Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:17a “But beware of men:. . .”
Jesus sends us forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, but do not despair. He once tenderly said to His disciples, “Fear not, little flock” (LK 12:32). One of our finest Southern Baptist congregations in Kentucky took as their name Little Flock Baptist Church. The title is a beautiful picture, reminding of Christ’s loving care.
Believers struggle ultimately against evil spiritual forces, Satan and his cohorts, but these nonphysical sinister foes operate primarily through compliant humans. The devil and his demons use people as their darts to persecute Christians.
We have to interact with people, and cannot avoid them entirely, but we should not naively trust everyone. When dealing with others in spiritual matters, exercise caution. Be prepared for opposition. Don’t be shocked by mistreatment.
Watch out for the evil intentions of individuals opposed to our faith. When the kingdoms of light and darkness clash, depravity often manifests itself quickly. People can turn into tigers when their own personal belief systems are challenged.
Our text is a solemn indictment on the human heart. Something is wrong with human nature. It is capable of terrible things. The nature of human beings can stoop to being the worst nature of all, except for demons themselves. In warning us to beware, our Master knew whereof He spoke. After living a perfect life for three years before the Twelve, He was betrayed with a kiss by one of His own.
Matt. 10:17b “. . .for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will
scourge you in their synagogues;. . .”
Unexpected afflictions can drain the life out of us. Many Christians have quit serving Jesus because they were waylaid by an unexpected ambush. Caught with their guard down, an excruciating bombshell was more than they could bear.
Jesus tries to spare us from overwhelming aftershocks. He warns us to expect troubles. The fainthearted will always have a tough time following Christ.
Christ here told the Twelve what would happen to them. He did not want them caught off guard. A crown will someday be theirs, but a cross comes first.
“Councils” were religious judicial bodies found in every town in Israel. Convened in synagogues, their task was to protect orthodoxy and punish heretics.
Any found guilty of heresy or unlawful behavior received punishment immediately and on the spot. The house of worship served as courtroom and site of punishment. Heretics and lawbreakers were scourged in the worship center in the presence of worshipers (MT 23:34, MK 13:9). What we deem a gross, gruesome act to do in a house of worship was to Jews an extremely spiritual event. While an offender was being whipped, people listened to Scripture verses and sang psalms.
Before becoming a believer, Paul often dealt out this punishment, whipping Christians in many synagogues (AC 22:19). After his conversion, the same punishment was dealt to him. Five times he received thirty-nine stripes (2 C 11:24).
Fortunately, the Jewish scourge was not as severe as in other lands. Deuteronomy 25:3 limited the number of strokes to a maximum of forty. To be sure this number was never exceeded, the Jews always stopped at thirty-nine lashes. Paul could not have survived the Roman scourge five times. It was meant to kill or at least maim enough to reduce the amount of time a person could live on a cross.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there is no known record of a Christian being scourged or imprisoned by Jews. O that the reverse could be said.
Be not surprised at persecution from religious groups. Bigots aplenty have scourged us believers, and we have produced our own scourging bigots aplenty.
Many terrible atrocities have been done in the name of religion, but this does not necessarily mean the problem is religion. Many cruel religionists use religion as an outer cloak to cover an irreligious heart filled with ungodly cruelty.
Even true religionists, though, don’t like to be challenged. Calcified orthodoxy deems anything new or different as suspect. By our very nature, religionists are conservators of history, heritage, traditions, and belief systems. In seeking to preserve the true we often become enamored with nonessentials and try to save them too at all cost. Thus, if someone offers a new idea, all chaos can break loose.
As a result, our worst persecution can come from folks in the Church. They try to dissuade us or mock and scold us. They say we go too far and become fanatics. I know. This happened to me. When I decided to follow Christ with nothing held back, my worst detractors were believers. When I gave up dancing to be a Baptist preacher, Christians were the ones who derided me, and who, thinking my dad was forcing this on me, offered to sneak me out to dances without his knowing it. One night, after my basketball team won a big game, three Christians tried to force me to smoke a victory cigar. A prechristian intervened, saying, “Marshall doesn’t do that.” A few years ago, I saw him and learned he is a godly, dedicated Christian leading his family for Jesus. The three Christians have not fared as well.
Our churches contain many members who don’t know Christ personally. We also have many who don’t have a real close walk with Jesus. Both groups can not understand people who seek to live at a spiritual level higher than their own.
Matt. 10:18a “And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my
sake,. . .”
No small matter for Jewish peasants, who could easily be unnerved in the presence of royalty. These words were an amazing prediction. Few circumstances were less likely to happen than fishermen and other commoners standing before kings, yet Paul alone stood before Sergius Paulus (AC 13:7), Gallio (AC 18:14), Felix (AC 24:25), Festus (AC 25:9), Agrippa (AC 26:1), and Nero. Jesus’ ability to accurately see the future provides astounding proof of His divine omniscience.
God ordained government to provide stability, to keep order in a society. Though a gift from God, Satan often perverts it to promote his anti-Jesus agenda.
The world’s strongest powers have thrown their collective might against Christianity. More people were martyred for Christ in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen combined. The century began with the Turks killing two million Armenian believers, and then came the scourge called Communism.
Why are the best people often treated as the worst? Why are believers drug before law courts as if disturbers of the peace and dangerous criminals? “For my sake,” Jesus answers. Christians do not court persecution, but if it can’t be avoided, we face it resolutely, having as our consolation the fact that persecution will give us opportunities to speak in behalf of Jesus that would never arise otherwise.
Bravely suffering for Jesus’ sake “is the greatest mark of true discipleship, greater even than miracles” (Gossner). Polycarp, aged Bishop of Smyrna, was dragged by a mob to a Roman tribunal in 156 A.D. Forced to worship Caesar or Christ, his reply is forever immortalized in Christian memory, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” At the stake he offered his last prayer, “I thank You that You have graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour.” To Polycarp persecution was the ultimate opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Jesus.
Accepting mistreatment for our faith proves our love. We endure abuse because we love Jesus. All hinges on the quality of our love relationship with Him.
It’s hard to imagine people being abused because of their attachment to the One who lived history’s finest, kindest, tenderest, and most influential-for-good life, yet it happens often. I heard of a Christian woman who was being pursued by a prechristian man. After a few talks, he offered to let her read some of his books advocating atheism and unbelief. She agreed on the condition he would read books she picked. He replied, “Fine, as long as they contain no mention of Jesus.”
The world doesn’t like Jesus. Many compliment Him, but most only honor a fictional Jesus concocted as a figment of their own imagination. They have no intention to accept the historical figure that Jesus was and is. People love their sins. They resent being told that what they are doing is wrong. Wanting to be gods unto themselves, “Jesus is Lord” is a concept outside their way of thinking.