Not Your Typical Pep Talk.
Matthew 9:35-11:1; Mark 6:6-13; Luke 9:1-6
“If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” – Matthew 10:38-39 NLT
We tend to read the Scriptures from a been-there-done-that perspective. In other words, we know how the story ends, so we allow our knowledge of the ultimate outcome to influence how we read certain passages. The one for today is a perfect case in point. Here is Jesus getting ready to send out the twelve disciples on their first official short-term mission trip. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all three record this event, but Matthew includes quite a bit more detail. It all comes across as kind of a dry run, an attempt to prepare the disciples for what is going to be coming later in their lives after Jesus has returned to heaven. He sends them out to do ministry on their own, but Luke tells us He “gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases” (Luke 9:1 NLT). This is significant, because the Holy Spirit had not been given yet. That would not happen until after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. So Jesus gave them temporary filling of power to make their ministry trip possible.
But back to our tendency to allow hindsight to influence our reading of Scripture. Imagine the fear the disciples must have felt as Jesus informed them that they were going to be doing ministry on their own for a while. Up until this point, they had been silent spectators, watching Jesus preach, teach, heal and cast out demons. They had seen the growing animosity of the religious leaders and knew that not everyone liked Jesus or agreed with His message. So there had to be some real apprehension in their hearts as Jesus sent them out two by two. And then Matthew adds the little pep talk that Jesus gave them right before they left. This is where we need to put aside our knowledge of how things are going to turn out and get into the minds of the disciples for a minute. How would they have received this little talk from Jesus? How would His words have come across to them? They didn’t know how the story would end. All of them were still expecting Jesus, as the Messiah, to set up His kingdom on earth just like they had always been taught. They are not even remotely thinking about Jesus having to die. Having to watch Him be crucified is not something they would even remotely consider. So when Jesus drops this bombshell on them, it had to have left them shaken.
It starts out fairly easy, with Jesus giving them marching instructions as to where and how they were to minister. He gave them specific details and told them they were to “go and announce the kingdom to them that the Kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons” (Matthew 10:7-8 NLT). Pretty heady stuff. Scary, but exciting too. Then Jesus gives them some news that had to have been sobering and a bit shocking. He tells them to beware! They are going to be arrested, flogged and stand trial for being one of His followers. What? Really? Are you kidding me? I can see the disciples looking around at each other as Jesus dropped this news on them. Their eyes are wide. Their mouths are slack-jawed. Their hearts are pounding in their chests. But Jesus is not done. He tells them that brothers will betray brothers and children will rebel against their parents, resulting in the death of their parents. All as a result of their relationship with Jesus. On top of that, every nation will hate the disciples because of their belief in Jesus. He talks of persecution. He mentions those who will want to kill their bodies. Then Jesus tells them that those who choose to deny Him on earth, He will deny before His Father in heaven. Finally, Jesus wraps it all up with the statement that we have all grown so familiar with that it doesn’t have much impact on us anymore. But it had to have hit the disciples like a bag of bricks that day. Jesus tells them, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39 NLT). Remember, the cross is not on their radar screen at this point. They are thinking kingdom, not crucifixion. They are thinking glory, not Golgotha. They are dreaming of Jesus as a king with a crown, not dying like a criminal on a cruel Roman cross. So when they hear Jesus tell them that they are to take up their own cross and follow Him, it had to have sent ripples of confusion and fear through their hearts. When Jesus finished, it had to have been extremely difficult for them to take that first step on their new assignment. They had to have been expecting any and all of what Jesus had said to happen at any moment. They were probably thinking arrests and floggings awaited them around every corner. Sure, Jesus had told them to see all of this as an “opportunity” to tell the rulers and unbelievers about Him. He had told them they would receive just the right words to say at just the right time – straight from God Himself. He had told them not to fear because God valued them greatly. But their hearts had to be filled with fear as they walked away from Jesus that day and entered into the unknown.
But what do we know? We know that Jesus was telling them about future events. All that He said would eventually happen, but it would only be after He had died and been raised again. These events would take place after Jesus returned to heaven and the Holy Spirit had come to permanently indwell His followers. What the disciples would experience in the days immediately following this “pep talk” from Jesus would leave them excited, pumped and relieved that none of the negative things Jesus had warned them about had happened. They would cast out demons and heal the sick. They would display incredible power and become celebrities in their own rights. But Jesus is trying to tell them that the real test will come when He is gone. The real battle will begin when He leaves and the Holy Spirit comes. The real work will begin when He has returned to His place at the right hand of His Father in heaven. We know the rest of the story. They didn’t. But even though we know how the story ends, we still have a hard time reading this passage and understanding that much of it applies to us as well. He expects us to take up our cross daily as well. He demands us to stop clinging to our lives as we want them to be and give up our lives for Him. We are to acknowledge Him publicly here in earth. We are to tell “rulers and other unbelievers” about Him. We are to fear God only, and not men. We are to rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the words to say. We are to be shrewd and snakes and harmless as doves, knowing that we are like sheep among wolves, living in a hostile environment, where every nation hates us because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. When the disciples heard this news from Jesus, they went out. Fearful, but faithful. We have heard the same message. But what has our response been? Do we even think it applies to us. “So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God” (Mark 6:12 NLT). What will you do?
Father, I still struggle with taking up my cross daily and following You, and I know how the story ends. I want to cling to my life and live it on my own terms. I want to live in safety, easy, and comfort. I don’t want to be hated, disliked, persecuted, or despised for my faith. I tend to fear men more than I fear You. I doubt Your power even though I know I have it available to me 24/7 in the form of the Holy Spirit. I know what the disciples ended up doing. I am fully aware that they experienced all the things Jesus warned them about, and yet they remained faithful. I want to do the same. Give me the strength to go out and tell, in spite of my fears. Strengthen my faith Father. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men