“Rules for a Troubled Road”
October 20, 2013
Take seriously Jesus’ instructions and promises.
I. Called to Know Him (Matthew 10:1-5)
II. Sent to Represent Him (Matthew 10:6-42)
Rules for the Troubled Road:
1. Go Where You’re Sent
2. Proclaim as You Go
3. Travel Light
4. Don’t Obsess with Success
5. Expect and Endure Opposition
6. Depend on the Spirit
7. Imitate Jesus
8. Fear God
9. Fear Not
10. Expect Conflict
11. Love Jesus More
12. Expect Light along the Way
When I was very young the kind of music we call rock was just being invented. One of its roots was folk music: before the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel, there was a folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary. Their hit album was released in 1962 and included songs original to them and songs by Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Some of those became the vocabulary of my life; I still sing or hum ‘Blowin in the Wind’ and ‘If I had a Hammer.’ But about the time I trusted Christ, in 1969, Peter, Paul and Mary broke up to pursue solo careers. Noel Paul Stookey began to write and sing from his Christian faith and his 1971 album ‘Paul and’ was one of the first Christian albums I owned. It includes the famous ‘Wedding Song’ used at so many weddings.
So we’re talking this week about a whole chapter of Matthew, chapter 10 in which Jesus calls his disciples and then gives them instructions about going out and representing him in a fallen world. I’m calling this message ‘Rules for a Troubled Road,’ because no matter what the details of our lives are, if we’re trying to live for Jesus, we will all, at least at times, walk a troubled road. And just as we embrace certain rules to make driving go better, like staying to the right and stopping at stop signs and looking both ways, so too if we embrace Jesus’ rules for the road, our lives as his followers will be better.
But before we begin I want to make it clear that though most of the verses in this chapter are about the rules of the road, the first few verses where Jesus calls the disciples to himself are key. We can’t go walk this troubled road unless first we’ve come to Jesus and received his life, his word, his preparation and his peace. One of the songs on Paul Stookey’s 1971 album is called John Henry Bosworth and it’s kind of a hippie song. But it ends with a one minute reflection that has become, as I’ve said before, one of the lyrics of my life.
“And I was wondering if you had been to the mountain. . . .to look at the valley below. Did you see all the roads tangled down in the valley? Did you know which way to go? The mountain stream runs pure and clear, and I wish to my soul that I could always be here. But there’s a reason for living way down in the valley that only the mountain can know.” The Messiah king calls us to the mountain, and we wish we could always be there, in the peace of his presence. But he sends us out into the tangled roads of the valley as his emissaries, and bids us do his work in his way. So we need to take seriously his call to be disciples and his instructions, promises and principles for the troubled road.
Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the calling. Matthew 10:1-4 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, to heal every disease and every affliction. 2The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
This principle, as we said, may be the most important in the whole section: you’ve got to be called to him before you can be sent by him. Mark, in his gospel, words this a little differently: Mark 3:14 “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out.” He doesn’t just call them to him, he calls them to be with him. And he calls us to be with him, to find forgiveness, relationship and peace. Then he sends us, calls us to be with him in the tangled roads of the valley, and to be on mission for him, sent by him to live and proclaim his truth.
Don’t miss this. Don’t minimize this. Jesus doesn’t expect kingdom work to be done by those with no relationship to him. He’ll sometimes use unbelievers, just as God used the kings of Babylon in the Old Testament. But that’s not his standard. His standard is relationship first, then ministry. This is reflected in his famous and comforting conclusion to chapter 11: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” His yoke is his ministry calling on our lives, but it is preceded by coming to him for rest. So the pre-requisite to going for Jesus is coming to Jesus. Only then, as the disciples were called to go out on the trouble road of witness, so we are called to go to our troubled and troubling world as his witnesses.
Before we explore his rules for the road I want to explain something I don’t usually mention. Every week when I go to apply the Scriptures to our lives, I use the same thought process, at times very explicitly, at times intuitively. The idea is that to apply Scripture you have to go from the particular circumstances of the text, to the principles implied, and then to our particular circumstances. Some Scriptures need little abstraction before they reach the stage where we can bridge across to our own applications. The command ‘do not kill’ is already pretty abstract and principled and applies to us pretty directly. But other commands must be principialized first. The command to build an ark is specific to Noah’s situation, but the principles of obedience and faith he reveals are universal and can be applied to our own particular situations.
In our text today we have specific commands to the disciples for their mission, which takes place before the crucifixion and resurrection. So they don’t all apply directly to us: we have to extract the principles behind them. But we want to keep as much of the original intent as we can in our life situation. The problem today is we’ve got a lot of these and we’re not going to be able to walk explicitly through that process. Instead we will have to jump pretty directly to rules of the road, to principles and their application to our lives.
So, let’s hit the road. Verse 5: These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The first rule for the road is ‘go where you’re sent.’ The disciples were to focus on Israel in that moment. Later they’d be expected to ‘go into all the world,’ and that’s still true today. But individually we have to go to a specific place on a specific mission that Jesus gives us. For some that might mean focusing principally on a crisis pregnancy center, or outreach in Galveston, or discipleship in a local church. For others this might mean a lifetime of mission in Africa or Nepal, Slovakia or Tunisia. I admit it’s not always easy to figure out where you are being sent, but it’s a little bit easier if you start with a commitment to go there.
Verse 7: And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. The second rule of the road is ‘proclaim as you go.’ We’re all on a journey, often pursuing specific ministries, but we do no good if Jesus isn’t on our lips, in our hearts and central to our lives as we go, so he spills out in our words and actions. I almost called this principle ‘show and tell:’ the disciples were to say ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ and show that truth by healing, cleansing, even raising the dead. Not all of that transfers to our situation but the idea that we both proclaim Jesus and show his power by caring for people does transfer: ‘Proclaim as you go,’ both in words and deeds.
Verse 8: You received without paying; give without pay. 9Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. The next rule is ‘travel light.’ The details were obviously specific to the disciples’ mission. But the principle that those on mission for Jesus are not to be weighed down by a lot of worldly stuff and concerns, that’s crucial. This is a practical application of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount ‘Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Travel light.
Verse 11: And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Rule of the road: don’t obsess with success. At some points in your journey you’ll have what seems to be success. At other points you’ll get no response or result. It’s pretty obvious that most of what we try to do for God requires him to give the fruit. So whether your ministry is to a pregnant woman or a needy six year old or a family in crisis, at times it will seem that no one’s listening. And you have to be able to let God be God and trust him for the long term outcome. If you are going to judge by immediate success you may get discouraged.
Verse 16: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. This is the first of three sections that reinforce one rule of the road: we are to expect and endure persecution, opposition and conflict. The New Testament anticipates that all believers will be persecuted. But it looks different in every culture, age and calling. In our country, by God’s grace, the persecution is still mostly ridicule and dismissal, now becoming mixed with a modest loss of opportunities and freedoms. Nonetheless this is still real persecution.
But around the world it’s terrifyingly real. More Christians are being persecuted today than ever before in history: tortured, deprived of livelihood, imprisoned, raped, their churches destroyed, their people targets of genocide, their faith made illegal and deemed immoral. And an argument can be made that the Western Church has done little and is doing little about it. We sometimes see it on the news, but do we take it to our knees? According to Peter we ought to be praying at least two things, for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters around the world: that we would stand firm in our faith and that God would restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish his people.It’s a troubled road; expect persecution. But expect God’s help as well.
Verse 19: When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
I love this: ‘Depend on the Spirit,’ not on yourselves. As you go through persecution, and by extension wherever you go on this troubled road, you’re not alone. Jesus is with you, through the Holy Spirit. He’ll give you the words at key moments; he’ll give you the peace in anxiety; he’ll give you the comfort you need when you labor and are heavy laden. I’ve talked before about Zechariah 4:6 “not by might, not by power but by My Spirit, says the Lord,” and isn’t it just like Jesus to remind us our lives are not about achievement but dependence.
It’s fun to hear the Spirit at work. One day about six months ago my brother Clay Thomas, at that time pastor of Galveston Bible Church, asked to come by and talk. He’d been given a sudden opportunity to become the lead chaplain at the Army’s Fort Hunter Liggett in California. And he had to give an answer almost immediately. I, of course, had no answer. But I was given, by the Spirit I think, a number of questions during the conversation, and God used those questions to bring a good deal of clarity and peace to Clay. That’s not me, that’s just a time when the Spirit showed his hand by giving words.
Verse 21: Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. We’ve already said ‘expect and endure persecution.’ Here Jesus comes back to this and he focuses the idea around persecution that will come even from family members and the community.
Verse 23 is difficult because it creates an expectation that Jesus should have come back only a short time after the resurrection. And that expectation is common in the New Testament. But it is likely that Jesus is taking a much longer view to see that this persecution and hatred and this call for endurance will continue in every of church history, and that not even by the end will all of Israel have been reached. But throughout Jesus sees persecution, that even families will be torn apart by the truth of the Gospel.
And of course, we see that today. In many places conversion from Islam is illegal, and persecution or even murder by your own family is common. But such persecution takes place far beyond the Muslim world. In Nepal and India those leaving Hinduism are persecuted. In Slovakia it’s those leaving Catholicism. And the rule for those on these troubled roads, and even for us is simple: expect and endure. Jesus is certainly not making this easy for his followers. But he says there is an end – the Son of Man will come.
Verse 24: A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. Imitate Jesus. The disciple is to be like his teacher. So if they persecute and malign Jesus, don’t be surprised when they persecute and malign you. Peter, Jesus’ disciple, spends more than a chapter teaching us just this truth in his first letter, saying that Jesus left us an example of how to endure suffering as we follow in His steps.
Verse 26: “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. This is one of my favorites: Fear God. Don’t fear men or what men can do to you; don’t fear that evil will ultimately triumph; no, truth will triumph. As it does, the very worst thing they can threaten you with is death. Is that so bad? Not if you’re a believer.
The thing that ought to terrify you is if you’re here today and don’t have a right relationship with God, for those who remain in rebellion against him or try to live on their own are the ones who on death will find that God has the power and the right and the moral justification to destroy body and soul. The wages of sin, Paul teaches, is death, but the gift of God to those who trust in Jesus Christ our Lord, that gift is eternal life. It is the one who gives that who should influence our thinking, our behavior and our hearts. Fear God.
The next rule of the road, and this shouldn’t be surprising is ‘Fear Not.’ Verse 29: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. We should put these two together in our thinking: Fear God and fear not. If we rightly fear God, so that we put him first and acknowledge him in all areas of our lives, then we need not fear anything else. The sovereign God whose eye is on every sparrow and who numbers even the hairs of your head will not forget or forsake you – he truly values you. As Gail would say, you are his treasured possession. So as you learn to fear God, the fear of everything else, circumstances, persecution, conflict, sickness and death itself fades into obscurity.
But God knows this is a hard lesson to learn. This is probably why the command ‘fear not’ is the single most common command that you and I are given in Scripture. It may not be totally accurate, but some people contend that this command is given 365 times, for each day of the year, because in a troubled world we need to be reminded every day that there is nothing to fear.
Verse 34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. In addition to expecting opposition and persecution, we can expect conflict. Even in your own home, if one believes and one doesn’t it brings conflict. Yet if we imitate Jesus even in these conflicts, we can often see radical changes. I think of two men from India, my friend Saji Lukos and Ravi Zacharias. Both had grown up in nominally Christian families, but in each case the son was the first to truly have a personal walk with Christ, and that set them at odds with the ambitions of their fathers. And it took years, in both cases for their families to recognize that they were living truth, living in imitation of Christ and now in both cases all of their family members have come to faith. Ravi says “From that point on my dad became a transformed man, probably more than any person I ever knew. His life, his temperament, his language, the way he treated my mother, - everything changed. He was truly transformed from above. God gave me a brand new father.”
But, Jesus says, verse 37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. It’s really tempting to find a rule for the road in ‘take up your cross and follow,’ but the more general teaching of these few verses is ‘love Jesus more than life itself.’ Love Jesus more than your family. In Luke Jesus actually uses the word hate, to emphasis how strong our feelings and commitment to him should be and how pale by comparison even the closest family ties appear. If you love your parents or children with a great and passionate love, that should be nothing compared to your love for Jesus.
Can we even begin to imagine loving Jesus more than life itself? I’ve talked to many people who say ‘my commitment is wholehearted, I’m immensely grateful, but I don’t feel love for Jesus.’ And on the one hand I’m OK with that, because agape love is really more about acts of sacrifice in another person’s best interest than it is about emotion; taking up the cross, laying down your life, that’s love whether it feels that way or not.
But on the other hand, I’m not ready to give up entirely on passionate, emotional, heartfelt love for the Lord. If you or I really have a relationship with him, and if he’s really as awesome as we say he is, why wouldn’t we love him?
Finally, verse 40: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Expect the troubled road to be lit up occasionally. Expect light along the way. Jesus talks about people who receive the disciples and who recognize that Jesus himself is at work in them, that God is at work in them, that righteousness is at work in them. These are his little ones, the persecuted road travelers he has depicted throughout this chapter. He doesn’t say whether those who thus receive him are believers, become believers, or are just showing kindness because they see something special in believers. But clearly there is from time to time a refuge for those on the troubled road and Jesus sees that as a good thing and ends his description of the disciples mission, and of us on mission with this reminder.
What have we said? Let’s review the road signs: Go Where You’re Sent and Proclaim as You Go; Travel Light; Don’t Obsess with Success; Expect and Endure Opposition. Depend on the Spirit and Imitate Jesus; Fear God and Fear Not; Expect Conflict, but Love Jesus More. and Expect Light along the Way. When you pull them all together like that they sound both simple and impossible. And they are. But don’t forget where we started: Jesus called his disciples to himself. With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible. I want to close by turning our attention back to Jesus, who came as Messiah King to rescue us and sends us into the same troubled world he came to. The name of this video is Something More. It says: