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Remember to whom you belong. Thoughts of your Father in heaven will help you act and not react when you have to endure unpleasant circumstances.
"Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Beware, they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. It will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
"Brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.
"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known." Matthew 10:16-26 NKJV, condensed
When You Take a Beating
At this point in the narrative, Mark and Luke say the disciples returned from their mission trip and gathered around Jesus to share their experiences. But Matthew has more ground to cover before he lets the disciples return. Matthew liked to stay on subject. Just as he did with the Sermon on the Mount, now he compiled a list of all the sayings he could remember from the lips of Jesus that fit the topic, in this instance, bearing witness to Jesus. Matthew wrote out these teachings back to back, one on top of the other, with no regard to time sequence or the circumstance in which it was stated.
Like a first-aid kit, these warnings of Jesus are kept ready and available, but we hope we will never need to sort through and use them. Themes such as how to endure persecution may seem out of place at the moment. But they were remembered by the early Church when religious and civil authorities refused to allow the apostles and other believers to speak openly about Jesus.
When harsh and painful consequences are inflicted to inhibit us from expressing our beliefs, then we understand Jesus' words about sheep walking amid a pack of wolves. That one image says it all. One wolf in a flock of sheep could do an incredible amount of slaughter! Turn those numbers around to a pack of wolves working in unison against two or three sheep, and you glimpse the overwhelming nature of persecution. Jesus said that is the time to be wise and harmless. In other words, don't think you will win by fighting them in like manner. Sheep do not survive by attacking wolves.
Three sources of persecution are mentioned here. Religious institutions, civil authorities and the family. All three are places where we should feel at home, yet when threatened, can make our lives miserable. It brings to mind my young adult years during the Viet Nam War when protest against the war sometimes brought on the wrath of all three.
Jesus had some advice for those who suffer for his sake. Look up rather than around at the persecutors. Don't worry what to say, God will give you the words. When you are brought before the authorities for Jesus' sake, your words and behavior will be a living testimony to those who don't know the love and grace of God. And don't expect to be treated any better than Jesus was treated!
Those who are called to speak and work on behalf of Jesus, beware! He was attacked and criticized with unrelenting fury. Beelzebul is an interesting word. "Baal," the old god of the Canaanite people, was coupled with "zebul" which meant dunghill! You get the picture. Today we would be more explicit. Jesus was called "the lord of dung" by those who wished to mock him. Why should we be surprised by similarly offensive insults.
Talk of hardship and persecution is a real downer. We want to be liked and accepted. We want to hang around with people who make us feel good. But that's only part of the discipleship experience. What goes up, comes down. Jesus is very honest about this. It can be a hard landing when people do not believe or agree with us, even worse when they refuse to be tolerant. Negativism is a harsh reality, brutality and malice take it further down.
Jesus offered his disciples more than the joy and peace of his abiding presence. He also offered something we don't want, the possibility of adversity, those kinds of situations where "the tough get going" and spirit pulls us through. Jesus told us to hope and not fear, because one day justice will prevail. Things which were covered up, will be exposed and whatever was done in private will be made public.
It's always the harvest season in the life of a disciple, a hustle-bustle time of joyful expectation. Yet we must endure the heat, bruises, and long hours, and work with a sense of urgency till we drop. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand and people need to repent, turn and do a one-eighty. The time is now. The place is wherever we are. How? By one pilgrim showing another pilgrim the way home to our loving heavenly Father, where all things needful come in abundance and love is eternal and unfailing.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Name one person who inspires you and tell why you picked that particular person.
Share some tips you discovered which help you hold up under pressure? What are some one-liners you have learned from the movies or other sources which you could use in a life-threatening situation?
What is the difference between rejecting someone for their beliefs and persecuting them?
Give some examples of people being persecuted for their faith by-- religious authorities government officials family members others, such as peers, etc.
What are the reasons so many people keep quiet about their belief in God? Why is it difficult to voice an unpopular opinion? How can we break out of our timidity and fear?
Jesus' disciples were not spared persecution, but they were promised deliverance and salvation if they endured to the end. What do you think Jesus meant by that?
We picture Jesus surrounded by crowds of attentive people. Yet at the end, the masses shouted, "Crucify him." How could that happen? Was Jesus popular or wasn't he? Explain your answer.
Discipleship is not a popularity contest. Disciples are to be like their teacher. What does it mean to you to be like Jesus? How is your life different when you try to be like Jesus?
Many of us can not identify with the twelve disciples who left everything and followed Jesus. Who among us is in a position to do that! We have people to care for, debts to pay off, obligations and promises to keep, the expectations of others to fulfill. How do you think the Twelve would respond to this comment? Would they be sympathetic? Or challenge us?
Define "courage" and watch for examples of courage throughout the week.