October 18, 2008
Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 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, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
An itinerate rabbi with a band of twelve disciples and a few women following him through the countryside, among an oppressed people, in an obscure place sends them on a mission. He gives them only a slight hope for success and acceptance but assures them that they will face opposition. Money, fame, glory, power, thrills, all the things that normally motivate people are not present. But this is the start of the Christian missionary movement. How does this turn into anything great except by the power of God?
The miracles were evidence of God’s power and the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth, but it is impossible to hold people together merely by outside miracles being performed. Many people always want more and they can even become stumbling blocks to real faith and obedience. As Christ compared the persecutors to wolves pursuing lambs, a wolf would just as soon devour a miracle-performing lamb as any other. That which people cannot control they are prone to destroy in one form or another.
Something deep and lasting was being formed in the hearts and souls of these disciples, and this was the greater miracle. To paraphrase James Stewart, they were beginning to think of Jesus of Nazareth as they had thought of God. Chapters later in Matthew we see Peter’s profession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” but here we see the formation taking shape in their hearts. In this profound understanding that could only happen by the Spirit of God, as they welcomed the revelation with faith, the disciples were being changed within themselves.
Understanding brings changes in our perspective, but the best the world’s system of education can do barely dips below the surface of our consciousness. God, on the other hand, goes to our core,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
These apostles were experiencing the sensation of this reality, and they were to go out and share this same Jesus with others. The first recorded invitation of this otherwise motley crew was by Peter at Pentecost and had the promise, “You too shall receive this gift of the Spirit.” We correctly place that promise in light of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church at Pentecost. This is the day of the church and the time of the Spirit. Every believer in Christ is promised to be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ in today’s world, and this stands in contrast to the Old Covenant.
Yet we should be warned not to miss the fact that the Spirit of the Father was already coming to the aid of these disciples, and that work was within them. The contrast between the old and new is primarily in terms of the breadth and width and permanence of the Spirit’s presence, sealing, and baptizing, and not in the nature of the experience. The Spirit of God coming upon men and women, filling hearts with His presence and life, this has been the experience of many through the Old Testament era as well.
A principle is laid down, that we are to expect God to be with us as the world rejects us. These simple Galileans were about to be cast into a world which most of them had very little experience with – the anger and vehemence of mobs and the preparation of defending themselves properly in the legal courts of Jew and Gentile. One would feel as out of place and as helpless in one situation as the next. But fear was not to be their reality, rather peace was to guard their hearts, as it always should. God will show up in their defense and the words they speak in those moments will have Him behind them.
This does not remove the need for faith among the persecuted, for through the centuries many Christians have reacted to their tormentors without Christian grace, and some have even re-canted. But it is a promise that even in the most terrifying and lonely experience for the Christian, God will be there. When we feel helpless God is not helpless. When we don’t know what to do, God does. As the psalmist wrote, “What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee,” (KJV) or, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3, NIV).
What the world sees as simplicity in the believer and ridicules, God sees as humility and rewards. God’s promises to you are as firm today as they ever have been. He will not leave or forsake you. He will be with you through every trial and challenge of your life. When you feel lonely, He is there. When you feel threatened, He is at your right hand. When you feel weak, He is your strength. When you feel guilty, He is your forgiver. When you feel empty, He is the living Bread. When you feel lifeless, He is your Resurrection and Life. When you feel afraid and troubled, He is the Prince of Peace to your soul.
Lord, we praise and thank You for Your goodness to Your followers. As the psalmist wrote, we are poor and needy yet You think about us. Guard our hearts from worry and fill us with Yourself. Amen.