THE CHALLENGE OF THE KING TO HIS MESSENGERS
Look you, it is I who am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Show yourself as wise as serpents, and as pure as doves. Beware of men! For they will hand you over to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, that you make your witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry how you are to speak, or what you are to say. What you are to speak will be given to you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and father will hand over child. Children will rise up against parents, and will murder them; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Before we deal with this passage in detail, we may note two things about it in general.
When we were studying the Sermon on the Mount, we saw that one of Matthew’s great characteristics was his love of orderly arrangement. We saw that it was Matthew’s custom to collect in one place all the material on any given subject, even if it was spoken by Jesus on different occasions. Matthew was the systematizer of his material. This passage is one of the instances where Matthew collects his material from different times. Here he collects the things which Jesus said on various occasions about persecution.
There is no doubt that even when Jesus sent out his men for the first time, he told them what to expect. But at the very beginning Matthew relates how Jesus told his men not to go at that time to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans; and yet in this passage Matthew shows us Jesus foretelling persecution and trial before rulers and kings, that is to say, far beyond Palestine. The explanation is that Matthew collects Jesus’ references to persecution and he puts together both what Jesus said when he sent his men out on their first expedition and what Jesus told them after his resurrection, when he was sending them out into all the world. Here we have the words, not only of Jesus of Galilee, but also of the Risen Christ.
Further, we must note that in these words Jesus was making use of ideas and pictures which were part and parcel of Jewish thought. We have seen again and again how it was the custom of the Jews, in their pictures of the future, to divide time into two ages. There was the present age, which is wholly bad; there was the age to come, which would be the golden age of God; and in between there was the Day of the Lord, which would be a terrible time of chaos and destruction and judgment. Now in Jewish thought one of the ever-recurring features of the Day of the Lord was that it would split friends and kindred into two, and that the dearest bonds of earth would be destroyed in bitter enmities.
“All friends shall destroy each other” (2Esdr.5:9). “At that time shall friends make war one against another like enemies” (2Esdr.6:24). “And they will strive with one another, the young with the old, and the old with the young, the poor with the rich, and the lowly with the great, and the beggar with the prince” (Jubilees 23: 19). “And they will hate one another, and provoke one another to fight; and the mean will rule over the honourable, and those of low degree shall be extolled above the famous'” (Bar.70:3). “And they shall begin to fight among themselves, and their right hand shall be strong against themselves, and a man shall not know his brother, nor a son his father or his mother, till there be no number of the corpses through their slaughter” (Enoch 56: 7). “And in those days the destitute shall go forth and carry off their children, and they shall abandon them, so that their children shall perish through them; yea they shall abandon their children that are still sucklings, and not return to them; and shall have no pity on their loved ones” (Enoch 99: 5). “And in those days in one place the fathers together with their sons shall be smitten and brothers one with another shall fall in death till the streams flow with their blood. For a man shall not withhold his hand from slaying his sons and his sons’ sons, and the sinner shall not withhold his hand from his honoured brother; from dawn to sunset they shall slay each other.”(Enoch 100: 1-2).
All these quotations are taken from the books which the Jews wrote and knew and loved, and on which they fed their hearts and their hopes, in the days between the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus knew these books; his men knew these books; and when Jesus spoke of the terrors to come, and of the divisions which would tear apart the closest ties of earth, he was in effect saying: “The Day of the Lord has come.” And his men would know that he was saying this, and would go out in the knowledge that they were living in the greatest days of history.
THE KING’S HONESTY TO HIS MESSENGERS
Matt. 10:16-22 (continued)
No one can read this passage without being deeply impressed with the honesty of Jesus. He never hesitated to tell men what they might expect, if they followed him. It is as if he said, “Here is my task for you–at its grimmest and at its worst–do you accept it?” Plummer comments: “This is not the world’s way to win adherents.” The world will offer a man roses, roses all the way, comfort, ease, advancement, the fulfilment of his worldly ambitions. Jesus offered his men hardship and death. And yet the proof of history is that Jesus was right. In their heart of hearts men love a call to adventure.
After the siege of Rome, in 1849, Garibaldi issued the following proclamation to his followers: “Soldiers, all our efforts against superior forces have been unavailing. I have nothing to offer you but hunger and thirst, hardship and death; but I call on all who love their country to join with me”–and they came in their hundreds.
After Dunkirk, Churchill offered his country “blood, toil, sweat and tears”.
Prescott tells how Pizarro, that reckless adventurer, offered his little band the tremendous choice between the known safety of Panama, and the as yet unknown splendour of Peru. He took his sword and traced a line with it on the sand from east to west: “Friends and comrades!” he said, “on that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching storm, desertion and death; on this side, ease and pleasure. There ties Peru with its riches; here, Panama and its poverty. Choose each man what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part I go south” and he stepped across the line. And thirteen men, whose names are immortal, chose adventure with him.
When Shackleton proposed his march to the South Pole he asked for volunteers for that trek amidst the blizzards across the polar ice. He expected to have difficulty but he was inundated with letters, from young and old, rich and poor, the highest and the lowest, all desiring to share in that great adventure.
It may be that the Church must learn again that we will never attract men to an easy way; it is the call of the heroic which ultimately speaks to men’s hearts.
Jesus offered his men three kinds of trial.
(i) The state would persecute them; they would be brought before councils and kings and governors. Long before this Aristotle had wondered if a good man could ever really be a good citizen, for, he said, it was the duty of the citizen ever to support and to obey the state, and there were times when the good man would find that impossible. When Christ’s men were brought to court and to judgment, they were not to worry about what they would say; for God would give them words. “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak,” God had promised Moses (Exo.4:12). It was not the humiliation which the early Christians dreaded, not even the cruel pain and the agony. But many of them feared that their own unskillfulness in words and defence might injure rather than commend the faith. It is the promise of God that when a man is on trial for his faith, the words will come to him.
(ii) The Church would persecute them; they would be scourged in the synagogues. The Church does not like to be upset, and has its own ways of dealing with disturbers of the peace. The Christians were, and are, those who turn the world upside down (Ac.17:6). It has often been true that the man with a message from God has had to undergo the hatred and the enmity of a fossilized orthodoxy. (iii) The family would persecute them; their nearest and dearest would think them mad, and shut the door against them. Sometimes the Christian is confronted with the hardest choice of all–the choice between obedience to Christ and obedience to kindred and to friends. Jesus warned his men that in the days to come they might well find state and Church and family conjoined against them.
THE REASONS FOR THE PERSECUTION OF THE KING’S MESSENGER
Matt. 10:16-22 (continued)
Looking at things from our own point of view, we find it hard to understand why any government should wish to persecute the Christians, whose only aim was to live in purity, in charity, and in reverence. But in later days the Roman government had what it considered good reason for persecuting the Christians
(i) There were certain slanders current about the Christians. They were accused of being cannibals because of the words of the sacrament, which spoke of eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. They were accused of immorality because the title of their weekly feast was the agape (GSN0026), the love feast. They were accused of incendiarism because of the pictures which the Christian preachers drew of the coming of the end of the world. They were accused of being disloyal and disaffected citizens because they would not take the oath to the godhead of the Emperor.
(ii) It is doubtful if even the heathen really believed these slanderous charges. But there were other charges which were more serious. The Christians were accused of “tampering with family relationships.” It was the truth that Christianity often split families, as we have seen. And to the heathen, Christianity appeared to be something which divided parents and children, and husbands and wives.
(iii) A real difficulty was the position of slaves in the Christian Church. In the Roman Empire there were 60,000,000 slaves. It was always one of the terrors of the Empire that these slaves might rise in revolt. If the structure of the Empire was to remain intact they must be kept in their place; nothing must be done by anyone to encourage them to rebel, or the consequences might be terrible beyond imagining.
Now the Christian Church made no attempt to free the slaves, or to condemn slavery; but it did, within the Church at least, treat the slaves as equals. Clement of Alexandria pleaded that “slaves are like ourselves,” and the golden rule applied to them. Lactantius wrote: “Slaves are not slaves to us. We deem them brothers after the Spirit, in religion fellow-servants.” It is a notable fact that, although there were thousands of slaves in the Christian Church, the inscription slave is never met with in the Roman Christian tombs.
Worse than that, it was perfectly possible for a slave to hold high office in the Christian Church. In the early second century two bishops of Rome, Callistus and Pius, had been slaves. And it was not uncommon for elders and deacons to be slaves.
And still worse, in A.D. 220 Callistus, who, as we have seen, had been a slave, declared that henceforth the Christian Church would sanction the marriage of a highborn girl to a freed man, a marriage which was in fact illegal under Roman law, and, therefore, not a marriage at all.
In its treatment of slaves the Christian Church must necessarily have seemed to the Roman authorities a force which was disrupting the very basis of civilization, and threatening the very existence of the Empire by giving slaves a position which they should never have had, as Roman law saw it.
(iv) There is no doubt that Christianity seriously affected certain vested interests connected with heathen religion. When Christianity came to Ephesus, the trade of the silversmiths was dealt a mortal blow, for far fewer desired to buy the images which they fashioned (Ac.19:24-27). Pliny was governor of Bithynia in the reign of Trajan, and in a letter to the Emperor (Pliny: Letters, 10: 96) he tells how he had taken steps to check the rapid growth of Christianity so that “the temples which had been deserted now begin to be frequented; the sacred festivals, after a long intermission, are revived; while there is a general demand for sacrificial animals, which for some time past have met with few purchasers.” It is clear that the spread of Christianity meant the abolition of certain trades and activities; and those who lost their trade and lost their money not unnaturally resented it.
Christianity preaches a view of man which no totalitarian state can accept. Christianity deliberately aims to obliterate certain trades and professions and ways of making money. It still does–and therefore the Christian is still liable to persecution for his faith.
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