I’ve been delving into this little autobiography of William Still so that I could make a connection, if possible, between the theme of tonight and his life. And it was not difficult to do. I don’t know how many of you know that he served the church in Gilcomston, South Aberdeen for 52 years. And he was known for his expository, Christ-exalting, word-saturated ministry. But it was not always so. When he came, there was another agenda on his mind and heart. So let me read a few paragraphs patched together so he can tell his story, and then you’ll hear the link between his story and tonight’s message.
There was no question about the burning zeal in my breast as I began in Gilcomston South in 1945. I doubt if a rather fierce attack on the town of an evangelistic nature was what they expected or wanted, but that is what they got. And I did fill the kirk to overflowing by the use of redemption songs, and fiery evangelistic sermons, which soon set the town agog. That went on for 18 months, which included visits to the town and to Gilcomston of various evangelists, including Billy Graham and Allen Redpath. However, I gradually came to the conclusion toward the end of 1946 that there was something vastly superior about the systematic exposition of the scriptures to the evangelistic ministry.
It was obvious that the necessity for maintaining a high level of novelty was too time consuming and was taking up too much of our energy. If I said, 18 months experience of ardent evangelistic work caused disillusionment, that was only part of the truth, and was really beside the point. The truth is, as I have said, that I was beginning to discover almost by accident, although I know the Lord has another name for it, the value of the systematic teaching of the word of God. And as that took grip of me in the pulpit in the latter days and months of 1946, I saw that a commission was given to me which was to be my task for the rest of my life. Rather than that of superficial evangelism, which alas, leaves so much of the glorious word of God untouched.
Therefore, one of the most humiliating experiences of my life had to be endured in those early months of 1947. Indeed, within a couple of Sundays, I lost a popular following and had to content myself with a far smaller constituency of attenders, since the numbers which at first crowded our church building, largely disappeared. It was as sudden as that. The cry went up, ‘He’s finished already.’ Actually, as I see it now, I was just beginning what has turned out to be, albeit costly, the most blessed portion of my life.
Underline that word costly as I read these last couple sentences.
The costliness of having to deal with people in these ways, people you have known for years and have learned to love, these are some of the trials, indeed the deaths, which the minister of the word is called to die. It requires courage. But every evil that plagues or is likely to plague the congregation, or the parish, must be dealt with one way or another. One of the most fundamental things, which I discovered in the process of systematically preaching, is that there is no part of the word of God which, although it may incur opposition and offense, when it is handled with care, respect, due attention to context, and watered by prayer, does not yield saving as well as sanctifying truth. Opposition, offense, cost, and courage. It requires courage, but every evil that plagues the church must be dealt with.
I don’t know if this is still in print or not, but I was thankful for it. It encouraged me.
A Call for Courage in the Cause of Truth
My topic is a call for courage in the cause of truth, and my desire this evening is that God would use my words to inspire you to be courageous in speaking what needs to be spoken for Christ. My prayer is that God would overcome the fear in your life. You never get beyond fear. You always have to overcome fear. One of the most effective evangelists of our church, Ken Curry, whose job is on the campuses — all he does is lead students in witnessing to unbelieving students on the 40,000 person University of Minnesota campus, which is about a quarter of a mile from our church — told us at the staff meeting, “There is never a day when I’m not anxious about doing this.” And he’s done it for years and years.
And I think the reason for that is (1) the old man must be put to death over and over again, and (2) there’s nothing the devil hates more than evangelism. He’d be happy for us to do anything we want inside these church walls all day long, as long as we don’t get in his territory. And therefore, any inclination towards talking to an unbeliever, Satan will mount every possible weapon that he has to disincline you to do that. And one of his greatest weapons is fear, and to strip you of courage.
Now, there are several reasons why I want to focus on this. The first one is straight out of the Bible.
1. People will not endure sound doctrine.
What the Apostle Paul told Timothy is coming. It was coming already in his day and it is here today. So we need to hear it, and it’s helpful to know that Paul saw it coming. So let me read 2 Timothy 4:3. By the way, if you wonder, “Does he have a text, or is he going to jump around like he did on Sunday?” Well the answer is, yes, I have a text, and I’m also going to jump around like I did on Sunday. I do have a text, and if you want to go there right now and put your finger there, it’s going to be Matthew 10:24–36. It will take us a long time to get there, but I’ll get there and we’ll do some exposition through that text.
Here we are at 2 Timothy 4:3–4, which says:
The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth.
Isn’t that amazing? So what do you think they say about the speakers of the truth as they turn away, nice things? Probably not. They have to justify what they’re doing, and they can find all kinds of belittling words to use for the speakers of the truth as their itching ears accumulate preachers, pastors, teachers, and theologians who know how to scratch where people itch and not where people need. All justified in terms of felt need ministry.
I said this afternoon to the pastors gathered, it is easy to preach to felt needs. Anyone will come to hear a sermon about a felt need. It is really hard to create felt needs which correspond with real needs. That’s a real supernatural challenge, to create, by the word of God and the power of the Spirit, new felt needs that correspond to real needs. And if you do that, if God’s anointing is on it, you can still have a hearing. But Satan will do everything he can to cause the itching ears to say to people, “You don’t need that, you don’t need that. That doesn’t scratch where you itch. Get another pastor. Get another teacher. Get another small group leader. Get another campus leader. Get a different set of books.” You can get a book that scratches any itch you have. So that’s my first reason for addressing this issue.
If Paul is right, and of course he’s right, the time has come when people will not endure sound teaching. And if they won’t endure sound teaching, then when they hear sound teaching, wanting to justify themselves, they have to belittle sound teachers. Otherwise, they look bad. It looks bad to walk away from sound teaching, but it looks smart to walk away from foolish teaching. And therefore, you’ve got to label sound teaching foolish teaching in order to stay sane, and have people like you and think you’re smart. So since this is here, it’s going to take courage to go on teaching what is sound. That’s reason number one.
2. We live in a day of relativism and subjectivism.
The second reason why this message is a burden to me, is that we live in a day of, I think, increasing (though it’s hard to imagine it increasing) relativism and subjectivism. Different names are put on it, like post-modern, post-conservative, post-Christian, post-propositional, and so on. Here’s what I mean by relativism. I mean the assumption that there is no such thing as an absolute. What is true, right, good, and beautiful for you, may not be true, right, good, and beautiful for me. It is relative to your perception and relative to my perception. There’s no valid arbitrating, objective, external criterion that can decide which one of us is in accord with something out there called truth. Truth with a big T. True truth, as Francis Schaeffer used to call it.
Most people do not, at least in their heads and pragmatically, think there is such a thing. We desperately don’t want to believe in such a thing. Because if you believe that there is a true truth outside of you objectively, then you’ve got to bring your life into conformity with it. Which means certain things about you might have to change. And the essence of sin and fallenness is that we want to be God. We want to call all the shots ourselves, we don’t want to bring our lives into conformity with any objective standard, in the Bible or anywhere else. And therefore, I want to have a bubble of absoluteness about myself. And in that kind of context, to speak statements like, “You must do this. You should do this. You ought to do this,” will encounter a good deal of opposition.
And what I mean by the word subjectivism, is that in this world of relativism, where what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me, the subject (which is the word at the center of subjectivism) is God. I decide in my little bubble of absoluteness and autonomy what’s true for me. You can’t tell me what I ought to do. Get out of my face. I have my life to live and you’re not going to intrude your morality in there. That’s why we get statements like, imposing morality, and so on.
So we live in that kind of a world, relativism and subjectivism, and it is very very unpopular to come into that world speaking words like, “All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus Christ. Go therefore, and tell everybody in all the nations they must forsake all that is not in accord with Christ, submit themselves to him, bow the knee to King Jesus, and keep all his commandments.” That’s a very unpopular thing to say. Which is the last thing Jesus said before he went back to sit down with his Father on the throne of the universe. So, those two reasons, and here’s a third.
3. There is much confusion about true humility.
There’s a lot of confusion about humility. The primary indictment of Christians, or anybody else, who speak absolute truth, who claim to know what somebody ought to do, or what somebody ought to believe, the number one criticism of choice is, “You are unbelievably arrogant. I can’t believe you Christians are going to go around to all the religions of the world, and tell them they should believe in your God. You guys have the biggest heads, how unbelievably arrogant you are!” That is the criticism of choice. The only way in that situation to be humble is to doubt.
So there’s a huge confusion. Humility has come to be identified with uncertainty. And the only humble stature, the only humble demeanor is, “I’m not sure.” If you say, “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is going to keep me, and he would keep you if you yielded to him,” (2 Timothy 1:12) that is identified with arrogance.
Controversy Reveals Conviction
Let me give you a practical illustration of this. I printed this out just before I came from my own website because I forgot to bring it with me.
In 1999 in America, the Southern Baptists, which is the biggest denomination in America at about 15 million people, decided that they would muster the whole church to pray for the conversion of Jewish people. Can you imagine such arrogance? And it hit the front page of every major paper in America. The arrogance of these Southern Baptists to muster 15 million people to pray that Jews would change their religion (that’s the way they would say it) to become Christians. Incredible.
So, in our newspaper in Minneapolis, they picked up on this, and they quoted Abraham Heschel, a well known Jewish theologian from a previous generation, to this effect:
Christians must abandon the idea that the Jews must be converted. This idea is one of the greatest scandals in history.
So the Jewish people are saying, “one of the greatest scandals in history is that Christians believe Jews must be converted to Christ; confess Christ as their Messiah, crucified, risen, and coming to rescue his people. It’s a scandal to believe that.” So you have very sophisticated developments of two covenant theologies, a Jewish covenant, a Christian covenant. You stay with your Messiah, we’ll translate our Messiah into whatever we believe, and we’ll both wind up in heaven.
Now I read this and I was not happy with that in our newspaper, and wrote a response to it two years later. Because at that moment, Jews for Jesus, which is a very aggressive Jewish evangelistic group that I like very much. I like Moishe Rosen who founded Jews for Jesus. You know, they put on big t-shirts, like “Jesus is the Messiah,” and walk down in New York and get themselves spit upon and mistreated, and they’ve just got big smiles on their faces. I love Jews for Jesus.
And so they were coming to town with their Behold Your God campaign, and all over the world they were doing these campaigns. So they came to Minneapolis, and I just jumped at the opportunity to have them based at our church, because I knew we’d be in big trouble if we did. So, they were based at our church, and went out all over the city for two weeks, evangelizing and doing the work that I believe God called us to do for Jews and Gentiles. And my oh my, did that hit the fan in the newspapers. Nine large churches, whose pastors I used to meet with every month for breakfast, wrote a letter to me and published it in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, with circulation of 300–400,000 people. And they said:
We feel that efforts by Christians to convert Jews are counterproductive, injurious to Christian-Jewish relations, and contrary to the true spirit of Christ.
So I wrote a letter to the newspaper and explained by just quoting Scripture, and amazingly they printed it. It says, “He who does not have the Son, does not have life” (1 John 5:12). You reject Jesus, you reject God.
They didn’t like that either, and they wrote another letter, naming me.
Arrogant is the right word to describe any attempt at proselytizing in the case of the effort of Christian to win over their Jewish brothers and sisters.
This was very useful at our church. Every church needs to have a good controversy like this to find out if you really believe what you believe. Do you believe in hell? Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe in Christ? Do you believe in the gospel? Or are you just playing your religious game? I mean this is a good, solid, first Century event, except we didn’t get thrown in prison, yet. Paul did, almost in every city. Because he went to synagogues and said, “Jesus is the Messiah.” They would run him out and he’d go to the Gentiles, and then they’d stir up the Gentiles.
Because the gospel is for Jews and Gentiles, all nations should bow the knee to Jesus. If you don’t, you don’t know God. Jesus is the litmus paper of whether you know God or not. If you’re Hindu, will you bow to Jesus? If you’re a Buddhist, will you bow to Jesus? If you’re Jewish, will you bow to Jesus? If you don’t, you don’t know God. “He who has the Son has life. He who has not the Son, does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Jesus is the litmus paper to test whether somebody’s claim to know God is real or not. So there’s an illustration of the confusion of humility. Arrogant is what a person gets called if they claim to see anything as true and proclaim it as true.
What is Humility?
Now I hadn’t planned to talk about humility tonight, mainly. But I think I should probably make a few comments about what humility is then, if it’s not uncertainty. Here is what my understanding of humility would be positively:
1. Humility begins with a sense of subordination to God in Christ.
First Peter 5:6 says,
Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.
2. Humility does not feel a right to be treated better than Jesus got treated.
Humility doesn’t return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling. It hands over to him who judges justly, and takes whatever comes as you love other people.
3. Humility asserts truth, not to bolster the ego, control, or win an argument, but as a servant of Christ and a deterrent of the adversary.
The only reason to press truth onto somebody is because we believe it will save them. It will help them. And we’re willing to die to let that happen. That’s the form, the attitude, the spirit in which we press truth. It’s not about winning, looking good, or getting the last word. It’s about loving people.
4. Humility knows it is dependent on grace for all that it knows and all that it believes.
It has pity on those who are still blind to seeing Jesus Christ as the beautiful, compelling, captivating Savior, because we were once there. Paul stressed it in Ephesians 2:13, “Remember, remember you Gentiles that you were once cut off from Christ, and had no hope apart from the covenants. Remember that, because in remembering it, it’ll give you patience, kindness, and gentleness with others.”
5. Humility knows it is fallible.
Yes, we do know we’re fallible. “We see through a glass darkly, then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But we do see, and you have to bear witness to what you’ve seen. Always willing to learn; always willing to be corrected, if somebody shows you from God’s word that you haven’t seen things as clearly as you should.
6. Humility speaks with joy that it can be shamed for the name.
Most failure to declare the truth is rooted in fear, which is rooted in pride. I don’t like to look stupid, and therefore, I am a proud and arrogant person. I think most fear is the reflex of pride. It is for me anyway. If I’m walking down the street, and I sense there’s somebody I should talk to, my disinclination is, “I don’t want to be made to look like a fool.” That’s pride. And so, humility is the opposite of that. Therefore, it releases courage.
Moral Relativism and 9/11
I’m going to read you one other thing before we move toward our text. The September 11 attacks have had a huge effect in this regard. You would have thought that the effect of 9/11 or 7/7 would produce a kind of reverberation of absoluteness in a culture, because you find commentators on the television and the radio, who up till then are comfortable in stroking themselves with relativistic mumbo-jumbo, suddenly using the word evil. And you’d think, “They’ve got it. There is such a thing. There it is.” And for just a few days that was the case.
Now let me read you this amazing quote from Douglas Wilson. He’s a pretty controversial fellow in Moscow, Idaho, in the United States. And now and then he says something really provocative.
The push is already on. In the aftermath of September 11 tragedy, and in the wake of the impressive American military action in Afghanistan, we are hearing different voices calling for a domestic intolerance of every form of intolerance. Conservative Christians will find themselves under increasing pressure to deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We will be allowed to keep a tiny Jesus, but not permitted to affirm that he is King of kings and Lord of lords. Any claim to uniqueness on behalf of the Christian faith will be called, as it has been already, an American form of Talibanism. The reasoning goes this way:
The thing which made these Muslim fanatics so dangerous is not that they believed a lie, as we would hold. But rather, that they thought they knew the truth. To these folks, truth is clearly the enemy. Truth is the adversary. Truth flies planes into skyscrapers. What would our nation do if a man came to us claiming to be the truth? We would do the same thing we did the first time. We would crucify him.
In other words, for a moment there seemed to be some illumination, and then Satan massively co-opted the event to say, “What happened there is what you get everywhere people claim to know the truth. The Taliban knows what’s true. Christians know what’s true. Watch out for both of them. And if necessary, put them in jail before they blow anybody up, rather than after.” So we have our work cut out for us if we’re going to be courageous — wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Don’t Be Afraid
So here we are at our text. That was a long introduction. Matthew 10:24-31. This is Jesus, and I believe his agenda here, his main point, is “Don’t be afraid. Speak what I tell you, and don’t be afraid.” So starting in Matthew 10:24.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Now the reason I say the main point of those verses is don’t be afraid is because he repeats it three times. Matthew 10:26 says,
So have no fear of them.
Matthew 10:28 says,
Do not fear those who kill the body
And Matthew 10:31 says,
Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.
So if repetition is any key to what the main point is here, I think that’s it. Don’t be afraid.
Let’s put a finer point on it. Don’t be afraid to do what? Matthew 10:27, I believe, is the fine point of the main point.
What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. And what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops, and do not fear.
So the point is: Don’t be afraid to speak clearly. What I’ve whispered, you do openly. And don’t be afraid openly. What I tell you in the closet, go up on the roof and announce it. So the issue here is speaking. There are a lot of other things that require courage besides speaking that require courage, but that’s what Jesus is talking about here. To open our mouths and say in public, with one other person or a thousand other people, what you know you have seen of him in the word of God in your study, closet, or bedroom. So the main point: Don’t be afraid. Clearly, openly say what you’ve been taught by Christ. Or to put it positively, be courageous and speak the truth.
Motivations for Courage
Now, the rest of this text, all of it, is motivation. That’s why I chose it. All the rest of this text, every line in the rest of this text is to help you not be afraid. There are five arguments, and I want to just point them out to you. See if you can see them with me as we walk through the text. They won’t take long.
1. You are part of the Master’s house.
Notice the word so, or it may be therefore, in your text. If you don’t have a so or a therefore in your translation, get a new translation, because the Greek oun is really there, and ought to be translated as something. Matthew 10:26 says,
So [or therefore] have no fear of them.
No you know that every time you see a so or a therefore, something was just said, right? Something has just been said and you’re drawing an inference out of it. You say something, “I’m hungry. Therefore, I will eat.” The therefore means there’s a reason given and I’m drawing out “I’m going to eat.” Now what went before? Let’s read it.
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So [therefore] have no fear of them (Matthew 10:25–26).
Now, Jesus means for us to infer and experience fearlessness because of what he just said in Matthew 10:26. Does that work for you? It wasn’t obvious for me when I first read it. That argument did not work for me. Let me read it again: “If they have called the master of the house, Beelzebul, how much more will those of his household get into trouble. Therefore, don’t be afraid.” That doesn’t work. It should be, “Therefore, be afraid.”
So I’m not God, I don’t treat the Bible like that. When I don’t get the Bible, I get under it. I don’t get over it and say, “Bible, you make no sense. I’m not going to believe you anymore.” This is where meditation, thought, reflection, prayer, labor, and if necessary, reading commentaries to help you comes in. So minutes going say, “Jesus makes sense. My brain is the problem, not Jesus.” And the longer I thought about it, now I think it does make sense. So let me see if I can help you see it. If this were a class I would get you to show me what you see, and maybe I would learn a thing or two.
Here’s the way I understand this argument for my fearlessness and your fearlessness: “If they call the master of the house Beelzebul” — picturing a house and he’s the head of the house — “how much more will they malign those of his household?” Meaning, if you are getting maligned, you’re in the house, probably. Does that work? I like evidence that I’m in the house. I like evidence that Jesus is my master. I like the feeling that I’m in the same boat with Jesus.
That argument starts to work emotionally for me, that if I’m getting in trouble by humbly, meekly lovingly telling it like it is, I’m with Jesus. I’m in the house. I’ve got a householder who’s gone before me, and yes I expect to be treated no better than he. But oh, I want to die with him, so that I might rise with him. So I think that’s the way the argument works. The household idea is, if they treated me that way, my household members are going to be treated that way. Therefore, don’t be afraid of that. It confirms you’re in the house. That’s argument number one. Here’s argument number two.
2. Your witness will be vindicated.
Notice the word, just a few words into Matthew 10:26, the little word for. Now for — I hope that’s there, if it’s not there you’ve got a problem with your version — or because, is the logical opposite of therefore. That means an argument is coming. A therefore means the argument went before. And a for means the argument is coming after. So that’s where we have to look for it. Let’s read it.
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known (Matthew 10:26).
Don’t be afraid. Hidden things will be known. Everything hidden will be known. Nothing that is covered will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Does that encourage you to be bold? Isn’t it remarkable? I don’t think Jesus worries too much that you could understand him the first time around. I think Jesus spoke most of the time to force a second time around. I only base that on the fact that I’m dumb and I don’t get it the first time around. And so since I don’t get it, so often, the first time around, I’m assuming he spoke in a way, at least for John Piper, to get me to come back a second, a third, and a fourth time. It’s called meditation. It’s called reflection.
So I have to come back and say, “Okay, Jesus, how does that help me be bold? You said it does.”
Have no fear of them, because nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known (Matthew 10:26).
I think it means, “If you speak the truth boldly, and the people looking at you roll their eyes, cluck their tongues, and look at each other with demeaning glances — one of the things, at that moment, that should give you tremendous courage is that they won’t do that in a thousand years. When the skies split, King Jesus is revealed with his holy angels in the glory of his Father, the sign of the Son of Man appears in heaven, and unbelievers call for the rocks to crush them so that they won’t have to face the wrath of the Lamb, they won’t be rolling their eyes anymore, because all the truth will be revealed. Nothing that you ever spoke will fail to be vindicated. I think that’s what he’s saying.
So let your heart run forward a century or so. Which does it matter? Do you want to have people saying nice things about you now? Or do you want to have the King of kings and the Lord or lords approve you at his coming and have your simple, childlike words written across the sky, vindicated forever? Of course you have to believe all that. But that’s what’s here.
Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t let them be your God. Don’t let their disapproval govern you. Let Christ govern you. Let the coming last day, the great assize, when all things hidden will be revealed govern you. When his people, who looked so out of it, so belittled, so demeaned, and so wrong in Scottish culture of the 21st Century, will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
I love to bring together Acts 5:41, where the disciples leave, having been beaten, and it says they rejoiced “because they were counted worthy to be shamed for the name.” So shame covered their faces, as the enemy would have it. Then put that verse together with Matthew 13:43, where at the end of the parable of the wheat and the tares it says that they will “shine like the sun.” Their faces will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. So a face covered with shame will be like the sun. You can’t look at the sun.
I just look around at you and your faces, and you’re so ordinary. Scottish people are really ordinary. There aren’t any other kinds of human beings other than ordinary. And I just try to imagine, each one of you in the kingdom, with a face so reflective of the glory of God that I can’t look at you directly, any more than I can look at the sun.
C.S. Lewis said I would be tempted to bow down and worship you if I saw you. Everybody you meet on the street out there, Lewis said, is a potential god or a potential demon. The one you will shrink back from because of the horror that they are in hell; the other you will be tempted to bow down and worship because of the glory that they are in heaven. That’s coming. You’re going to be vindicated someday. That should keep you from huffing and puffing and belittling anybody. If God has approved you, then you don’t need their approval. You can just love them. You can lay down your life for them. That’s argument number two. Here’s argument number three.
3. You can only be killed.
Matthew 10:28 says,
Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.
I preached a sermon on this one time and I gave it the title Fear Not, You Can Only Be Killed. We have a downtown church just like this one. I don’t know where your nearest poor neighborhood is. This is a pretty business-like area. But our church has got a business-like area on one side, University of Minnesota over here, a light industry area over here, and the poorest neighborhood in the city right there. And most people don’t want to live there. A lot of our people live there. They choose to live there. You used to be able to get cheap houses there. But it’s dangerous. You hear gunshots. There’s a lot of drunkenness, drug dealing, prostitution, and alcohol on the street.
We moved in there when we came to the church. It’s the closest neighborhood to the church. I hate cars, and like to walk. So, I didn’t want to drive. Good grief, I hate to drive. Why would you want to drive when you can walk, right? I’m not a typical American in that regard. America has a great love affair with the car. But I don’t. So we moved in and I preached that message to try to get people to move in. You know the term, white flight? Whites left the city in 50s, 60s, and 70s in America, and left the urban core to urban poor. Many of whom were African-Americans and others, not all.
I wanted to reverse that so badly I could hardly stand it, 25 years ago. And so, I came and preached that kind of message, and said, “Come on, Bethlehem, what are we living for? Are we just trying to find the ideal neighborhood, the ideal neighbors, the ideal school, and the ideal police protection? Why do you need heaven now?
That’s an over-realized eschatology. We are called to not have heaven now. Heaven can wait. It will come. And because it will come with most definite certainty is why you can let it go now. Do not fear those who kill the body, move in next to them and win them to Christ. Who else is going to? What does it mean to be a Christian? Do just like the world does and run away from danger and risk? That’s what Jesus is saying: “Don’t fear those who kill the body. Go after them.”
Let me just put another little piece on that. We have a few other peculiar things about our family. We’ve never had a television. So, I thought, I’m going to raise four sons and they’re going to be really weird. They’re going to be square, out of it, and everybody’s going to laugh at them. That never happened. They’re all grown, married, have wives, have children, and follow Jesus. Because (though the grace of God is ultimately the reason for it) I said to them and to anybody who questioned that, “Look, you don’t need a television to show you reality if you live in the right neighborhood. Why wouldn’t you, instead of watching the evening news, just go out and watch the evening news? I can be there before the police get there!”
My boys saw me pull men off of women trying to rape them in my front yard. They saw me go out and try to get the drain spout that they yanked off our house and were using to beat each other to pieces in the front yard. That’s the way they grew up. They were very savvy. They were street-wise. Nobody at their schools thought they were out of it. TV watchers who lived in the suburbs were out of it, as far as my boys were concerned. In fact, they became way too prejudicial in that regard. They liked inner-city types and became prejudiced against the suburb types. Sin comes out no matter what you do.
So I preached that sermon because of that text, Fear Not, You Can Only Be Killed, because that’s what he says:
Do not fear those who kill the body (Matthew 10:28).
That’s all they can do. They can’t kill the soul. So don’t be silent. Speak, no matter what it might cost. That’s argument number three. They can only dispatch you to paradise. You know, that phrase reminds me of something else I should probably say.
If the confidence that our souls will be dispatched to paradise immediately upon our martyrdom is what sustains us in fearlessness, how are we different from terrorists who blow themselves up outside falafel shops in Baghdad, killing eight women and children? How are we different? And the answer is, we don’t kill, we die.
He who would be my disciple, let him come after me and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24).
Christians lay their lives down to save people. They don’t kill others to go to paradise. They die for others to go to paradise. That’s a huge difference.
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would be fighting...But my kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
America is not the kingdom of Christ, and the great tragedy is that Islam associates the West with Christianity. They simply identify it. We export all the sin, and we bring all the bombs. That’s Christianity. Oh, that the church could be so counter-cultural in America, Scotland, Iraq, Germany, and everywhere else — that the church could be so counter-cultural that Islam would not be able to make that mistake. It’s not true now. May it become true. Maybe, if Christians began to be imprisoned in America and Scotland, then Muslims would have to say, “Hm, I guess Christianity is not the same as American culture.” That might be a very useful thing in finishing the Great Commission.
You know that all the unreached peoples of the world, almost, are in the hardest places right now? Hindu places, Buddhist places, and Muslim places. Several thousand unreached groups are in South Asia and other places. There’s only one way that the Great Commission is going to be finished: martyrs. It isn’t going to happen with blimps dropping tracts on certain casts in India. It’s going to happen with real, live human bodies loving people, not killing people, and laying down their lives. More people will be saved through Graham Staines events than through any kind of aggression from the West. It’s dying. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, and I think this text is a great help to help us open our mouths. That’s argument number three.
4. You are known by God.
I’m almost finished, because when I finish these five, we’ll be done. Matthew 10:30 says:
Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Does that encourage you to be bold and speak what needs to be spoken?
Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Why did he say that? Why did he say, “I know the number of the hairs on your head.” What a useless piece of information. What’s the point? Surely, the point is intimacy. The point is that in order to count hairs you’ve got to really get up close and tie little ribbons around them or else you’ll count them twice. I don’t know what other reason he would have said that.
We adopted our daughter Talitha when she was eight weeks old. I don’t think she’d mind me telling you this. She’s African-American, and we love her so much. Her hair is different than our hair. Hair is a big deal, right? So you’ve got to learn to do hair. I’ve watched my wife. She’s really good at this. She creates some of the most magnificent hairstyles on Talitha’s head — beads, braids, and weaving. It takes about two or three hours. But what I’ve noticed, as I sit there, Talitha sits on a stool, and Noel straddles either side of the bench, is that she works so meticulously with these little tiny braids. And that makes me think of this text.
Noel hovered over Talitha for two and a half hours. It would take longer if she had to count. She’s just making a couple dozen braids. But there’s a mother hovering over a daughter, and here’s Christ hovering over John Piper. I know you so well. I can tell you the number of freckles on your arms, the number of hairs on your head, and every blemish on your body. I know you and you are mine. So if you ever need a sense that, in the conflict of the world, when people are alienating you and you now feel totally alone, you’re not. You’re not only not alone, you are intimately known and cared for. That’s argument number four as I see it in the words, “even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”
5. You are never alone.
Here’s the final argument. This is a combination of two verses, Matthew 10:29 and 10:31, in order to see the whole logical development. But let’s read Matthew 10:31 first. It says:
You are of more value than many sparrows.
Now you might think that’s a good enough argument right there. But it’s better when you put it together with Matthew 10:29, which says:
Not one of them [these sparrows] will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.
They do fall to the ground. A little sparrow in a forest somewhere in the highlands, reaches the end of its days, and just falls off a limb and becomes fertilizer. That doesn’t happen without God, Jesus says. Not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father. You’re of more value than them, which doesn’t mean you won’t fall to the ground. It means you won’t fall to the ground apart from the merciful will of your Father.
In Luke 21:16 Jesus said:
Some of you they will put to death.
And two verses later he says:
Not a hair of your head will perish (Luke 21:18).
That’s jolting. Some of you they will put to death. Paul was probably beheaded by Nero. Well what in the world does it mean, “Not a hair of your head will perish.” What, they just move your hair? Not a hair of your head will perish when they put you to death means, “I know the number of hairs you have. You’re more valued than sparrows. Nothing befalls a sparrow that I do not ordain, and therefore, I am with you and I will catch your precious head. I will mend you in the resurrection. I will take your soul into my embrace until that day. You are never alone. Be courageous. Walk into that Coliseum and speak my word.”
Encouragement from John Paton
Maybe it would be good to close with a little story of John Paton. John Paton, I think is from here, isn’t he? Here meaning Scotland. He went to the New Hebrides about 150 years ago, and he went to the Island of Tanna with his bride. They’d just been married. No Christian had ever walked on this island before. There were about 4,000 natives, and they were totally Pagan and cannibalistic. Two missionaries had been eaten on another island nearby, some years before, and he’s taking his new bride onto this island.
Within a year or two, she had a son, a little baby, and she died. And then the baby couldn’t live, so the baby died. He dug the graves for his wife and his baby with his own bare hands. And put them in and said, “I would have gone mad had not the Lord been with me.”
He stayed on that island, I believe four years. Won one or two people to Christ, who became a devoted servant. And then there was an uprising to kill him and to drive him off the island. His friend was willing to risk his life to show him a path of escape. Now many times, John Paton had walked right into the middle of conflict, risking his life to say to factions that were warring with each other, “Lay down your arms. This is not the way God wants you to live.” And they had not killed him. But now all of them had united to come kill him. So he discerned that this was time to flee. Sometimes you stand. Sometimes you flee. Just like the Apostle Paul stood, and sometimes went into a basket over the wall.
So he began to escape and they were gaining on him, and his friend said, “The only way you’re going to escape is to climb this tree, be totally silent, and hope they don’t see you. When they’re gone, you come down and go over there to a boat, and you’ll be able to go to another island.” So he climbed the tree and he sat there. And I think I’ll just close our time together by reading what he wrote later about his feelings in that tree. Talk about fear. He was totally alone with one friend, who led the wild goose chase off to distract them. Hopefully he’ll survive. Imagine sitting there where they might look up at any moment, and then you would be killed and eaten, probably. I mean, could you be more afraid than that? Here’s what he said:
Being entirely at the mercy of such doubtful and vacillating friends (as those who had helped him, except for one), I thought I, though perplexed, felt it best to obey. I climbed into the tree and was left there, alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets and the yells of the savages, yet I sat there among the branches as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never in all my sorrows did my Lord draw nearer to me and speak more soothing to me in my soul than when the moonlight flickered among the chestnut leaves and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus.
Alone, yet not alone. If it be to the glory of my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your soul, your own soul alone, all alone in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a friend that will not fail you then?
I don’t know who you are tonight, but it is possible for you to be freed from fear. You may not be a believer. You may not know anything about that experience. He’s saying, and I’m saying to you, “Have you a friend like that, who in the clutches of death and danger will so minister assurance, confidence, and hope to you that you can rest as in the arms of God Almighty?” You can have a friend. Jesus says,
Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you’ll find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28–30).
All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to me. Go make my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit...And Lo, I’m going to be with you to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18–20).
That’s all we need in order to overcome our anxieties and speak what he wants spoken. Let’s pray.