Friday, June 21, 2019 -
Today I was reading my dad’s Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, which my mother graciously sent to me, in preparation for our group Bible study each Saturday. If we finish Matthew 9 tomorrow, we’ll move into chapter 10, which contains some important and dire warnings for believers, from verse 16 through verse 23. In a very real sense, this passage predicted what I and my co-defendants have gone through, for it was indeed for Christ’s sake (v. 18) that we have been delivered up to the courts and imprisoned. And, as one of the guards who is a Christian expressed to me recently, “You are not going to be the last.” Truly, unless there is a great revival in our land, starting within the church itself, this passage is about to come true. Either you as a believer will be forced to walk away from Christ, or face similar tribulations. We are in no doubt moving into the latter days!
Dad had some very interesting observations on this passage, and I will mix them in with my own. It begins with the proclamation, “Behold!” Any time you find this, we are asked to pay careful attention, because something truly extraordinary is about to be revealed. My family raises sheep, and they have little defense against predators. But here Jesus claims we will be as sheep in the midst of wolves. I know little about wild sheep, but domesticated sheep such as we have MUST have a protective animal, such as a donkey, dog, horse, or llama, with them at all times. One time I foolishly separated our horses from the sheep, and we lost seven lambs to coyotes within a couple of nights. Jesus often compared us to sheep, which are not only defenseless, but stupid! Yet, Jesus says He is sending us into the midst of wolves!
But Jesus does provide us with some advice in dealing with the wolves. He tells us to be shrewd (wise) as serpents and innocent as doves. Moses called the serpent craftier than any beast of field (Genesis 3:1). The wisdom, or shrewdness, Christ is referring to here is not static; it keeps growing; it is something extraordinary. Think about snakes. When they see danger, they slither away usually undetected and hide. They are not reckless! The word the NASB translates as harmless depicts a purity of simplicity of heart (Genesis 8:8; Matt. 3:16). It has always symbolized peace and purity. And so should our lives be. Yet we also must be wise, or shrewd, to the tactics of the enemy!
He says to “beware of men” in verse 17; “for they will deliver you to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and the gentiles.” But Jesus also said, “if the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). John 17:14 quotes Jesus’ prayer for those who follow Him: “I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth; Thy word is truth. As you didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18). This act of being forced into synagogues and beaten was precisely what Paul did to the early church (Acts 22:19; 26:11).
Jesus continues, “But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to speak. For it is not you who speaks, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you (Matt. 10:19-20). Note that Jesus is referring here to the words we speak for Christ’s sake as a testimony to Him. Stephen is a perfect example. Jesus here is imparting to His people that they would testify of Christ in the same manner in which God imparted to Jesus to testify of the Father. This is a marvelous promise! In verse 21, Jesus actually predicts that family members will cause fellow members of the same family to be put to death. Jesus says in John 16:2 that “an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” But then Jesus, in Matthew 10:22 says, “but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” The end here in this context means to the point of death. He says we will be “hated by all on account of My name,” which mean we will be hated because we are righteous, because we always chose to do the righteous thing!
Paul, after speaking of those in Hebrews 11 who died for their faith, says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
But the most important thing I believe to take away from this is Christ’s admonition in verse 16: be wise as a serpent (flee from evil and harm’s way – see also I Cor. 10:14 and II Tim. 2:22), and lead innocent lives, seeking the purity of heart only Christ can bring (Rom. 12:2; Colossians 1:6; 2:22; 3:1-17).