Gospel: Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
Epistle: Romans 6:12-23
Lesson: Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm: Psalm 91:1-10 (11-16)
CLB Commentary – Professor Brad Pribbenow
This week’s Gospel pericope can be seen as the third in this current season of Pentecost. The progression thus far has served to ground and inform our calling as God’s missionary people. Expressed narratively these texts might read this way: God has made us his missionary people.
- The means of our calling: the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-21)
- The message of our calling: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen (Acts 2:22-36)
- The manner of our calling: through persecution and perseverance (Matt 10:21-33)
Following the initial statement in 10:5a, this week’s Gospel text can be exegetically arranged as follows (expressed as the words of Jesus):
- Persecution will come against you (v. 21-23)
- …Because it came against me (v. 24-25)
- …But do not fear (v. 26-31)
- …For I bind myself to you (v. 32-33)
Jesus himself experienced the kind of familial rejection he speaks of in v. 21-23 (Mk 3:21). He also knew the sting of betrayal by close friends (Matt 26:47-50, 69-75). His intent in speaking of this was to prepare his disciples (including us!) for the reality of this experience in our own lives.
As we now encounter this type of persecution we must not overlook the small phrase in v. 22— “because of my Name.” Persecution will come not (ultimately) because people dislike us. The kind of persecution Jesus is talking about is not due to the offensiveness of our personality quirks or social missteps. Rather it is brought about because of the Name which has claimed us and the Name which we now exclusively proclaim (John 15:18-19). The Name of Jesus—and our confession of it—divides all humanity into two groups. It also divides all spiritual forces in like manner.
Given this sure prediction of persecution, Jesus repeatedly speaks these reassuring words: “do not fear” (mentioned in vs. 26, 28, 31; see also v. 19). Our confidence and comfort come not from a temporal assurance of resolution but an eschatological one. For, while the Enemy—along with his spiritual and physical agents—wreak havoc among the faithful in this age, their days are numbered (John 16:33). Our confidence has a “now and not yet” aspect. Even though we currently experience trails and persecution, the reality is that Jesus has overcome the world—the verb here expresses a past tense, accomplished action with on-going effect.
The final two verses of this text (vs. 32-33) sound an ominous warning. They contain two verbs which carry unique impetus when paired together (see also John 1:20; Tit 1:16; 1 John 2:23) and which contrast two actions against one another: homologeo (to confess (NASB), to acknowledge (NIV)) and arneomai (to deny (NASB), to disown (NIV)). The verbs have an eschatological sense, yet they also have a very present-day application. They refer to both verbal expression (e.g., public confession and acknowledgement vs. public denial or apostasy) and consequent obedience or action.
Concerning this before-man-and-before-God confession (or denial) the NIDNTT says, “The believer is so completely included in fellowship with Jesus, that his confession before man, e.g. before a human court of law during a time of persecution, is regarded as though it had been made before God’s judgment seat.” The Law is clear in vs. 33; this point must not be overlooked. But that which will truly motivate the believer to faithful confession of Christ in the midst of persecution is not the Law but the Gospel. For this reason, one ought to distinguish and emphasize how the fact that Jesus has bound himself to (e.g., acknowledges, confesses) us before the God of the universe means that we can confidently stand in and persevere through the trials and persecution we may face today or in the future. Because we have been justified in Christ, we live and witness to him out of the assurance of our standing as redeemed, restored and forgiven children. This is what motivates us to remain faithful and to persevere to the end (v. 22b).
As is often the case, a good illustration can be a very powerful means of expressing the main message of this text. Think, for example, of a lighthouse along the ocean’s shore. The lighthouse is built to withstand the storms which regularly pound against the coast. It is anchored deeply and securely to the rocky shoreline. Through hurricane-force winds and pounding rains the lighthouse stands immovable. We may think that Jesus, in this text, is exhorting us to be like a lighthouse— enduring the trials and persecution which come as a part of our witness to salvation only in and through Jesus Christ. If we think this we are mistaken.
Jesus is not telling us to be like a lighthouse against a storm. Rather he is telling us that he is that lighthouse. And the storm he has endured is far greater than anything we might ever endure. For Jesus not only suffered rejection by his closest family and friends, he endured the rejection of his own Father. Jesus, though completely innocent, suffered our greatest trials and persecution. Yet he persevered to the end! He now stands in victory and calls to us in the midst of our persecution to take shelter in him (Psa 91) as we proclaim his Name to the world.
Jesus is the place in which we may find shelter and through whom we may persevere to the end (Matt 10:22b). Taking refuge in him does not remove us from the storms—for that, one must run inland away from the hurricane-laden shores. No, taking refuge in Jesus (and joining in his call to make disciples of all nations) will actually lead us right into the heart of the storms. Yet the believer can take courage from the sure promises in this text. For whether we experience deliverance from persecution or through it, Jesus is our faithful Savior.