A word about law:
A member of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), well-known for his irascible temper and sharp tongue, became so incensed one day that he leaped from his chair and shouted, “Half of this Parliament are morons!” There immediately arose angry shouts, catcalls and demands that he apologize forthwith or be ejected from the chamber. “All right, I take it back,” he grumbled. “Half of this Parliament are not morons!”
If you believe we should make the Gospel as easy and comfortable as possible, and shield people from its moral and ethical demands, then I’m warning you – you’re not going to like this message, because I am going to talk about the cost of discipleship.
I think most ministry leaders today would agree that the state of the body of Messiah is in many ways lamentable. It seems that we have an abundance of believers yet very, very few disciples. I suppose to a large extent that’s our own fault, collectively, as leaders. Perhaps in our desire to fill our pews and in fear of turning people off, we’ve adopted a flawed methodology, where we seek to soften the message of the Gospel and place as few demands on people as possible. After all, we reason, if we appear to have high expectations (such as honoring one’s commitments, evangelism, volunteering, financial giving), people will turn high tail and run like there’s no tomorrow.
And make no mistake, some will run, and seek out the church or congregation that affords them the greatest comfort, the most entertaining program, the most anonymity and the least amount of moral, spiritual or financial accountability. Candidly, if the uncommitted were to leave, the rest would be better off, but by having chosen the path of least resistance the one who leaves will be the worse for it. We grow and mature through the process of hardship, not through the hot tub.
Look with me at Luke, chapter 6, and let’s be reminded that there is a cost to discipleship. We’re going to read Luke, chapter six, verses 22, 23 and 26. There, Yeshua is quoted as saying, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets… Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23, 26)
These are familiar words, but let’s remember that these hardships are predicated on our confession of Yeshua as the Messiah. I mean, if people hate because you act like an ogre, or if people ostracize you because you haven’t bathed since the last election, it’s your own fault, so don’t bother with the gladness and the leaping. We’re talking here about hostility directed your way specifically on account of your being publicly identified with Yeshua.
A true disciple, therefore, must be willing to endure opposition, and to have yirat Adonai, the fear of the Lord, rather than yirat Adam, the fear of man. The true disciple of Yeshua consistently will act on principle, and do what is right, sometimes at the cost of society’s disapproval; sometimes at great cost; perhaps even the ultimate cost. A true disciple, therefore, eventually will have to develop a thick skin. Let’s review that list of hostilities we can expect to endure:
“Blessed are you when men hate you …”
You will be hated simply because of what you believe. There is nothing rational about this hatred; it is unreasoning, illogical and, furthermore, completely unjustified. After 23 years as a Messianic Jew, I have learned to not take the verbal abuse personally. After all, I’m just a messenger – It’s Yeshua that is hated. And Yeshua warned us, saying, “It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!”
Please believe me when I tell you that you will frustrate yourself to no end if you try to understand and mollify that hatred with reason. There is a time to respond gently, but there is a time to just leave it alone. Be discerning. This kind of blind hatred is spiritual in nature, not intellectual, and its causal agent is the father of lies, who would love nothing more than to entangle you in fruitless debate with someone who couldn’t care less about the truth, but gets a perverted sort of ego-gratification out of frustrating believers with circular debate. Proverbs 26:4-5 reminds us, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Be especially wary of the snare of thinking that maybe if you are gentle and kind and explain the Scriptures to this person, you’ll be the one to reach them. That is a subtle form of pride – a dangerous snare. You need to remember that this is not about you.
“Blessed are you when men … ostracize you …”
The disciple of Yeshua should expect that he or she will be singled out for exclusion and treated as an outsider; sometimes even by those they love. Jewish followers of Yeshua have, for over eighteen centuries, been systematically excluded from Jewish community life. This is due in large part to the rabbis’ successful campaign to perpetuate a climate of hatred and suspicion in the synagogues. It has been going on for centuries, and the result is collective Jewish hostility. Messianic Jews have been told in no uncertain terms that we are unwelcome.
But we Messianic Jews are not alone. Some of you, on account of having favored the word of God over family religious traditions, have likewise had to endure opposition. Some of you have been told not to bother showing up anymore at family functions. Others of you have endured exclusion in the workplace, when your co-workers conveniently “forget” to invite you to lunch with them, because you’re the “religious nut”. Whatever the arena, ostracism is to be expected, if we are going to openly follow Yeshua.
The danger (and this is crucial!) comes when we so desire the acceptance of others, particularly unbelievers, that we begin doing things we would otherwise never do, in order to gain their approval. Some have questioned and later cast aside sound doctrine and some have negotiated away their principles. That is when the opinion of men becomes an idol. The sooner we learn to live with the inevitable rejection, the better off we’ll be. We’ll get our sense of humor back, and our consciences will be the better for it.
And let’s be real about this. Yeshua gave us more than fair warning. He didn’t merely tell us that we might experience rejection; He told us we could bank on it! The question, then, is not whether we will experience rejection, but how much and from whom; and the biggest question is: are we are willing to endure it? Are you willing? That is the mark of a true disciple of Yeshua. And you won’t exactly need to go out of your way to find opportunities to be ostracized. Trust me, if you’re open about your faith, it’ll come to you!
Casting of aspersions
“Blessed are you when men … cast insults at you …”
That’s always fun. Here are a few samples for you:
“You must be brainwashed!”
“Did you have drug problems or something?”
“You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“You are finishing what Hitler started!”
“Drop dead, freak!”
We’re not to be surprised when people hurl insults at us. Yeshua was hated, and He told us we would be hated all the more.
If people were willing to equate our wonderful, righteous Messiah with Satan, what makes us think we’re going to get the red carpet treatment? I wouldn’t want the praise of a person like that! A word here about loyalty: Be careful never, ever to accept a compliment from someone who insults your brothers or sisters in Yeshua. If someone casts aspersions on your fellow Christians or Messianic Jews, but then says to you, “But you’re different, you seem alright – you’re intelligent!” don’t you accept that compliment! Let me suggest an alternative. Say to the person, “First of all, I’m not different. Secondly, I couldn’t care less what you think of me. And third, there is no way I’m going to accept a compliment from you at the expense of my brothers and sisters?”
But what is our natural instinct when insulted? Our natural instinct is to defend ourselves. We want to demonstrate to the name-caller that we really are decent people, not despicable. We want to explain that what we believe is rational and historically verifiable, and that we are, in fact, people of reasonable intelligence.
But that is the very thing we must not do. You see, when you try to explain or defend yourself, you allow the other person to shift the focus away from Yeshua and at the same time you allow yourself to become the issue, and you are not the issue. The Messiahship of Yeshua is the issue. You and me – we’re small potatoes.
Furthermore, you need to remember that those who ridicule do so because they are afraid. Someone once remarked that ridicule is the weapon of those who have no other. It is a sign that this person is unwilling to deal honestly and squarely with matters of substance. Trying to defend your sincerity or knowledge or intelligence is not only playing right into their hand, but making them feel “clever in their own eyes.” Again, for some people it is an ego-trip to get others on the defensive. Let such a person know that their little game is unworthy of your precious time.
But remember that we are to expect insults if we openly identify with Yeshua. And that is the mark of a true disciple.
Willful mischaracterization with the intent of harming reputation
“Blessed are you when men … spurn your name as evi l…”
The true disciple of Yeshua can fully expect to have lies told about him and his reputation besmirched. Character assassination is the last, desperate act of those who cannot successfully answer the substance of your position. We’ll see a lot of that kind of behavior in the months ahead in the political realm. But in the arena of faith, Yeshua tells us that we should not be surprised to have horrible lies told about us on account of openly declaring Yeshua to be the Messiah. What is particularly lamentable about this lashon hara (evil speech) is that people will uncritically accept those false reports, and even go on to spread them further.
For example, among the writings of the early church fathers, there is a document dating to about the year 230, entitled Octavius of Minicius Felix. It describes a debate between a Christian and a pagan at the Roman port of Ostia. In it, the pagan repeats a widely-held false report that Christians were cannibals (allegedly eating “the body and blood” of Yeshua), and another false rumor that Christians were incestuous (the intent of “brothers” and “sisters” greeting each other with “a holy kiss” willfully twisted).
Dirty lies told by those with dirty minds. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that followers of Yeshua will be falsely maligned.
Now, what is our response to all this? Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
The word for “glad” here is from the Greek word cai,rw, to rejoice. You have a choice, you know, about what kind of outlook to have in anticipation of being persecuted for Yeshua’s sake. You can be fearful, or you can look beyond it and know that you will be part of the great celebration in heaven. Yeshua says our reward will be great, and so we can actually leap for joy if we suffer hardship for His sake.
Consider those who went before us, and what they were willing to do for Adonai. If you think about it, we’re in very good company if we’re ridiculed for our faith. Here are a few examples of men and women who were willing to risk everything from ridicule to death in order to be faithful to God.
- Noah (builds ark, is the laughingstock of his neighbors)
- Abraham (leaves cosmopolitan Ur, to depart for who-knows-where, because an invisible God told him to)
- Hebrew Midwives (defied Pharaoh’s edict to slay Israeli baby boys)
- Joshua & Caleb (stood against the majority opinion & the multitude)
- Daniel & Co. (defied edicts to bow to idols, maintained faith & prayer)
Can you even imagine being considered in the same category with great prophets and men of God like Isaiah, Daniel, Noah, Abraham and Moses? The prophets of old were despised and treated with contempt by their own people. Their crime?: having spoken the truth and summoned our people to repentance, to turn back to God.
Consequently, when we preach repentance in the name of Yeshua the Messiah, we are walking a well-trodden path, a path blazed by righteous and godly men and women, and our reward will be commensurate. Personally, just being in heaven with my fellow believers and with Yeshua and the great saints of old is reward enough for me! But there will be great reward for those willing to endure hatred and exclusion and insult and character assassination for the sake of Messiah. Be glad when it happens. Rejoice and just know you’re in very good company!
But then there is the other side of this. You are blessed when you are mistreated for Messiah’s sake, but woe to you if the unbelieving world considers you one of its own. Yeshua went on to say, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.”
If the world thinks you’re the “cat’s meow” you are in big-time trouble, because the world stands in opposition to the righteousness of God. And if the world thinks you’re one of its own, it can only be because you have refused to take a stand for Yeshua of Nazareth. The only way that all men will speak well of you is if they are under the impression that you are in solidarity with them. How could they think that about a follower of Yeshua, unless that person is keeping his or her light hidden under the peck-measure; ashamed of being identified with the Messiah?
Lyrics to Petra song, “Chameleon”
You seem content to ride the fence, when you know which side is greener You compromise each word you say so inoffensively
You only want to hide behind your anonymity
You struggle for acceptance , and it takes you to extremes
The smile you hide your face behind is not all that it seems Some run hot, some run cold, some run from their Maker
Some run the risk of losing out with lukewarm friends and fakers Chameleon, you blend with your surroundings
Chameleon, no one knows where you come from
Chameleon, you change with every situation, compromising dedication
Can a true disciple of Yeshua be ashamed to be identified with Him? Can a follower of Jesus say, “I love you, Lord, but I just don’t want to be seen with you.”? Do people in your neighborhood or at work even know that you belong to Yeshua? Do your family members know? David Brickner, the Executive Director of Jews for Jesus (but