Thoughts on Matthew 10:16-33
It has been said many times that salvation through Jesus Christ – the Gospel – is a “free gift,” and that’s true as far a Romans chapters five and six describe it that way. However, Paul the Apostle referred to salvation as “free” in those chapters by way of contrasting it with slavery to sin and comparing obedience to “the Law” with grace – as he summarizes in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” It would be heretical to say that the salvation offered by God through Jesus Christ is anything but “free” in the sense that we cannot earn it, buy it, or deserve it – it’s freely given by God to whomever he chooses “…according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace…” (Ephesians 1). However, this does not mean following Christ faithfully will not cost us something – or even everything – we have in this world from our comfort to our relationships to our freedom, and in some cases our wellbeing and lives.
There’s a belief, especially in the Western Church, that salvation being “free” means it costs us nothing from beginning to end. In other words, we get saved by reciting a little prayer, maybe give up a few “worldly” habits, become part of a community of like-minded people who talk about joy and heaven, live our best lives now in comfort and ease, and then go to heaven – a magical place where we get to live pain-free and do whatever we love forever. But, that’s not at all what Jesus tells us will happen now (or later).
Matthew 10:16-33 teaches us there is certainly a cost associated with this “free gift.” Jesus warns his disciples that they are like helpless sheep being sent out into a field full of hungry wolves, that they would be flogged, unjustly accused, betrayed by family, hated by all, and killed. He basically says that those who follow him will be treated as he would be treated, summing it by saying that if they call him, Jesus, the devil, “how much more will they malign those of his household.” Later in the New Testament, Paul even tells Timothy in his second letter to him, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
The good news is Jesus doesn’t just tell us all the terrible things that will happen to us if we follow him. He also tells us not to be anxious or to fear. He promises the Holy Spirit will aid and speak through us when we are “brought before governors and kings for [Jesus’] sake.” He reminds us that all the wicked deeds of those who oppose him and his disciples will be revealed and judged accordingly. He reminds us of the omniscience and omnipotence of the sovereign Father who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground and the number of the hairs on our heads – and how much he values us.
Jesus concludes with two truths that serve as both huge encouragements and dire warnings. The first is when he reminds and warns us not to fear men who can only kill our bodies, but to fear God who can “destroy both soul and body in hell.” This sounds all bad, but it’s not. It means that if God holds the power and authority to destroy, he also holds the power and authority to save. The second is that he, Jesus, will deny before the Father those people who deny him before men; but that he will acknowledge those before the Father who acknowledge him before men.
Not denying Jesus before men sounds intimidating given all the peril Jesus promises; but, don’t ever forget that in the same passage Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will give us what we are to say in those moments of trial and persecution. If we believe the Gospel and are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13), then we have nothing to fear when persecution and trials come our way. We don’t have to worry about what the “free gift” of salvation will cost us in earthly terms because we are assured of the eternal worth of what awaits us in eternity – life in the presence of Jesus Christ who will acknowledge us before the Father.
The words of Paul from 2 Corinthians 4:17 are a very fitting conclusion: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”