Copycats' Courage Confessed
© 07.25.09 By D. Eric Williams
This article is based on the sermon notes for the July 26 service at Cottonwood Community Church
As strange as it may seem many Christians want to consider themselves a follower of Jesus Christ even while they forgo the ramifications of that relationship. In other words, there are people who want to be known as Christians but they do not want to be inconvenienced by that identification as a member of the covenant community of God.
As Jesus continues to prepare his Apostles for the hardships of the first century Jewish mission he tells them that they are in the same boat as he has but they should not fear because he will recount their testimony to the Father The scripture text is Matthew 10:24–33:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
Copycats: Same Boat As Jesus
Jesus makes an obvious statement when he tells us a disciple is not above his teacher. He is simply saying that a person who follows in the footsteps of a teacher or a leader should expect to experience the same sort of reaction to their teaching that the teacher received to his teaching. I say that this is an obvious statement but the fact that Jesus took the time to mention this should remind us that human beings all too often overlook the obvious. Perhaps Christ mentions this to his disciples because they experienced the cognitive dissonance that is a common among Christians. It is this odd idea that everyone will love us if we embrace the warm and fuzzy aspects of Jesus reputation and forget about the theology stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus emphasizes the point by repetition when he says that a servant is not above his master. In the Greek it says that a slave is not above his master or Lord. This is a little bit unusual: the writers of the New Testament have no problem calling themselves slaves of Jesus Christ but it is uncommon for Christ himself to call his followers slaves. In this instance it is merely a matter of repetition to get the point across; the disciples of Jesus Christ can expect to be treated as Jesus Christ is treated.
Since it is obvious that a disciple does not exceed his master nor a slave his Lord there must be something else that Jesus is trying to tell us here. There is. Jesus is saying that "it is enough for disciple that he be like his teacher and a servant like his master" in that the disciple or the slave should not think that they will somehow rise above the reputation of the one that they follow.
Jesus wants his disciples to understand that they cannot "schmooze" their way through this first century Jewish mission. He wants them to know that they will not be able to rise above the reputation of the one whom they call Master. They cannot adopt only the "best" of Jesus reputation and discard the rest. This should be obvious but I suspect that the Apostles were not unlike Christians in this modern age. I suspect that the Apostles and – at least at this point in time - harbored the hope that they would be seen in a different light than Jesus himself. Nevertheless, Christ nips that false hope in the bud. "No," he says, "it is enough that you be like me. You will not be able to somehow be my follower even while you disown a connection to the ‘unacceptable' aspects of my life and teaching."
By way of example Jesus tells them that they can expect to be called "satanic" just as Jesus had already been by this time.
There has been a lot of discussion concerning what Jesus actually said or what he actually meant when he says that "if they have called the master of the house Beelzeboul how much more will they call those of his household!" The Greek term used here is actually "Beelzeboul" not Beelzebub as it is given in the King James and the New King James versions. The slight variation of spelling from Beelzeboul to Beelzebub makes this term mean "Lord of the dunghill" or "Lord of the flies." Some commentators think that he said either "Lord of the flies" or "Lord of the dung." I am of the opinion that he actually said Beelzeboul, "Lord of the high dwelling" or "Lord of the dwelling" just as it is recorded in the Greek and did so as a play on words. What I mean is this; it was common in first century Palestine to describe the chief of the demons as Beelzeboul, "lord of the high dwelling." Some may have used the terms meaning lord of the dung, but apparently the common term used to describve Satqan was Beelzeboul. Thus Jesus is saying, "if they call the Lord of the house (which is oikodespotan), the "Lord of the high dwelling" how much worse things will they call the members of his household? Don't forget, Christ has already been identified as Beelzebub, or at least someone who "cast out demons by the ruler of the demons" (Matthew 9:34).
Now stop for a moment realize what has been said about Jesus Christ by the Pharisees and the other religious leaders. They had said already that Jesus Christ is not the messiah but is someone who is in league with Satan or perhaps is Satan himself. This is a terrible blasphemy.
But for our purposes here what I want you to understand is that Jesus is making a play on this term Beelzeboul. Already he has been called a satanic and he is telling his disciples that if that is the case for him it will certainly be the case for them. So, Jesus puts it in an ironic way saying, "If they have called the master of the house ‘the ruler of the house' how much more will he call those of his house? (So you see, there is precedent for my use of the "poetic three.") This is an example (in my opinion), of how Jesus loves to turn a phrase. We already know that he is a master teacher and one to use his parables to express the truth of the kingdom of God. In this example Jesus uses a turn of the phrase to embrace a number of ideas. He's telling his apostles that the Messiah who rules the house of God – the Universal House of God that Abraham was called to establish – has already been called satanic and equated with the ruler of the house of darkness. Therefore, the followers of the Messiah can expect to be called satanic - or worse. The intent here is to let the apostles know that they cannot expect to somehow avoid the kind of persecution that Jesus endured. They cannot escape an association with Jesus.
In light of what the Apostles and their associates would face during the first century Jewish mission it was very important that Jesus prepare them. He did not want them to be misled into thinking that all would be well after he was gone. In fact, as we know from the account of the Acts of the Apostles, the persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ took on an official and systematic character.
At no time in the history of the Church is there any room for a follower of Jesus Christ who is not willing to be identified with Jesus. Everyone who claims faith in Christ as his Savior is in the same boat that he was in. The world hates Jesus and to the degree that we are Christlike they will hate us as well. Bottom line: There is no getting away from the reputation of Jesus. The Apostles were supposed to imitate the Lord. They were supposed to be like the Mater in every respect even though they already knew that being copycats of Jesus would bring persecution.
Courage: But Don't Fear
Even though the Apostles can expect to be treated in the same way that Jesus is treated they should not fear that this persecution will somehow stop the proclamation of the truth. It is interesting how Jesus puts this. He says, "in light of the fact that you be treated in the same way that I am treated don't be afraid of them." In other words, since you know this is coming, don't let it hinder you, there is really nothing to be afraid of. I suppose you could say that this is an example of knowledge being power. The Apostles know that they're going to be persecuted and treated poorly just as Jesus is; so they should not be afraid of that eventuality. And one reason they are supposed to remain courageous is because the truth will come out. In other words, the Gospel will be proclaimed no matter how bad the persecution becomes.
Some folks think that this particular passage (verse 26), is referring to the final judgment. I remember as a child I was told that on the day of judgment everything I had ever done would be projected on a giant movie screen for the entire world to see. I was told that we knew this because Jesus assured us that everything would be uncovered and revealed. That was a mangling of this particular verse. The context has nothing whatsoever to do with the final judgment.
Instead, Jesus is telling his Apostles that they can be sure that what is obscure now will become widely known. He is telling them that the truth of his messianic reign will be proclaimed throughout the land of Palestine during the first century Jewish mission.
The truth that Jesus is the Christ was little known during his ministry. In fact, even his own apostles were not really clear on who Jesus was. It was not until the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the followers of Jesus Christ that they understood who Jesus is and what he had done. Thus, he tells the apostles at this point that they should not be afraid of persecution because soon enough the message of the messianic reign will be widely disseminated and understood.
In light of this the apostles are supposed to boldly and loudly proclaim the things that they hear from Jesus. It is not that Christ is hiding away in secret, mumbling obscure bits of trivia to his Apostles. However, it is true that Jesus was selective in who he would illuminate and allow to understand the teaching of the kingdom. He spoke to the crowds in parables and "dark sayings." Once again, is true as well that the Apostles themselves suffered from a lack of understanding until the Spirit was poured out.
Therefore Jesus is simply saying that the things he is teaching now which have a limited audience because of the hardheartedness of the Jews, will be widely proclaimed by the Apostles. When he says that what they hear in the ear they should preach in the house top he is referring to the practice of the teachers of the law at that time to whisper the Hebrew text in the ear of an "interpreter" who would then speak the text out loud to the synagogue in the common language.
All Christ is saying is that his Apostles should not be afraid of failure due to persecution. Instead, they should see persecution as an indicator that they are not above the master and that they have the responsibility to proclaim the message of the kingdom they received from Christ just as he proclaimed it.
They should also maintain their courage in light of the fact that death does not end their existence. Therefore there is no reason for them to fear those who can kill the body but cannot touch the soul. It makes much more sense to direct your motivational respect, your fear, to the one who can kill the body and destroy the soul in hell.
The subsequent history of the Apostles affirms for us that they were men of courage. Indeed, throughout the history of the Church there are thousands of examples of men and women who understood that they should not fear those who have limited power. It is only God who has power over the soul and so it is only God who deserves our motivational respect.
Now, it would also seem that Jesus is saying when a person dies in an unregenerate condition, they experience annihilation rather than eternal torment. The Greek word here translated as "destroy" is apollumi and it means to destroy or to put out of the way entirely. Now, as attractive as this may be to some folks, we cannot suggest that Jesus is teaching the doctrine of annihilation based upon this single passage.
In Mark chapter 9 Jesus warns against offending the "little ones who believe in" him. To cause one of them to stumble is to place oneself in danger of hell where "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9: 42–44). And then in Matthew 25:46 we read about the fate of those who reject Jesus Christ in these terms: "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." The apostle Paul reaffirms the doctrine of eternal punishment in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica when he says that those who reject Jesus Christ shall "be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
There are other many references in the Scripture that support the idea of eternal punishment. Therefore when we read the words of Jesus concerning the destruction of the soul in hell we must understand this as a metaphorical way of describing the horrors of hell. Frankly, I understand the desire to embrace a doctrine of annihilation. It would help a lot of people feel better about the loss of a loved one who did not know Jesus Christ. It seems so much more "loving" then the doctrine of eternal punishment. Nevertheless, we cannot allow our emotions to guide us in this issue. Nor can we allow a single isolated verse to establish doctrine for us. No, it is the whole counsel of God that provides sound doctrine and so we accept the fact that Jesus is using strong, metaphorical language to describe the power of God over the soul.
The point that Christ wants to make is that the apostles should not be afraid of those who would oppose them because the persecutors of the faith do not have any power over the soul. It is only God who has this kind of power and so their motivational respect must be directed to their Father in heaven.
A third reason that the apostles should maintain a courage is the fact that God is in control of all things. Jesus uses the example of an insignificant bird which is sold for an insignificant amount of money in the marketplace to establish the tremendous value of the Apostles and other Believers to the Father in heaven. In first century Palestine sparrows were very common just as they are in this country today. As odd as it may seem to us, poor people in first century Judea and Galilee purchased sparrows in the marketplace and make a meal of these scrawny little birds. I can't imagine that even two sparrows would make much of a meal but apparently two sparrows for a copper coin was a common marketplace bargain.
Yet even these insignificant birds are under the constant care of Almighty God. God is superintending even the life of a sparrow so, of course God will watch over the Apostles. There is no aspect of this created realm which is outside of God's control. In fact, if there were any single thing that was outside of God's control then there would not be any thing that was under God's control. I have discussed this with you before but let me remind you that if even a sparrow were somehow living his life outside of the sovereign will of the Father what would prevent that a little sparrow from wrecking havoc on the plans of God? For instance, what if I were riding my bicycle down the street at a high rate of speed and that one little sparrow which was outside of God's control suddenly flew into my eye and caused me to crash my bike and break my neck? You see, if that sparrow were not under God's control then it would be a free agent, able to disrupt the plans of God.
The context of what Jesus is saying here is a little different. He's telling his apostles that everything is under the control of God and so they should not feel that they have two face hardship alone. More than that, they should not feel that they are facing hardship without purpose. Even the smallest detail is of concern to God. Sparrows, and the hairs of our head, are under God's sovereign control. It's not just the big things that are under God's control: even the little things are a concern to him.
Thereby, because everything is in the hands of the Father, is no reason to fear. There is no reason to fear the fact that you will be in the same boat as me, says Jesus. There is no reason to fear the fact that you will not be able to "rise above" my reputation, says Jesus. You should not fear because this truth will be proclaimed no matter what. You should not fear because those who oppose you do not have control of your soul. You should not fear because God superintends all of creation and history.
Confessed: I'll Recount Your Testimony
As he did with the second idea, Jesus begins this section with a "therefore" meaning, "in light of the fact that you will be in the same boat as I am and in light of the fact that you should not fear persecution, confession of me before men means that I will confess you before my father in heaven."
Let me put this another way: "In light of the fact that you cannot rise above my reputation and in light of the fact that you have nothing to fear from your persecutors, go ahead and say the same things that I say and present me to the world the same way that I present myself to the world. Do that and I will say the same thing you say (recount your testimony of me) and advocate for you (confirm your testimony of me), to the Father."
On the other hand, if in your desire to rise above my reputation and because of your fear of man you do not say the same things that I say, then I will not put in a good word for you to the Father. As you can see, I'm suggesting that Jesus does not have the issue of salvation in view here.
That is what the Greek is telling us in this passage. The Greek word translated as "confess" is omologeo (homologeo) and means "to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent." In other words, whoever agrees with the reputation of Jesus and says the same things he would say will have his testimony recounted before the Father in heaven. Note that Jesus says that "whoever" does this will be so blessed. This is not limited to the Apostles and the first century Jewish mission.
Now, we already know that a Christlike life confirms our new birth. We already know that evidence of the new creation is the cultivation and the demonstration of that new creation. And certainly if someone were to consistently refuse to emulate Jesus Christ then it should be obvious that person is not born again. If any of the Apostles were to believe that they could rise above the reputation of Jesus Christ and do a better job than he did by mellowing out a bit then they would be denying Christ. Really, this is what Peter did. True, he was not attempting to "rise above the reputation of Jesus" but he was fearful of a man, fearful of those who did not have power over his soul and so he denied Jesus. He was not willing to say the same things that Jesus said or to present Jesus to the world in the same way that Jesus had represented himself. However, Peter did not lose his salvation because of this particular failure.
Instead this is a passage that provides some insight into the current ministry of Jesus Christ. Christ stands forever in the presence of the Father and he "puts in a good word for us" when we do things that are Christlike. On the contrary, when we do things that are not like Jesus Christ - because of fear or any other reason - then Jesus recounts this to the Father as well.
We may not like to think of Jesus in these terms but he tells his Apostles that part of the motivation for their sufferance of opposition and the rejection of fear would be this praise of them that Jesus recounts before the Father. He didn't tell the Apostles that there is anything else connected to this and so we might think that this is small reward indeed. But that's because we think in material terms. I suspect that the Apostles did the same. Nonetheless, Jesus thinks that this promise of heavenly affirmation should be adequate to fortify the courage of the Apostles during the first century Jewish mission.
Application: Same Boat As Jesus
Like the apostles we are nearly disciples of our teacher and slaves are master. It would be foolish for us to believe that we can be in the position of a follower and yet somehow avoid the "contamination" of Jesus' reputation and teaching.
In this day and age an attempt to avoid identification with the reputation of Jesus Christ typically takes the form of reworking his doctrine so that it is acceptable to the world: "sweetness and light." We don't want to be identified as the radical followers of this one who claimed to be the ruler of the universe and so we modify his teaching to suit our point of view and make him a self help guru. Thus, we are able to say that we do in fact wish to be associated with Christ and his reputation even while we alter his teaching and reputation so dramatically that it no longer resembles the person and work declared to be the Christ in the New Testament.
We attempt to rise above the reputation of Jesus Christ by claiming that the Christian religion is all about warm fuzzy feelings and tolerance. We attempt to overcome the biblical reputation of the Christ by reworking the doctrine of the kingdom so that it has no bearing on this current age but is postponed to some unknown date in the future. This absolves us of the responsibility to obey and allows us to create a Christ and a reputation which is pleasing to the flesh.
However, if we want to claim the name of Jesus then we must weather the storms of life in the same boat that he is in. If we want to claim the name of Jesus Christ we must be willing to wholeheartedly embrace his teaching and his fulfillment of God's promises. We must be willing to be considered strange and "unsociable." If we wholeheartedly embrace what Jesus is all about then we can expect to be considered a troublemaker just as he was. It is a false portrayal of Jesus Christ to say that he was a meek and mild man who wondered about ancient Palestine preaching a doctrine of warm and fuzzy self actualization. That is what the world wants us to say but it is wrong to attempt to rise above the biblically defined reputation of Jesus Christ in order to be acceptable to the world.
Application: Don't Fear
Rather than try to make the gospel acceptable to human years we need to boldly proclaim the truth: Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, period!
We may be tempted to compromise the reputation of Jesus Christ in an attempt to reach more people with the news about his sacrifice for our sins but we must be clear about this: it is wrong to attempt to rise above the reputation of Jesus Christ because doing so will not create a more receptive atmosphere for the gospel. Indeed, it obscures the truth of the Gospel. Jesus would have us to be courageous enough to exude the true Christ because in so doing the truth will come out. We have a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel openly and without fear. Just as the Apostles were told to go throughout Palestine and then later into the entire world with the truth, we are supposed to continue that process and preach the unadulterated truth to all of creation. And if we don't do it someone else will because the truth will be made known.
We must not fear attempts to silence the gospel. We will meet with opposition from friends, relatives, neighbors, those in the workplace, those in civil authority and indeed from within the visible Church herself. If we fear them we will fail to speak openly about Jesus Christ. For us, it is not the fear of physical persecution that causes us to keep our silence. All too often it is the fear of ridicule or a loss of reputation that seals our lips.
It seems that the Church is more bold in proclaiming the truth when there is the threat of physical persecution or death held over our heads. The Apostles were told not to fear those two could kill them and we must have the same lack of fear. Here in the United States of America we are not threatened with physical persecution or death because of our faith. But if that were to change we would be expected to turn our eyes to the Father and to focus our motivational respect toward him rather than toward man. There is nothing that man can do to us that will affect us in eternity. There is no way that a mere man can control the destiny of our soul. Thus, there is no reason for us to fear man in any way.
Ultimately we rest in the hands of God and so we should not have any qualms about embracing the reputation and teaching of Jesus Christ as it is presented to us in the Bible. God controls the big things and the little things in our life. He takes care of us on a day by day basis and there is nothing that happens in our life that he is unaware of. In Romans 8:28–30 it says:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
All things work together for the good to those who love God. Everyone who is called by God into a relationship with him through Jesus Christ can rest assured that there is nothing in their life which takes place apart from the will of God. Even those events which causes deep pain and sorrow are used by God to bring us into greater conformity with the image of his son.
You see, there is a process that God initiates in our life when we are made a new creation. Paul says in another place that we are created anew in Jesus Christ for the purpose of bringing forth good works. And we are made better able to bring forth works pleasing to God as he uses the circumstances we encounter to shape us into Christ's image. That process never ends. Indeed it often seems that the older we get - both physically and in our relationship with the Lord - the more difficult life becomes. I think that this is because we are growing more mature in the Lord. It is like lifting a heavy weight which eventually feels light because of the new strength we have achieved through the effort. In order to continue to grow in strength we must increase the weight. This is how it is in our spiritual life. It doesn't get easier; it becomes more difficult. At the same time, it becomes more exciting and our usefulness in the kingdom increases as well. There is also a growing sense of peace and joy. Thus, the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
None of this makes sense unless we accept the fact that God is superintending all of history and creation. He watches over of the most important things in this realm and he has his hand upon the most insignificant issues as well. Everything in life is under his control and everything in life is conducted to his desired end.
Frankly this should give us a tremendous sense of security. I'm not suggesting we can go out and do anything that we like – jump off a 10 story building and asked the Lord to give us wings. I am suggesting that we can walk through this life in the power of the Holy Spirit with the confidence that God is in control and that he loves us deeply.
Application: I'll Recount your Testimony
One of the ways that we may express our gratitude for God's sovereign care for us is to say the same things that Jesus would say and to present him to the world in the same way that he presented himself to the world. Thus we are brought back to the issue of accepting the reputation of Jesus Christ and the teaching of our Lord Jesus as it is presented in the Scripture. I guess we could say that we are called to speak the truth in love.
I'm not sure what takes place when Jesus confesses us before the Father. But when we say the same things that Jesus would say in this life we can rest assured that Christ is putting a good word in for us there in the heavenly throne room.
When we confess Christ than Jesus recounts the events to the Father. I can imagine that it might be something like this: "Father, I want to tell you what Ezekiel did today. He was a regular chip off the old block when he said just what I would have said to those guys at the hang out who were misusing your name. That's right, he said to those fellas the same thing I would've said and he represented me to them in the same way that I presented myself to people when I was on earth. Now how about that? Isn't that great? I love to be able to confess my brother's good testimony before you Father because I know that you are glorified by it. It is a joy to recount because it is evidence of his new creation and of the Holy Spirit living in him. In fact Father, I told the original 12 Apostles that you are glorified when my disciples bear fruit. That remains true for all of my followers. When they bear fruit – when they say the things that I would say and represent me as I would present myself, then you are glorified. Isn't this wonderful?"
Obviously I am using some imagination here but this is what the Scripture tells us: that whoever confesses Jesus before men, whoever says the same things that he would say and acts as he would act, that person's testimony will be declared in the throne room of heaven before Almighty God. That should be a great motivator to us. If it is not a motivator then I would submit to you that you view reality in material terms rather than spiritual and that you need to adjust your vision.
The opposite event should motivate us as well. I imagine it might go something like this: "Father, I am sad to have to say that John Doe felt it necessary to ‘rise above my reputation' today and so did not say the sort of things I would have said in a particular situation he encountered. I know this makes you sad because it makes me sad as well. John Doe denied me when he failed to say the things I would say and failed to agree with my doctrine so I am forced to present to you a testimony of his denial. I would like to be able to bring words of praise to you concerning John Doe but I cannot. However, I do stand here as his advocate and remind you of my sacrifice on his behalf even though I must deny his behavior."
Again, I'm using my imagination on this but according to the Greek something like this takes place in heaven when we confess Christ - or deny him. I don't think that Jesus is simply sitting around twiddling his thumbs in the throne room of heaven. The Bible says that he is our advocate and our mediator and an advocate is someone who pleads the cause of another person and maintains the cause of another. Therefore, I don't think it is unreasonable to suggest that something like this goes on in the heavenly throne room. I don't know about you, but I desperately want Jesus Christ to confess me before the Father. I greatly desire to be able to say the things that Jesus would say and do the things that he would do so that he can confess me before the Father in heaven.
The only reason I can think of that we would attempt to "rise above the reputation of Jesus" is because we consider our own reputation more important than his. And the only reason we consider our reputation more important than his is because we really have no idea who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
We must not fear the world and we must not allow the world to keep us from proclaiming truth. We must always and forever acknowledge that God is the only one who deserves our motivational respect and rest in the fact that he controls all things.
Finally, we should greatly desire that Jesus would recount our words and present our testimony to the Father. If that doesn't motivate us to embrace the reputation of Jesus and to live without fear then I don't know that anything can motivate us to live a Christlike life.
So I encourage you to embrace the life and reputation of Jesus Christ in courage and seek to always speak the words that Jesus would speak so that he might confess your testimony to our Father in heaven. Amen.