Imagine that, after a long and hard career of important work, you get a call from the White House. You are to appear at a ceremony headed by the president. The day comes with all the pomp and circumstance afforded a presidential celebration. As news cameras roll, you shake his hand and humbly receive the verbal praise of the leader of the free world. Though he pins a medal to your lapel, the real prize is his words spoken on your behalf. He talks to the cameras about your many years of selfless service. He relays your achievements to the press core and the gathered audience as you stand by beaming. After wrapping up his speech, he shakes your hand and quietly says in your ear, "I've been following your career for years. You've made a huge difference in the world. Well done!"
Envision for a second how that would feel. What an exhilarating scene. Who wouldn’t want such an honor? Who could turn down such an incredible chance to get recognized for his or her work?
No matter how awesome that experience would be, being recognized for your life’s work by the creator of the universe will be better by far. There is a day coming when you will stand before the one who stitched the stars into the skies. You will listen as the judge of the heavens assesses your life. He will either give you recognition for your good work, or a reprimand for your poor performance. What a reward it will be to receive His honest compliment. What a crushing blow if he offers words of rebuke.
In the tenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus calls the twelve disciples and appoints them apostles. He gives them the power to cast out demons and heal in His name. After doing this Jesus gives instructions to His newly vested apostles. The chapter is a manual for ministry in the first century. He explains the nature of their future work. Much of what He discusses has to do with the difficulty the disciples will soon face. They will be arrested, tried, and tortured for the sake of Christ. They will be under incredible pressure to be silenced. They will be commanded by judges and governors to stop speaking publicly about Jesus. They will be threatened with death for confessing Jesus as the Christ. He explains to them that the stakes for speaking up about Jesus as the Christ are high. The costs will be great. However, among the instructions, He gives the twelve a motivation to do so. After telling them how difficult it will be, He offers this reward for those who do, along with a consequence for those who won't.
Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in Heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in Heaven.
This verse is not a call to salvation since it is directed at people who were already saved. It’s a call to do one of the fundamental discipleship tasks, confess Christ. Certain actions on earth will have a specific effect in Heaven. A person who confesses before men (on earth) will experience a specific outcome when they arrive in Heaven. Jesus is encouraging all believers to confess Him before men.
A fundamental question we must ask of this verse is, "What does it mean to confess Christ?" Saint Francis reportedly said, "Preach Jesus, and if necessary use words." It sounds clever, but in light of Jesus' teaching on the subject, it doesn’t quite cover it.
Jesus explains what confession looks like only a few verses earlier when He says, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” For His disciples, confession happened when they spoke up about what they had learned from Jesus and believed about Him. After all, Paul said, "It is with the mouth one confesses…" Jesus said that we must “confess [him] before men.”
Therefore, confession is words about Jesus spoken aloud so that others can hear. It's not just any words, though. In the verse, we discover that to confess Christ is the opposite of denying him. Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter’s denial was, “I do not know the Man!” Therefore, the inverse would be confession. If Peter had said, “I am a disciple of Jesus, who is the Christ.” It would have been a confession of Jesus.
A couple of important verses about confession show up in the Gospel of John. John adds the descriptive help, “…[they] confessed that He was the Christ…” Anyone that declares aloud so that others can hear that Jesus is the Christ (savior) is "confessing." Confession can happen in front of one other person, or a packed room, on a youtube channel, or over the phone. Any time you talk about your faith in Jesus as the Savior, you're doing it. If you've never spoken even privately to a friend about Jesus, it's time.
Now that we know what confession is let's revisit what Jesus says about it:
Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in Heaven…
You have a daily decision whether you will confess or not. If you are a faithful servant of Christ, you should be willing to confess your allegiance to him. Fortunately, He doesn't give instructions without giving proper motivation to help us follow through. What happens in Heaven to those who publicly confess Jesus on Earth? He says, “him I will also confess before My Father who is in Heaven.” Jesus’ confession of His faithful servants will happen when they arrive in Heaven. Jesus will give recognition of the bravery and faithfulness of His trusted servants when they enter the kingdom of God.
On your arrival, if you've been obedient, you will get to hear Jesus confess His friendship and pride in you for a job well done. He will talk to His Father and the angels about you. Imagine overhearing Jesus describe you as a friend to His Father. This comprises part of the reward that Christ offers. He will bestow on you the recognition for a high-performance life. What an exciting prospect to be honored publicly by Jesus. Let's take note of the second half of Jesus' phrase.
Whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in Heaven.
The verse doesn’t just talk about the good, but also the bad and the ugly. It also says, “but whoever denies Me before men…”
This raises a common question. Is being silent the same as denying Jesus? Let’s get some examples of silent believers. There are believers like the cowards in John’s gospel who are too afraid to speak up about Jesus. About those cowards John says, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue;” These had saving faith but were afraid to go public with what they believed about Jesus. They would not accept the consequences of confessing, so they stayed quiet.
It’s possible to believe in Jesus, and have everlasting life but not openly confess Him. It’s possible to accept His free gift of everlasting life but not breath a word of it to another living soul. Most of the time, that’s not the heart of those who are concerned about this subject.
After reading the first draft of this book, a friend named Jack came to me with concern. He said, “I was talking with an associate the other day about business, and I didn’t bring up Jesus. Does that mean I denied Christ?” That may strike you as a familiar concern. It makes many conscientious Christians nervous. When asked, most Christians feel as if they ought to talk about Jesus more often and with more people. However, does that mean that Jack or anyone in this situation has denied Christ simply by not talking about Jesus?
The simple answer is, no. Why? Because if the subject of Jesus had come up Jack would have acknowledged that he’s a Christian. Jack is eager to talk to people about Jesus when the opportunity arises. I know this because Jack recently hosted a dinner party where he invited about 100 business colleagues. He asked me to come and share the gospel with those who attended. We worked together to confess Christ to his business associates.
Confessing is about openly acknowledging your faith. Denying is pretending that you have not faith at all. Obviously, there is some space in between. Notice in the verse that Jesus did not say we must confess Christ before all men for Him to be proud of us. Instead, he said before men. As often as the opportunity arises to share Christ, I’m confident Jack will do so. The more we confess Christ, the more proud Jesus will be.
There is no upper limit on how often we should, but there is also no shame in refraining from forcing people to listen to constant awkward talk about Jesus. Some people choose to break the rules of proper conversational etiquette in order to chatter about Christ incessantly. I question how effective that is. I’d rather have the kind of talks a conversation partner will enjoy where the subject of faith occasionally comes up, rather than bully a listener into having conversations they are uncomfortable with. I have seen the first method work, and the second method fail time and again. Let’s remember that Jesus said only a few verses earlier:
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as harmless as doves.
He’s not telling his disciples to bully people into listening to a constant barrage of Jesus jammed jargon. He’s saying, like a wise snake who is always watching and waiting, look for opportunities. Like innocent doves, be gentle, respectful, and peace-giving. You’re trying to win people over, not force them into conversational submission. People that break the rules of conversational etiquette get listened to but they don’t get heard. People who are as wise as snakes and as harmless as doves are constantly looking for an opening, but they don’t force their way in.
Sometimes Jesus was silent. Sometimes he had a beverage with his buds. Sometimes he just listened. Though, he was always ready to seize a good opportunity to have a meaningful talk about his Father. We should be the same. Sometimes we listen, talk about the weather, sports, or a new favorite restaurant. Though, we ought to be watchful and ready to talk about Christ. It also doesn’t hurt to pray for opportunities.
Now, not all silence is a denial of Jesus. However, there are those who completely refuse to ever speak of their faith even when the subject is brought up. This silent behavior could rightly be called denial. If one goes their entire saved life without ever speaking of Jesus, it’s safe to say they have denied Him in this sense.
What happens to the cowardly believer who denies Christ? This is where many people trip. Let’s tread with caution. Jesus says, “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in Heaven.”
It's easy to think that what Jesus is saying is that the one who denies Him will be denied salvation. We should be careful to notice where this event is taking place. It is happening in Heaven. We established that the person who receives recognition for a job well done is in Heaven when he receives this reward of accolade. Jesus uses the exact same wording to describe the outcome of one who will be denied by Jesus. Therefore, the event at which a believer will be recognized for good work is the same event at which a lazy, cowardly believer will be denied. They are both in Heaven. The faithful saved and the lazy saved are both present in Heaven, but their recognition will be different. The cowardly believer will be denied recognition, he'll be denied the rights mentioned in the previous section, for that matter he'll be denied most of the things mentioned in this book. Being denied by Jesus means, being denied the reward of recognition along with missing out on other rewards.
What will that reception be like? Jesus gives us a clue in His famous parable of the talents. Three servants are given a sum of money to do business. While their master is away two of them perform admirably. On the return of the master, he finds that two of the three are worthy of recognition for their work. To those two faithful servants, he says,
“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
Focus on the recognition they receive. As Christians who are taught to be ever humble, we often shy away from admitting that recognition feels good. It’s true that seeking fame and renown has littered the path with the wreckage of countless broken lives. Desiring stardom simply for the sake of selfish superiority is a shameful pursuit.
However, seeking the pure acclaim from the one who made us is a lofty goal. Nothing that Christ declares good can be otherwise. If Christ offers this honor as a motivation, then we should not only accept the challenge but relish the opportunity to get recognition from our Lord. It seems Peter had this in mind when he wrote those famous words:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Obviously, our eternity will be packed with the sound of our praise and honor to the glory of the Lord. However, God will also do a little praising of His own. We usually think of praise as a one-way street, but Peter pulls back the curtain for us and lets us know that there will be praise, honor, and glory for those whose faith is refined by trials. Not only will we praise and honor Jesus and His Father, but they will also return some of that honor and praise to their faithful servants. The honor bestowed is not from one believer to another, but instead from the creator to His faithfully obedient creation.
My inclination is that the idea that God will praise you for your good service might make some uncomfortable. For most that probably comes from the mistaken notion that praise and worship are the same thing. Your boss may praise you for a job well done, but if he begins to worship you, that would be strange. God will give you some praise if you've been faithful, but He will not worship you. Worship is not a synonym for praise. We need not fret at the idea that God will pour out some praise on his faithful followers. A number of places in the Bible mention this concept. Consider the words of Paul:
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
Notice that last line. For those whose deeds are brought into the light and stand the test, God will praise that person. How fantastic a day it will be when the Lord comes for those who have obeyed him. Jesus adds to this idea when He says:
If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will also be. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
God will honor the one who serves Jesus. This honor will probably manifest itself in many ways, not the least of which will be recognition from God for a job well done. There is no higher honor imaginable than having the God who jumpstarted the spin of the galaxies returning a measure of honor to His servants. The same chapter where this verse appears contains this description of a group of believers:
Many believed in Him, but… they did not confess Him…for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
These believers traded in their chance to be praised by God. In exchange, they received the praise of men. They could have confessed Jesus as the Christ, and accepted the consequences that that caused, but they didn't. Instead, they remained silent and counted the praise of other people as more valuable than the praise of God. The praise of God is better than any other praise. Being honored, recognized, and praised by God for our obedience will be an extraordinary experience.
Having my supportive wife tell me "good job" on writing this book is different from getting a great review from a professional literary critic. Getting a thumbs up from a co-worker is very different from receiving a great performance review from a hard-to-please CEO. Getting a commendation for a completed mission from your squad leader is very different from receiving a medal of honor from the President of the United States. Recognition is great, but recognition from the highest office in the land is one in a million kind of feeling.
As awesome of an honor as it would be to get unique personal recognition from the president, how much more phenomenal it would be to get that kind of praise from the Eternal King of Kings. When you stand before Him to give an account of your life, you will be present in a resurrected and sinless body. You will not have even a shade of desire for self-centered praise. You will be able to experience the accolade from your creator with a pure and noble heart. Although there will likely be millions of memorable moments throughout your eternal existence, this will certainly be one that stands out.
This interpretation may make you uncomfortable. After all, how do we know that this recognition is public? Isn't it possible that Jesus' acclaim for our work will be given in private? Actually, no. Multiple passages tell us our achievements and the resulting reward will be a matter of public record. Remember when Jesus said:
When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Give special attention to the last line. In teaching His disciples how to pray, He reminds them of this simple principle. “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” The things that are done humbly in private on Earth will be celebrated in the public banquet halls of Heaven. The quiet acts of a faithful servant will be loudly proclaimed when we stand before our king.
The sublime truth we find in Jesus' words is repeated three times in the same chapter. In addition to the promise about private prayer, Jesus instructs that charitable deeds should be done in private so that God can reward us openly. Fasting, as well, should be done in a way that doesn’t bring public attention so that God can reward us publicly. This isn’t the only time Jesus gave such promises to put His servants work on public display.
He who overcomes… I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
The one who lives a victorious Christian life will have a special treat. Notice that Jesus won't just use generic language to refer to all believers, but He will talk to God the Father and the angels about you. He will speak to God the Father about you by name. Imagine overhearing Jesus having a conversation with His Father in which your name comes up. How incredible would that be? It would be nearly impossible to believe if Jesus hadn't told us the truth about it.
Now I know that this is potentially a difficult subject for some. As Christians, humility is so deeply ingrained that it probably makes many uncomfortable to admit that we want that kind of recognition and praise. We are trained to be modest to the point of self-effacing. All that is good while we are here on Earth since our sin nature begs to be let out of its dungeon. If it were left up to egotistical self-gratification, we would chase worldly recognition constantly.
Jesus doesn’t deny that there is an innate desire to be recognized for a job well done, He simply reminds us to be patient to receive the kind of recognition that matters. We must be humble now so that our recognition is deferred until we arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven. Don’t forget this beautifully simple lesson that Jesus gave.
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This is the conundrum in which we find ourselves. We desire the praise of others now. If we pursue praise here, we will be forfeiting the praise of our savior when He is revealed. However, those who see the truth can be motivated to humble themselves here so that they can be exalted there. If it were up to me, I'd be afraid to use the word “exalted.” It's a big word. It's a powerful word. It'd raise an eyebrow if it weren't Jesus who said it. He promised that the humble will be exalted.
Notice how He teaches this concept here:
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
One of the keys to receiving a reward in Heaven is denying reward here on earth. This is especially true of the reward of recognition. If you seek recognition from other people, you will forfeit the recognition reward that Jesus has for those who deserve it. You can either have your reward here or there. Listen to Jesus. He assures us that we would much rather have the reward that Heaven gives than the accolades of earth.
Our charitable work, our prayer, our fasting, our good deeds must be done in such a humble way that it's as if our left-hand doesn't know what our right hand is doing. What matters is the motivation. If what motivates you to volunteer at church is to get recognition from others, then you're going to miss out on the reward for that good deed. The way to ensure that you receive the reward of recognition is first to do good deeds, and second never talk about them. Keep it quiet. Let your charity be anonymous, and you will be in a good place to receive the reward Jesus offers.
So in our own quiet way, we must wait patiently for the recognition that Jesus will give. Has your spouse failed to notice that you did the dishes? Has your boss refrained from giving you a pat on the back for all the overtime? Has someone else taken credit for your hard work? It stings, but remember that it's Jesus' recognition that we truly want. Stay humble here to receive recognition there.