Matthew 10:26-33

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Matthew 10

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says that courage is “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Samuel D. James, after commenting on a number of modern examples of Christian ministries that have paid a public price for standing on biblical truth, appealed to Finch’s definition of courage and said:

The days of polite silence and pragmatism are gone beyond recall…The illusion that Christian institutions can survive based on unspoken assumptions of shared beliefs has been shattered by cultural revolution and legal transformation. Believers who want to introduce their generation to the risen Christ must announce Him explicitly and await the consequences. We may be “licked” before we begin, but the gates of hell will not endure.[1]

This is true today. It was also true two-thousand years ago. In so many ways, from an earthly perspective, the disciples knew they were “licked before they began.” That is, they were, from a human perspective, no match for the earthly power structures that would oppose them. Even so, Jesus called upon them in Matthew 10 to accept this and be bold and courageous in their witness regardless. In Matthew 10:17 He had warned them that they would have to deal with “men…[who] will deliver you over to courts and flog you…governors and kings…” In Matthew 10:26, he gives them a solid basis for the courage He was asking them to demonstrate.

The courage of our witness is based on God’s promise of the ultimate victory of both truth and justice.

In many ways, the courage of our witness hinges upon a right ordering of fears. Listen to what Jesus says:

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

First, we are not to fear the power structures, no matter what they might be, that would threaten us in proclaiming Christ. We are not to fear them because “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” In saying this, Jesus is pointing to the final judgment and saying that the believer has the solid promise that, regardless of what happens on this side of heaven, God will grant us ultimate victory and both truth and justice will reign before His throne. Therefore, we need to fear that the darkness will win. It will not.

However, there is something we are to fear. We are to fear God because God “can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Frank Stagg has pointed out the interesting fact that “[t]he New Testament never teaches that one is to fear Satan, but to resist him (Eph. 6:11). Fear him refers to God, before whom ultimately one stands or falls.”[2] There is a fear that is proper to the Christian. It is what is called “filial fear,” the fear of a son. This is not a fear that God might be ill tempered or capricious or wicked. It is rather simply an acknowledgment of His ultimate power and sovereignty over all life.

The upshot is clear enough: if you are going to fear, do not fear the earthly powers that might inflict temporal pain; fear the Power above all powers that can “destroy both soul and body in hell.” So there is something more terrifying than speaking and being martyred and that is being silent and standing before a holy God. St. Augustine wrote, “Fear not then, O Martyr, the sword of thy executioner; fear only thine own tongue, lest thou do execution upon thine own self, and slay, not thy body, but thy soul.”[3]

We are emboldened by this to speak truth and to speak it boldly. In verse 27, Jesus says:

27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

John Broadus, commenting on this image of speaking from the rooftops, writes:

The roofs of houses were flat, and surrounded by a narrow battlement. It was common (and still is) for persons to walk on a roof, and this would naturally afford an elevated stand from which to proclaim anything to the people in the street below. Thus Josephus, having taken refuge in a house from a mob in Tarichaea, “went up on the roof, and with his right hand quieting the uproar, said,” etc…The Talmud represents a religious official as proclaiming from a housetop, with the sound of a trumpet, the approach of any religious festival…[4]

Church, let us not be bashful about the gospel! Winsome, yes, wise, of course, but not bashful, not timid, not shy. Let us say what we have to say clearly and boldly from the rooftops!

Many of us will remember Robin Williams in “Dead Poets’ Society” quoting verse 52 of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.[5]

We should be similarly “not a bit tamed.” Even so, what we have to shout is neither “untranslatable” not a “barbaric yawp.” It is rather intelligible if astonishing good news: Christ has come, Christ is crucified, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again!

The courage of our witness is based on God’s love for us.

And yet, may we not thank God that our courage is not merely fear-induced, it is also love-driven. We bear bold witness to the world because God loves us and values us! Jesus continues:

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

I have always loved these words! Not because they are charming (and, in a sense, they are!), but because the move my heart! If God loves the little sparrow, does God not love His children? Craig Keener has offered some helpful background on these words.

Sparrows were the cheapest commodity sold in the markets (as food for the poor); an assarion was a small coin (one-sixteenth of a denarius, thus equivalent to less than an hour’s wage…). Yet as worthless as sparrows were to people, God watched over them.[6]

What could have encouraged the great martyrs throughout Christian history more than this: that even in the midst of their agonies they are loved by the all-consuming love of God, they are valued, and God is with them. And what could encourage us more than this as well? God loves His children! God is with His children! God knows the names of each of the little birds, as insignificant as the world says they are. Does He not know your name as well? Does He not love you?

Speak the name of Jesus wherever you are for God loves you! Yes, we tremble before the awesome power of God, but, even as we do so, He reaches to us with tender love and whispers, “I love you! You are mine! There will never be a moment when you are without me!”

The courage of our witness is based on Jesus’ acknowledgment of us.

There is a final note to this call to courage. It, like the first note of fear, is jarring to us and has puzzled many Christians over the years. Jesus says:

32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

This seems clear enough. If we acknowledge Jesus, we will be acknowledged by Jesus. If we deny Jesus, we will be denied by Jesus.

This is one of the “hard sayings” of Jesus. I think that we must let this stand as a sobering reminder and not try to avoid the weight of these words. It is a serious thing to profess to know Jesus and then to deny the Jesus we profess to know! It is a serious thing to deny the King of Kings!

We dare not let these frightening words lost their force under “the death of a thousand qualifications.” Even so, while not seeking to lessen them, we are right to hold these words along side the other words and actions of Jesus and the witness of the New Testament. For instance, in 2 Timothy 2 we read:

11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Verse 12 and verse 13 offer two ideas that may seem contradictory.

  • 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us
  • 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

These verses present us with a tension, not a contradiction, and I would argue that this tension is very important for us to grasp. On the one hand we find the truth expressed by Jesus: deny and we will be denied. On the other hand we find hope: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful.” We should quake in our boots at the thought of denying or being silent about the Lord. We should also marvel at the amazing mercy of God when we fall.

The important thing is not to allow the latter to excuse the former. The moment we do that we know that we are mocking God. Verse 13 is there for the repentant heart, not the calculating heart. It is not a loophole. It is a hope!

Frank Stagg also points to Peter and Jesus when considering our text.

Balancing the sober warning of this passage is Jesus’ standing by Peter despite Peter’s shameful denial of his Master (26:69-75; Mark 14:68-71). Presumably there is a distinction between willful denial and human weakness which is not equal to the demands of a crisis situation.[7]

Yes, this is true, but we must remember that Peter does indeed repent in tears (Luke 22:62) as well as recommit himself to Jesus’ call at the end of the gospel of John (John 21:15-19).

I think there is a fundamental truth that we must get at and embrace that can help us understand what is happening in these hard words of Jesus. Augustine put his finger on the main issue when he wrote so many years ago:

If one does not acknowledge him before others, it does one no good to believe in Christ in one’s heart. For it is impossible that one who denies with one’s lips can believe in one’s heart. For the root of confession is the heart’s faith. Confession is thus the fruit of faith. As long as a root is living, it must produce either branches or leaves, and if the plant does not produce these, we know beyond a doubt that its root is withered in the ground. In the same way, as long as the faith of the heart is healthy, it always sows the seeds of confession with the lips. But if there is no acknowledgment with the lips, you should know beyond a doubt that the faith of the heart has already withered away.[8]

Augustine is here presenting us with a logical truth that is as powerful as it is simple:

  • Faith produces fruit.
  • Confession is a fruit of faith.
  • Where confession is absent, fruit is absent.

Put another way, to deny Jesus is to affirm that you do not have faith in Jesus. To proclaim Jesus is to show by so doing that faith is present.

Again, we must allow the qualification listed above: the genuine believer who falls in a moment of fear and despair. But I think Augustine is getting at the core issue when he suggests that what Jesus is talking about is the person who claims His name but does not truly know Him, the person who has no faith, the person who is not truly His follower.

I also think that Augustine is right in his positive contention: confession of Christ is a fruit of authentic faith. To believe is to want to shout from the rooftops! It is to say, with Paul in Romans 1:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Do not be ashamed, church! The good news you have to share is the good news the world most desperately needs! If Jesus is Lord of your life, do you not want to make it known? Do you not want to speak the word of life to hose who are dying in the darkness? Do you not want to proclaim the King of Kings?

If He is your Lord, then you do indeed want to! So do so!

 

[1] https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/10/the-courage-of-intervarsity

[2] Frank Stagg, “Matthew.” General Articles, Matthew-Mark. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.137.

[3] Quoted in Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.1. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.484.

[4] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Commentary_on_Matthew/6eCBDQAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv= 1&dq=Matthew+10:26+commentary&pg=PT345&printsec=frontcover

[5] https://poets.org/poem/song-myself-52

[6] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 1993(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.54.

[7] Frank Stagg, “Matthew.” General Articles, Matthew-Mark. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.138.

[8] Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew. Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture. Gen Ed. Thomas Oden. New Testament Ia (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.209-210.

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