Matthew 10:34-42 – The Trouble with Jesus

Jesus teaching the disciples, from the Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome

Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (New International Version)

Jesus is the sort of guy that gets up in our grill and confronts us with this: All of life centers in him. That may sound incredibly narcissistic. For Christians, it isn’t, because we discern and confess along with the Apostle Paul:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV)

The Christian’s confession of centrality in Christ means that we believe Jesus is the most important person there is. That confession often makes us troublemakers, as we follow in the footsteps of the Lord who was himself a troublemaker.

That may also sound like something that happens when a narcissist is in control. Again, for Christians, it isn’t, because we realize that trouble is central to Christian mission; the way of the resurrection comes through the cross; the way to succeed is to fail; and whoever loses their life will find it.

We Should Expect Opposition

We should not be obstinate, pigheaded, short-sighted, legalistic, or use the Bible as a brick to throw at people who disagree with us. That will certainly bring opposition and trouble. But this is not the kind of opposition we’re talking about. Being a jerk is antithetical to the gospel. Don’t be a jerk.

The opposition Jesus experienced came through being humble, meek, just, merciful, pure, and peace-loving. According to Christ’s Beatitudes, embracing these values will smack against their opposites. Pride, criticism, judgmentalism, and selfishness are ensconced everywhere throughout this fallen world.

The virtues of Jesus are counter-cultural; they’re different than how the world typically operates. 

As people who must live in this world, we need to avoid the extremes of simple assimilation into the culture, or an outright rejection of the culture. Blending into culture, and separating from it, are both ways of avoiding opposition and trouble. 

Instead, there is a third way that encompasses both shrewdness and innocence. And it is faithful to the way of Jesus. We need to interact with and engage the culture as salt and light. 

Assimilation means that we lose our saltiness. Isolation means that we hide our light.

But interaction means that we are discerning and seek to apply understanding and truth in the concrete situations of life in the world.

It means that we learn critical thinking skills. It involves listening to others and discovering their values. It requires speaking into another’s life with grace and truth. It is a matter of following the words and ways of Jesus, the center of all things.

Any fool can stand against something and complain about it – shouting from afar about what they don’t like. It’s also foolish to accept everything without question. As followers of Jesus, opposition and trouble is going to come when you rub shoulders with the world. If we never experience opposition, it’s probably because we have either succumbed to the culture or have removed ourselves from it.

We Will Inevitably Upset Our Family

Trouble will likely come from family. In many countries of this world, a family member who becomes a Christian has brought shame upon the entire family and, so, is in jeopardy of being shunned, rejected, or worse. That sort of trouble may be foreign to many, but family separations certainly occur in our own culture because of faith commitments to Jesus. 

Jesus stated that anyone who takes the easy way of loving family more than him is not worthy of him. Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow Jesus, even if it means trouble, is not worthy of following him. 

Each one must die to self. Let… it… go….

Die to the old life; take up a new life – a life dedicated wholeheartedly to Christ.

The old life involves holding onto a spirit of unforgiveness and bitterness; avoiding certain people; refusing to make things right with others. The new life entails keeping steadfast love, caring for others, embracing humility, being self-less, thinking the best of others, forgiving others, taking pleasure in truth, remaining patient, and always trusting God, no matter what.

We Are Going to Feel Afraid

Fear has to do with the unknown. If we expect opposition and trouble, then we won’t live in dread of what might happen. The early Christians even rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus. (Acts 5:41)

God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. (Philippians 1:29, CEB)

We will receive special help in times of trouble and fear. We have the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our Helper for such a time as this. God is with us.

When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2, NLT)

God sees everything and isn’t taken by surprise by your hardship; the Lord will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this world.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

It is a privilege to follow Jesus into trouble. This is “upside-down” theology. In giving my life away to Jesus, I find it. In getting into trouble, I find peace. In taking up my cross, I find purpose and joy. 

The flooding of thousands of square kilometers of rain forest in Brazil has given birth to an unusual industry – the extraction of underwater wood. Millions of tree trunks, below the waters of a lake formed by the 1980 construction of a hydro-electric dam, captured the entrepreneurial vision of Juarez Cristiano Gomes.

He invented an electric saw that works underwater and set up a company to extract this wood. Lumberjacks equipped with air tanks go down as far as 164 feet but are never in danger of being smashed by trees they cut since they “fall” upward to the surface.

The kingdom of God is upside-down. Facing trouble and opposition doesn’t make us fall; it actually lifts us up.

So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will certainly not lose your reward from God.

Matthew 10:16-25 – The Place of Trouble

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
 
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (New International Version)
 
Take a moment to let this statement from Jesus sink-in: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”… 
 
To name the obvious: A pack of wolves will attack a flock of sheep because a wolf is a hunter, and a sheep is the prey. In short, wolves eat sheep.
 
So, when Jesus said this to a group of guys who are familiar with rural metaphors, they clearly got the message: The Lord is putting us in a place of danger. We are at risk. We could lose our lives.
 
From the mere human perspective, Christ’s words to his disciples are outlandish. Here we have a group of people who are following Jesus. But they likely didn’t sign-up for this! Perhaps they began to think their Lord was a bit off his rocker. Maybe he ate a piece of moldy bread or a leftover fish that didn’t agree with him.
 
Sometimes, followers of Jesus Christ completely lose sight that he was a troublemaker and warned us about trouble in the world. 
 
It’s not that Jesus was intentionally pressing everyone’s buttons; he was just being himself, and that sent a whole lot of people, at the worst, gnashing their teeth and caballing to kill him; and, at the least, causing them to question why they are even paying attention to him. 
 
Then, when you throw into the mix that Jesus also tended to get all up into people’s grill and confront them with bold assertions that they can only be rightly related to God through himself, on his terms, there ends up being a large chunk of folks who simply walk away, believing Christian discipleship isn’t for them.
 
Yet, Jesus wasn’t presenting something brand new. He was lifting up a truth which has been with God’s people throughout the ages: God never promises to keep us from trouble.
 
In fact, the Lord does just the opposite: He promises we will face a great deal of trouble because of our spiritual commitments. However, there is a further promise: God will be with us through the trouble, and not apart from it. We don’t even need to worry about what to say because God’s very Spirit will speak for us.
 
This is one reason why Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Yes, Jesus is sending out his disciples like vulnerable sheep among ravenous wolves. However, he forever stands as the divine sentinel, watching over the flock, keeping them safe, going after the strays, and challenging the predators.
 
We may be in a difficult place of trouble, yet Jesus is present with us by means of the Holy Spirit. We do not fear and instead live with confidence in the middle of hard circumstances because God is with us. And if God is with us and God loves us, nothing can separate us from our Lord – no matter how cunning and intimidating that big old wolf is.
 
Therefore, we should expect opposition and trouble. There are going to be times that we unintentionally disrupt and upset our families, our co-workers, and those around us. 
 
It’s not that we are trying to be obnoxious or malicious; it’s just that by simply loving Jesus and seeking to follow him, we are going to upset some people – and, as Christians, we need to be okay with that reality. 
 
Facing trouble is really not the worst thing to be experienced; to be separated from God is the most terrible thing that could ever happen to us.
 
My friends, it is okay to rock the boat, shake the tree, upset the fruit basket, stir the pot, and make waves if you are doing it because you are committed to God’s will and you are truly living into the words and ways of Jesus. 
 
Because Jesus faced a great deal of trouble, opposition, and suffering, he is able to help us through our own overwhelming stuff.
 
So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will actually find it – and find that you are saved and safe.
 
Holy God, you are jealous for your Name to be honored and adored. My life is yours. Use it for your glory in this fallen world. If trouble and persecution occur, I’ll consider it a privilege to suffer for Jesus and an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to show up. Amen.

Luke 12:4-12 – Dealing with Trouble

Jesus the Teacher by J. Kirk Richards

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (New International Version)

A new resurrected life is a beautiful thing. And it can be a hard thing, at the same time.

Decades ago, I once preached in a church for morning and evening worship services. As I entered the church building for the evening sermon, one of the deacons greeted me by saying, “Man, did you ever stir the pot this morning!”

It turns out, because I did not stay behind the pulpit when I preached, but freely roamed around the sanctuary, many parishioners believed I was not being under the authority of God’s Holy Word. They took my actions as subversive, even rebellious. Others defended the action. The entire church became divided over it.

What I found so interesting about the whole affair is that I was simply and genuinely being myself – and it caused trouble to the point of families dividing and imploding in on themselves.

Sometimes people lose sight of what’s really important, and the gospel of grace ends up bringing division. Jesus tended to cause trouble in his earthly ministry, just by being himself – and a lot of folks didn’t take kindly to him exercising authority like God does.

Trouble tends to follow Christian mission and service. That may seem odd. Yet, God’s kingdom is an upside-down one. The way of resurrection and new life comes through a cross and a death; the way to succeed is to fail; the one who loses their life will find it.

We ought to expect opposition and trouble from the world.

Fortunately, nobody ever accused me of being in cahoots with the devil. But that happened to Jesus, on more than one occasion. (Matthew 10:24-25)

Christians are not above their Master – they will be treated as he was. Jesus didn’t want his followers to be surprised whenever they face opposition.

We don’t need to be afraid of getting into trouble.

Fear has to do with the unknown and about what is going to happen to us. Since we know opposition and trouble is expected, we can avoid living in dread. Early on in the church, Christians actually rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus.

We are given a promise that we’ll receive special help in times of adversity. Believers possess the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our helper and advocate for such difficult situations.

God sees all things. The Lord isn’t surprised by your hardship and will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this old fallen world. The wrath of God is to be much more feared than the wrath of people.

God observes all the details of our lives. If God cares and is attentive to the least little things in my life, then how much more will the big issues in my life be handled!?

Blaspheming (saying hard things against) the Holy Spirit is nothing more nor less than attributing the work of Satan to God.

We aren’t doomed to hell if we are crushed under a heavy load of distress and pressure. God won’t strike us with lightning if we make mistakes, mess up, or fail to live as we ought. The Lord will likely be sad, but fire and brimstone will not be in the picture.

You might be wondering how I handled the hubbub with the church who fractured over my preaching apart from the pulpit. I came back in the evening and purposely caused trouble by preaching the Beatitudes of Jesus while walking up and down the aisle.

After all, when somebody is secure in Christ, why not say and do what needs to be said and done?

Gracious God, your love is sufficient for us. May your guidance and wisdom hold us tightly, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Guard the hearts and minds of believers in places of hardship, war, and persecution so that your church may stand strong in faith.

Although trouble may come, neither any person nor any power on this earth can take our souls from us. We belong to you. May your church stand strong in grace and love, being assured with the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

We pray for the day when we will all be together in worship and praise at the consummation of your benevolent kingdom. Until that day, may your love flow to all our persecuted brothers and sisters. May your blessed Holy Spirit strengthen and fill them with faith, hope, and love, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen

Psalm 56 – In God We Trust

Have pity, God Most High!
    My enemies chase me all day.
Many of them are pursuing
    and attacking me,
    but even when I am afraid,
    I keep on trusting you.
I praise your promises!
I trust you and am not afraid.
    No one can harm me.

Enemies spend the whole day
    finding fault with me;
    all they think about
    is how to do me harm.
They attack from ambush,
    watching my every step
    and hoping to kill me.
They won’t get away
    with these crimes, God,
    because when you get angry,
    you destroy people.

You have kept record
    of my days of wandering.
You have stored my tears
in your bottle
    and counted each of them.

When I pray, Lord God,
    my enemies will retreat,
    because I know for certain
    that you are with me.
I praise your promises!
I trust you and am not afraid.
    No one can harm me.

I will keep my promises
to you, my God,
    and bring you gifts.
You protected me from death
    and kept me from stumbling,
so that I would please you
    and follow the light
    that leads to life. (Contemporary English Version)

We all have enemies and opposition of both body and soul. It’s just part of the human condition on this fallen planet to experience forces oppressing us.

David’s enemies were real flesh and blood people. The Philistines and the Israelites were always at odds with each other. Wars and battles continually broke out amongst them. Dealing with enemies was, and always has been, a constant reality of the Jewish people.

As for us Gentiles, we may or may not have a person seeking to take our life. Yet, no matter who we are, we all deal with our own visible and invisible enemies which wage war against our souls.

The psalmist expresses a way of coping with the intense stress of opposition: Trust in God.

Yes, the bedrock issue whenever we face our demons within and without is trust. In whom or what will we put our trust?

If we have a philosophy of watching out for number one, then we merely look to ourselves and our own independence. Yet, since humanity is hard-wired for community, radical autonomy hits its limit rather quickly. Thus, we are left vulnerable to our enemies with no means of security.

If we put our trust in education, then we will focus efforts on mental solutions, coming up with ideas to deal with our enemies. However, since our very personhood is much more than a brain, this too shall eventually meet its limits with our stressful situation.

If we possess a strong Protestant work ethic, we may put all our energy into working harder, better, and faster to overcome our enemies. But subscribing to a philosophy of outworking everyone fails when our bodies break trying to keep ahead of the stress.

We must account for the transcendent, for that which is over and above all. We must trust in the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Know him in all your paths,
    and he will keep your ways straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6, CEB

To trust means to live consistent with the reality that we are in the Lord’s hands. Our ultimate protection is divine, not human. Not realizing we are in the grip of the Almighty only causes fear, anxiety, and the frenetic search to get out from under our enemy’s oppression.

When all is said and done, our hard circumstances point us to the hard realization that we are not in control of the universe – and not even the people standing right in front of us. Attempting to control others is called manipulation. And, I might add, is something that never ends well. We are only in control of ourselves, and even then, if our primary enemy is within, we can rarely even manage our own lives.

Deciding about whom or what we will trust is the existential basis of living. Hardship, stress, and fear in the teeth of enemy opposition calls for trust. Without faith, we will be swallowed alive.

Faith and trust is not only personal; it’s communal. The entire community of believers are to affirm together that God is with us, and that in Jesus Christ, there is no fear; there is security.

If God is for us, no one can stand against us. And God is with us. He even let his own Son suffer for us. God gave his Son for all of us. So now with Jesus, God will surely give us all things. Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one! God is the one who makes them right. Who can say that God’s people are guilty? No one! Christ Jesus died for us, but that is not all. He was also raised from death. And now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. Can anything separate us from Christ’s love? Can trouble or problems or persecution separate us from his love? If we have no food or clothes or face danger or even death, will that separate us from his love? As the Scriptures say,

“For you we are in danger of death all the time.
    People think we are worth no more than sheep to be killed.”

But in all these troubles we have complete victory through God, who has shown his love for us. Yes, I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not death, life, angels, or ruling spirits. I am sure that nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us or nothing below us—nothing in the whole created world—will ever be able to separate us from the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39, ERV)

There is a way through the thicket of hate from others. It is to trust in the Lord with all our heart, to have the unshakable faith that the Lord is with us, to know we are ultimately in God’s gracious hands.

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you in Jesus Christ; in whose Name we pray. Amen.