Followers of Christ are not to fear the powerful people of this world. The soul matters more than the body and the rulers of this world can take only our lives. If we are going to be afraid of anyone, it should be God, who alone will determine our final destinies. Jesus said it like this: “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” (Mt.10.28).
What else but such a transcendent, eternal perspective enabled Martin Luther to declare before the mighty of his day, “Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.” Or to say to other Christians, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”
The final reason we are not to be afraid as we testify for Christ is that God is sovereign in this, as in all things. Nothing will happen to us that is not fully known by God and ordered by God for His own glory and ultimately for our good and the good of others. Jesus compares us to sparrows, one of the smallest and least significant of birds, saying that if God cares for them, He will certainly care for us since we are “worth more than many sparrows.”
The last verses of this discourse focus on a person’s relationship with Jesus, but they do so in two ways. First, they focus on the disciple himself and whether he remains true to Jesus or not. Second, they focus on people who receive or reject His followers.
Jesus says that a person who would be His disciple must value Him more than: (1) a favorable judgment by this world’s rulers: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father who is in heaven;” (2) the love of one’s own family: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;” and (3) even life itself: “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is no higher demand or more exalted calling.
The reference to divisions among one’s family members is a fairly close quotation of Micah 7.6, but it is not saying that what will happen because of Christian testimony is a fulfillment of that text. Micah describes an unfortunate situation that existed because of wickedness in Israel during the reign of King Ahaz. Jesus is saying that a situation will exist in future days because of the preaching of the Gospel.
The point of all these verses is the necessity of deciding for Christ and remaining faithful to Christ until the end. We cannot drift along and expect that everything will turn out all right. To fail to decide for Christ and live for Christ is to be against Him. It is to perish.
What extraordinary teachings these are! They show Jesus’ amazing self-understanding – for who but a man who knew Himself to be God could make such statements? If Jesus is not God come in the flesh, this is either an example of an incredible insanity or else a hideous attempt to deceive other persons. Which is it? If Jesus was insane, ignore Him. It is the only rational thing to do. If He was attempting to deceive other people, expose Him. Fight His lies for the sake of those who might be taken in and harmed by them. On the other hand, if Jesus is who He claimed to be – if He is the true Son of God -then Jesus speaks the words of God and must be both believed and obeyed. If Jesus is the Son of God, these are the most important words you will ever hear since your eternal destiny hangs on your acceptance or rejection of them.
Jesus reflects on a person’s relationship to Him in Matthew 10.40-42. What is surprising about these last sentences is that they speak of spiritual rewards. They develop a sequence, a descending progression. First, the one who receives Jesus receives the one who sent Him. Secondly, the one who receives Jesus’ prophets, because they are prophets – that is, because they speak the truth about Jesus – will have a spiritual reward, because the prophet will lead him to Jesus. Third, the one who receives a righteous man, because he is a righteous man, will be in the same position. Finally, the one who receives even the least of Christ’s disciples will be rewarded also and in the same way.
This means every Christian’s testimony is important – the testimony of the least of Christ’s disciples as well as the testimony of one of the twelve apostles – and the critical matter in every case, now as then, is a person’s relationship to Jesus Christ. To receive Christ as He is presented by the messengers of Christ is to experience God and salvation. To turn from Christ is to perish.
It is through obedience that Christ’s followers have taken the Gospel of salvation from sin by His death throughout the world. It is because of these words that the Gospel is being presented to you now. In Christ’s name and by His authority, I say to you, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” In Christ’s name and by the same authority, I also say, “Reject Jesus Christ, and you will perish forever.” I cannot make the matter any clearer than that.