Matthew 10(24–42)


I said last week that, in the section of Matthew’s gospel which runs from verse 35 of chapter 9 to the end of chapter 10, the Lord is speaking to his disciples about their mission at that time. However, while much of what he said to them was for them at that time, nevertheless there are three things which never cease. Firstly, persecution will never cease, because there will always be those who do not believe and who will oppose the Lord and his church. Secondly, the task of the church to preach the gospel will never cease, because there will always be those who have not heard. Thirdly, the duty of believers to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers will never cease, because the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are always few.

And after saying that, I received the latest copy of the Presbyterian Herald, which always lists in the backpages all the vacant congregations in our denomination. And right now there are lots of vacancies. And so, we have to pray to the Lord that he will raise up ministers to fill those vacancies; and that there will always be a continuous stream of students being trained for the ministry. And I was thinking too of EMF’s goal of appointing 15 new gospel workers by 2027 in the Nordic countries. And the reason EMF has that as its goal is because there are very few reformed churches in those countries. And so, there’s always a need to pray to the Lord to send out workers into the harvest fields of the world to preach the gospel and to plant churches.

However, it’s never easy, is it? Preaching the gospel and planting churches is never easy, because there will always be persecution and opposition from those who do not believe. And much of today’s passage is about that.

Verses 24 and 25

In verse 24 the Lord sets down a principle that a student is not above his teacher and a servant is not above his master. And since that’s the case, neither the student nor the servant should expect to be treated better than the teacher or master. In fact, the most they can expect is to be treated in the same way as their teacher or master is treated. So, that’s the principle. And the Lord then applies that principle to himself and his disciples. If he — the head of the house — has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household. When he refers to the members of his household, he’s referring to his apostles. So, since he’s been accused of being Beelzebub, which is another name for the Devil, then his apostles shouldn’t be surprised if they too are called Beelzebub and are accused of being in league with the Devil.

So, if people did not receive him, why would they receive them? And if people did not honour him, why would they honour those who are sent in his name? If people despised him and accused him of evil, why would they treat his apostles any differently? So, he’s teaching them to expect trouble.

Verses 26 to 28

However, don’t be afraid of them. That’s in verse 26. Though you will encounter people who despise me and who will despise you, don’t be afraid of them. If you’re afraid of them you may be tempted to remain silent. If you’re intimidated by them, you may be tempted to give up your preaching ministry. But don’t do that.

And then he says: There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed. And there is nothing hidden that will not be made known. Some commentators think he means that the enemies, who have plotted in secret, will eventually be exposed. Their wickedness will be found out and the Lord’s disciples will be vindicated. However, I think we should link what he says in verse 26 with what he says in verse 27 about making known what he has told them in secret. So, what he told them in the dark, they should speak in the daylight; and what he whispered in their ear, they should proclaim from the roofs. So, for a time he taught them secretly. He took them aside from the crowds; and when they were alone, he taught them what they needed to know. But now that he’s sending them out, they must proclaim what they have learned from him. They must broadcast it widely. They must not be intimidated by any who oppose them, but they must disclose what they have heard and make it known and proclaim it from the rooftops. Don’t be afraid to preach in my name, but get the message out.

And he goes on in verse 28 to give a reason why they should not be afraid or intimidated by those who oppose them. So, what’s the worst they can do to you? The worst they can do to you is to kill you. They can kill your body. Now, that’s bad, isn’t it? However, they cannot kill your soul. Do you see that in the middle of verse 28? So, we believe that when we die, our bodies return to dust and decay, but our souls do not die or decay, but they return to the Lord who made us. And the souls of believers are made perfect in the presence of God where we wait for the resurrection of our bodies when we will live in body and soul with the Lord forever. And so, even if someone does the worse to us, and we die, all it means is that we will go to be with the Lord. That’s why the apostle Paul referred to dying as a gain. It’s to my profit. It’s for my advantage. And it’s a gain because the believer who dies goes to be with the Lord. And so, why should we be afraid of those who can kill the body? Why should we be afraid to die, because dying means we go to be with God forever?

And the Lord then says that instead of being afraid of them, we should fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. And he’s referring here to God, who will one day send the wicked out of his presence to suffer the eternal punishment of hell. One commentator (France) says that being intimidated by those who oppose the gospel is a kind of cowardice. However, fearing God refers to a healthy response of awe and obedience to the Almighty. And so, while they’re to fear God, and show him reverence, his apostles are not to fear those who might persecute them.

Verses 29 to 31

And his apostles should also remember that God cares for them. The Lord refers to God’s care for sparrows, which were sold in the market in those days for food. They were a very cheap form of food, which only the poor would eat. And they cost practically nothing: two sparrows cost only a penny. So, he’s referring to something people considered worthless. And yet, though we consider them worthless, God is interested in them; and not one of them falls to the ground apart from his will. Though he is Almighty God, he notices the little sparrows and he’s interested in them and he’s concerned about them. And here’s the thing: you’re worth more than many sparrows. So, if he’s concerned about the sparrows, then he’s concerned about you. And the Lord also mentions the hairs on our head. How many hairs are on the average person’s head? Who can tell? It’s impossible to count. And when a woman brushes her hair, perhaps some strands get caught in the brush. But she’s not worried. What’s a few strands of hair? It hardly matters how many hairs we have. But God knows the number of our hairs. That’s a sign of his interest in us and care for us.

And so, when the Lord sends his apostles out into the harvest field to proclaim his word and they encounter opposition, they shouldn’t be afraid. They shouldn’t be afraid, because their heavenly Father knows all about them and he’s concerned about them. He’s not indifferent to their suffering. And so, they can count on his help.

Verses 32 and 33

But then the Lord gives a promise and a warning. The promise is this: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. That’s the promise. Here’s the warning: Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Now, we need to remember there’s always the possibility of repentance. So Peter denied knowing the Lord Jesus three times. But afterwards, he repented of his sin and received forgiveness.

But the warning teaches us that we should not be ashamed of the Lord. And so, when we’re getting our hair cut, the barber or the hairdresser asks us what plans do we have for the weekend. And sometimes we’re tempted to talk about everything apart from the most important thing. We’ll talk about everything we’ve got planned for Friday night or for Saturday, but sometimes we don’t say what we have planned for Sunday, which is that we’ll go to church. For whatever reason, we feel embarrassed. And so, to encourage us to overcome our embarrassment, the Lord warns us that he will disown us before his Father in heaven if we disown him. This is one of those warnings which is designed to motivate believers to greater obedience. Don’t let fear get the better of you, but overcome your fears and acknowledge that you know and love the Saviour.

And if fear ever gets the better of you, remember forgiveness is always available from the Lord for those who confess their guilt and seek his forgiveness, because Christ the Saviour gave up his life to pay for our sins and shortcomings.

Verses 34 to 39

And the next thing the Lord says is really very surprising. It’s very surprising when we remember the way the angels announced his birth by saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men….’ And it’s surprising when we remember the Lord Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace. It’s surprising because in verse 34 the Lord says that he did not come to bring peace to the earth. He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. That is, he came to divide.

He didn’t come with a literal sword, but his coming divides the world and separates those who believe from those who do not believe. And this division will even take place in families, so that a son will be divided against his father; and a daughter will be divided against her mother; and a daughter-in-law will be divided against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. He’s quoting from Micah 7 to make the point that his coming divides families, because some will believe whereas others will not.

Normally nothing divides a family, because family ties are normally so strong and deep and parents will overlook all kinds of faults in their children and children will normally respect their parents and want to honour them. And often when people are having a hard time at work, they look forward to getting home, because at home they’re loved. But here’s the Lord making clear that even those natural ties can be disrupted because of him.

And families can be divided over him, because our love for him and our commitment to him should take precedence over every other relationship. That’s what he’s saying in verse 37: ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.’ That is, they don’t have what it takes to be my disciple. And ‘anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’

Fortunately, our love for the Lord and our love for our family are not normally incompatible, because it’s the Lord’s will for parents to care for their children; and it’s his will for children to honour their parents. But whenever there’s a clash of loyalties, our commitment to the Lord must always take precedence over everything else.

In fact, our commitment to the Lord must take precedence over our commitment to our own self. So, he mentions taking up the cross and following him, which means we’re to deny ourselves. Normally we take care of ourselves and we make sure we’re comfortable. We make sure we have enough to eat and we make sure we’ve had enough sleep. We take care to dress ourselves in suitable clothes so that we’re not too hot or too cold. We take care of ourselves. But when there’s a clash of loyalties between our commitment to our own self and to the Lord, our commitment to the Lord must take precedence. And the way to find true life is by living our life, not for ourselves, but for him.

Verses 40 to 42

And now I have to be very brief. In the last verses, he refers to prophets who receive a reward, and to righteous men who receive a reward. God is under no obligation to reward them, but he does so graciously and freely. However, as well as rewarding the prophet and righteous man, the Lord rewards those who receive the prophet and righteous man. In other words, he rewards those who help them. And then he goes on to refer to someone who gives even a cup of cold water to one of ‘these little ones’. When he refers here to ‘little ones’, he’s not referring to children, but to his apostles. They are ‘little’ in the sense that they’re unimportant in the eyes of the world. But the one who helps them in even the smallest way will receive a reward too.

And the Lord’s point is this. Not everyone is called to be an apostle or a preacher. Not everyone is sent into the harvest field by the Lord of the harvest. Only some are sent. Only some are chosen to be apostles and preachers. And, if they do their work faithfully, they will receive a reward. Again, they do not deserve any reward, because all they deserve is condemnation for their sins. But the Lord graciously pardons them for the sake of Christ who died for sinners; and he graciously rewards his servants for their faithful service. But not only will he reward his apostles and preachers, but he will reward all those who support them in their work.

And so, God may not call you to be a preacher. He may not call you to go overseas. He may call you to remain where you are and to serve him in your daily life. But you’re still able to support those who are called to preach and who are called to go overseas. You’re able to support them by praying for them and by giving to support their work and by doing other things to encourage them. And that work is not unimportant; and it does not go unnoticed, because the Lord promises that those who support his labourers in the harvest-field will receive a reward.