Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Do Not Fear Those Who Can Kill The Body


(Audio Version; Music: "Sovereign Over Us"--by Aaron Keyes--WorshipMob Intimate Sessions--Real. Live. Music.)



Introduction

            During my final year in Seminary I had to take a class in Christian ethics and apologetics. As a class project, we were paired with another person in the class and then we were assigned a social topic to argue in defense of the issue or in opposition to the issue. My partner and I were assigned to argue against abortion while another pair of students were assigned to argue in favor of abortion. I spent lots of time with my partner as we formulated an argument to support our position (I felt bad for our opponents who had to come up with some kind of rational, biblical argument in favor of murdering innocent babies). What was my partner’s name? I can’t tell you because it might put his life in even greater danger than it already is. I learned that my friend had come all the way from Turkey to be trained as a pastor. We were both close to the end of our time at the Seminary and one of our discussions turned to the inevitable, “What are you planning on doing when you graduate?” Of course at that time, God still had not revealed to me His plan for me for this ministry. However, my friend knew exactly what he was doing. He was going back to Turkey to take over a church started by his best friend. I asked if his friend was leaving and he just looked away and said, “No, he’s dead. Some Muslims came to his house one day and killed him. So the people from his church asked me if I would be willing to get the training to take over for him. I said yes so I’m going back to Turkey when I graduate.” I think about my friend from Turkey all the time especially during the difficult weeks that I’m sure all pastors face in their ministry. I thought of him as I read the countless stories of Christian persecution around the world by the evils of Islam in many places and at the hands of Communists in still other places. I have spent many hours in prayer for my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are enduring such severe persecutions. In my prayers, I sensed that Christian persecution, especially at the hands of Muslims, will soon visit us here in America and it will make the persecution Christians have experienced to this point by arrogant unbelievers seem like child’s play. In fact, just this week in a small town in Oklahoma, a Muslim man attacked two of his co-workers and managed to behead one of them before being stopped by another person who happened to be armed with a gun. I am convinced that this evil will continue to grow in the days and years ahead.

At the time I started this ministry, I committed to God that I would say what He needed me to say when He needed me to say it and I believe I have been faithful to do that. I have come to realize that there is a negative side to reaching more and more people with the salvation message of Jesus Christ—more and more people who hate Jesus have the opportunity to attack. I thought about my friend from Turkey this week as I read through and responded to some of the particularly hateful comments people left me last week and for maybe the first time since I started this ministry I could read them and respond to them knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I am doing exactly what God has called me to do. You must understand that those who persecute Christians do so with the goal of silencing their witness to Jesus Christ. The public and usually gruesome nature of the persecution, particularly in the case of Muslims, has one specific purpose—to instill fear in believers and silence their witness. It’s called “terror”—ism for a reason. So what should be our reaction if persecution for our faith finds its way to our doorstep? Jesus says, Do Not Fear Those Who Can Kill The Body! Christian persecution is nothing new. In fact, from the moment Jesus began to attract followers, they have been subject to scrutiny. And from the time of Jesus’ death until now Christians, in one place or another, have been under attack to a greater or lesser degree. Jesus never said that following Him would be easy. Instead, He made it clear that we shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently than He was treated. Jesus preached the message of salvation that would come through Him all the while knowing that His message would lead to His death. However, just like His death made salvation possible for us, our persecution has a greater purpose in God’s salvation plan for humanity. Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus says about how we should respond to persecution for our Christian faith.

Subject Text

Matthew 10:26-33

            26“So do not be afraid of them [those who would persecute you]. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 32Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Context

            The end of chapter 9 sets the stage for Jesus’ instruction in our Subject Text. At the end of chapter 9, Matthew tells us that Jesus travelled throughout all the towns and villages (in the region) preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing all the diseases and sicknesses he encountered. At some point, He took a moment to survey the huge crowds of people that came to Him wherever he went. If you’re reading this here in America, what do you suppose the typical pastor would be thinking if he looked outside the church doors on a Sunday morning and saw people lined up for blocks trying to get in to see him? Here’s what I suspect he would be thinking—$$cha-ching$$—dollar signs. But that wasn’t Jesus’ reaction when crowds of people came to see Him wherever He went. Instead, it broke his heart because they all seemed to be desperately lost like sheep without a shepherd to watch over them and guide them and care for them. So Jesus gathers His disciples and sends them out specifically to the people of Israel to do what they saw Him doing—proclaim the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out and chase off demons. Jesus realized that they would experience the same popularity among the people that He enjoyed. However, He also realized that their message would invite the wrath of the religious leaders, the rich ruling class, and inevitably they would get the attention of the Romans if they created enough of a public disturbance. The religious leaders saw Jesus and His message as a threat to their power and control, the rich ruling class saw Jesus as a threat to their luxurious way of life, and the Romans saw Jesus as a possible threat the very important Pax Romana (Latin: “Roman peace”). Jesus warned the disciples that they would be hated because of Jesus and when they were persecuted in one city they should move on to the next one. Ultimately, they would be faced with the choice of remaining silent or facing death and this is when Jesus tells the disciples in our Subject Text, Do Not Fear Those Who Can Kill The Body.

Text Analysis

            Some of my friends have wondered if it wouldn’t be better if I didn’t stir the pot so much with some of my teachings. I understand why my friends might say that. They care about me and don’t want any harm to come to me. But that is exactly what atheists want and it is one of the objectives of Muslims as well—to try and silence the message of Jesus Christ through fear and intimidation. However, even if I don’t say another word about Jesus Christ, the Good News of the Gospel will somehow continue to be proclaimed to all the nations until He returns. Jesus makes it clear in v. 10 that the truth of Jesus Christ cannot be hidden or kept a secret. The truth can be subverted, manipulated, distorted, and suppressed but eventually, the truth will come out. Fools can try to elect officials who appoint judges that hand down rulings to suppress the truth. Unbelievers can cling to their sinful lifestyles by distorting the truth. Religious leaders can try to maintain their power and influence by manipulating the truth. Evil Muslim butchers and other Christian persecutors around the world can try to control believers through intimidation and subvert the truth. But in the end, the truth of Jesus Christ will prevail and the faithful witness of His followers will be vindicated. “Jesus obviously intended us to understand that we will be treated as poorly as he has been treated. Most modern American Christians find it hard to identify with this, but Christ’s followers in other places find it as real as the morning news. Persecution of Christians throughout the world is a serious reality. Jesus’ notice of poor treatment is not an encouraging statement, further affirming the difficulty of being Jesus’ follower. But his disciples probably found some encouragement, since such mistreatment implied close association with Jesus. There is solace in camaraderie, especially when your comrade is the Messiah-King who is inviting you to share his throne (Rev 3:21) and his reign (Rev 2:26-28)…Part of the fear of persecution is that the truth of injustice may never become known, and justice may never be served. But Jesus encouraged the Twelve not to fear injustice from persecutors. Ultimately, any concealed truth will break into the open.”[1]

            Imagine for a moment that you and everyone around you was dying from a disease. Let’s make it real—imagine it is your wife or your husband. But don’t stop there—imagine it is your children as well; and your parents and your brothers and sisters. And let’s not forget your best friend; all your friends actually. And all your neighbors too—you’re all infected and dying from the same disease. And all you can do is stand by helplessly and watch. Until one night, a Stranger comes to you and whispers a secret in your ear; a cure to the disease. He offers you the cure for free and tells you that you’re welcome to share the secret with anyone you choose. What would you do? Would you keep the secret to yourself or would you share it with others? I don’t know about you but I would try to find a place where I could get the attention of as many people as possible and announce the secret for all to hear. And I would encourage them to do the same thing. Well that’s exactly what Jesus was telling his disciples. Jesus regularly told His disciples that God’s kingdom was in their midst through Him; hope had arrived through Him; healing was available through Him; the Savior they desperately needed and longed for was here! Jesus had arrived to fill the empty recesses of their souls that they had tried to satisfy to that point with money, sex, and power. All that Jesus was and all that Jesus could provide was the Good News that they were to proclaim. In fact, the Good News was so “Good” that they would be compelled to shout it from the rooftops! “Concealment is to be no part of the life of the disciple. What Jesus says to them in secret (in the darkness) they are to speak in the light (‘in broad daylight,’ [Revised English Bible]); it is not to be concealed; they are to give it full publicity. There are two thoughts here. One is that the followers of Jesus get their message from him; it is not something they have laboriously evolved for themselves. The other is that, having received Jesus’ message, they are to give it the widest publicity…The tops of homes were, of course, greatly used in the Palestine of those days, and a housetop made a fine platform for anyone who wanted to bring his message before a large number of people. The expression is a way of saying that the words in question are to be given maximum publicity. It is possible to convey information to a few people secretly, but Jesus’ teaching is to be much more widespread than that. He has public proclamation in mind.”[2]

            We reach the pinnacle of Jesus’ instruction in v. 28 when He says that the disciples, in fulfilling their commission to proclaim the gospel message, shouldn’t fear those who have their sights set on killing them in order to silence their proclamation. Death at the hands of human agents, even the most horrific death, is only temporal. What they should fear; what all humanity should fear, is the One who can not only destroy the body but the soul as well at the final judgment when all unbelievers and the unfaithful are condemned to an eternity in hell. What Jesus is telling the disciples and by extension us as well is that there is a fate far worse than the loss of our earthly lives, it is the loss of our eternal lives; our banishment to hell away from the presence of God forever. For most of us, especially here in America, these words from Jesus are not really foreboding—at least for now. However, as I describe in my introduction to this lesson, I believe a time is coming, perhaps even during my lifetime, when confessing Christians in America will risk their lives by their confession. Nevertheless, many in this audience experience this reality every day of their lives right now. For them, proclaiming the message of salvation through Jesus Christ in public is an automatic death sentence. Many have faithfully served that sentence and many more will serve that sentence in the days ahead just as so many others have in past. If you are reading these words in safety because you live in a place where you can proclaim and practice your faith freely, I want you to close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you are reading these words in secret because someone printed them off and slipped them to you during a discrete meeting in the back isle of a small market where few eyes are present. How would your life of faith be different if you knew that at the slightest indiscretion a mob might drag you out into the street and chop your head off as your family stands by and watches in horror? It’s easy to be a courageous Christian when the worst we can expect is having a few foolish atheists hurl insults and obscenities at us, although some Christians aren’t even willing to endure that for their faith. Can you look in the mirror and honestly say that you will not abandon your faith in order to save your own life? Can you honestly say that you will not abandon your faith in order to save the lives of those you love? I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done countless times whenever I pray for my brothers and sisters around the world who are enduring life-threatening persecution. I have looked at myself in the mirror and asked myself these same questions and here’s what I’ve determined: I don’t know what I would do if I had to decide between abandoning my faith and saving my own life or the lives of those I love. I want to be able to say unequivocally that I would never abandon my faith under any circumstances but I know that would be a lie. In the past I have prayed that God won’t put me in a position where I have to make that choice but these days I pray that God would give me the courage to never be tempted to abandon my faith for any reason—including death. That may not be what you expect to hear from a pastor but that’s the truth and I believe it is consistent with Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond the point that we can endure. Instead, God will provide a way out of any temptation and that way out may very well be the courage to face our own death or the death of our loved ones without abandoning our faith (cf. 1 Cor 10:13). Jesus presents us with a choice: fear the person who can end our earthly existence and nothing else or the One who is sovereign over not just our physical existence but over our eternal existence as well—the One who has the power and authority to condemn the body and soul to an eternity of torment in hell. “The ultimate danger any human being could face is to encounter God, the Judge of all, as an enemy…There is one to fear, namely, the One with the power to inflict the punishment that is greater than death: the friendship of this One is worthy [of] maintaining even in the face of the hostility of ‘those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.’”[3]

            Our earthly lives are very important to us, and rightly so as life is a gift from God. Therefore, we want not just our lives but our deaths to have meaning. Jesus assures us in vv. 29-31 that God is in complete control over even the smallest details of creation and especially humanity because of its inherent value having been created in His image. Jesus uses the image of a sparrow and its value as being relatively insignificant as compared to our value and yet Jesus assures us that God is fully aware and sovereign over the fate of even the sparrow. In fact, Jesus assures us that God is conscious of every detail of our lives down to the smallest detail of knowing the number of hairs on our heads. We breeze over this at times because it seems like merely a hyperbolic illustration. But it is very important in the context of our lesson. Notice that God doesn’t prevent the sparrow from falling to the ground (dying) just like He may not prevent your death. What Jesus is trying to tell us is that nothing is out of God’s control even though all evidence appears to the contrary. But we must come to terms with the truth that nothing, absolutely nothing, occurs outside God’s will. We have to be careful here that we don’t understand God’s will as the cause of anything evil. Instead, we must also see God’s will as allowing evil as a means to accomplish a greater good; a greater purpose. If God cares so deeply about the fate of a small bird, how much more do you suppose He cares about you who have been created in His image? “The God who can destroy in hell is also the God who cares for the smallest bird. Within his fatherly care, there is nothing to fear from human hostility…Nothing happens to the children of a loving Father which falls outside his providential care; it neither takes him by surprise nor frustrates his purpose. This saying does not, of course, promise immunity from death or suffering for God’s people, only the knowledge that it does not happen ‘without your Father.’”[4]

            The thing that makes salvation so easy is also what makes it so difficult. Admittedly, there are many verses in the Bible that are open to alternative interpretations—vv. 32-33 are not among those. We have two options—accept and confess Jesus publicly and be accepted by God the Father at the final judgment or reject and deny Jesus publicly and be rejected by God the Father at the final judgment. Of course there are generally no severe consequences for Christians here in America except enduring the ire of the occasional petulant atheist whose delicate sensibilities are offended when God is referenced in some public document or on some public structure or someone puts a nativity scene or cross on public property or Jesus is mentioned in a prayer before some public high school sporting event. But that’s not the case in many other places in the world. In most countries controlled by Muslims or Communists, a public confession of faith in Jesus Christ invites a death sentence. So for those of you who are free to make your confession without grave consequences, never take for granted that your confession hasn’t really cost you all that much in comparison to some of your brothers and sisters around the world. I say this not to make you feel guilty if you haven’t faced persecution but for two specific reasons: 1) Always thank God that you have the privilege to confess Jesus without grave consequences; and 2) Remember and always pray for those who do not have the privilege to confess Jesus without grave consequences. These verses do not only address the confession or rejection of believers but the decision all people make when given the opportunity to believe in Jesus. Where v. 32 specifically deals with believers because it identifies those who acknowledge Jesus, v. 33 deals with all people—those who once believe and then reject Him because of persecution or some other reason and those who simply refuse to believe when given the opportunity. “The test of a disciple’s commitment to Jesus and his mission will come when opposition arises. The easiest way to avoid persecution is to deny that one is Jesus’ disciple. But the true disciple does not fear death, so she [or he] will publicly acknowledge or confess Jesus as her Master and God, the Son of the heavenly Father. The public discipleship to Jesus is eternal, for Jesus will likewise acknowledge her to his Father, another statement of the exclusive relationship that Jesus and the Father enjoy. But the disciple who attempts to avoid persecution by public denial of Jesus reveals that he is not a true disciple and has not publicly confessed Jesus as his Master and God. Such denial results in eternal rejection by the Father.”[5]

Application

          A number of months ago I wrote about the courage of Meriam Ibrahim who, while she was eight months pregnant, was jailed by the Muslim government in her native country of Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith and for marrying a Christian man. Although she was tortured and threatened, she would not refuse Jesus. Eventually, public outcry from around the world secured her release and freedom. Ibrahim was present over the weekend at the Faith, Family, and Freedom dinner in Washington D. C. hosted by the Family Research Council Action where she thanked all the people who were instrumental in her release and where she received the inaugural “Cost of Discipleship Award” in recognition of her tremendous courage and steadfast faith. During her speech she also acknowledged Pastor Saeed Abedini who has been in prison in Iran for the last two years because of his faith. For many of us, especially for us here in America, we read the words of Jesus from our Subject Text but they’re really just words on a page because we practice our faith in relative safety and comfort. But Pastor Abedini and his family are living those words every day. I want you to hear their story as a real life example of what our Subject Text looks like when it is lived out before our eyes:


            Like Meriam Ibrahim had, Pastor Abedini has the option to secure his own release by renouncing his faith. Instead, he has determined that there is something much more important at stake than saving his own life. He has determined that God has not forgotten him and is, in fact, using him to proclaim Jesus Christ to his persecutors. Pastor Abedini and his wife have determined to remain faithful to their Christian confession. They have put their hope, their trust, and the faith in Jesus Christ who holds the key to their eternal future. They Do Not Fear Those Who Can Kill The Body. Pray for Pastor Abedini and for all our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. But also pray for those around the world whose faith is yet to be tested by persecution, that they too will remain faithful and have the courage to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and that there is no other name under heaven by which men and women can be saved (Acts 4:12).

 





[1] Stuart K. Weber, Matthew—Holman New Testament Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2000), p. 147.
[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew—Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 261-262.
[3] David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 804.
[4] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew—The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), pp. 403-404.
[5] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew—The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), p. 396.