Total Devotion

Total Devotion

Teach God’s Word—Proclaim the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of heaven—Care for those who are sick. Last week we considered this positive side of being Jesus Christ’s disciples, of being like him by teaching as he taught; testifying as he testified about the good news of God’s Kingdom having arrived in him, our God and King; and caring for others as he did. These are three components that constitute ‘sharing the Gospel.’ And all of these are to be done with the right attitude, namely, a spirit of compassion as we look upon others and see how much need there is in this harvest field of earth.

But though our heavenly Father calls us to do the harvesting work with and in service of him, we need to be careful that we don’t conclude that harvest work is easy. As indicated in the portion of Scripture between last week’s passage ending in Matthew 10:8 and this week’s, not everyone to whom Jesus’ first harvest-workers were sent would be receptive to their sharing of the Gospel message. In verse 14 Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” What is more, notice the metaphor he uses to describe them and their work in verse 16,  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” This isn’t exactly a comforting picture for sheep are wolves’ prey. But since the disciples are human sheep who have been provided with not only a body, but also a mind and emotions, Jesus adds starting at the end of verse 16, “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” It’s no wonders there are so few laborers willing to be sent out into the harvest field of the Lord of the harvest. Harvest work is not only hard, it’s also dangerous and can result in punishment and suffering. But even so, the Lord of the harvest will not abandon his harvest workers, verses 19–20: “19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” By means of his Holy Spirit, the Lord of the harvest unites us to himself in this harvest work so we should look to and depend upon him as we go about our labor.

There’s an emphasis in Jesus’ teaching of being “all in,” of being totally devoted to following him, come what may, and this emphasis continues to come out in this morning’s passage. And on this Sunday when we, along with churches around the world, are focusing for the second year on “The Task Unfinished,” our passage this morning is a poignant reminder that being totally devoted to Jesus Christ and doing the tasks he calls us to may result in persecution. If the positive side of sharing the Gospel is teaching, witnessing, and caring for others with compassion, we have here the negative or perhaps a better word, the costly side of sharing the Gospel. As Jesus’ disciples we’re called to count the cost of committing our lives to him, of not taking that commitment lightly for we cannot predict the outcome or consequences of such total devotion. The suffering that can come about due to kingdom work will arise not only from local government leaders but even from family, verse 21: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” And not only government and family but, verse 22, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

This context helps us better understand where our passage picks up in verse 24. Here Jesus continues his instruction to his disciples by stating, “24 The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.” This isn’t intended as a proverbial or axiomatic saying but rather Jesus is reminding them that because he is their teacher and they are his students; because he is their master and they are his servants, their goal is to become like him, not above him. And the outcome of their becoming like him is that they will be treated as he was. As he was eventually hated by everyone and crucified on a cross, given the disciples connection and association with Jesus, so too, will they. Notice verse 25: “It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul,[1] how much more the members of his household!” In the next chapter in Matthew, we see an instance of this very thing happening after Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. Though the people were astonished when Jesus healed him, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, concluded, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”[2]

I think that these verses contain—and challenge—one of the most fundamental misunderstandings of the Gospel we have today, that of the so-called “prosperity gospel.” The primary difficulty with teaching a “gospel” of prosperity, of teaching and believing that if we follow Christ we will be physically healthy, materially prosperous, and otherwise live happily ever after is that such a gospel defines or equates the “good news” of the Gospel with an easy life whereas Jesus promises just the opposite: if we follow him, we can expect to receive the same treatment he received. And again, his persecution extended to his dying on a cross despite never having committed a crime.

The point is that God never promises that this side of heaven we will be guaranteed material or financial or physical health, wealth, or success. In fact, all indicators point in the opposite direction. Earlier in Matthew when a teacher of the law came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” he gave this man the following sobering reply, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”[3] So our motive for following Jesus Christ should never be that we might have easy lives for he never promises that. No, our motive for following Jesus Christ should be because we believe that who Scripture says he is true: that he is God in the flesh, Son of the heavenly Father, and thereby the one and only means provided by that Father for our being restored to an intimate and loving relationship with him by believing in his Son and receiving his Holy Spirit. This relationship with the triune God is the means of our not having to go through our earthly lives by ourselves for when we turn our lives over to Jesus Christ we are united with him by his Spirit and to one another and are thus enabled to help each other manage life in a fallen world still marked by sin, evil, injustice, and strife. We need to remember that Christians aren’t spared the effects of the Fall but we are provided an eternal, a heavenly perspective on earthly life that we might, to the best of our ability, be the means by which God’s will is done on earth even as it is in heaven. This is part of the good news of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus proclaimed and called his disciples to proclaim. And Jesus here was making sure to prepare his disciples for the suffering that could—and probably would—result due to their devoting their lives to following him.

In verses 26–27 he says, “So do not be afraid of them,” that is, of those who persecute them, “for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” Up until this point, Jesus had been telling his followers and those whom he had healed not to talk about him. But with his impending death and resurrection, the time was now coming when they were to spread news of him throughout the entire world. Jesus goes on to provide further perspective by telling them, “28 Do 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.” Jesus’ disciples are called to proclaim what he has taught them. And because he will conquer the last enemy, death, by means of his dying—and rising—and ascending to heaven to be with the Father, they need not fear those who are able to put them to death rather they need to fear—and revere—and honor God who holds all life in his hands. For even if their sharing the Gospel message of the Kingdom of heaven having arrived in Jesus Christ, the King, results in martyrdom—the word martyrdom actually means to bear witness—even if they should die due to their bearing witness of Christ, they needn’t fear for death is but the killing of the body but God will protect their souls. He is the Giver of life who is the One to be listened to and obeyed for he is able to “destroy both soul and body in hell” (v. 28).

But after making such a sobering statement about the ultimate consequence of our beliefs, Jesus then provides reassurance to his disciples by reminding them of their worth in God’s eyes in verses 29–31: “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” What an awesome statement this is of God’s providential care over his creation. I confess that despite being the nature lover that I am, I sometimes take sparrows for granted because, well, they’re brown—and they’re common. They’re everywhere. But ever since Lissa and Susan gave us a bird feeder a few years ago, I’ve come to love the sparrows that feed there. I’ve come to appreciate the different varieties of sparrows and enjoy watching their behavior. Just as it’s not uncommon to see them fighting for a spot on the feeder, it’s also not uncommon to see them feeding each other. They can be very entertaining! And Jesus tells his disciples that not one of these common, ordinary sparrows falls outside of our heavenly Father’s care. And what is more, our Father even knows how many hairs are on our head. What an amazing statement not only of God’s omniscience, his ability to know everything in his creation, but also, as Jesus emphasizes, of God’s caring for that very same creation. Our heavenly Father’s intimate involvement with even the mundane details of our lives is why Jesus is able to encourage his disciples not to be afraid. For they “are worth more than many sparrows.”

And just as it’s important that Christ’s disciples tell others the truth about who God is and about his desire to restore us to a relationship with himself, it’s important that we acknowledge our relationship with him. In verses 32–33 Jesus tells them, 32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” First a quick comment on “disowning.” Commentators agree that what is intended here is apostasy or the complete renunciation of one’s faith, not simply doubting for who among us has never had a moment of doubt? But in this time of competing religious beliefs and claims to truth, do we acknowledge Jesus Christ? Do we recognize his importance? Do we express gratitude and appreciation for him? Or do we refuse to do so? Are we embarrassed to do so? Are we afraid of what others might think about us if we confess him? This is where the importance of seeing our faith not in the abstract but in a concrete manner comes into play. For our faith isn’t simply a list of beliefs that we do or do not hold but our faith primarily is a relationship with the God who made us, redeemed us, and indwells us. In our day-to-day lives, don’t we freely and eagerly acknowledge those whom we know? “Oh, I know Marilyn—she’s an important part of our church family! Oh, I know Gail and Richie—they warmly welcome us to their home in the Leslie House each week. Oh, I know Rick—he regularly tells others about our church family and hands out cards inviting them to come join us.” In other words, if someone mentions the name of someone we know, we gladly express our connection to and relationship with them. How much more should this be the case with our relationship with Jesus?

“Oh, I know Jesus. During a time of darkness and depression, he gave me hope and reminded me that this is why he came—to conquer all darkness—and so encouraged me to persevere.”

“Oh, I know Jesus. During a time of illness he moved a fellow believer to offer to have meals delivered to my home as an expression of her—and God’s—love and concern for me.”

“Oh, I know Jesus. One day when I was feeling sad, knowing my love for nature, he had a mother duck followed by her ducklings cross my path—in a parking lot, no less, far away from any body of water!”

“Oh, I know Jesus. He is God, the Christ, who came in human form that we might be restored to our heavenly Father and know his deep love and care for us.”

These are some real-life examples of my testimony, of my experience with, of my relationship with Jesus Christ. What are some of yours? For as we acknowledge our family and friends, so should we acknowledge—not disown—our Lord.

Next Jesus goes on to clear up a possible misconception of who he, the Messiah, is and what he has come to earth to do beginning in verse 34. He does so, as he often did, by putting what he has to say in the context of Old Testament teaching. Referencing the prophet Micah, Jesus states, “34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn”—and this is the Micah quotation—‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” Though Christ is our peace,[4] as King he has come to make war on evil and sin and every effect of the Fall that seeks to do us harm. And war is not for the faint-hearted. The passage Jesus quotes from Micah[5] indicates that the day in which God visits results in such confusion that “a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.” This is what confusion about truth does. It tears us apart. It destroys the unity and oneness and love God intended.

When my parents decided to leave Cuba a few years after Fidel Castro had arrived they did so because they realized he would never deliver on his promises to improve the lives of Cubans. But this was a time in which many still did believe in Castro so it was dangerous to tell others about your plans, for those who believed in Castro’s vision regularly reported and turned in those who sought to leave—even if these were family members. Whenever people passionately hold competing notions of truth and of what is right, this kind of danger can arise. We’re not talking about differences of opinion here. We’re talking about matters of great consequence and import. And in the case of Jesus, he was talking about what is of the greatest consequence and import. For when he came stating, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,”[6] and demonstrating by word and deed that he was God who had come in the flesh as promised in the Scriptures, people were confronted with a choice. For either Jesus was who he said he was, or he was mistaken about who he claimed to be, or worst of all, he had taken leave of his senses for how could anyone claim that he was the only was to the heavenly Father? Isn’t this the reason why some hated him and said he did what he did by Beelzebul, the devil?

As one commentator puts it, “The inevitable result of Christ’s coming is conflict—between Christ and the antichrist, between light and darkness, between Christ’s children and the devil’s children.”[7] Brothers and sisters, Jesus wasn’t simply claiming to be the way, truth, and life; he didn’t simply teach that he was the only way to the Father. But he confronted others with the natural outworking of those claims, namely, that if Jesus was the Christ, God’s Son sent from heaven to reconcile those who were hostile to God to the Father whom they rejected, then what is required to effect such a work of forgiveness and reconciliation is nothing less than our total devotion to him for he as God is worthy of such devotion. In verses 37–39 Jesus explains his use of the text from Micah: 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross”—that is whoever is not willing to die for—“and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”[8] Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that we shouldn’t love our father or mother. To say this would go against the commandment to honor your father and mother.[9] But as the Ten Commandments begin with a mandate to love God above all else,[10] Jesus as God required the very same commitment and devotion. So he isn’t saying that we shouldn’t love our father or mother, but that we shouldn’t love our father or mother more than we love Jesus. Conversely, he isn’t saying we shouldn’t love our son or daughter—but that we shouldn’t love our son or daughter more than we love Jesus. And if we do love family more than we love Jesus, than our love is disordered and in need of re-ordering. Remember that the sum of the law and the prophets is first to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and then to love your neighbor as yourself. Putting God first in our lives is what taking up the cross is about. But putting ourselves first, finding the meaning of our lives in ourselves apart from God, will result in losing our lives. But losing our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ will result in finding our true lives—for our true lives can be found only in him. And even if by following him we should die, we still will not lose him for we are his forever. He will never leave us or forsake us.[11] He will never let us go, not in this life, not in the next for, again, “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (v. 39b).

As we continue to see throughout Scripture, if we make Christ Jesus first in our lives, we’ll be united to him forever. And if we make Christ Jesus first in our lives, he will intimately identify himself with us. This is so much the case that he says in verse 40, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Do you see what’s being said here? If we make Christ first in our lives, he will cause our earthly lives to be part of the triune heavenly life. Because we belong to Christ, anyone who welcomes us will be welcoming Jesus Christ himself. That’s how closely he identifies with those who are his. And if to welcome us is to welcome him, then to welcome us is also to welcome the Father who sent him for he is one with the Father. The union the Son has with the Father is now extended to us as we are united with both Son and Father by means of the Holy Spirit he sends to seal and indwell us.

Jesus goes on to state in verse 41, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” A prophet speaks for God and his or her reward is knowing God. And those who accept Christ receive his righteousness and that same relationship with God. But notice how this chapter ends, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Not only is serving God as a prophet rewarded; not only is welcoming a righteous one who belongs to God rewarded; but even a small kindness—providing a cup of water—to one who belongs to Christ will be rewarded. This is how strongly God identifies with those who are his. Jesus Christ demands our total devotion, yes; but, as devoted as we may be to him, we need to remember that our heavenly Father is even more devoted to those who love his Son so that even if we are faithless, he will remain faithful to us.[12] Even if we die, we shall live in him.

Dear ones, on this Sunday when we are joining churches across the world to remember that the task of spreading the Gospel is unfinished, let us remind ourselves why we join together each week:

We are here because God in Christ calls his people out each week on the Sabbath to remember and worship him, the Lord of the Sabbath;

We are here because we are a forgetful people who regularly need to be reminded of Christ’s truth by means of his Spirit and Word;

We are here because we need to be reminded of the God who loved us enough not only to make us but to redeem and sanctify us, to make us like him;

We are here because God in Christ calls us to sing praises to his name;

We are here because as God’s children, he calls us to embrace not only him but also each other as family;

We are here because we are called to pray—that is, to speak with God—not only individually but as his family, as his children;

And we are here because the Lord of harvest is ever seeking workers to send out that even here, in Ipswich, his family might be added to and extended.

So let us again ask our loving and compassionate Lord of the harvest to send us out that Christ’s light might shine out from Linebrook Church and draw others to himself.

Let us pray.

[1] Beelzebul, understood as the prince of demons, i.e. Satan. As one capable of flying, he is known as “Lord of the flyers” or “flies.” The name is derived from the Philistine god of Ekron, Baal-Zebul (“Exalted Baal” or “Baal the Prince.”).

[2] Matthew 12:22. Parallel in Luke 11:14–16: 14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. Sa Mark 3:22: 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

[3] Matthew 8:18–20. Parallel in Luke 9:57–8: 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

[4] Ephesians 2:14: For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,; Isaiah 9:6–7:For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

[5] Micah 7:6 (4b–7): The day God visits you has come, the day your watchmen sound the alarm. Now is the time of your confusion. Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies are the members of his own household. But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

[6] John 14:6.

[7] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Matthew 10:34. Emphasis added.

[8] Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes on Luke’s version of this, Luke 9:24: “A saying of Jesus found in all four Gospels and in two Gospels more than once (14:26–27; 17:33; Mt 10:38–39; 16:24–25; Mk 8:34–35; Jn 12:25). No other saying of Jesus is given such emphasis.”

[9] Exodus 20:12: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

[10] Exodus 20:2–7:“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

[11] Deuteronomy 31:6: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Quoted in Hebrews 13:5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”


[12] Verse 13 of 2 Timothy 2:11–13: 11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

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