Jesus’ command is found in verse 9. Literally, this reads: “You all take heed to yourselves.” The Greek is quite emphatic here, and not quite captured the usual translation, “Be on your guard.” Jesus says to look after ourselves — our thoughts, our reactions, our worries. We must guard ourselves, to make sure we understand that God is indeed sovereign, even when external events make things appear otherwise.
So Jesus tells us, “Expect trials and persecutions. I have told you ahead of time; don’t be surprised when they come. But know that I am in control, I am sovereign over the affairs of men; you may die, but not one hair of your head will be harmed. I will use your sufferings for your good and my glory, by spreading the gospel through your faithfulness even to death. I will even give you the words to say in these circumstances. So be faithful!”
A wonderful example of this advice is contained in a letter from Martin Luther to Philip Melanchthon, dated June 27, 1530. Melanchthon was worried that the cause of the Reformation seemed to rest on so few shoulders, and that all that God had accomplished since the publication of the 95 Theses could go for naught. Luther writes:
With all my heart I hate those cares by which you state that you are consumed. They rule your heart . . . by reason of the greatness of your unbelief. . . . If our cause is false, let us recant. But if it is true, why should we make Him a liar who has given us such great promises and who commands us to be confident and undismayed? . . .
What good do you expect to accomplish by these vain worries of yours? What can the devil do more than slay us? Yes, what? . . .
I pray for you very earnestly, and I am deeply pained that you keep sucking up cares like a leech and thus rendering my prayers vain. Christ knows whether it comes from stupidity or the Spirit but I for my part am not very much troubled about our cause. . . . God who is able to raise the dead is also able to uphold his cause when it is falling or to raise it up again when it has fallen, or to move it forward when it is standing. If we are not worthy instruments to accomplish his purpose, he will find others. If we are not strengthened by his promises, where in all the world are the people to whom these promises apply? But more of this at another time. After all, my writing this is like pouring water in to the sea.
Do you see Luther’s confidence? God is sovereign, He is in control. Satan may kill us — and if so God will raise up others to advance His cause. It is His cause after all, not ours.
Luther is not telling Melanchthon to take his responsibilities lightly, but to rest knowing that God is in control, that Jesus prophesied that there would be opposition, and that we should not expect an easy time. Our task is to trust and to be faithful, and to leave the results to God.