Some have said that we are living in the day of the Great Apostasy. You have heard the stories of how 4 out of every 5 young people who grow up in the church turn away from the faith by their freshman year of college.
There can be no doubt either that what has been commonly called, “The Christian Consensus” (that is, the idea that though people might not be Christians, they still think like Christians), this consensus is rapidly losing ground within our culture.
Two illustrations of this were witnessed just this week in the news.
His was a peaceable demonstration. With no show of violence or aggression he called men to repentance and faith in Christ. Yet despite his diplomatic demeanor, he was attacked by a very large man who gave him repeated blows to the head.
Or perhaps you heard about the ex-cop who delivered a sermon on homosexuality on the streets of London. As a result of his words, Tony Miano was cuffed and taken down to the police station where he had his finger prints DNA taken. He was booked and held in custody, not because he had committed any real crime, but only because someone had taken offense at the things he said.
In light of the current trends one of my friends said,
“It seems if you are a gay atheist, everyone is so proud of your strength to come out and stand up, or if you support gay marriage everyone rallies around you. But if you say you are a straight Christian all you are is a bigot and a hate monger. Its getting so a straight Christian can't say anything without worrying about getting sued or getting a beat down.”
It is true. The atmosphere today is such that there is an all out attempt to suppress the naming of Christ. And you can be assured that as we move further into a Post Christian era, we can only expect that the this will become the norm.
And it is in the light of these cultural tides that we are called to be even more bold in our profession. Our light as Christians must become even more brilliant against the darkness in which we find ourselves. And that means being willing to acknowledge Christ, not just in private gatherings like this, or even in the quiet places of our homes. But we must be willing to confess him even in the public sphere—even in places where we might be tempted to be quiet.
But we all know that this isn’t an easy thing. And that is why our passage for this morning is so timely. The words that Christ speaks here are given for the purpose of rousing an unabashed profession of faith.
Certainly, some of the things we read here are rather frightful. Some of them were certainly comforting. It is something of a mixed bag. All of them are here for the purpose of provoking us to be bold in our ownership of Christ.
Now, the first thing that Christ mentions is hypocrisy. We must confess Christ in the public sphere because the Lord will expose the insincere profession of hypocrites.
I. Because the Lord will expose hypocrisy [1-3]
At the end of the first verse Jesus says, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Now, it is important to understand what a hypocrite is. A hypocrite is someone who hides his true identity. The word hypocrite actually comes from the realm of theater. It referred to someone who was an actor. And you know actors are people who hide their true identity.
Jesus is saying that one who professes Christ can be an actor. You might make a profession of faith, you might hang out in the church, and you might look very religious, but it all can be a façade.
And Jesus says, don’t let that be true of you! You better be sure to have a true profession from the heart because this little charade will not go on forever.
In verse two he talks about what it will be like on Judgment Day. He says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”
You can think about the media frenzies today that surround people like Bernie Madoff or some other person who’s crimes have been found out. Their faces are plastered on every news outlet and it is all out there for everyone to see. They have been publicly shamed because all their little secrets have been exposed.
You need to be aware that you can’t just play the part of a Christian. Christ demands true faith. He demands a true spirit of piety. If Christianity is just a cover for you and behind that shroud lies unbelief and corruption, then you will be sure that it will all be uncovered.
Another reason we should be sure to unabashedly profess Christ is given in verses 4-5. And that reason is this: A more severe treatment will be given to those who waffle and end up denying him.
II. Because the Lord will treat those who cave in a much more severe manner [4-5]
In verses 4 and 5 Jesus talks about facing persecution. And he says, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”
The logic is rather clear. Yes, you will be tempted to disavow Christ. Losing you life is not a good option. But you got to remember what’s on the other side! It is better to suffer a little here on earth than for eternity in hell.
Now I can hear someone saying, “Well, that’s just hell, fire and brimstone talk.” And I will admit, “Yes, it is.” I understand that we don’t want to have fear as our primary motivator in getting someone to follow Christ. But let’s not completely discount it either!
We should have a healthy fear of God’s wrath. Eternal conscious torment is something that we should take into consideration when we are faced with the possibility of denying Christ.
And Christ is just laying out the two options here. You can suffer here for a little while some physical pain, or you can suffer for eternity in both body and soul. It is as simple as that.
Verses 6-7 give us another reason why we should be ready to profess Christ. And this one is a bit more positive than our last one. It reminds us of the providential care of God.
III. Because the Lord ordains evil for our advantage [6-7]
He begins by talking about these little tiny sparrows. They are perhaps some of the most insignificant creatures on earth. Their market value is only a few pennies. But what does Jesus say? “Not one of them is forgotten before God.” And he uses the argument from the lesser to the greater. You are worth more to God than a few measly birds. If God treats these little things with such care and love and is ever watching over them, then how much more will he be doing the same for you?
What’s more he says that God loves you so much that he takes account of every single hair on your head!
Now you mothers have a tough time beating that. You mothers keep watch over your children with an eagle’s eye. You make sure that they are fed and clothed. You make sure that their hair is done right when you go out in public. And you always have your radar up when you are out and about. You are making sure that your kids are not going to come into harm’s way.
This is saying that God is even more watchful than you mothers!
All that Jesus says here is to help us trust the goodness and providence of God. We are reminded here that our God is a sovereign God who is concerned with every detail of our lives and governs the events of our lives.
This should comfort us and remind us that whatever scenario we face, we should not fail to acknowledge Christ, because God is in control. You can even take the worst possible scenario: You can have courage even in the face of martyrdom, because God is even going to make this work out for your advantage.
In verses 8-10 Jesus gives us another encouragement for an unabashed profession of faith. He reminds us there that our confession will be honored and reciprocated by him.
IV. Because the Lord will honor our confession by reciprocating it [8-10]
"And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.” He goes one to say that our denial of him will be reciprocated too. “The one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” And that leads into his comment on the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Now, the question always arises as to what exactly constitutes blasphemy against the Spirit. There have been people throughout the church who have thought that they were guilty of committing this sin and then despaired because they thought there was no forgiveness for them.
The typical response is, “If you are concerned about having blasphemed the Spirit, chances are you haven’t.” That’s because the person who blasphemes the Spirit is dead set against the grace afforded by the Spirit.
You see, the sin against the Spirit is the utter rejection of the gospel. Someone who has committed this sin is someone who wants nothing to do with the gospel or Christ.
What happens is that the Spirit of God can give a person a real and deep understanding of the gospel. He can have the gospel clearly revealed—even supernaturally revealed, and can be so impressed as to have a thorough cognitive apprehension of Christ’s person and work. But despite all this mental acumen, his heart has not been affected. Despite certain operations of the Spirit he remains stubbornly opposed to Christ and wants nothing to do with the gospel to his dying day.
Now, we ought not to think that this is equated with the sin of denying Christ. We should be quick to admit that a Christian can in fact fall into sin on this. Peter himself was guilty of denying Christ, was he not? Yet the Lord pardoned him and restored him.
This was something that came up during the first couple of centuries of the church. You can do some study and look up the Donatist controversy. During the persecutions of the Roman empire there were Christians who had sinned by denying Christ. But afterwards they repented. Some said that they should not be let back into the church. But the orthodox position prevailed because the majority of the church recognized that this was a sin that could be pardoned.
Having said that, let us not presume upon the Lord and his grace! Our attitude should not be that of “O, he will forgive me.” Christ puts this warning here because denying Christ can have its consequences.
We should remember that on the last day shame leads to shame and honor leads to honor.
The fifth and final reason that Christ gives us to help stimulate us to a full blooded embrace and acknowledgement of him is found in verses 11-12. It is because the Spirit will assist us in our time of need.
V. Because the Lord will assist us in our time of need [11-12]
Look at what it says, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."”
Now this is just a perfect way to end. Because up to this point, after all that has been said, you might be thinking, “What if I blow it? What if I am called to stand for Christ and I biff it?” If that’s what you are thinking, here some good news. Jesus says, “Don’t worry. God isn’t going to let you down. God will give you the words.” In your hour of greatest need, the Lord will be there to assist you.
And we certainly see this exemplified in the lives of the Apostles as you read through the Book of Acts. It wasn’t just the Apostle Paul who was able to speak and testify. But men of untrained tongues were given supernatural eloquence. Common fisherman were enabled to speak fluidly and with great authority.
The same promise is given to us. We do not have to fear. As we study the Scriptures, we can be assured that the Lord will enable us to draw on this well of knowledge when the time comes.
But I want you to notice that what we have here is really a twofold promise. The primary assurance, of course, is that you will have the words to say. But implied here is the fact that God will be there to help you. In other words, he isn’t going to abandon you and leave you to stand against your foes on your own. At the hour of your greatest trial (and perhaps even your greatest weakness) God will be right there upholding you and strengthening you. You will speak because his Spirit is with you.
If you are like me, you will readily say that you are not strong enough in and of yourself to make a profession of Christ in the midst of the situation that is being described here. If I were called to acknowledge Christ or face death, I’m pretty sure that—left to myself—I would deny him. But here is a promise that in the trial that befalls us, God will be there to uphold us. The Lord will give us the words and the eloquence, but he will give us the courage to speak them in the face of death.
The Reformation was a time when many men were tested as to their faithfulness to unabashedly profess Christ. One illustration of this is Hugh Latimer. Latimer was a follower of the Reformation, but he was also the chaplain to the King Henny the VII—someone who was not as excited about the Reformational teachings or altogether friendly towards those who were.
Latimer once preached before King Henry VIII. Henry was greatly displeased by the boldness in the sermon and he ordered Latimer to preach again on the following Sunday and apologize for the offence he had given.
The next Sunday, after reading his text, he thus began his sermon: "Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou are this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king's most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life, if thou offendest. Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease. But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest--upon Whose message thou are sent? Even by the great and mighty God, Who is all-present and Who beholdeth all thy ways and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully."
Latimer then went on to preach the exact same sermon he had preached the preceding Sunday--and with considerably more energy.
He could have very easily preached something soft. But God gave him courage to overcome a tepid profession of faith.
May we all have such eyes, to look beyond this world and its menacing evils, to the Lord and the world to come.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.