You might have heard this phrase before applied to various contexts, and it certainly applies to today’s passage: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That actually summarizes pretty neatly the Bible’s approach to people in different circumstances. Within these twelve short verses we see a plethora of good instructions, along with a lot of what I call “tension” passages--those in which two opposite Biblical truths are held in tension in order to provide the perfect balance for us.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, the crowds were multiplying and supposedly he was more popular than ever before. It was at this juncture that the Master decided to warn the disciples about hypocrisy. Apparently when more people are paying attention to you--and are applauding you--is a great time to fall into this trap. I’ll insert a short reminder here that “hypocrite” is from a Greek word meaning “mask.” When you’re unknown, you don’t have to worry about wearing a mask, but once your name starts getting “out there,” that popularity becomes more important than truth-telling. So be on your guard.
And what’s a good motivation for guarding against hypocrisy? Because there will come a day in which the mask is removed for everyone to see what it’s hiding: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” You might fool the crowds for now, but you won’t forever. One way or another, you’ll be exposed.
Why do people become hypocrites? Because they’re afraid of what people might do to them or say about them. But the worst they could ever do would be to kill your body, while God could do much worse. This is not a warning about losing your salvation (since the Bible doesn’t teach that you can lose it), but it’s a warning to us to set our priorities correctly. Don’t be afraid of people; fear God instead (in the right sense).
By the way, this passage is a great reason to know your Bible comprehensively and not just bits and pieces. Matthew 10:29 records where Jesus used a similar but slightly different phrase: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” Apparently merchants selling little birds commonly had “sales” going on. If you bought two sparrows, it cost you a penny. If you bought four sparrows for two pennies, he would “throw in” one as a bonus. The poor lone sparrow, not even worth half a penny, was certainly not remembered. Except by the Father. He sees all. He knows all. And even the forgotten sparrow is not beneath his notice.
Please note that this is meant as both an encouragement and a warning. If you’re doing “shady” things that wouldn’t stand the harsh light of day, be assured of this: “You may be sure that your sin will find you out.” And if you’re faithfully serving the Lord, trying (however imperfectly) to do what’s right and you’re not getting the recognition you deserve, be assured of this: The God who even remembers the “leftover sparrow” has not forgotten you either.
And of course the real acid test of hypocrisy/truthfulness comes when the name of Christ falls in popularity (as it inevitably does) and it becomes the smartest thing in the world to keep quiet or even disown the name. We’re saved by grace through faith, not by proclaiming ourselves as Christians. But one way you can tell if you are saved is by openly and unashamedly associating with the name of Jesus when it costs you to do so. If you can’t do that, then maybe you need to reexamine whether or not you really belong to him.
If you do this—stand up and be counted a follower of Christ when it’s not popular—then you have a special promise. When you’re brought before authorities or other hostiles, you won’t need to worry about what to say, because he’ll put the words in your mouth. Please note the exact phrasing here: “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities. . .” not “When you’re responsible for a sermon or a Bible study and didn’t take the time to prepare beforehand. . .” Any preachers or teachers out there who try to claim promises like this are out of luck. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that, of course. . .
Lord Jesus, am I hiding behind a mask? Please create in me a pure heart, oh God, before it becomes necessary to bring everything out to the light of day. Please.
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