Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Why Choose to Follow Jesus?

Matthew 10:24-39

Let’s notice something straight away: There is an expectation of difficulty for Christ-followers. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you are persecuted…” He says, “When you are persecuted…”

Persecution was pretty a much a certainty for first century readers of Matthew’s Gospel. It remains a strong likelihood for many Christians in the world today. But it seems an unlikely situation for us. Maybe we say to ourselves, “Well, we are just very blessed to live in a place where Christianity is not a persecuted faith.” But maybe what we should be saying is, “Is there something missing from our practice of Christianity that we are not experiencing opposition from the world?”

Jesus encountered opposition. He encountered it from political and religious authorities. We should expect the same. The world will always be opposed to the Kingdom of God because the world operates from a perspective that God is not real, or if he is real, then he is not relevant. The world operates from a standpoint of “practical atheism,” in that regard. If we’re not at odds with the world, then the concern becomes, “Have we gotten too cozy with the world? Is there too much of the world and too little of the Kingdom of God in our lives?”

I think the thrust of this passage is to answer the question, “If we are going to experience difficulty in this world because we follow Christ, then why should we do it?” Why choose the path of discipleship if it’s going to mean trouble, even persecution?

Jesus says, “The student or the servant is not greater than the master or the teacher. If they persecute me, they will persecute you. But don’t be afraid.” Why not?

First, because truth always prevails in the end. “All will be revealed.” Most first century Hebrews believed that on the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, all would be made plain. Jesus affirms that belief here. Lies can be persistent. They can hang around a lot longer than we want them to. But in the end, truth wins the day.

So speak the truth, even if people don’t want to hear it. I think of Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet, and what I call the Parable of the Watchman. It’s in Ezekiel chapter 33. God basically says to Ezekiel, “You are my watchman. If the watchman does his job and warns people when the city is threatened, and they don’t listen, then it’s on their heads. But woe to the watchman who doesn’t sound the alarm. Then he’s responsible for the disaster.” Speak God’s truth. Speak it whether people want to hear it or not. We should do our best to speak it in a way that will be heard, but we are responsible for speaking it nonetheless. Maybe we’ll be rejected for speaking it, but then the

responsibility falls on those who reject the truth. If we fail to speak it, then the responsibility is on our hands.

The second reason we should follow Jesus even if it means difficulty is because we should fear God, not people.

The language of fearing God is common in Scripture. It’s ironic because every time God shows up or sends an angel, the first words are always, “Do not be afraid.” Well, we need to distinguish between “fearing God” and “being afraid.” The idea of “fearing God” is the idea of respect, but stronger than our word respect. Reverence might be the best English word. Or sometimes I hear it described as a “holy fear.”

The worst a person can do is kill our bodies. But God has power over both our body and our eternal soul. Our “soul” is the “non-corporeal,” the non-physical part of our being. We sometimes call that our “spirit,” but in the New Testament, the word spirit is almost always used in reference to spiritual beings: angels and demons. A persecutor might be able to do harm to our body, our physical being, but God has the power to condemn our soul for all eternity or to preserve our soul for eternity. Given the choice, we should choose to “fear,” to respect and reverence, God, even if it means trouble in this world.

Third, God cares for us. Jesus uses a QAL VAHOMER argument here. QAL VAHOMER is Hebrew for “how much more?” If God cares for the sparrows, then how much more does he care for us?

God is not unaware when a sparrow falls to the ground. The sense is that God knows everything that happens in his creation; that he is omniscient. And he is all caring. God cares for all that he has made, even the sparrows sold for “pennies” in the marketplace. Yes, they ate sparrows, or at least poor people did. That was one of the few sources of protein in the diet that poor people could afford. Not a lot of meat on a sparrow! If God cares for the sparrow, then how much does he care for us, who are made in his own image and likeness? God is not unaware or unconcerned about the troubles we have in this life. And we are never alone in the midst of them.

If we acknowledge him here in this life, then he will acknowledge us before the Father on the Day of Judgment. But if we deny him, he will deny us.

I’ve read the observation that we can deny Jesus in four ways: By our words, our silence, our actions, or our inaction. In other words, we can deny Jesus by speaking falsely, by failing to speak when we should, by acting contrary to God’s will, or by failing to act when God tells us that we should.

“Don’t imagine I’ve come to bring peace, but rather division.” Jesus references Micah 7:6 here. The point is that Jesus demands a decision. If we fail to make a decision, that is the same as deciding against him. And if we are to follow him as Lord, then we must prioritize that decision over all others. We must even choose to loyalty to him over loyalty to family. Loyalty to family was a big deal in first-century Hebrew culture. Only God could demand a loyalty higher than family.

Jesus uses the language of love and hate in these verses. Some Bible translations don’t use those words because they don’t make sense to us. “Why would God want us to hate our parents or our children?” But the language of love/hate is used hyperbolically here. Sometimes those words were used in the sense of choosing for or against. We love God by choosing loyalty to him even above loyalty to family. I can understand why some Bible translators “cover up” the literal wording since it can sound pretty harsh! Bible translation is often difficult because ideas don’t always translate well from one language to another.

Jesus even tells us that we must choose loyalty to him over loyalty to self: “Take up your cross.” To take up the cross is to accept the death penalty, the death of self-will. And we might not really feel the full brunt of that statement. Crucifixion was part of life for these people. A couple decades earlier, there was a rebellion against Roman taxes in Galilee, led by a man named Judas of Gamala. The Romans crushed the uprising, and in the aftermath, the Roman general Varus decided to make an example of Judas’ followers. He rounded up 2000 rebels and crucified them along all the roads of Galilee. Typically, the Romans left crucified criminals on the cross as a warning. For months, every person in Galilee walked past the bodies of crucified rebels as the birds picked them clean. This was not a casual statement Jesus made! Jesus is making a radical demand of his followers, of us. We can’t be a disciple without giving our all.

But we can’t cling to our lives. We can only spend our lives. If we spend our lives for Jesus, then we keep them for eternity.

The challenge for us is that we are still tempted to cling to life. The more we love life in this world, the harder it is to embrace life in the world to come. And for us, living in a land where there is a lot of prosperity, it can be very challenging. Can we still live with a focus on the world to come and a sense of mission in this world? Or will we try to cling to what this life promises it can deliver?

If following Jesus makes life more difficult, why should we do it? We do it because God cares for us and God alone can give us life beyond this world.

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