November 18, 2015
Listen to this Sermon
“The days of socially acceptable Christianity in the West are surely over. The days of comfortable Christian orthodoxy are past.”
Those are the words of Robert George, a professor at Princeton University. They come from an article called Ashamed of the Gospel? He goes on to make his case this way:
Now, if one does not believe what the Church teaches, or, for now at least, even if one does believe those teachings but is prepared to be completely silent about them, one is safe—one can still be a comfortable Christian. In other words, a tame Christian, a Christian who is ashamed of the gospel—or who is willing to act publicly as if he or she were ashamed—is still socially acceptable. But a Christian who makes it clear that he or she is not ashamed must be prepared to take risks and make sacrifices.
In theory, we all agree on this. But in an age of beheadings, those words take on a different tone. Mike Huckabee recently said this:
“Christian convictions are under attack as never before. Not just in our lifetime, but ever before in the history of this great nation. We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.”
It’s not just evangelicals who are sounding the warning. Cardinal Francis George said this several years ago:
“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
I do not wish to be an alarmist, but alarming things are happening all over the world.
We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.”
The moral revolution in America is proceeding at warp speed. We can argue about whether we were ever the “Moral Majority” in this country. If we were, we certainly aren’t now. Christians are part of a vanishing “moral minority” in America. Al Mohler has described the three stages of a moral revolution:
1. What was condemned is now celebrated.
2. What was celebrated is now condemned.
3. Those refusing to celebrate are condemned.
Matt Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, says we should not be surprised by these developments:
“There is no question a purging is underway. The dissenters in the recent Supreme Court decision on Gay Marriage warned us this would happen.”
The big surprise is the speed of social change. Who among us would have believed ten years ago that in 2015 gay marriage would be legal in America?
But here we are. The “Brave New World” is upon us. Once again we come back to the question Francis Schaeffer posed in the title of one of his most famous books: How should we then live? To help us answer that question, I want to unpack Matthew 10, the passage where Jesus commissions the twelve apostles. These ancient words speak directly to the issues we face in the 21st-century.
How should we then live?
Many phrases have been used to describe our times, including post-modern, neo-pagan, and post-Christian. Those fancy terms simply mean our culture has largely turned away from its Judeo-Christian heritage. Our coins may say “In God We Trust,” but that motto has become a saying without much meaning.
We stand where the first band of brave, young believers stood. The earliest Christians faced a world that was pagan, idolatrous, immoral, superstitious, and spiritually restless. In Matthew 10 Jesus gathered his men around him and gave them their marching orders. What he said to them, he says to us today.
As I studied this text, I kept thinking of the bold declaration in Romans 1:16,“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” That’s an important word for today. In Matthew 10:1-15 I find three reasons why we should never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Reason # 1: Christ Has Called Us
The passage opens with the words: “Summoning his 12 disciples.” The list follows:
These are the names of the 12 apostles:
First, Simon, who is called Peter,
and Andrew his brother;
James the son of Zebedee,
and John his brother;
Philip and Bartholomew;
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot,
who also betrayed Him” (Matthew 10:2-4).
There are many things we might say about this list, and if you want to do further study, I highly recommend John MacArthur’s study on the apostles called Twelve Ordinary Men. The title suggests a key insight. When Jesus chose his men, he didn’t pick famous people. Jesus chose men who were not popular or well-known. He chose ordinary men. Average men. They were mostly from Galilee, which meant they tended to be blue-collar guys. They didn’t come from Jerusalem. They weren’t the sort of men who held high office or had a lot of money. These were men who knew about long hours and hard work.
We can make a further observation about them. Jesus knows the weakness of these men, and he calls them anyway. Consider these examples:
James and John were the impetuous “sons of thunder.”
Peter denied him.
Thomas doubted him.
Simon was a revolutionary.
Judas betrayed him.
During a radio interview I was asked why so many Bible characters had serious flaws. My answer was simple. That’s all God has to work with. All the perfect people are in heaven. The only ones on earth are the folks with serious weaknesses. The talent pool has always been pretty thin when it comes to moral perfection. God works with sinners because that’s all he has to work with. In heaven we will all be vastly improved–perfected by God’s grace. But until then, he chooses imperfect people so he can display his power through human weakness.
All the perfect people are in heaven
But there is one other thing to notice. Jesus “calls” these men to serve him. I put “calls” in quotes to emphasize the way our Lord works. One day Peter is a fisherman; the next day he is fishing for men. One day Matthew is a hated tax collector; the next day he walks the dusty roads of Galilee, following Jesus wherever he goes. Note that Christ first calls the men to himself. This is exactly how the call comes to you and me today.
One day we are busy doing our own thing.
The next day we leave everything to follow Christ.
This truth is both encouraging and frightening. It ought to encourage us that Jesus calls imperfect people because that means we all qualify. But when Christ calls us, we go without knowing what tomorrow will bring. As Warren Wiersbe says, “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.”
Why should we not be ashamed of the gospel? First, because we have been called by Christ to follow him. There is a second reason . . .
Reason # 2: Christ Has Equipped Us
“Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge. Don’t take along gold, silver, or copper for your money-belts. Don’t take a traveling bag for the road, or an extra shirt, sandals, or a walking stick, for the worker is worthy of his food (Matthew 10:5-10).
Right up front we run into an unusual command: “Don’t go to the Gentiles.” We wonder how that applies to us today. Remember that Jesus is only sending out 12 men. He can’t send them everywhere. So he tells them to start where they are and stay among their own people. Later he will expand this call to include all the nations on earth (Acts 1:8). Then he tells them what to say: “The kingdom of Heaven has come near.” When the king comes to town, it can never be business as usual. The king is here! Spread the word! Tell your friends! Come and see the king while he is here! Jesus wants his disciples to spread the word the King has come.
Faith is not believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence
Here is the proof the king has come: the sick are healed, the dead are raised, the lepers are cleansed, and the demons are cast out. Jesus says, “Go in my name and help hurting people.” In saying these words, Jesus established a pattern that has lasted for 2000 years. Wherever the gospel goes, burdens are lifted!
Who built the clinics?
Who built the hospitals?
Who built the orphanages?
Who cared for the widows?
Who cared for the dying?
Who loved the unlovely?
The followers of Jesus did all these things because our Master sent us out into the world to help the hurting and to heal the sick.
I love these words of our Lord: “Freely you have received. Freely give” (v. 8 NKJV). If the gospel is free (and it is), then we ought to give away what God gives to us. I believe the whole Christian life can be summarized in just six words:
What starts with God comes down to us in a torrent of grace and mercy. We didn’t deserve it; we didn’t earn it. It’s a free gift from God.
From God to Us to Others
Have you been forgiven? Then forgive.
Have you found mercy? Then show mercy.
Have you received a blessing? Then bless others.
Just take what God has given you and give it away to someone else. That’s the whole Christian life in just one sentence.
Often we feel unequal to the tasks in front of us. We think we can’t do what we need to do. We’re not strong enough or smart enough or fast enough. We see what is ahead and say, “Lord, I can’t do that. It’s too much for me.” And the Lord says back to us, “You’re right. It is too much for you. But it’s not too much for me.”
Here’s the promise: Jesus will give you everything you need to do everything he calls you to do. When he calls us, he also equips us.
Why should we not be ashamed of the gospel? Because Christ has fully equipped us. There is a third reason in our text . . .
Reason # 3: Christ Has Prepared Us
“When you enter any town or village, find out who is worthy, and stay there until you leave. Greet a household when you enter it, and if the household is worthy, let your peace be on it. But if it is unworthy, let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:11-13).
At first these verses seem obscure. We don’t understand the concept of giving your peace and then taking it back again. It was, in fact, very practical advice. These words of Jesus are based on two realities about evangelism that are still true today:
1. We never know how people will respond.
2. We respond to others as they respond to us.
Some will get offended.
Some will scoff.
Some will ignore us.
Some will listen carefully.
Some will be deeply touched.
Some will want to know more.
Have you been forgiven? Then forgive
Jesus wants to prepare his disciples for the whole spectrum of responses they will face. When you enter a village, you can’t predict in advance who will welcome you and who will reject you. You have to be ready for whatever happens. It’s good to say “God bless you,” but sometimes you need to “unbless” those who do not wish to hear the Good News.
Some people don’t want to listen.
Some will mock and attack you.
Some will use social media to spread vile rumors about you.
Some people will hate us
What do you do then? Jesus offers a very clear answer in verse 14: “Shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town.” As hard as this saying is, it actually frees us. You don’t have to stay in one town or one city forever. You can stay if you want to, but you are also free to leave. It takes time and wisdom and much prayer before you shake the dust off your feet and move on. You don’t do that simply because a few people won’t listen. But you aren’t obligated to stay forever either. There comes a time when you’ve done all you can do. In the words of Kenny Rogers,
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run.”
Our passage ends on a somber note in verse 15: “I assure you: It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” This is a truly shocking verse. It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for the city that rejects Jesus.But Sodom and Gomorrah were totally destroyed by God. Fire and sulfur rained down from heaven to wipe them out.
Thus do we learn two important truths:
Light received leads to more light.
Light rejected leads only to the darkness.
That leads me to ask, “What will God do with America?” Since 1973 we have killed at least 58 million unborn babies through legalized abortion.
That’s what we’ve done in the last 42 years.
That’s what we’re still doing at a rate of 1.3 million children a year.
Light rejected leads only to the darkness
Beyond that, we have those videos that exposed the ghoulish fiends at Planned Parenthood who sold the body parts of aborted babies.
What kind of people do this?
What kind of country allows this?
Remember what Billy Graham said 60 years ago. “If God doesn’t judge America, he’s going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”
I believe judgment has already started. As a nation, we have rejected God’s truth about life and marriage. We kill the unborn, and we feel free to redefine marriage. No wonder America is in trouble.
Why should we not be ashamed of the gospel? Here is the third and final reason: Because Christ has prepared us for the opposition we will encounter.
Two Sobering Implications
This passage leaves us with two sobering implications:
1. Gospel Preaching Increases accountability for the Hearers.
It will be worse for America than for Saudi Arabia.
Worse for America than for Mongolia.
Worse for America than for the jungle tribes.
To whom much is given, much is required
No one will get away with anything on Judgment Day. We don’t need to worry about that. No one gets a free pass. The whole world is guilty before God. But to whom much is given, much is required. America will have much to answer for in that day.
2. Gospel Preaching Increases Our Own Accountability.
In these days of confusion and controversy, when Christians are maligned and our faith marginalized, we must continually ask ourselves, “Did I speak the whole truth?” I don’t want to stand before Jesus and have to say, “You were clear, Lord, but I was a coward.”
Gospel preaching forces people to take sides.
Gospel preaching forces people to take sides
If we take the words of Jesus seriously, then we should not be surprised at the road before us:
Hard times are coming.
Persecution is coming.
Families will be divided.
Churches will be split.
Leaders will disappoint us.
Christians will be marginalized.
Should we be discouraged? No. Jesus said these things would happen.
Brothers and sisters, we’re back where it all started. In a great sense, we’ve gone back to the first century, back to the early days of the Christian movement. God is calling us back to the future as we get our marching orders from Jesus.
When talking with discouraged Christians who felt like giving up the battle, the late Chuck Colson liked to quote his friend Richard John Neuhaus:
“The Christian has no right to despair because despair is a sin. The Christian has no reason to despair because Christ has risen.”
The true story of the world is that Christ is risen and is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Nothing can change that.
No Supreme Court decision can put Jesus back in the grave.
Despair is not an option
We hear voices warning us about being on “the wrong side of history.” That’s no big deal to us. The Christian church was born on the wrong side of history. We’ve been on the wrong side of history since the days of Nero, and it was enough to turn the world upside down.
We’re not the first generation of Christians to find ourselves unpopular. We’re not even that bad off. Just talk to our brothers and sisters in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and those Christians being systematically eradicated in the Middle East.
No one can put Christ back in the grave
Christ has won the victory.
He is risen indeed!
No one can put him back in the grave.
God’s not surprised by the Supreme Court decision.
He’s not floored by Planned Parenthood.
He’s not intimidated by those who doubt him.
We preach a risen Christ who is coming back soon.
We preach a Christ who will save anyone who comes to him.
We preach a Christ who will rule over the nations.
Our marching orders are the same today as they were in the beginning:
Never be ashamed of the gospel!
We are on a mission from God. The harvest ripens before us. Some will hear and receive. Others will reject us and our message. When they do, let’s shake the dust off and move on.
The harvest remains plentiful around the world. These are great days to be a Christian! If the night is dark, then remember the darker the night, the brighter the light shines.
May God burn this into our hearts. We have our marching orders. Fear not! We were made for days like these.
Heavenly Father, thank you for calling us into your family. Help us to shine as lights in this dark world. Fill us with faith to do what you have called us to do. May we never be ashamed of Jesus, our risen Lord. Amen.