Friday, March 1, 2013

The Scary Part

Remember how last week, we discussed Jesus sending out his disciples to preach and heal and treat people as equals? That was great. But right after he gives those instructions, he follows it up with what I'm calling "the scary part." Matthew 10:16-42 gives warnings about danger, harsh statements about the personal cost of obedience, and promises about those who remain faithful.

A quick overview:

Verses 16-25: Everyone's going to hate you and kill you.

Verses 26-33: But it's okay- the truth will win in the end, and God can't forget you.

Verses 34-39: Oh, and Jesus came to make your family your enemies.

Verses 40-42: But you'll definitely be rewarded for helping out other believers.

First of all, I want to know why this stuff is in this chapter. Jesus was just sending the disciples out in groups of 2 for a short mission trip- maybe a few weeks long? All these warnings about persecution and people betraying each other surely didn't play out over those few weeks. It sounds more like he's talking about the persecution the church would face over the hundreds of years since then.

So why is it here in Matthew 10, as if it's part of the instructions they need for their little short-term adventure?

I speculate that this passage, this whole section in red letters in Matthew 10, wasn't a single sermon that Jesus gave, but a summary of all his teachings on the subject, over the course of his entire ministry.

From what I've heard, authors and readers from that time period weren't so concerned about chronology when telling a story, but grouped together the events based on topic. So I speculate that Jesus didn't say ALL this stuff right before sending out the 12 disciples- instead, these are ideas he taught throughout his ministry. But Matthew thought they fit in here, so he put them here.

A couple verses I want to pull out, because they're interesting:

Verse 16: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

I like this. "Shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves." I take the "shrewd" bit to mean we shouldn't be naive and sheltered and let people take advantage of that. Christians shouldn't cut themselves off from the rest of the world- no, we should learn how the systems work and how to best use them.

Example: I've heard of pastors who tell their church members not to use Facebook because it's apparently evil or something. Umm. Dude, Facebook is a tool that can be used for good or evil, and we should make use of it to whatever extent is beneficial.

Another example: If you are a missionary to a country that is hostile to Christianity, don't write "missionary" on your visa application. Get some kind of job in your target country, or go as a student, etc. Shrewd as snakes.

And then "innocent as doves" meaning don't do anything bad. Understand how the world works and use that to your advantage, but not to hurt people or anything like that.

Verse 28: "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."

So... I never got whether that meant God or the devil. (And I always felt kinda dumb- the way it's worded is like the writer thinks it's OBVIOUS you know who "the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" is. And no, I'm not going to say "well obviously 'One' is capitalized, so it's God"- capitalization is part of the translation, not the original text.)

I mean, it couldn't be the devil, because Jesus is telling his followers NOT to be afraid of the people who can kill them- so not being afraid of the devil seems to follow along those same lines. (And seriously, Christians don't need to live in fear of the devil. God gives FREEDOM!)

But it can't be God either- then Jesus is saying you should be AFRAID of God because he'll send you to hell if you don't stand up for Jesus enough. Like, hey I know these people are trying to kill you, but if you give in to their demands, God will kill you even more.

And that's a HORRIBLE view of God. Geez. If someone is facing arrest and punishment for their faith, shouldn't God be comforting/helping them? Not judging whether they "stood up for Jesus" well enough, and sending them to hell if they didn't.

So I'm baffled here, y'all. Jesus commands his disciples to "be afraid" and that just makes no sense to me, and seems to run counter to, you know, the gospel and all that. And I don't know who "the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" is supposed to be. (Though it's worth pointing out that "hell" here may or may not be the popular culture version of hell- eternal torture, fire, pitchforks...)

Maybe "hell" is actually waiting in line at the bank for all eternity. Image source.

But the main meat of this passage is that there will be danger and persecution when they bring Jesus' message/healing to the world. And dude, that's scary. Jesus warns his disciples that they will be flogged, arrested, put to death, handed in by family members.

And the WTF part is verse 34: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Hmm, too bad this is directly contradicted elsewhere in the bible. The angels singing "peace on earth" at Jesus' birth. Isaiah's prophecy about the "Prince of Peace."  Peace and racial reconciliation made possible through Jesus.

I would say that both are true- sometimes Jesus' message divides people, and sometimes it brings them together. (And I advise you to be highly suspicious of anyone who thinks peace is a bad thing because Jesus apparently didn't come to bring peace.)

But back to the bit on persecution. This totally has happened, throughout the many centuries that Christianity has existed. People have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed. It's seriously messed-up and terrifying, and it's what Jesus predicted in this passage. And wow, the courage of all these Christians that have gone through it is amazing.

The Crucifixion of Peter. Image source.
I mean, seriously, the predictions Jesus gives in this passage are legitimately scary. But he also includes some promises:

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

Verse 22b: "But the one who stands firm to the end will be saved."

Verse 31: "So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

Verse 42: "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."

So basically, God will be with you. God will never forget you, and at the end of it all, you will be rewarded for your endurance.

But... perhaps I'm missing the point, but WHAT GOOD IS THAT? Yeah, God is with you- but he won't stop the violence and the killing and the injustice, not til the end of the world, when creation is redeemed and everything is finally made right.

It really seems overwhelming that this is what Jesus is sending his followers into. Seems like a bad idea.

But this kind of goes along with "the problem of evil" in general (which I don't expect to resolve in this blog post). God allows bad things to happen. And perhaps it's at least comforting to know that Jesus knew what they would be going through, and that God would never abandon them.

I refer to this passage as "the scary part", for obvious reasons. It's scary. These things really have happened. But it seems that Jesus' purpose is not to scare us, but to give us something to remember if we do face that persecution. As he says in verse 31, "So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: To Send Out Workers (Matthew 9:35-10:15)

Next post: Good News? (Matthew 11:1-6)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.


  1. What does "Geez" mean?

    Have you ever noticed that your definition of "evil" seems more along the lines of unfair? Your concept of God is that he must be fair, as opposed to he must be good?

  2. How do you define "fair" and "good"? You seem to be saying there is a big and important difference- what is that difference?

  3. Thank you, for asking something we can discuss!

    I define "good" as "adj. 1) to be desired or approved of, 2) having qualities required for a certain role, 3) possessing or displaying moral virtue, 4) giving pleasure; enjoyable or satisfying, 5) thorough, 6) used in conjunction with the name of God or a related expression stated in alarm or anger. n. 1) that which is morally right; righteousness, 2) benefit or advantage to someone or something."

    I define "fair" as "adj. 1) in accordance with the rules; legitimate, 2) (of hair or complexion) light; blond, 3) modest, 4) (of weather) fine or dry, 5) [ARCHAIC] beautiful; attractive, 6) (of handwriting) easy to read. adv. without cheating or trying to attain unjust gain. n. [ARCHAIC] a beautiful woman.

    I don't see many similarities, would you point them out to me?

    There is one similarity that seems obvious a correlation between possessing moral virtue (good) and being in accordance with the rules (fair.) The questions arise: What are the rules for moral virtue? Who determines the rules for moral virtue?

    Do we have these rules? Where do we find them? And who made them? Because I can make rules that you cannot follow and the reverse the same.

  4. And how do you think "fair" and "good" should be applied to God? You seemed to be saying that something was wrong with my concept of God because I apparently think he needs to be fair, and not that he needs to be good. Explain?

  5. Your concept of God appears to be God needs to follow your rules in order to be legitimately morally virtuous rather than that some arbitrary external authority should determine God's rules, which if followed makes one good.

    Internal rules can be changed on a whim, and we do so. God's rules must be external, so they are unchanging. I mean face it, we like to attack each other with "your judging me!" and stuff. At least you do, I am sure at some point I will return the favor. Oh wait, I already did I called you closed minded, but that was by my rules and you were being immoral, by my rules, by making accusations about my ability to measure.

    Judge = measure, right?

    Are you ever going to answer my questions? Or do I just continue to answer your questions? I know you've only asked like three... But it's really boring answering questions, it's much more fun to ask them.

  6. So basically you're saying it's wrong for me to have a problem with something God does, because that would be judging God by my own standard?

    But what if I believe that people are made in the image of God and therefore have a conscience and an intuitive sense of right and wrong? Certainly that doesn't mean I get to make all the rules, but it also means if something seems off, then maybe I should listen to my God-given conscience rather than just accepting everything I hear.

  7. No. I didn't say anything was wrong. It is judging God by your own standard, but I don't see what is wrong with that. Do you?

    I am saying you are not using an external verifiable authority to determine moral right and wrong. Ultimately, you use an internal authority to determine moral virtue, as opposed to an external authority (something we can both see and evaluate.)

    Why do you believe that people are made in the image of God? Where did you get this concept? Is it found in some external, arbitrary, verifiable source, perhaps? An authority, you believe, on God, maybe?

    Which rules do you not get to make? I don't see any reason why you cannot make them all. Not that anyone else will accept your rules of morality, but doesn't mean you can't make them...

  8. Umm... so what's your point? You say, "It is judging God by your own standard, but I don't see what is wrong with that" but in a previous comment you said "Have you ever noticed that your definition of "evil" seems more along the lines of unfair? Your concept of God is that he must be fair, as opposed to he must be good?"

    You say "Why do you believe that people are made in the image of God?" but your earlier comments made me think you were coming from a conservative Christian perspective that didn't like the idea of me questioning God's character.

    You say "Which rules do you not get to make? I don't see any reason why you cannot make them all" but you previously said "Internal rules can be changed on a whim, and we do so. God's rules must be external, so they are unchanging."

    And many of your comments in the past on my other blog posts have been like this too. It seems like you just take one little thing I say and argue about it, and then when I reply you take some other little thing and argue about that, in a completely different direction than your original comment, sometimes to the point where it contradicts your original comment.

    If you want to have an actual discussion, that would be great. (That's one reason I have a blog.) But it seems like you just want to argue and criticize me.

  9. Yep. I used your definition of "wrong," which of course to me has always seemed contradictory, but you asked the question, so I should, if I know it, use your definition. We know, you have said that homosexuality cannot be "wrong," because it is natural. You are closed minded, and that is natural, so by your definition of "wrong..." You cannot be wrong, when you are being closed minded.

    Criticism is good, right? Or only when you criticize others?

    I don't want to play upon your emotions.

    I want you to think, rather than rely upon your emotions. People manipulate emotions, and I don't want you to be manipulated. I want you to think. You are so smart. And you choose to be controlled by your feelings, and that emotionally hurts me. To see a person, able to understand, refusing to understand, because others emotionally stroke them, when they act like others are right without argument.

    You are better than that. I want you to think.