) Jesus offers a cross. People in Galilee well knew what a cross was. When the Roman general, Varus, had broken the revolt of Judas of Galilee, he crucified two thousand Jews, and placed the crosses by the wayside along the roads to Galilee. In the ancient days the criminal did actually carry the crossbeam of his cross to the place of crucifixion, and the men to whom Jesus spoke had seen people staggering under the weight of their crosses and dying in agony upon them.
The great men, whose names are on the honour roll of faith, well knew what they were doing. After his trial in Scarborough Castle, George Fox wrote, "And the officers would often be threatening me, that I should be hanged over the wall ... they talked much then of hanging me. But I told them, 'If that was it they desired, and it was permitted them, I was ready.'" When Bunyan was brought before the magistrate, he said, "Sir, the law (the law of Christ) hath provided two ways of obeying: The one to do that which I in my conscience do believe that I am bound to do, actively; and where I cannot obey it actively, there I am willing to lie down and to suffer what they shall do unto me."
The Christian may have to sacrifice his personal ambitions, the ease and the comfort that he might have enjoyed, the career that he might have achieved; he may have to lay aside his dreams, to realize that shining things of which he has caught a glimpse are not for him. He will certainly have to sacrifice his will, for no Christian can ever again do what he likes; he must do what Christ likes. In Christianity there is always some cross, for it is the religion of the Cross.
(iv) He offers adventure. He told them that the man who found his life would lose it; and the man who lost his life would find it.
Again and again that has been proved true in the most literal way. It has always been true that many a man might easily have saved his life; but, if he had saved it, he would have lost it, for no one would ever have heard of him, and the place he holds in history would have been lost to him.
Epictetus says of Socrates: "Dying, he was saved, because he did not flee." Socrates could easily have saved his life, but, if he had done so, the real Socrates would have died, and no man would ever have heard of him.
When Bunyan was charged with refusing to come to public worship and with running forbidden meetings of his own, he thought seriously whether it was his duty to flee to safety, or to stand by what he believed to be true. As all the world knows, he chose to take his stand. T. R. Glover closes his essay on Bunyan thus: "And supposing he had been talked round and had agreed no longer 'devilishly and perniciously to abstain from coming to Church to hear divine service,' and to be no longer 'an upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of the kingdom contrary to the laws of our sovereign lord the king'? Bedford might have kept a tinker the more--and possibly none of the best at that, for there is nothing to show that renegades make good tinkers--and what would England have lost?"
There is no place for a policy of safety first in the Christian life. The man who seeks first ease and comfort and security and the fulfillment of personal ambition may well get all these things--but he will not be a happy man; for he was sent into this world to serve God and his fellow-men. A mall can hoard life, if he wishes to do so. But that way he will lose all that makes life valuable to others and worth living for himself. The way to serve others, the way to fulfil God's purpose for us, the way to true happiness is to spend life selflessly, for only thus will we find life, here and hereafter.
THE REWARD OF THOSE WHO WELCOME THE KING'S MESSENGER (Matthew 10:40-42)
10:40-42 He who receives you, receives me; and he who receives me, receives him that sent me. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones a drink of cold water because he is a disciple--this is the truth I tell you--he will not lose his reward.
When Jesus said this, he was using a way of speaking which the Jews regularly used. The Jew always felt that to receive a person's envoy or messenger was the same as to receive the person himself To pay respect to an ambassador was the same as to pay respect to the king who had sent him. To welcome with love the messenger of a friend was the same as to welcome the friend himself The Jew always felt that to honour a person's representative was the same as to honour the person whose representative he was. This was particularly so in regard to wise men and to those who taught God's truth. The Rabbis said: "He who shows hospitality to the wise is as if he brought the first-fruits of his produce unto God." "He who greets the learned is as if he greeted God." If a man is a true man of God, to receive him is to receive the God who sent him.
This passage sets out the four links in the chain of salvation.
(i) There is God out of whose love the whole process of salvation began. (ii) There is Jesus who brought that message to men. (iii) There is the human messenger, the prophet who speaks, the good man who is an example, the disciple who learns, who in turn all pass on to others the good news which they themselves have received. (iv) There is the believer who welcomes God's men and God's message and who thus finds life to his soul.
In this passage there is something very lovely for every simple and humble soul.
(i) We cannot all be prophets, and preach and proclaim the word of God, but he who gives God's messenger the simple gift of hospitality will receive no less a reward than the prophet himself. There is many a man who has been a great public figure; there is many a man whose voice has kindled the hearts of thousands of people; there is many a man who has carried an almost intolerable burden of public service and public responsibility, all of whom would gladly have borne witness that they could never have survived the effort and the demands of their task, were it not for the love and the care and the sympathy and the service of someone at home, who was never in the public eye at all. When true greatness is measured up in the sight of God, it will be seen again and again that the man who greatly moved the world was entirely dependent on someone who, as far as the world is concerned, remained unknown. Even the prophet must get his breakfast, and have his clothes attended to. Let those who have the often thankless task of making a home, cooking meals, washing clothes, shopping for household necessities, caring for children, never think of it as a dreary and weary round. It is God's greatest task; and they will be far more likely to receive the prophet's reward than those whose days are filled with committees and whose homes are comfortless.
(ii) We cannot all be shining examples of goodness; we cannot all stand out in the world's eye as righteous; but he who helps a good man to be good receives a good man's reward.
H. L. Gee has a lovely story. There was a lad in a country village who, after a great struggle, reached the ministry. His helper in his days of study had been the village cobbler. The cobbler, like so many of his trade, was a man of wide reading and far thinking, and he had done much for the lad. In due time the lad was licensed to preach. And on that day the cobbler said to him, "It was always my desire to be a minister of the gospel, but the circumstances of my life made it impossible. But you are achieving what was closed to me. And I want you to promise me one thing--I want you to let me make and cobble your shoes--for nothing--and I want you to wear them in the pulpit when you preach, and then I'll feel you are preaching the gospel that I always wanted to preach standing in my shoes." Beyond a doubt the cobbler was serving God as the preacher was, and his reward would one day be the same.
(iii) We cannot all teach the child; but there is a real sense in which we can all serve the child. We may not have either the knowledge or the technique to teach, but there are simple duties to be done, without which the child cannot live. It may be that in this passage it is not so much children in age of whom Jesus is thinking as children in the faith. It seems very likely that the Rabbis called their disciples the little ones. It may be that in the technical, academic sense we cannot teach, but there is a teaching by life and example which even the simplest person can give to another.
The great beauty of this passage is its stress on simple things.
The Church and Christ will always need their great orators, their great shining examples of sainthood, their great teachers. those whose names are household words; but the Church and Christ will also always need those in whose homes there is hospitality, on whose hands there is all the service which makes a home, and in whose hearts there is the caring which is Christian love; and, as Mrs. Browning said, "All service ranks the same with God."
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 10". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent