Expect: That Many Will Not Receive the Gospel, and Persecution
Matthew adds a discourse of Jesus to his disciples just before he sent them out. He tells them some difficult things, but things they needed to know, nonetheless. As insane as it sounds, there will be some who will not accept the good news; indeed, there will be many who downright oppose it. This tells us something that we need to understand: the gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive. This is why Paul in his First Letter to the Church at Corinth says that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” and that Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1:19, 23). This is the scandal of the Christian faith: that God assumed our nature and human flesh, lived our life yet without sin, and died a shameful death on a cross. Of course, he rose on the third day, but the whole story was offensive to Jews then, and is terribly offensive to Muslims today: “God cannot have a son,” they say. And let us not forget the message of repentance, which no one likes to hear. In the Christian faith, dying to self leads to life; most people don’t want to die, hence the offense.
Because of this, we are to expect persecution – and the disciples were persecuted. With the exception of John, all of them died a martyr’s death. The Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire in its first three-hundred years of existence. Today, our brothers and sisters in Christ are (and ever have been) persecuted in Muslim and communist countries. And what of America? We have never seen the animus towards the Church that we are witnessing today. This is because America is becoming more and more pagan. The two biggest measures of this are the acceptance (even in some “churches”) of abortion and illicit sexual behavior (anything outside one man and one woman in the context of marriage), especially the obviously unnatural act homosexual behavior (Romans 1:18-32).
And the pressure to conform to the new moral regime is becoming intense: Christian bakers, florists, and schools. We are called “hateful.” Interestingly enough, the Romans said the same thing about Christians back then, because we would not participate with them in their debauchery but lived a different kind of life. This naturally raises the question of whether or not we are truly different or blending in with our increasingly pagan environment. But I am of the opinion that Christians are going to become more and more marginalized in our society. And as entertainment and education and society as a whole becomes more pagan, we will have to absent ourselves from the greater culture – and He will see that we endure.