Jesus gives incredible promises and a message of new life and eternal hope to his followers, however one thing we often forget is that we are also called to suffer for Jesus, if we are truly his people.
“Your enemies will be right in your own household! If you love your mother or father more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.” Matthew 10:36-37 NLT
Worthy of being a follower of Jesus also means being worthy to face ridicule, insult, and persecution.
“But wait!” you might say. “I thought Jesus gave his disciples authority over all kinds of demons, diseases, and afflictions. They were appointed to preach good news bring the kingdom of God to bear on people’s lives:
“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits,to cast them out, ad to heal every disease and every affliction.” Matthew 10:1 ESV
I find it fascinating to see in Matthew Chapter 10 that Jesus gives his disciples authority over unclean spirits, sicknesses, and disease. He commands them to go to the lost sheep of Israel and preach the gospel in each village. If they come upon a man of peace in the town, they are to stay there and share Christ’s message. If not, they are to leave and go to another town. This sounds like a great assignment, a high chance of success, with supernatural power at your back. I would say, “Sign Me Up!”
But notice what kind of authority Jesus does not give to his disciples. He does not give them complete authority over their opponents. He does not give them permission to “cast out” people who are hostile to his message. He does not give them authority to give a spiritual “kick in the rear” to those who are apathetic and complacent. Yes, he gives them authority to do battle with Satan, but he does not insulate them from being accused of working for Beelzebul, the prince of demons.
I suppose part of the reason Jesus does not give his disciples complete authority is so that people can respond to his message by faith. If he had given his disciples more authority, then faith would not be required for other people to trust and follow him. The disciples could simply command it, and the person would respond. (It’s interesting to note that demons and evil spirits never have a choice when confronted by Jesus, they simply recognize Him and flee when they are told to! But we humans have a choice to accept or reject him.) At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”, yet his disciples must go and face an uncertain future as they share his message. (Matt. 28:18)
The other, I think more important reason Jesus does not give his disciples authority and power over their opponents is because his followers must understand what it means to suffer for his name. Some of the disciples’ family members did not understand their call to follow Christ. There would be people in many of the towns who saw Jesus miracles and then still asked him, “What sign will you do so that we may see and believe you?” Jesus, the Lord who went willingly to the cross, was shamefully beaten, spit upon, mocked, and condemned to die as a criminal–this Jesus is the one who calls us to follow in his footsteps. And those footsteps involve suffering for his name.
For most of us, facing hostility for the name of Christ does not mean beatings, imprisonment, or an angry mob. Yet being judged as irrelevant and narrow minded can be just as damaging. We might be cut off from relationships or opportunities because some people think we have dangerous ideas. In Christ we have everything, but we must be willing to possess nothing. In Christ we have authority, but we must be willing to cede that authority and serve others in love. In Christ we have eternal treasures, satisfaction for our souls, and supernatural joy, yet we must be willing to face sorrow disappointment, and suffering. This is the way of Christ:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39 ESV
In 2 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul writes, “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering–since indeed God’s considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thess. 1:5-6) No doubt God will bring justice, but he does not bring justice while always preserving his followers’ comfort.
Only the person who has the eternal hope of heaven and the security of a relationship with God can say, “I rejoice, because I am worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.” This is exactly what the early followers of Christ did when they were confronted with hostile opponents:
“And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Acts 5:40-41 ESV