The Cost of Ministry
Summary: Jesus asks for the complete loyalty of His disciples and though they will experience opposition, they will also have His unfailing support.
Sir Ernest Shackleton led an expedition of the Antarctic in 1914. The South Pole had been discovered a few years earlier, but now the goal was to be the first to cross the entire continent on land.
He is said to have placed the following ad to recruit men for the trip.
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”
He received over 5000 replies and at least 3 more from some hardy women.
The voyage failed, but the actions of Shackleton and his men became an epic story of endurance and survival. One of his ships, ironically named the Endurance became trapped in the ice and eventually sank as it thawed. To escape, the men survived an Antarctic winter and navigated hundreds of miles on the open seas in a reinforced lifeboat. Miraculously, Shackleton brought them all home alive; 497 days after they had last felt solid dirt under their feet.
In the gospel of Matthew we are reading about the time Jesus commissioned His disciples to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. They wouldn’t have to face bitter cold or long hours of complete darkness, but there were certainly difficult conditions ahead. Read with me as Jesus tells these men:
Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. 18 You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
We read this passage last week, and we noted that though the men would face difficulties, they held a commission from God. Notice the words “I send you.” This is the same commission Christians carry today. Life and ministry can be difficult for us at times too, but we aren’t supporting some great adventurer’s ego, we’re aren’t just hoping for fame, recognition, and a place in the history books or record books, we are quite literally, on a mission for, from, and with God. Jesus is sending these men out. Yes, they will face difficulty, but He is sending them; and so too with us.
You need to remember that when you face difficulties this week. You and I are here because this is where God has placed us; it’s where He has sent us. We haven’t been flung here randomly, we didn’t wind up here by chance, this – Virginia, DC, Maryland – this is the place where God has brought us. And, as we do daily life here, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is in us – we must remember that God always equips us for what He expects of us.
Jesus told these men – you’re going to face difficulty, that’s a fact. But don’t stress over it, don’t get all worked up over, don’t scheme and maneuver and strategize – if I’m the reason you’re facing difficulties, I’ll also show up and give you just what you need in the moment.
Brothers and Sisters, that’s still true today. So, don’t be surprised by difficulty; don’t assume it means you’re doing something wrong. You can expect your life as a Christian to be difficult at times, and you will face opposition. You will be mocked. You will be asked questions. It happened with the first disciples, and it has happened around the world and through the ages of the history of the church. But when it happens, pray and ask God to prove Himself-ask Him to give you the words to speak in that moment and trust Him with the results.
Jesus goes on to say, it’s going to get even worse:
21 “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Would you underline that? “He who endures to the end will be saved.”
Now, endurance is not a word you use to describe something easy, is it? The Ironman marathon involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon run, raced in that order and without a break. It’s called an endurance event. And you can bet most people who compete are not giggling and smiling the whole day. They’re gritting it out at times, they’re pushing through the pain and the discomfort, and they’re quieting the voices in their head telling them to quit, to walk, to rest. But they endure. They endure to the end. And they do it all for a T-shirt, a finisher medal, a goodie bag, and bragging rights.
God is telling you – endurance is required for this life, but those who endure to the end will be saved. Remember that my Christian friend. You might be slogging your way through, you might feel exhausted, you may want to give up and quit, but God says, endure. Endure! Call out to Him. Pray. Read His word. Meditate on it day and night. He will meet you there and He will give you strength.
All along the course of an Ironman race, or a marathon, they have refreshments available – people there to hand you a cup of sports drink as you go by – in just a minute Jesus is going to promise a blessing to those who literally offer a cup of cool water in His name – so have your eyes open, look for the little encouragements that line your path, and endure Christian, endure!
23 When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
We could spend all morning discussing what Jesus meant by this, but we won’t because I spent time this week consulting various commentaries and scholars and there’s no consensus on exactly what Jesus means.
We don’t have any record in the Scriptures of the disciples facing severe persecution before Jesus’ own crucifixion, so it seems He is forecasting the mild resistance they would receive immediately, and the more severe resistance would come later, after His own death. We know that happened. In the years after the crucifixion several disciples were put to death, we’re even told about some of them in Scripture. We’re just not sure exactly what He meant by the reference to the timing of the Son of Man coming.
But there are two things we can know for sure: Jesus said it’s OK to avoid persecution, and there is a sense of imperative in spreading the gospel.
Jesus told the disciples, if people don’t receive your message, knock the dust off your sandals and leave town, their judgment is upon themselves. There is no command for you to go and die somewhere for Jesus. If you can avoid persecution, do it.
But, don’t do it by lying or hiding your faith in the moment. Don’t avoid persecution by pretending to be something you’re not. Jesus is going to tell us in a moment that if we deny Him before men, He’ll deny us before the Father. So don’t hide your faith. But, if the people around you harass you for it, you have the freedom to move. There are plenty of other people who need to hear the good news.
Jesus goes on
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.
Now, we have to stop here and note something very important that He has repeated several times so far – the persecution they are going to experience, the mocking, the social rejection, is all because the disciples are representing Jesus. He’s the one people really don’t like, it’s His teaching, His message, His claims they resist. Look back at verse 22
22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake
Christian, facts are facts. There are people who want nothing to do with Jesus. They may seem like wonderful people on the surface, successful people, friendly people, but if you bring up God, the Bible, Jesus, they shut down. Something inside changes. They resist. They get worked up. The blow you off and turn their back. Nothing about you has changed, but when they see Who is in you, when they see who you serve, things go cold.
Isn’t that strange? That there would be so much resistance to God? What does that tell you about the power of sin? What does that tell you about how we love ourselves and want to live our own ways? How much anger and aggression or disappointment and frustration do you have to have toward God in order to actively work against people who believe in Him? It has been said that this is the creed of so many of the loudest voices in the modern atheist camp – the names you hear occasionally on the news like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris – they seem to be motivated by the belief that “There is no god, and I hate him.”
Well, when they see Him in you, they’re going to hate you too. But Jesus says don’t hide who you are – you’re called to be salt and light, you’re sent to be an ambassador, you’re a city on a hill that cannot be hidden, a light that cannot be covered:
27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.
In other words – the message of God isn’t a secret – Jesus says, tell everyone. And down to this day, there are no Christian secrets. We have a mission to tell anyone who will listen about the things in this book.
Christians have a long history of anthropology and linguistics – for over 150 years Christian missionaries were pioneers discovering the four corners of the world, encountering new cultures, learning new languages, and studying new people groups – not so we could exploit their natural resources, or subjugate them, but so they could learn the things that Jesus has said to all of humanity.
Along the way, Christian missionaries have faced every form of suffering and violence imaginable, and yet they go compelled by the love of Christ and the desire to be obedient to His commands. Imagine serving as a missionary in Tunisia or Morocco and seeing your picture on the front page of the local newspaper identifying you as a Christian missionary. Imagine seeing pictures of your family on a terrorist website for targeting. Friends, this is what is happening around the world right now. People still hate Christians simply for being Christians. But missionaries and ordinary believers still keep sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and how life and forgiveness can be found in His name. People still cling in very real ways to words like:
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
There are either rewards to be received, or consequences to be faced after death. Those who care nothing for God in this world will not be forced to endure heaven afterward, they’ll be allowed a way out, an escape from the God they avoided so persistently on earth. The problem is, they’ll also lose everything good and beautiful about this life, they’ll miss out on all the beauty and design that God has blessed us with. Hell is not a fiery cave where everything has an eerie red glow; it’s the complete absence of all the good and beauty that God has created.
It’s not where God wants to see people go. He cares about individual human beings.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Two sparrows were sold for a cent, a coin worth less than an hour’s work. The Federal minimum wage today is $7.25 an hour, so in today’s money a sparrow is worth around $3.63 cents.
But according to this, you’re worth more “than many sparrows.” So let’s say you’re worth more than 500 sparrows, that means you’re worth $1815.
Double that and say you’re worth 1000 sparrows, and you’re still only worth $3630. Not much, right? The economic data seems to suck the joy right out of the verse, huh? Well, that’s because your personal value is not the point here.
Instead, the point is how much God pays attention to and cares about little old you. If He cares about insignificant birds, He cares about you. He cares enough to know not just the number of hairs on your head, but each individual hair. The Bible tells us that He knits us together in our mother’s womb. He is intimately aware of every detail of who you are.
Don’t use this verse to try to pump up your sense of self-worth and how valuable you are, use it to pump up your appreciation of God and the fact that He cares about us and pays attention to things as insignificant, in the eternal perspective, as sparrows and individual human beings.
32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, there is conflict between God and the people and systems, the organizations, governments, and culture of this earth. Remember, Jesus came to save us. We call Him a Savior, that means He’s saving us from something – He’s saving us from a world going the wrong way. But when the world is going one direction – away from God, and you turn around to follow God – there’s a good chance there will be conflict and even collision at times.
But look, it’s going to happen one way or the other. You’re either going to have conflict with God and peace with the world around you, or you’re going to have conflict with the people around you and peace with God. Under most circumstances, you can’t have both because people want what they want and God wants what He wants and those are not the same.
God wants you to stand for Him. He wants people to see Jesus in you – you know the old line “share the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” Well, that’s true – Saint Francis of Assisi never said it, but the idea is good, partially. Yes, let them see Jesus is you – let there be a difference in your life, but guess what? Words are always necessary.
Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Christians are not called to have a private faith. So here we find Jesus issuing a definitive call, requiring people to choose: are you with Me or are you against Me? You can’t be both. And being for either will have consequences. The world will persecute you for your affiliation with Christ, or God will condemn you for your affiliation with the world. There is no true independence.
So, let’s get right to the main question we all have to face this morning. Which do you fear more: God, or men?
At the end of each day are you more concerned about what people say about you, or what God says about you? That’s a very, VERY practical question, isn’t it? Are you more concerned about what people think of you or what God thinks of you? Whose opinion is shaping your life?
If the answer is anything other than God, ask yourself: why?
Are you afraid of others?
2 Timothy 1:7 God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Are you looking for acceptance from others?
Ephesians 1:6 “He made us accepted in the Beloved”
Are you worried about your next promotion?
Psalm 75:6 For exaltation comes neither from the east
Nor from the west nor from the south.
7 But God is the Judge:
He puts down one,
And exalts another.
Jesus tells us don’t worry about people and what they think – worry about God and His opinion. People may be nice to you, but God truly, truly, loves you. He sent His own Son to rescue you. In just a moment, we’re going to celebrate communion – it’s something Christians do on a regular basis to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us. We drink a cup that reminds of the blood He shed on the cross, and we eat a small piece of broken cracker to remind us that His body was broken for us.
Why? Because people hated Him. They asked for Him to be crucified. They shouted like a mob, “crucify, crucify!” People did that. People with a mom and dad back home somewhere. People with kids of their own. People who drank wine with their neighbors and shared good conversation. Human beings put Jesus to death. They hated Him.
They hated Him because there is this thing called sin in the human heart, a fierce desire to do whatever we want to do. An intense longing to make our own choices. Jesus came to tell us what God wanted and He was put to death because some people didn’t want it.
But others did. They understood. They felt the conviction of sin. They felt the need for forgiveness. They felt the need for help in their desperate situation and overwhelming circumstances. They felt like sheep in need of a shepherd. They welcomed Jesus into their lives and were glad for the chance to surrender to Him, rest in Him, be healed by Him, and find hope and strength in Him. These are the ones that Jesus transformed. And these are the ones Jesus used to bring the message of transformation to others.
If Christ has touched your life, He wants you to do the same. He offers you the chance to have an impact on others and promises you an eternal reward. In fact, He promises a reward to people who simply help other Christians.
40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”
Christian, the message this morning is that there is a spiritual war raging all around you. There are people and forces that love God and those that do not. It’s easy to lose sight of that, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day hustle and bustle, the next alert on your phone, the next item email, the next event on the calendar. But there is more going on than just our daily lives, eternal forces are at work and the side you are on matters.
If you are not a Christian, and you have questions about the things we’ve discussed and read today, please let us know. Ask the person who brought you, or ask one of the pastors – we’ll be here after the service and are happy to answer any questions you might have. And if you want to become a Christian, but aren’t sure how to do that, just ask about that too – it will change your eternal destiny, but it’s pretty simple to do – just pray, in your own words, to God and ask Him to forgive you for the wrongs you have done, surrender control of your life to Him, and ask Him to teach you and help you to live from this moment forward, for Him.
Right now, we’re going to celebrate communion. We’re going to be reminded of the realities of the cross and what Christ has done for us. As the men distribute the elements, I encourage you to consider – what does God want to do with all that you have heard this morning? Who does He want you to share with? How does He want to encourage you? What does He want to do with you? Who does He want you to help? And most importantly, what He has He already done for you.
A Mighty Fortress is our God
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
His truth abideth still
His Kingdom is forever