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persecution101

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 42 ~ Oct. 12-18
Matthew 8:14-11:30, 12:22-14:36, Luke 8:1-9:17, 11, Mark 4-6, John 6
Persecution 101

Last week we took a look at this pattern:

God—>God calls and trains His people—>God’s people minister the gospel to others

We saw it across various contexts of the Bible: the “macro,” or overall theme from Old Testament to New, the “micro,” or the way God works in our personal lives, and the “messianic,” or the way this pattern applied to Jesus’ own life. This week’s reading was another example of this pattern, the “ministerial,” or the way it applied to Jesus’ and the disciples’ ministry.

In this week’s reading we saw that Jesus’ ministry started with Jesus, Himself. Next He called out and trained His disciples through many parables and healings. Today, we will be looking at the passage where He sends them out to minister the gospel to others. In His final training session before Jesus sends out the twelve, He wants to make sure they’re ready for what they’re about to face.

Matthew 10:16-39

Go Ye Therefore- 5-13 (10:7-8, 5-6, Mark 1:14-15, Isaiah 35:5-6)
Jesus is sending out the disciples. What is He sending them out to do? Verses 7-8 tell us that their ministry was two-fold: first, they were to preach, just as Jesus did (Mark 1):

the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

Second, they were to perform various signs and wonders. Notice that the signs and wonders are secondary to the message of the gospel. Wasn’t the gospel enough? What was the purpose of the miracles? When Jesus perfomed miracles, the miracles were both a fulfillment of prophecy (Is.) to help the Jews to understand that He was the promised Messiah, and they also authenticated His message of the gospel to the gentiles and others who weren’t familiar with the prophecies. Street cred, in other words– if He can do that, what He says must be true, and we’d better listen. The miracles the disciples were to perform were to serve the same purpose– to point to Jesus as the Messiah and to give credibility to the gospel message.

Who were the disciples sent to? Jesus told them not to go to the Samaritans (half Jew, half gentile, as we studied last week) or the gentiles, but “rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Why? Because He didn’t love gentiles and want them to hear the gospel? Not at all. We saw last week that He had already been to a Samaritan village to preach the gospel. And, of a Roman centurion (a gentile) whose servant He healed, Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith,” and went on to say- to an audience of Jews- that there were many gentiles who would make it to Heaven while many Jews would not.

Jesus sent the disciples to the Jews because that was the order God had ordained- first the Jews, then the gentiles. Why?

1. His promise was to the Jews, not the gentiles. God had promised that the Messiah would come through the Jews and to the Jews. All of Jewish history and ceremony had been pointing to this moment in time. God had been laying the ground work through types and shadows and prophecy for millenia. It was only right that Messiah should be revealed to them first.

Imagine if you’ve been promising your child since the day he was born that when he turned 16 you’d buy him a car. Over the years you talked about it together, looked at pictures, visited car lots, and finally picked out the perfect one. Then, on the day of your son’s 16th birthday, you run into a random 16 year old on the street and buy him a car first. Even if you immediately thereafter drove your son to the car lot to buy him his car, would that be the right way to do things?

2. At this point in history -Jesus’ earthly ministry through the birth and spread of the church- we’re looking at very rapid Kingdom growth. Teachers and preachers are going to be needed, like, fast, to shepherd these thousands of new Christians, most of whom are clueless gentiles.

If you work at a computer company and you’re launching a completely new type of software that you want to make accessible to as many people as possible as fast as possible, are you going to hire field representatives who have a professional background in computers or someone who’s never used a computer before?

Same idea here. The Jewish people already had a background in “messiah-ology.” Once saved, they could be up and running as teachers and pastors much faster than your average gentile.

Good News, Bad News- 14-25 (John 3:19)
God is sending out His people (the disciples) to tell His people (the Jews) that He has kept His promise and sent Jesus, the long awaited Messiah. Plus, they’re going to heal a bunch of people and do other miracles. What Jew in his right mind wouln’t be overjoyed at this awesome news, right?

So, what’s all this stuff about the disciples being hated and persecuted and charged with criminal activity? That’s not the way people usually respond to someone who’s bringing them good news. But God’s news isn’t good news when you don’t love God, and these Jews didn’t. That’s why Jesus referred to the people He was sending the disciples to as “lost sheep.” They were just as lost as any gentile.

1. They loved darkness rather than light (Jn.). The good news of the gospel is bad news when you love your sin and don’t want to give it up, because the gospel requires us to forsake our sin -all of it- actually admit that we’re scum, and fling ourselves on the mercy of Christ for forgiveness. It’s only by the gift of God’s grace that we’re able to do that.

2. They wanted the idol-messiah they had fashioned in their minds, not the Messiah of Scripture. Many in Israel were expecting and/or hoping for a messiah who would come in, conquer Rome, sit on David’s throne, re-establish the theocracy of Israel, and bring them back to prominence and prosperity. In other words, just like the woman at the well from last week, they wanted the temporal stuff, not the eternal. A Christ who would set them free from Rome and poverty, not a Christ who would set them free from sin.

That’s why, to many people the disciples preached to, the good news was bad news.

Fear Not- 26-39
Jesus is delivering a pretty sobering message here. When the disciples preach the gospel (now, and in the early church era), they’re going to be: shunned (14), turned over to the courts (17), flogged (17- and they’re not too far from seeing this happen to Jesus), dragged in front of kings and governors (17), betrayed to the enemy by family members (21), hated by all (22), fleeing for their lives (23), slandered (25), executed (28), and alienated from their closest family members (35-36). That’s a tough row to hoe, but Jesus wants them to understand that what many of the Jews are expecting -Messiah will re-establish the kingdom of Israel and bring peace (34)- isn’t reality, and when they tell people that, things are going to get ugly. He hasn’t come to bring earthly peace, instead, standing with Christ will be the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

But what is their response to this persecution supposed to be? Are they to give up, retaliate, cower? No, Jesus tells them to do two things:

1. Don’t be afraid of them (26). The worst thing they can do is kill you. If you’re going to be afraid of something, fear God and fear denying Him (28).

2. As long as you’ve got breath in your body, you preach the gospel. You preach it loud and you preach it long (27). Do. not. stop. no matter what.

Why? Because God loves you. He values you. He’s going to take care of you. And He’s in control.

The Demands of Discipleship Today
There are Christians today in countries like North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and other areas, who understand all too well what Jesus was warning the disciples about. They experience the same things on a daily basis. Those of us born in America have very little grasp of just how blessed we are to be able to worship God openly, freely, and without much real persecution.

But the times, they are a-changin’. Fast.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the last couple of years, you’ve seen stories about the Bible, prayer, and Christianity being systematically removed from and prohibited in public places. We’ve seen Christian bakers, photographers, and t-shirt company owners sued for declining to provide their services for homosexual “weddings,” rallies, and other events. Just last week, we saw Houston officials subpoena sermons and other materials from pastors in an effort to bully them into silence about their homosexual agenda.

Real persecution is coming to America at breakneck speed. And in the same way that the disciples were persecuted by both gentiles and the “lost sheep of Israel”, we will face persecution by both the world and those who claim the name of Christ, but actually follow a messiah-idol of their own making. Those of us who stand with the true Christ of Scripture and His word will be shunned and rejected by our closest family members- even those who claim to be Christians. We will be hated and slandered. We will be arrested, prosecuted, and even executed by both lost people and church people.

But Christ’s message to us is the same as it was to the twelve. Keep preaching the gospel. Preach it loud, preach it long, and preach it with your dying breath. Love Me more than your family, more than your reputation, more than your very life, because I care for you. How could we fail to stay true to Him after all He has done for us?

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