Why so harsh, man?

This morning, we were reading Matthew 10 as part of our team’s regular Bible study. Jesus sends out his disciples to the Israelite towns, but spends most of his time giving them a warning that persecution, beatings, and even death await them because they are his disciples and because of what he is sending them to do.

But why?

Hasn’t Jesus been teaching love and good ways to live? Yes, he has.

Hasn’t he been performing miracles to heal people, curing them from their sicknesses? Yes, he has.

So it is a fair question, then, to ask… why all of this consternation? Why should the disciples be expecting persecution, beatings, and even death?

I believe that the answer is related to the message that Jesus gives the disciples. He tells them:

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Matthew 10:7

This is Jesus’s primary message. From his first thing that Jesus preaches until the last thing that he says until he enters again into heaven, Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God.

So why would this be such a dangerous message? And why would it be so important to Jesus that this would be the message to announce, and the message that he is now giving his disciples to proclaim in the villages where they are going?

The answer is this: Jesus is claiming kingship. If you have a kingdom, you, by definition, will also have a king. And a king does not share loyalty. You can’t be in one kingdom and also in another kingdom. You can’t demonstrate loyalty to one king and also to another.

Jesus has called his disciples, and now through those disciples, all of the people in the towns where he is sending the disciples. As heralds, Jesus sends them to tell of a new kingdom that has come near, but that demands their complete loyalty. 100%.

But that demand isn’t a demand for loyalty at gunpoint, or at the tip of a sword, as the Roman empire did in Jesus’s time. Instead, it is a demand for loyalty out of love. Jesus as king has entered into the world of his people to call and save to bring them into the kingdom of God. As he does this, though, he calls his people both to salvation as well as to submission to his kingship.

But as people, we are prone to creating our own empires, to building our own kingdoms. In the case of the Israelites, they had rejected God as their king and asked him instead for a human king, just like all of the nations around them. Even though they weren’t still living in this condition, and instead had been scattered among the nations, this was still the Jewish peoples’ desire. To see *their* kingdom restored to them. Not the kingdom of God, but the kingdom of Israel.

And in addition, we see the Romans had conquered Palestine and the Israelite people. They were the empire that was ruling over the people. They had their own systems, their own government, their own deities and values, their own king.

This is the environment that Jesus was born into and the environment in which he begins to preach about the kingdom of God. And so this is the reason why Jesus is saying that his disciples should expect persecution. Kingdom is coming against kingdom. Loyalties will be questioned. Are you not a Roman citizen? Are you not a Jew? You are part of these kingdoms, not part of this kingdom of God with this new guy Jesus who claims to be the Messiah, the coming king from God, right?

These are the same questions that we are asked today. Sure, we are citizens of countries from a political perspective. Maybe in the USA or in Italy, or somewhere else in the world. But where do our allegiances actually lie? If we call ourselves believers… if we call ourselves followers of Jesus… if we call ourselves Christians, do we live with complete loyalty to Jesus as king, doing what he wants us to do? Do we live as he has commanded us? Or do we continue to adopt the values of the world? Or the political kingdoms where we live?

Jesus is still calling us to allegiance today. It isn’t enough to say that you are “saved”. We must know what we have been saved from, and what we are saved into because the truth is that we have been bought at a great price by the king himself and citizenship in his kingdom means that we renounce every other allegiance.

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