Matthew 10:26-39. Called to Die
In this passage, after Jesus has given the apostles the bad news regarding the way that they will be treated by everyone from their own families, to their synagogues, to even the political state, He tells them not to be afraid. These things you heard from Me in whispers? Have the boldness to go tell the world. These dark, mysterious things I’m telling you now? One day you’ll grasp them and shine them as a light to the world. Don’t be afraid – not even of those who will be out to kill you. They don’t have the ultimate power over life and death. Your Father in heaven is watching over you, guiding your steps. If He watches over the sparrows, just imagine how much care He has for you. In God’s omniscient love, even your hairs are numbered. If we have no shame regarding Him before others, He will have no shame regarding us before the face of the Father. The opposite is also true.
After saying all of these very difficult things, Jesus makes an amazing statement in verse 34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” In modern speech, He might have just said, “I’m here to cause division.” The division arises as a result of the rebellion of God’s own people, which is made clear by the verses that follow, which are quotations from the seventh chapter of the Old Testament book of Micah. At the beginning of his seventh chapter, Micah pronounces a woe on himself, that he lives in such a degenerate age. The nation of Israel, a nation with such spiritual promise, had fallen on bad times. “Woe is me … for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household (Micah 7:1a,6).”
The hard words of Jesus continue in verses 37 – 39. He demands the utmost in loyalty, more loyalty than one might have for one’s own family, but He gives as much loyalty back – and more. He also speaks of taking up one’s cross here – and how this might have sounded to the apostles, long before a cross or crucifixion was ever within view, I can’t even begin to imagine. They no doubt knew what a cross was, though, and they knew it was the worst form of public execution the Roman state could inflict on a human being. Is that the image the Master chose to paint in their minds – the image of their own crucifixions? For Peter and Andrew, this would literally be the case. This is exactly what following Jesus of Nazareth would mean for them. Yet, losing your life for the sake of the Master would mean finding it instead. As the Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die (Cost, p. 44).” That death may be at the end of a hangman’s noose, as it was for Bonhoeffer when he was executed by Nazis, or it may be a death to relationships, personal ambitions, or public esteem. Yet, as Bonhoeffer knew, it meant a death of some kind – every single time.
None of this was terribly encouraging, to be honest. He was giving them a preview of the next forty years of their lives, were they to live that long. They would say the words and do the miraculous works of the Master, which would be incredible, but they would suffer like Him too.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship, SCM Press, 1948/2001.