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"The Cost of Discipleship"
Matthew 10:24-39

One of the toughest parts of being a Christian is putting up with critics: those who disagree with us, those who ridicule us. This was a really big problem for the early Christians, and I think it's important to know that Jesus did not back away from this problem. When he commissioned his twelve disciples, he gave them many specific instructions. But he also told them that life would be hard. And he went to the heart of the matter and told them how to deal with the difficulties.

Beginning with the twenty-fourth verse of the tenth chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells the twelve, "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master." In the fortieth verse of the sixth chapter of the gospel according to Luke, we have one more added touch: "Everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher."

What I think Jesus is doing in this passage in Matthew is establishing the LIMITS of discipleship. But I would go further with this passage to interpret it to say that a disciple CANNOT be above the teacher. I believe that there are two kinds of limits on us as disciples. We cannot be more capable and more knowledgable than our teacher. But neither can we be less RESPONSIBLE than our teacher.

And Jesus goes on to tell us that "it is enough for the disciples to be LIKE the teacher, and the slave LIKE the master." But I would also add that it is NECESSARY to be like the teacher.

The reason I would make this interpretation is that I believe that Jesus was telling his disciples first that there were indeed LIMITS on them, but second, that they must strive to ACHIEVE those very limits. And it was necessary for Jesus to put it this way in order to then pose the warning, that "if they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!"

And the stage is set for Jesus to assure his disciples that his requirements CAN be met, as he tells them, "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known."

And this is his promise to his disciples that he will prepare them for their ministry: all will be revealed and all will be made known.

I'm reminded of the comment of an experienced pastor responding to what he saw as inadequacy in an inexperienced pastor. All he had to say was, "It will come with time." What he didn't say, but was probably thinking, was "and with much prayer, much patience, and much practice."

Jesus then gives his disciples an instruction which shows us the difference between HIS teaching to them and what he expects from THEIR teaching.

"What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops."

There is in this, I think, advice on how we respond to our prayer life, to our private meetings with God. Those meetings will often take place in the quiet, in the dark, in our aloneness with God. But what we learn cannot STAY there.

In fact, we can't help but bring it to light, to openly proclaim it in our actions, if not our words, by the way we behave in love toward our fellow humans.

Then, once again, Jesus reminds his disciples to have no fear. But this time, he compares the fear of mere humans with the fear of God. He tells us,

"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."

Now the cynic may say, "What good does this really do me? I'm just giving up one fear for another!" But Jesus has the answer for that. Because the power of God to destroy is also the power to create and is also the power to protect.

The all-powerful God is also the all-knowing God, the all-present God. Jesus begins to show us this when he says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?" Notice that he has intentionally picked a form of life which has a commercial value less than the smallest unit of price. But he goes on to say that, "Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father." Not only is God in control, but God is in control of the smallest details.

This reminds me very much of what Jesus said in the second chapter of the sermon on the mount, in the sixth chapter of the gospel according to Matthew.

In answer to people's concern for their day-to-day existence, and in an attempt to put their concerns into perspective, he said, "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. ďAre you not of more value than they?"

To further impress upon his disciples that God is in charge not only of the details of nature but also of each person in particular, he points out that "even the hairs of your head are all counted." (And for some of us that counting is not difficult.)

I think that considering we know so much more about biology and physiology today than was known two thousand years ago, if Jesus were speaking to his disciples today he might use more elaborate examples of God's knowledge and control.

But the conclusion remains: God IS in control and IS taking care of us. God is aware of every slightest detail in our lives, conscious of our every need.

Then for the third time Jesus tells his disciples, "do not be afraid." And why? Because "you are of more value than many sparrows." And if God is in control and is taking care of all those little birds, you can bet that God is taking care of us.

Finally, Jesus pulls together what he has said about his teaching, about the nature of God, and how his disciples fit into all this when he says,

"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven."

Although this was spoken to disciples preparing to spread the teachings of Jesus, I think it also speaks to Christians today in all walks of life.

What I think we are being told is that if we live our lives in such a way as to be examples of the teachings of Jesus Christ, we are joined to the kingdom of God, even on earth. On the other hand, if we live our lives in such a way as to be denials of the teachings of Christ, we are separating ourselves from the kingdom of God.

But let's go back to the beginning and ask this question: How should I put this together in my own personal ministry, my own personal witness, the way I live with my family, friends, and neighbors?

First, I think we need to accept the fact that we can't be perfect, but in spite of that impossibility we should strive for it, because it will take all the personal spiritual strength we can muster to meet the trials and tribulations in our lives.

Although our lives are filled with problems that seem to have no neat solutions, if we but have patience, and do prayerfully seek after the answers, they will be forthcoming, and we will be prepared to act on them.

When we feel threatened by our fear of mortals, we need to understand that the only real fear should be our fear of God. But that fear of God is the fear of a strength that can work FOR us, encourage us, uplift us, protect us.

We need to believe that the God who is in charge of the details of the universe is also taking care of us. And in the grand order of things, if God can take care of endless trivial details, God can certainly take care of us.

Finally, if we can hold fast to all of this, if our lives are continuing examples of Jesus Christ, that continuing witness will forge our link with God almighty.

This passage of scripture is the second part of the commissioning of the twelve disciples. And this commissioning is considered by some to be Christ's "second sermon" after the sermon on the mount.

Although I'm sure there are a wide variety of interpretations of the commissioning, I nevertheless think that this portion of scripture is extremely important for Christians to be familiar with.

It tells us what Christ thought was important for his disciples to know as they went about their business. It tells us what kind of attitude Christ had toward ministry.

But this part of the commissioning is really very upbeat. What follows is less so.

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

"For 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; and one's foes will be members of one's own household."

And we can hear the words of the prophet Micah in the sixth verse of the seventh chapter: "for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household."

Although we might be tempted to dismiss the strife within the family as simply a means Jesus used to emphasize division, I think it is more than an example: It think it is quite real. For as long as there have been families, and likely for as long as there will be families, there will be friction within them, and part of that friction will be related to their faith values. And Jesus is creating the most complete picture possible of how extensive the divisions caused by his teachings could be on even relatively intimate scales.

"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."

Now, this could get touchy for the Jewish people, because it intrudes directly on the fifth commandment of the law.

The twelfth verse of the twentieth chapter of Exodus tells us, "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."

And for some, this may seem to force an either-or decision, either my parents or Jesus Christ. but I would suggest that BOTH laws can be followed. Jesus is not asking us to dishonor our parents, but he IS asking us to honor him more.

"And whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

I find this easiest to understand when I think in terms of the twentieth and twenty-first verses of the sixth chapter of the gospel according to Matthew:

"store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

For me, "treasures in heaven" are my long-term values, the eternal values. Although we may give up the short-term values, if we give them up for Jesus Christ, we will reap the eternal values. By losing our lives for HIS sake, we WILL find them.

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