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‘He Feared Not the Faces of Men’

May 27, 2009

Few men in history, perhaps, have been as fiery or as fearless as John Knox. Knox was a Scottish clergyman who led the Protestant Reformation in his homeland from the mid to late 16th century. This turbulent time saw both Protestant and Catholic monarchs rise and fall, with the religious fortunes of those they supported caught in a similar cycle. This constantly changing religious landscape saw Knox sometimes exiled, sometimes imprisoned, and often called before monarchs to defend or amend his teaching. But despite the real cost he bore and the real pressure he faced in his campaign to re-form the church of Scotland after the image of biblical truth, Regent Morton eulogized him with these words, “In respect that he bore God’s message, to whom he must make an account for the same, he feared not the faces of men.”

The way Morton has framed it, Knox understood that his life was gripped between two monarchs with two different messages, and both rulers claimed the authority to call him to account for how fully he gave himself for their message. His choice to boldly carry the message of God’s truth put him at significant odds with rulers such as Mary and Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart who wanted to use him to maintain the status quo, or silence him all together.  

I was thinking about John Knox this morning when I read Jesus’ promise to his disciples in Matt. 10:22 “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Earlier in the passage Jesus has shown this “all” to include the governmental powers of governors and kings, the judicial powers of the courts, the ecclesiastical powers of synagogues, and the relational powers of parents and siblings! Think of it! And yet we are to “have no fear of them who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” So, though we will endure hatred from all sectors of society, we are not to fear them. Our lack of fear comes not from their lack of real power over us (our rights, our reputation, our relationships, even our life!), but from the realization that their power is limited to that which is temporal and physical. We must fear the One whose message we carry and to whom we will one day given an account for how we have invested His precious gift because His power over us is infinite and all encompassing.

There are, no doubt, many implications that could be traced out at this point. But I was particularly struck by the fact that this promise (we will be hated by all) comes in the context of end-of-the-age evangelism. And those that will hate us for the sake of Christ include every level of society; family, church, and government. So the messenger of Christ finds the devouring hatred of “wolves” and “serpents” (vs. 16) almost anywhere they go! What, then, does this promise do to the popular concept of “friendship evangelism” which conditions us to imagine we can only share God’s message in Christ with those who like us, who want to hear what we have to say?! By God’s grace there will be those friends who are drawn to Jesus by our testimony. But when we see this promise in Matt. 10:22 playing out in our relationships, with two ‘monarchs’ wanting to use us to convey two very different messages, we must be prepared to ‘fear not the faces of men’ – which means we share what they so desperately need to hear, even if they hate us as they hear it! And that fearless faithfulness comes from considering that we bear God’s message, and it is to Him we each must give an account for the same!

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