Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 27, 2014
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 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 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. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
— Matthew 10:34-42, ESV
Jesus would make a bad guest at most family dinners. He would bring up matters of politics and religion, especially religion. He would divide the table and pit family members against one another. He would question their love and loyalty and wish that they were all dead. He would render their lives meaningless, save for whatever they may have done for Him and His followers. So don’t go inviting Jesus to dinner, unless you want to run the risk of a frightening food fight or a full-scale family feud.
All of this is to say that a first reading of the end of Christ’s first commission to His disciples seems a bit harsh. Indeed, they form a sword wielded by, of all people, the Prince of Peace. They cut and divide at the deepest level. They, like the gospel they convey, are words of division, for the gospel divides. It divides believers from unbelievers, followers from the uncommitted, sheep from the goats, the saved from the lost.
But to say the gospel is mostly about division would be wrong. Look more closely at Jesus’ words. The gospel is mostly about love. There is so much written in the Gospels about God’s love for us. Jesus speaks here, however, of our love for Him. It is demanding, it is divisive, but most of all, it is the highest love.
Higher than the World
The sword of the Lord, which is the gospel, is meant to cut you off from the world. But not in a negative, absolute sense. Genuine acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ simply but profoundly means your love for Him will be higher than any love for anything on earth (see also Christ’s words in John 15 and the Apostle John’s in 1 John 2).
Christians should love the planet and love people. We should appreciate and conserve our natural resources. We should be kind and helpful to all people. We must, as God Himself, love the world by especially loving the people of the world.
But we must love Christ more, with a much higher love.
If any of this world’s resources or possessions would prevent us from giving our all for Christ, we must forgo or surrender those possessions. If fishing or golf or shopping makes your forsake the public worship of Christ, seek a higher love. If working to obtain material things crowds out all the hours you could spend in fellowship and service with God, God’s word, and God’s people, seek a higher love. Take care of the planet, obtain all the possessions you rightly can, but love Christ more.
If any of this world’s people, whether it be the Chinese government or the American government, tell us to keep our faith in Christ to ourselves and out of the public square, we must proclaim Christ all the more. If people threaten our jobs, our place in society, or withdraw their friendship if our lips and lives bear witness of Jesus Christ, then we must seek a higher love. We must love all people, but the best way to love people is by sharing Christ with them, inviting them to Christian worship, and showing them a lifestyle that is in step with the word and will of God.
So go ahead, enjoy your life on earth, but let your love for Jesus be higher than the world.
Higher than the Family
The family described by Jesus in this passage is obviously not the Corleone family, the head of which infamously warned, “Never go against the family.” Here we find in-laws fighting like outlaws even to the point of becoming personal enemies. Is Jesus promoting a gospel kind of “Family Feud?”
Again, there are plenty of admonitions in the Old and New Testaments that teach us to love and honor our parents, our brothers and sisters, even our in-laws. It honors God to honor and love our family members. But, it is actually a dishonor to God to love your family members more than you love Him.
Accepting the gospel assumes risk, and one of the risks of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is being alienated from your family. This happened in severe ways with most of the first followers of Jesus, who were rejected by their Jewish families for accepting Jesus as the Messiah. This is happening in countries hostile to the gospel today, where family members turn in other family members for professing and practicing Christianity. And, this happens in the gold old USA, even in the Bible Belt, if you take your faith in Jesus seriously and seek His higher love.
I have witnessed people being forsaken by their own family because of their witness for Christ. More often, I have watched as church members and professing Christians put family matters far above the cause of Christ. Neither sight is pleasant to observe. But given the choice of disappointing your family members in some way or falling short of your commitment to Christ, which would you choose? Read Jesus’ words again carefully before you decide.
So go ahead, love your family, please, but let your love for Jesus be higher than the family.
Higher than the Self
Now comes the hard part. The biggest love affair that keeps people from loving Jesus with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength is the love affair people have with themselves. This depravity is no doubt the root of all evil. Such self love is why people love the things of the world, to get such things for themselves. Such love is why people, who would never sacrifice family for Christ, sacrifice family for themselves. And the only remedy for such self love is the cross.
Carrying the cross is not self loathing. The cross is central to the gospel and the word of God, whose second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Once the highest loge is given to God, and proper love and respect is shown for people, one is free to love oneself. So, a cross carrying Christian is not someone with a negative self image or no self esteem.
Carrying the cross is not self deprivation. As already established, having a higher love for God does not preclude a proper love for nature, material blessings, family, and friends. A cross carrying Christian is not only free from the penalty and power of sin, but free to enjoy every good and perfect gift God gives on this earth to the fullest.
Carrying the cross is self denying, a losing of one’s life to find a higher life, because one has found a higher love. Carrying the cross is an expression of love for the One who carried the cross on Calvary for us. Carrying the cross is an express of love for family, friend, and neighbor who needs the sin killing, salvation giving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Carrying the cross is putting Christ first, in all things, and then using all things for the glory of God and good of all people. It is a higher love.
Higher than any Worldly, Family, or Personal Reward
With the highest love comes the highest reward. Jesus closes His commission (which encompasses the entirety of Matthew 10) with a commitment to reward those who receive and reciprocate the higher love found in the gospel. It is a reward higher and greater than any compensation or commodity this world, family ties, or self advancement has to offer.
To receive Christ’s reward you have to be Christian, Christ-like in this world, and steadfastly offer Christ to others in the world, in hour family, in your sphere of influence. Not all people will trust in Jesus just because you have, as a matter of fact most will not. But the reward gained for even an attempted witness cannot be lost.
To receive Christ’s reward you have to embrace and embody truth — prophetic, biblical, absolute truth. Such truth is under attack in our age like no age before us. Higher love and its higher reward requires such truth to be believed, spoken, and lived. The added reward is that sometimes other people will listen.
To receive Christ’s reward requires righteousness. The imputed righteousness of Christ saves the soul, and the exhibited righteousness of Christ in your life attracts other people to Him. There is not salvation apart from the grace of God, and there is no salvation apart from proven faithfulness on the part of the follower.
But just what is this reward? Is it merely the great glory we will experience and share when we come into the presence of the eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? No, although such a great reward does await all recipients of saving grace. Apparently, though, there are other, singular, indescribable rewards to be given to certain Christians for certain acts upon the earth, rewards that can never be lost.
Let me illustrate Jesus’ cold water illustration. Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, has given millions from his fortune to fight polio, hunger, ignorance, and other ills affecting the world’s population. Bully for him, sincerely. He is rewarded with admiration and tax relief. But, he will receive no reward from the God in whom he has said he does not believe. He will enjoy his riches and rewards for a short season of life, then unless he repents and believes he will stand condemned for eternity by the true and living God.
On the other hand, there is a widow who gave two cents to the offering. There is a missionary who dug a well in Africa. There is a parent who brought their child and a neighbor’s child to Bible study and worship. There is a senior adult who said a prayer for her pastor. There is a teenager who abstained from sex and drugs in the name of Christ. There is, well, you get the idea. There are millions of true believers doing billions of little things, one by one, because they are disciples of Jesus, because they have a higher love for Him and people in the world. And even little things done in the name of higher love will receive a higher reward than anything this present world has to offer.
So love your life in the world. Love your family and friends very much. But love God more. It is a higher love that will take you to the highest place for the highest rewards you will ever know.
A PROPER PROFESSION OF FAITH
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 20, 2014
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And 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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 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 also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
— Matthew 10:16-33, ESV
In our church we do not offer an “altar call.” We do not encourage people to “ask Jesus into their heart.” And, we do not consider a “profession of faith” to be some public announcement at the end of a worship service. The many modern evangelicals who came to Christ in these ways have been at least confused and at worst deceived.
Much of the confusion and deception is due to the way the modern church has misused the last two verses of our text at hand. Ignoring the context, they point out the necessity of non-Christians “coming forward” and “publicly professing” Jesus in order to be saved. But just who was Jesus speaking to in this passage? Lost people at a church service or so-called crusade? No. He was speaking to Christians He had already chosen, believers who had already chosen to follow Him, about their life and mission in the world.
What is our mission as Christians? It is to profess, confess, acknowledge our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we are not merely to do it once in front of a crowd at church, but every day of our lives until the end. It is our primary profession, although most of us have other jobs on the side. It is difficult, costly, and ultimately the most rewarding thing anyone could ever be and do. So let us learn, along with the original disciples, how to give and how to live a proper profession of faith.
Behold, Your Mascot
Becoming a Christian is not entirely unlike joining a team. If you’re a Calvinist you know you’ve been drafted, if you’re an Arminian you think you’ve signed on as a free agent. Either way, you’re on the team. If you’re on Christ’s team, behold your new mascot — a sheep!
I think most sports teams would prefer the wolf over the sheep. Lake Hamilton High School sports a wolf as mascot, as does Arkansas State University. In other parts of the country there are plenty of wolves, but no sheep. What gives, and why would Jesus send His followers out “as sheep?”
Wolves are independent. They roam wherever they want, they take whatever they want, they do what they feel like doing, almost all of the time. Unlike their cousins the dogs, wolves are born deaf and blind and grow up fearful, untrusting, selfish, and prone to attack others. Like human depravity, they cannot be tamed, except by a super-strong external source. Those who make no profession of faith or a false profession of faith are wolves, and they have been surrounding and infiltrating the church for two millennium.
Sheep, on the other hand (the right hand, of course), are quite different. They gladly follow the shepherd, generally get along with one another, and would never attack others except in self-defense. They are easy to love, they love back in return, and they are extremely valuable to their owner. This is the basic character of a true Christian, one who has made a proper profession of faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
According to Jesus, being a sheep means being under attack from the wolves. Those first followers He found certainly fulfilled this prophecy. They were accused, arrested, tried, and punished by a variety of unbelievers, including members of their own families. Though we do not hear about it very much in our own country, the sheep have been under attack from the wolves for twenty-one centuries, and persecution in the twenty-first century may soon rival that of the first.
So, behold your mascot. And know that no proper profession of faith can be made until you stand ready to suffer for your faith, in ways small and large. A proper profession of faith will cost you money while the wolves make more, it will cost you time while the wolves enjoy theirs, it will cost you friends and family when you refuse to run with the wolves, and it can even cost you your life.
The Source of Your Strength
In the animal kingdom, a sheep is much weaker than a wolf. In the kingdom of God, however, the strength of the sheep is much greater. It is easy to run with a pack and attack those who are different. It is hard, however, to endure the attack and maintain the very thing that makes you a target, namely a proper profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
How do the sheep do it? The sheep have the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit saves, the Spirit sustains, the Spirit is the source of the sheep’s strength, and the Spirit even shows the sheep what to say when under attack by wolves.
The Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation for the sheep. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, regenerates the heart, and gives the spiritual gifts necessary for living the sheep life. Faith and repentance are given to create life, practical gifts of speaking and serving are given to live life, and a complete makeover awaits the end of this life and entrance into the next.
These first disciples displayed the power of the Spirit when they were pressured, attacked, arrested, and brought before the wolfpack. They spoke logically, spiritually, graciously, and forcefully regarding the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. When squeezed by the pressure of persecution, the Spirit of God within them came out.
There is no proper profession of faith without the presence of the Holy Spirit. And much more than leading you down an aisle or helping you pray a prayer, the Spirit is your strength to live your life for Christ, leading you where to go and showing you what to say, every day, until the end of your life. For if there is one thing that a Spirit-inspired, proper profession of faith surely does, it endures until the end.
The Perseverance of the Sheep
My New Testament professor in seminary taught me, “A faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.” It was his way of correcting the modern misconceptions of the doctrine of eternal security, or as some like to say, “once saved always saved.” I actually agree with this doctrine, although I think it has been badly misconstrued in our modern age.
Modern, lightweight churches lead people to make an improper profession of faith and then immodestly tell them to never doubt it. With the right rhetoric, the proper mood music, and a touch of Elmer Gantry flair, almost anyone can make almost anyone else walk and aisle or pray a prayer at the end of a church service. Many have done it in our century, most have dropped out of church afterward, and almost all of them think they are saved. Is this a proper profession of faith? No!
A proper profession of faith begins with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, them moves to the confession of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are public professions of faith in the perfect person and finished work of Jesus Christ. But these are the beginnings, not the end. Afterward, a true professor of faith will remain faithful to Christ and His church. He or she will grow in maturity and in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ, the disciple becoming like the Teacher and the servant like the Master. People who love Jesus will love you, people who don’t care about Jesus won’t care about you, and people who hate Jesus will hate you. And through it all, you will continue your proper profession of faith in Jesus “to the end.”
A Proper Profession of Faith
And when that end comes, it is then that you will truly make a proper profession of faith. This is the key, you see. A proper profession of faith is made at the end of your Christian life, not merely at the beginning. It will be actually be made after you die when you stand before the face of God.
Jesus, speaking to the sheep, speaks in these last two familiar verses of a great gathering of people before the Father in heaven. All of the people will “acknowledge” or “confess,” or they will “deny” something or someone, or both. The translated words “acknowledge” and “confess” literally mean “to say the same thing.”
Jesus said He was, is, and always will be God. Jesus said He came to earth to live, love, and lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus said He would arise from the dead, ascend into Heaven, and return one day to earth to gather all of His sheep. Jesus said those who deny themselves, take up the cross, follow Him, and live as sheep to the end will be saved.
Can you say the same thing? Can you say the same thing and mean it? Can you say the same thing and live it? For only saying it, meaning it, and living it will equip you with the ability and opportunity to one day make a proper profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Personal Testimony
This sermon has been exegetical, theological, and personal for me. I think it properly takes into account the text in its context. I think it is true to the theological warp and woof of the gospel and the word of God. And, I take it personally because of my past experience and present pastoral charge.
My first exposure to evangelical Christianity was through a Baptist church with brightly painted buses, a new building, a big baptistry, and a boast of begin one of the fastest growing churches in our state. They rounded up kids and teenagers. They brought us to a Sunday morning service where a sweaty preachers spoke loudly about heaven and hell, mostly hell. They told us the key to the kingdom could be found at the “invitation” at the end of the service, that if we’d walk that aisle, pray a prayer, and make this profession of faith in front of people, we would be saved. I eventually caved to pressure and went forward, got baptized with no counsel whatsoever from a pastor, and proceeded to be pronounced a sheep. Then, for all of my teenage years, I thought I was saved, never attended church, and lived a lift that more resembles the Wolf of Wall Street than the Good Shepherd. That’s some profession of faith.
So now, I’m going to ask you to make one, too; except it will be the one I made at age 20, not at 13. I’m going to ask you to carefully consider the claims made by the gospel and the word of God. I’m going to ask you if you feel a need, a conviction in your life of personal sin and the need for forgiveness and cleansing. I’m going to ask you to turn your life over to God, because of your belief in who Jesus is and what He has done. I’m going to ask you to be faithful and true to Christ, to the Bible, to the church, and to your particular calling in life to follow Jesus, until you die. In other words, I’m going to ask you to make a proper profession of faith.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org