Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 10:24-33

WHOM SHALL I FEAR?

 Text: Matthew 10:24-33

Introduction

The pastor had made repeated attempts to contact a member who had fallen away from church and had fallen into a sinful situation without any sign of repentance. Phone calls were not returned, emails were not responded to, and every communication attempt was met with unresponsiveness. So the pastor sent a final letter, a last attempt to express the seriousness of her sin and how her soul was danger of being lost. Later that week an anonymous caller phoned the church, asking to speak to the pastor, berating him for the letter he had sent his acquaintance and saying in his best tough guy New York accent that he was “going to come over there and take care of business!”

The college student was engaged in a conversation with another student about religion. He confessed his faith that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6). The response from his classmate took him for surprise. He said, “If everyone had that kind of attitude, there would be nothing but hatred and war and bloodshed in the world!”

Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” But it doesn’t take too long to respond to that rhetorical question with a sincere objection. “I can think of a lot of people I’m afraid of, people who will give me a hard time or maybe even threaten me because of my sincerely-held Christian beliefs!” Whom shall I fear? The list is longer than we’d care to think about!

Verses 24-25

The Gospel for today comes in the middle of words that Jesus spoke to disciples that were about to be sent out on a missionary journey. Prior to today’s Gospel, Jesus had told these commissioned missionaries, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” and went on to describe the kind of opposition and persecution they could expect. Whom shall I fear? I suspect these disciples had more than a few real answers to that rhetorical question from the psalms! 

As we step into the middle of our Lord’s missionary commissioning speech this morning, Jesus has words of comfort not only for his listeners then but also his listeners this morning who may have very real fears and concerns about what we might experience as we confess our faith in a world where hostility against Christ seems to be ever-increasing. Jesus gives us both a reality check and a sense of real comfort in this section. He begins, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” Today’s Gospel begins with a statement that sounds like a Proverb from Jesus, and this statement shifts Jesus’ words into a more general discussion about all believers at any time who confesses their faith in the world. A student is not in a more advantageous position than a teacher. A servant is not in a more advantageous position than his master. We who follow Jesus ought not think that our lives will somehow be in a more advantageous or easy or trouble-free situation than our Lord Jesus experienced. Jesus’ enemies explained away some of his miracles by claiming that he got his power to perform them from Satan (cf. Luke 11:15). Jesus was ultimately whisked away by the unjust judgment of his enemies who sentenced him to death for his true confession that he was the Son of God. So if the almighty Son of God and Savior of the world endured rejection and death from the world, should you and I expect to find our best life now? Probably not!

Verses 26-27

Whom shall I fear? It seems like Jesus has given us a long list of people to fear! But that’s not where he takes this discussion. He goes on to say, “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” Knowing that the treatment our master, Jesus, received will be the same treatment we, his followers, receive might lead us to fear the opposition that we could face for confessing our faith. But Jesus tells you not to fear. For starters, the unjust treatment that believers will receive from the world will not be hidden from God. God will reveal the actions and intentions of all in the final judgment, and those who treated God’s people with contempt will find out exactly what God thought of their treatment toward his people. So there is no need to hide our confession of faith. Jesus tells his disciples then, and now, that what we have learned in private can be boldly proclaimed in public! Jesus calls on us to be Jeremiahs; Jeremiah faced real threats to his life in today’s First Lesson (Jeremiah 20:7-13), and yet he said: “If I say, ‘I will not mention [the Lord] or speak any more in his name,’ his Word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

Verse 28

Jesus may call on us to be bold confessors like Jeremiah, but that doesn’t necessarily take the fear out of this important calling. And so Jesus assures us a second time and gives us yet other reason not to fear. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus doesn’t tell us to not be afraid because he will spare us from all opposition. We will experience opposition, and for some that opposition will threaten even their earthly lives. But no persecutor can take our souls from us or revoke the blessings of eternal life that were first given to you at your baptism. With Luther’s famous battle hymn, we confess: “And take they our life | goods, fame, child and wife— | let these all be gone; | they yet have nothing won. | The kingdom ours remaineth!”

Whom shall I fear? Jesus tells us not to fear our opponents. Perhaps we need to be reminded that Jesus is not speaking as a psychologist here—and if he were, he wouldn’t be giving very good advice, telling us to ignore or suppress our emotions. No, Jesus is not speaking as a psychologist, but as the divine Son of God, telling us that our faith need not fear that our enemies have taken control of our lives or our eternal fate. Remember what the psalms tell us about God’s reaction to his enemies. Psalm 2:4 says, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” There is no reason to fear those who can only do physical harm but cannot touch our soul or take away our salvation. If for some reason we were ready to give up our faith for earthly security, then Jesus warns us that the One we should fear is his Father, who can destroy both body and soul in hell’s eternal judgment. Perhaps we are inclined to think that the “One who can destroy both body and soul in hell” is Satan, but that would fall into the thinking that says that Satan is the “boss” of hell, when in fact hell was first and foremost to be Satan’s punishment!

Throughout this section Jesus has spoken in a way that addresses our Christian nature. But here Jesus has spoken for a moment to address our old sinful nature, which is inclined not only to compromise our Christian faith but is actually quite eager to give it up altogether. Our Christian nature doesn’t need a threat to “be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul.” Our Christian nature needs no reminder to confess our faith. Our Christian nature delights at the opportunity to bring Christ and his forgiveness to the world.

Why would Jesus suddenly address the sinful nature within us? Why wouldn’t he just keep giving encouragements and comfort? The fact that Jesus addresses our sinful nature so suddenly and starkly suggests that we ought to do the same. Is there not a real pull inside our hearts, telling us to keep quiet and to not make waves by talking about Jesus or by refuting the thinking that says Christ is merely one of many paths to heaven? Is there not a real struggle inside our minds, with a voice telling us to keep our voices silent because talking about faith among family and friends is one of those unwritten “no-no’s” for polite society? Is there not real angst within us when we hear our Christian faith ridiculed and we’d like to speak but we just don’t want the ridicule redirected right at us? All of these examples and many more we could cite are proof that we don’t always fear or respect God and his Word as we should, but also that God would have every legitimate reason to show us exactly why we should “be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Verses 29-31

But as Jesus goes on, instead of giving us what we deserve for our sinful fears and failures, he gives us yet another encouragement! “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” The God who created heaven and earth and all that is in them is concerned with all of his creatures, even the seemingly insignificant birds of the air. Jesus uses the sparrow as an illustration—birds that would be sold in pairs for the price of a half-hour’s wage. (N.B. The word “penny” is not a literal translation; the original word here stood for a coin that was worth the equivalent of a half hour’s wage, and it expressed the small price that such birds were worth).

Now if God in heaven above keeps track of such insignificant creatures, will he not watch over the crown of his creation, the ones he bought with the lifeblood of his only Son and the ones he called to be his own from eternity? Dear friend, you were worth the death of God’s own Son, who bought you back from the clutches of hell, who paid the just penalty that a just God demands for sin, and who declares you to be holy and perfect right now in his eyes through his Son. If that is the great length God would go to, if that is the great price God would pay to restore you to himself, then isn’t it also true that God will watch over his blood-bought children when we face opposition and persecution? If God sent Jesus, his Son, to be our Savior, and if God has brought you to faith in Jesus, his Son, so that you would become his adopted sons and daughters for eternity, then won’t God also care for you right now in time? Will be the people for whom God was willing to pay the greatest price of all—the life of his own Son!—somehow be forgotten by God when his enemies prove to be ours also? Of course not!

 Verses 32-33

So with a trinity of comforting statements, encouraging us to not let fear trump faith, Jesus takes us back once more to the missionary work of every member of his church. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” Notice how this missionary work is a Christ-centered message: “Whoever confesses me”—that is, Jesus—“before men.” We do not confess a generic god or nameless, faceless divine spirit, whoever he, she, or it may be. We humbly yet boldly confess the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, who stood before these disciples and spoke these words to their ears—the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, who comes among us today and speaks to you today in this Word and who so frequently feeds you with his incarnate self at this altar. And because Jesus so graciously forgives and enlightens and strengthens us in his Word and feeds us in his Supper, you and I are equipped to set aside fear and proudly confess the faith into which he has brought us.

Conclusion

The name Daniel Deutschlander is a familiar name to many members of St. Mark’s. Prof. Deutschlander is a familiar name to many pastors in our church body because many of us were privileged to have him as a college professor. In retirement he has written a couple of books (1, 2) that have become quite popular in our church body and even here among St. Mark’s members. In one of the recorded lectures of Prof. Deutschlander that I sometimes listen to, he told a story about a speaker who came to address our pre-seminary college students about the ministry. The speaker had so many positive stories to share that the students all left that presentation fired up and excited for their future ministries. But the faculty was concerned that the presentation was so one-sided toward the joys of ministry that it failed to present a realistic picture of the challenges. So when the students arrived in his class after the presentation, all fired up about the ministry, Prof. Deutschlander began to share some stories from his parish ministry days that revealed the challenges and opposition that a faithful minster of the gospel will endure. After hearing some of those stories, one of the students asked, “Well, if that’s what the ministry is like, why should anyone become a pastor?” And Prof. Deutschlander said, “Because it’s your turn!”

What’s true for the minister is true for every Christian. Why should I confess my faith? Why should I endure persecution and ridicule? Why should I put up with hardships when I could just as easily keep my mouth shut and avoid the problems? Because it’s your turn! Because Jesus has called us to this task, and if the church does not proclaim the gospel to the world, the world certainly won’t proclaim the gospel to itself! But it’s even more than that. Jesus doesn’t call us to confess our faith just so we can find out what it’s like to take some heat. Opposition will occur, but sometimes so will conversion. Persecution will come, but sometimes the kingdom of God will come to others as well. You and I have a privilege like no other, to be the instruments God uses to bring his grace and forgiveness to others, just as it has come to us!

Whom shall I fear? Thanks to Jesus Christ, there is nothing to fear! Amen.

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: