Conflict

Today we come to the end of our series entitled Jesus and the World. We have been looking at Matthew chapters 8-10 over the past 3 months. And this morning we are to look at Matthew 10.16-42. Our subject is CONFLICT. That is what this passage is all about. Jesus is sending out his disciples on their first mission. He is telling them what to do and what to expect. And what they are to expect is a rough ride! Verse 16:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.

Have you seen those pictures of Jesus as the "good shepherd" - in bible story books for children? There he is with contented sheep all around him in the sheep-fold, or else he is looking for the lost sheep. You have never seen - or I have never seen - a picture of Jesus, the good shepherd, driving out his sheep into a pack of wolves. But, using the shepherd imagery, that is what we are told happens if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ - you find yourself before long sent out among wolves. This chapter of Matthew is all about Christian mission and ministry. But it does not deal with how to look after new converts. It is about how to face the wolf and opposition. For that is the hard reality for the Christian. If you are going to be faithful to Jesus Christ, you will be opposed. Jesus was; and so will you be. Verses 24-25:

{24} "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. {25} It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

There is a dangerous myth that Jesus always brings unity, peace and a trouble free life. He does ultimately - in heaven. But now there will often be conflict, opposition and a struggle. It was like that right from the start of the church's life - with evil people attacking God's people. On 28 December, Christians traditionally remember the killing of the "Holy Innocents" (as they are called) by Herod. On Boxing Day, 26 December, Christians traditionally remember the martyrdom of Stephen, the first killing of a Christian. And it is no different today. In Sudan Christians are enslaved. In Iran they are assassinated. In Cuba they are imprisoned. In China they are beaten to death. In more than 60 countries worldwide, Christians are harassed, abused, arrested, tortured or executed specifically because of their faith. 200,000,000 Christians throughout the world live in daily fear of secret police, vigilantes, or state repression and discrimination. Read Paul Marshall's book Their Blood Cries Out for the facts. Some people have over optimistic expectations for the Christian mission. Yes, in this period between the two advents of Christ - that first coming of Jesus to Bethlehem as the saviour and the second coming when he will return as the judge - there will be growth and expansion. People will be converted. Many will begin to follow Christ. But that will be accompanied by persecution and conflict. The sad truth is that the world's natural state is one of rebellion against God. Even the best people and the best institutions like the family are tainted with self-interest. And that leaves no time for God, or only a God fashioned to human liking. So when someone turns to Christ there is division because someone else is not turning to Christ. Jesus primary goal was not to cause trouble but to call people to repentance. But when one person repents and another doesn't there is division and separation. So he says in verse 34:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

This division is not the fault of the gospel but of the human heart that rejects the gospel. So much by way of introduction. You'll see from the outline that my headings this morning are first, "BE SHREWD"; secondly, "DO NOT WORRY"; and thirdly, THE REWARD. Let's look at these one by one. First, "BE SHREWD". Verse 16 again:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Being "shrewd" means being "clued up", "being one stage ahead of the game", "having your wits about you". Christians are never meant to be stupid. And this passage suggests you are to be shrewd in at least three ways. First, beware of the wolf. That was a metaphor Jesus used and Paul copied in his teaching. So who are the wolves? According to this passage there three types of wolves. One, there are the wolves that come from the established religious authorities. Verse 17:

"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues."

The councils are the sanhedrins - the lower courts connected with the local synagogues. And they exercised heavy handed discipline when they didn't like the preaching of the Christians. So we read in Acts 5.40 that the Jewish authorities "called the apostles in and had them flogged." They would have received thirty-nine stripes. And the history of the visible church confirms how true to life that is. Down the centuries, and today, there are wolves that come from inside and destroy the church by distorting the truth and then opposing those who witness to the truth. So Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.29-30:

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. {30} Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

Don't be surprised if you find savage wolves in the Church of England and in the church in England. Two, there are wolves that come from the secular authorities or the State. Verse 18:

On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.

For the last century and a half in Britain, we have been privileged to have had governments that have favoured the Christian faith in a genuinely liberal way. That may not continue for ever. In other parts of the world, the state can and does fight the church. Three, the wolf - and this is probably the worst kind of attack - the wolf can come in the form of family members. Verses 21, 35,36,37:

"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death ... {35} 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-- {36} a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' {37} Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

There was a university student, a Jew, who became a Christian. His parents then not only disinherited him but held a funeral for him to symbolize how radically they were disowning him. But the wolf in the family can be more subtle. There are the cutting remarks; psychological pressure; and even moral blackmail. There are people here this morning who know that is so true. How you need to be careful to keep Christ in the first place ahead of your natural (and reasonable) love for your family when there are wolves in the family. The second way you must be shrewd is by being "balanced". You are to be "as shrewd as snakes" but also "as innocent as doves". You can't afford to put a foot wrong. There must be an honesty together with your shrewdness. Jesus is not talking about ruthless manipulation or dishonest dealing. He is talking about a balance. That may be difficult. Bishop Ryle said:

great grace and common sense are perhaps one of the rarest combinations.

But that is what Jesus requires of his disciples. The third way to be shrewd is to be sensible. Look at verse 23:

When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The Son of Man coming is an allusion to Daniel 7.13 and probably refers to the vindication of Jesus' work and his establishing his kingdom. And that occurred in stages - the resurrection and ascension; the giving of the Holy Spirit; key events in Church history - such as the fall of Jerusalem; with the final vindication his glorious return. So this may be referring to the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish era in AD 70. But amid all the strife, panic and danger, the Christian disciples are not to be stupid and court martyrdom. They must never deny Christ; but they have to exercise common sense precautions. So Jesus says: "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another." Being shrewd, then, means being aware of the wolves in the church, the state and your family; it means being balanced - being wise and harmless; and it means being sensible. That is the first lesson in dealing with conflict. Secondly, says Jesus, "DO NOT WORRY". And there are three encouragements Jesus gives to help you not worry when you face conflict as a Christian. First, he says, remember the Holy Spirit. Verses 19 - 20:

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, {20} for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Just over a week ago I had never really set foot inside a British Court. But just over a week ago Kenneth Moulder, the vicar of St Oswald's, Walkergate, was disgracefully (I would claim) taken to court by the diocesan authorities. In effect this was a result of his PCC wanting to affirm biblical morality. And I had to represent him - as an amateur up against a qualified barrister. We had from 6.00 pm (Thursday) to 10.30 am (Friday - the following day - in Middlesborough) to prepare everything. But I had just been looking at this passage. I found it a great encouragement. And you can be in less formal conflict situations for Christ's sake. If you are, remember the Holy Spirit is with you. Secondly, remember that the truth will out. Verses 26-27:

So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. {27} What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

In time the corruption of those who oppose you will be plain to all, says Jesus. How true that was for the Confessing Christians under Hitler. So be confident, says Jesus. "I," he seems to say, "have spoken to you in small closed groups. You go public - as much as you can. Proclaim from the roofs." Thirdly, remember the sovereignty of God. Verses 28-31:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. {29} Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. {30} And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. {31} So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

When you are finding life hard for being a Christian, it is so easy to focus only on the person or the circumstance causing the problems. Some one may be unpleasant to you at work or at home because you are a believer in Christ. Well, says Jesus, don't be afraid of them [ and think only about them]. At worst other human beings can only cause you physical suffering - or suffering while you are in this body now. But says Jesus, there is more to life than this temporary existence. There is a God and he can destroy not only your body, but also your soul - the totality of your personal nature - in Hell. Fear him, says Jesus, not some silly individual who is causing you problems now. Fear God more than you fear any man or woman. But remember that this great God who can destroy in Hell is also the God who cares for the sparrows - a bird that provided the cheapest food for for the poor. Yet, says Jesus, even their death is not "apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered." Do you see what all this means? It means, no one can harm you without God's consent. If he consents, there is a good reason because it is the consent of our loving Father. And God knows all the details of our lives. So do not worry. He is sovereign. Finally, THE REWARD. Let's not be embarrassed by rewards. In these verses Jesus talks about the rewards of faithfulness. So should we. When a reward is in itself good, there is nothing wrong in having it as a motive and a spur for action. Let me illustrate. If a child's only motive in piano practice is getting pocket money, that is not ideal. But if the child's motive in piano practice is to be a good pianist, that is altogether different. That is a worthwhile reward. So don't despise worthwhile rewards. And Jesus says, that as you face conflict and hardship keep heaven in mind and the rewards of the final judgment day - verses 32-33:

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. {33} But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."

Is there anyone here this morning who has never yet "acknowledged Jesus publicly"? That is the only way to heaven. Paul says, Romans 10.9:

if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Keep heaven in mind and the rewards of the final judgment day. Then, think of the reward of a fulfilled life that is yours if you are faithful to God and his word, verses 38-39:

anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. {39} Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Yes, you must make sacrifices. Yes, if you follow Christ, your self-interest and selfishness must be crucified. But that is the way, says Jesus, to true fulfilment. "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." You will not find life easier being a follower of Christ; but over all, you will be more contented and more fulfilled. That is a reward. And, then there is the reward from practical love and Christian hospitality: verses 40-42:

"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. {41} Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. {42} And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

There is a lot to learn from those verses. All I will say is that people offering hospitality and practical Christian fellowship and love are so important - especially for those going through difficult circumstances. Perhaps that is why they are singled out for rewards. I must conclude. The Christian life is not going to be easy. You will be opposed. There will be conflict because you are a believer in Jesus Christ. How should you react? First, "be shrewd" - beware of the wolves in the church, in the state and in the family. Secondly, "do not worry" - remember the Holy Spirit; remember the truth about your opponents will be revealed sooner or later, so be confident and share the gospel; and remember that God is sovereign. Thirdly, don't ignore the rewards of faithfulness - the reward of heaven and the great judgment day for those who have publicly followed Christ; the reward the believer has of a fulfilled life; and the reward for practical love - that shows how important practical love is when the going is hard. Let me now close with a summarizing verse - verse 22:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matthew 10.16-42

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