Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:33a “But whosoever shall deny me before men,. . .”
Our text is one of Jesus’ bluntest statements. The serious punishment stated here proves denying Jesus is a serious aberration, a movement 180 degrees in the wrong direction, activity totally foreign to the essence of being a Christ-follower.
Normal Christian living, the process planted in us when born again, is to tell our story, to share. Christianity is, by its very nature, an unveiling, God revealing Himself to people, through creation, through the Bible, and through His followers.
Our faith is not meant to be cooped up or held in. The flaming religion of Jesus Christ should never be kept in the bosom of those who receive it (Spurgeon).
Jeremiah, enduring repeated insults and injury for speaking truth, wanted to keep silent, but the message blazed in his heart “like a burning fire shut up in my bones” (JR 20:9b NAS). He grew weary of trying to hold it in. Paul also felt compelled to tell the good news. “I am under compulsion, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16 NAS). His difficulty was in trying to contain it.
This desire to share the good news of Jesus is normative, ordinary, the standard way we are supposed to act. God puts this desire in us when He saves us.
Sadly, somewhere along the Christian way, what was meant to be a delight becomes drudgery, the natural becomes a burden. We often squelch the yearning.
Satan unceasingly tempts us to be ashamed of Jesus. Applying relentless pressure against us for long periods of time, the devil often succeeds in duping us.
Thus, many believers deny Jesus. Some deny Him through an unholy life. To the pure Savior, many pledge allegiance with impure hands held over impure hearts. Sins are blatant denials of Jesus, and bring dishonor to Him. To profess Jesus means we make a commitment to live like Him. Holiness matters most.
Some deny Jesus through silence. Many wrongly think they can do their duty without speaking, but bread of life hidden in a sack goes moldy (Maclaren).
Silent discipleship is an oxymoron. It contradicts our reason for being a Christian. Either discipleship destroys silence or silence destroys discipleship. Convictions unexpressed and not acted on disappear like an ice cube in the desert.
Denying Jesus is not the real us. Thus, we ask the question, why do we do it so often? What causes us to yield easily and often to the devil in this vital matter?
First, a lack of appreciation for what Jesus has done for us. Knowing Jesus gives us ability to confess Him. Appreciating Him makes us willing to confess.
Failure to speak up for Jesus reveals a breakdown in gratitude. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two religious leaders, admired Jesus, but fearfully and secretly. Nicodemus, tentative and hoping not to be seen with Christ, came to Jesus by night, when only a few stray travelers would be on the streets. After the crucifixion, though, Nicodemus and Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. The cross ought to have this effect on us. Christ’s blood should make us bolder.
Second, by default. We know we should witness. When we don’t do it, we start to compensate. Other good, but less important, duties begin to repress our sensed need to tell people about Jesus. Best’s worst enemy is always second best.
Many of us do wonderful things, yet leave undone the main task. Over time it is easy to grow careless. In the past, some of us were good about witnessing, but grew negligent, forgetting this duty is to be extended through our whole lifetime.
I pray these lessons help re-surface old commitments in this vital matter of finding and winning the lost. We cannot passively drift along, pretend all is well, do nothing about reaching irreligious people, and then expect all to turn out well on Judgment Day. To fail to confess is to deny, and will come back to haunt us.
Third, a fear of dishonoring Christ. We often fear we will say something wrong, and drive an unbeliever farther away from embracing the faith. This Fall I will have open forums here in our building to answer questions from prechristians.
Let’s form a partnership. I will try to handle the lost’s intellectual concerns. You develop a friendship, a relationship, and bring them here. Let’s do this as a team, and collectively become intentional about confessing Jesus before the lost.
Fourth, some feel unworthy. Since all believers are commanded to share their faith story, beware counterfeit humility. True humility feels it can’t witness in its own strength, and enlists God’s help. False humility feels it cannot witness.
Perfection is not a litmus test we have to pass before we can win souls. If Jesus used only flawless believers to witness, His cause would fall into extinction. Believers cannot be perfect, but Godliness can be the dominant trait of our lives.
When the centurion wanted his slave to be healed, and appealed to Jesus for help, the elders said of the centurion, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him.” In contrast the centurion said of himself, “I am not worthy for You to come under my roof” (Luke 7:4,6 NAS). Who was right, elders or centurion? Both.
In his deportment, the way he bore himself before others, he was “worthy,” as the elders claimed. On the other hand, when he viewed himself before Jesus, the centurion rightly deemed himself “not worthy.” Before God we know we never live a life good enough, but before people we can live a life suitable enough, and before people is where our witness is to be borne. Therefore, speak up.
Paul called himself “chief” of sinners (1 TM 1:15), but also said, “I have kept the faith” (2 TM 4:7). The two are complementary, not contradictory. Inner unworthiness humbles us before God, outer worthiness emboldens us before men.
Fifth, fear of being ridiculed. Facing bodily harm can be easier to endure than a light laugh of scorn. Close interaction with sneering prechristians has silenced many Christian tongues, and compromised many believers’ lifestyles.
We have a basic instinct to please the multitudes, to be socially acceptable. A famous worldly scholar, at best only nominally a Christian, had no intention of letting his faith interfere with his social life and sinful pleasures. Asked if he was a Christian, he replied, “Yes, but not offensively so,” a fancy way of saying he was a coward, trying to be an unnoticed Christian. This attitude is unacceptable.
Sixth, fear of reprisal. Persecution is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus. It goes with the territory, and is always a threat, a viable possibility, for believers. For being a Christian, many lose jobs, promotions, family, and friends.
If facing this danger in your present situation, don’t be foolish or rash. We can not shirk our duty to find public ways to acknowledge Jesus before others, but start by taking time to talk to fellow believers. Solicit input. Seek counsel on how to fulfill our duty wisely. Then seek to bear an effective verbal witness for Jesus.
Skirting persecution, due to being ashamed of Jesus, who bought us with His blood, is no minor infraction. Denying the faith is a cowardly attempt to save our skin at the cost of treason to Jesus (Maclaren). Thomas Shepherd said it well:
Must Jesus bear the cross alone, And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.
The consecrated cross I’ll bear Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear, For there’s a crown for me.
Denial is not only treason against Jesus, but also a betrayal of those who have been, and are being, persecuted for Christ. Had our forebears not endured suffering, agony, and ridicule, we would not be here worshiping in freedom today.
And even while we worship freely here, others elsewhere are suffering untold pain to pave the way for their successors to worship openly in freedom someday. Isaac Watts raised the haunting question three hundred years ago.
Am I a soldier of the cross, A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies On flow-ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy word.
The cause of Christ always advances on the feet of infantry unflinchingly loyal to their Commander-in-chief, on the backs of soldiers who burn their bridges behind them, and come aboard with flags flying and colors waving, on the cries of soldiers racked with pain, on the loneliness of fighters enduring dungeons dreary.