Is this passage unfamiliar? I expect the first two verses of this passage are unfamiliar to many of you. They come at the very end of Christ's sermon in Matthew 10 and it would be very easy to read them quickly and forget them. And because they contain some issues that are difficult to unravel, you may well have forgotten these verses. But there is a good reason to dwell on this passage at the end of Christ's teaching about proclaiming the gospel amidst persecution. These verses tell us there are rewards in evangelism; there are rewards in persecution! Did you know that? If not you might give up. Christ says "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." You will find a reward.
How are these rewards a motivation? That's a motivation to continue proclaiming the gospel amidst persecution. But how are these rewards a motivation? As an introduction it will be helpful to untangle this issue first.
Justification. Consider how these rewards relate to justification. The fact God gives rewards for obedience does not mean we earn a righteous standing in God's eyes by our works. "By works of the law no one will be justified." (Gal. 2:16) The ground of our righteous standing before God is not the righteousness of our own good works, but the righteousness of Christ alone. We cannot earn God's favor once we deserve His wrath. Instead we must plead for His mercy. Our first motive for obeying God should not be the reward which He promises in response to our obedience, but rather our obedience must flow from our faith in Christ, and our love for God, and above that, our aim to exalt God's own glory itself. In the end, our greatest reward is God Himself. We should desire God, and God's glory, before our own enjoyment, knowing that we enjoy God most when He is most glorified in us.
Intrinsic or extrinsic? But for those whom God has justified, He provides the encouragement that Christ rewards His disciples, and those who receive them. We can dig into how these rewards are a motivation a little further. Are these rewards intrinsic or extrinsic motivations? Is the reward in the obedience, or for the obedience?
Both! The answer is they are both! There are intrinsic rewards in keeping God's commands: "The precepts of the Lord are right...in keeping them there is great reward." (Ps. 19:8; 11) Like bodily exercise, godliness "holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1 Tim. 4:8) But God also provides extrinsic rewards, rewards that He gives not through your obedience as their effect, but in response to your obedience because God sees and approves of it. "Your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18)
Truth in advertising. These rewards must not be your first motivation for following Christ, but they are a supporting motivation. The reason you follow Jesus is that you love Him. But as a help and encouragement to you in your weakness, He informs you whether in following Him you will be blessed or cursed. The world may curse you, but Christ will bless you. His is a divine "truth in advertising" campaign. Christ reveals both the hidden costs and the final glorious blessings of being His disciples, and you need to know the blessings far outweigh the cost of discipleship.
Outline. If you should take anything home from this passage today, you should remember these two points which Christ makes:
Conversation topics. People say if you want to avoid arguments at family reunions, don't bring up politics or religion. Victorian novels will tell you it's better to discuss "the weather or the state of the roads." But we are intrigued by politics and religion because they are full of difficult questions, and because they are matters of life and death.
In Matthew 10, Christ teaches us how to bring the gospel to others, and how to deal with its rejection and the persecution that may follow. The gospel always creates a division between believers and unbelievers, so Christ continues to teach us to "be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves."
Christ Brings Not Peace But A Sword v. 34
Christ Breaks the Closest Earthly Ties vv. 35-36
Choose Christ Before Family and Life! vv. 37-38
Ultimately You Will Lose, or Find, Eternal Life v. 39
Pleasure and persecution are the two key enemies of the church in the book of Revelation. Pleasure is Babylon the harlot, and persecution is the beast. We see persecution today in Turkey, China, Africa. In America we see pleasure. The aim of both is for you to deny Christ, because you are forced to, or because you want to. And both aim to convince you that God is not your God, and you are not His people. They aim for you to find your identity in this world, and with the ways of this world, rather than with Jesus Christ.
There is a crisis of identity among Christians today. Too many Christians do not truly identify themselves with Jesus Christ. God is seeking worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), but I've spoken with two households recently who do not worship God because they are seeking a youth group. I want a youth group too, but I tell you the truth, if you want a youth group more than a worship service, your kids will follow your example! Show me a Christian father who says "I owe my life to Jesus Christ, so for me and my household on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, we will worship the Lord!" and I will show you 50 of my classmates at Covenant College who for that reason worshiped God faithfully as high schoolers, and now as young adults are giving their lives in service to Christ and His church. Our new missionary doctor Jim Knox is one—by deciding to go to Uganda he decided "I will give my body to malaria, to save Karimajong souls from death." These are salt that has not lost its saltiness, young people who will not deny Christ though pleasure and persecution may do their worst.
The apostles must have been excited and encouraged by Christ's instructions in vv. 5-15, because Christ gave them power to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons." Theirs was an amazing mission! But on the heels of this encouragement comes news they and we don't want to hear: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves." When you call men to repent of their sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be a sitting duck; an easy target for persecution. I've heard pastors say home Bible studies are the most effective means of evangelism and bringing new members into the church. Is it any surprise that on Good Friday this year a Bible study in Bonita, CA became the target of persecution? San Diego County officials issued the homeowners a cease-and-desist order because having 15 people in their house appeared to violate the zoning laws.
We don't want these things to be true, but because they are, it is good Christ prepared us for them beforehand. Much of Christ's words in vv. 5-15 was directed to His apostles' immediate evangelistic excursion, but in vv. 16 to the end of the chapter Christ looks beyond their present mission to the time of the early church, the ancient church, and the church in all ages. Christ's disciples will be in the position of "sheep among wolves" as they bring the gospel to the unbelieving world. This is the key theme and illustration uniting v. 16 to the end of the chapter. It can be difficult to recognize the smaller divisions within this section, but what warrants treating vv. 16-23 as a unit is that these verses speak of various stages of persecution from its beginning to its end. First, at its outset, Jesus warns us in vv. 17-18 to "beware of men," because they may—and some will—persecute you. Second, when the persecution requires you to speak in your own defense, Christ tells us in vv. 19-20, do not be anxious how you are to speak. Third, with a view to the long term, in vv. 21-22, Christ encourages us to endure to the end, despite opposition even from those close to you, and fourth, in v. 23 Christ gives a practical exit strategy for the short term: flee if you can.
Theme: Sheep Among Wolves v. 16
The Outset of Persecution: "Beware of men" vv. 17-18
Have you ever begun reading a book which came highly recommended, only to find you didn't understand it, and so you never finished the book? Let me tell you, there's hope! Some books actually are boring! But for the rest, Mortimer Adler wrote a book titled "How to Read A Book" that shows you how to actually benefit from books you don't understand.
On the road to Emmaus, two of Jesus' disciples didn't understand why Jesus had to die, and why He rose from the dead. And for that reason they didn't understand the Bible. Why did Jesus have to die and rise again? What is the meaning of these things we care so much about at Easter? Jesus Himself will help you understand.