Matthew 10:24-33 (2nd Sunday of Pentecost, Proper 7—Series A)
“Like Our Lord—Don’t Be Afraid to Confess Jesus Boldly”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 22, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
The altar paraments are the color of the season after Pentecost, green. During this Time of the Church we focus on the growth of faith and the growth of Christ’s Church. Green is a fitting color for growth. After the long, cold winter we had it is so nice to see the green leaves and the green grass flourishing again. But how is it that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church grows and flourishes? This is what the season after Pentecost invites us to consider.
This morning, then, we have Jesus in our Gospel lesson giving instructions to the Twelve Apostles. These are Jesus’ “sent ones.” He is sending them out on their unique mission “to lost sheep of the house of Israel.” They would proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” These Apostles would heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name. Some would receive the Good News of the kingdom, but many would not. The Twelve are told that they should expect opposition and persecution that might even result in torture and physical death because of their missionary activity.
Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve also finds application to us 21st century Christians, for we, also, are Jesus’ disciples. We are servants who are like our Lord. And we do not need to be afraid to confess Jesus boldly.
“A disciple is not above the teacher. . . It is enough for the disciple that he should be like his teacher.” As disciples of Jesus by virtue of our baptism, we must realize that you and I are not “independent individuals.” As disciples, you and I are defined by the relationship we have with our teacher, Jesus. Jesus is God the Father’s mission to the world. Jesus was sent by the Father to seek and to save those lost in sin and under the punishment of death. As disciples of Christ, Jesus’ mission becomes our mission, the Church’s mission. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls His disciples “the salt of the earth,” and “the light of the world,” and “a city on a hill.” (Matthew 5:13-16) Since we are gathered around Jesus who came to save people from their sins, the Church as a whole as well as us as individual members of the Church are also in the mission to save the lost. It is enough for a disciple to be like His teacher. The Teacher, Jesus, is God’s mission to save the lost and so, as disciples, you and I also participate in that mission.
But how was Jesus received in His mission? He was misunderstood. The Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the ruler of the demons, Satan. Jesus faced opposition and hatred in His proclamation that in Him, God’s kingdom had come so near the people to save them from sin and death. Here again, it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher. Christ’s apostles and disciples then and now are like our Lord in that, because we are part of the mission to seek and to save the lost, we will face difficulty and persecution. We will be vilified as intolerant and narrow-minded as we proclaim that there is salvation to be found in no one else except Jesus Christ. For many in our day renounce the exclusive claims of Jesus and His Gospel. Many consider Jesus to be one savior among many saviors and the Christian Church as offering one of many truths that lead to eternal life. A lot of people simply will not have the one true God be their only King and Savior. And you and I will take the heat for that proclamation. You and I will be like our Lord, misunderstood as we live the Christian life of faith in mission. We will be opposed and suffer the hatred of others.
It’s not easy to be like our Lord especially when we count the cost of discipleship. In light of the challenges and hardships faced as Christ’s missionaries, we have this normal human reaction—fear! Hearing Jesus’ words, “brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake,” immediately sends shivers of fear down my spine. “When they persecute you,” Jesus says, “flee to the next town.” I’m pretty afraid hearing that, too! Maybe I don’t really want to be like my Lord and Savior. I can’t imagine the Twelve Apostles feeling much different at this point. But then Jesus offers an antidote for this normal human reaction.
Christ gave them and, through His Word, gives to us a “triple Gospel antibiotic” to this fear in His three-fold encouragement. “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
The first antidote to the fear of being a disciple of Jesus is that we do not have to be afraid of our opponents because the day will come when every secret of God’s plans in Christ—and all of people’s hidden sin and rebellion—will be made known to everyone. Right now, only the eyes of faith can see the reign of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Since not everyone has faith in Jesus, not everyone can see this present reality. As a result, you and I as disciples are rejected and abused when we tell others about Jesus. Yet, God is faithful and present. He is doing hidden things in and through us, but on the Last Day the truth will come out. This actually frees us now to declare in the open the very things of faith so that people will “see” by hearing the Gospel and come to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, you and I can faithfully proclaim the counsels of God’s Law and Gospel, the message of human sin and need along with God’s provision for forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus, with the promise of vindication and resurrection on the Last Day!
The second antidote to our fear at being disciples in Jesus’ mission is the fact that the worst that any of our persecutors can do to us will never destroy our relationship with God our Father. The enemies of Christ and of us, His Church, can go only so far as to physically kill us. But they can’t go any further. Jesus’ enemies killed Him by nailing Him to a cross. As He suffered that death, He suffered the wrath of God against human sin. He bled and died to save the world. He rendered death powerless over those who believe in Him by faith. We do not need to fear those who can kill our bodies because they cannot harm our souls. What’s more, because of Jesus’ death, our sins are forgiven and our souls will be immediately with Christ in paradise at the time of death. And joy of all joys, not even our bodies will remain in the grave forever! Because Jesus rose on the third day, we too will rise with our bodies when our Lord comes again on the Last Day. Not even fear of death can stop the disciple of Jesus from remaining loyal to our God and Savior. In Christ, we have already conquered death and will live again in body and soul with Him forever!
Jesus’ final antidote to the fear of discipleship is the joyous fact that, when difficulties or persecutions or even martyrdom should come, disciples are still under the Father’s loving care. God our Father is with us when we are suffering because we shared the Good News of Jesus. The Father is with us when we are being made fun of and under pressure to give up our faith in Jesus. He is with us when we should be called upon to die for the name of Jesus. Our greatest fear is that God might abandon us in our time of need when we are suffering because we are Jesus’ disciples. He will not! The Father abandoned His only Son Jesus on the cross, forsaking Him to the punishment of sin and death and hell so that you and I will never be abandoned. For He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5 ESV) Christ has promised, “I am with you always.”
The Lord’s triple Gospel antidote for fear overcomes that fear and gives us His promised assurance that He loves us and is with us through it all. That’s why, in our callings (our vocations), as disciples of Christ, we look for every opportunity we are given to confess publically who Jesus is and what He came to do. Jesus’ mission is our mission. He came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus did so at the cross and the empty tomb. We now, without fear, boldly confess Christ as the only Savior from sin and death to a world lost and dying without the Lord. “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Rom. 10:10 ESV)
Our confession of Christ spoken to others is the evidence of the faith which is in our hearts. As disciples of Jesus, we cannot help but speak of our Savior and what He alone has done for us and continues to do in our lives through His Holy Spirit. Jesus won our forgiveness and salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He has given us new life through the promised Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism. He refreshes us through all our earthly trials and troubles with His holy Gospel and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. And on the Last Day, Jesus will make a confession to the Father about you and me, saying, “This one is mine.”
But the opposite is also true. To deny Jesus and the truth of who He is now betrays a complete lack of faith on our part or a fear of people and not the fear of God. By the power of the Spirit working through the Gospel and the Sacraments, we must check this with repentance and renewed faith. There isn’t a disciple throughout history, including you and me, who is not guilty of being silent when we had the opportunity to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. But with Christ, there is forgiveness. In holy faith and fear, Christ showers His forgiveness on each of us and, in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, gives courage to us and to all His Church to make the good confession of faith before people that Jesus is the only Savior of the world.
As you and I grow in our faith as Jesus’ disciples, remember what our Lord has taught us today in His Word. As disciples, we are like the Lord. His mission is our mission—to seek and to save the lost by telling the Good News of salvation in Christ. As our Lord faced misunderstanding and hatred, so will we. But we are able to stop being afraid. Now is the time to proclaim the things of faith to a world that doesn’t know them. Now is the time to proclaim the realities of sin and death and the forgiveness and victory Jesus won for all people over sin and death. Our relationship with our heavenly Father is secure in Christ. No one can ever take that away from us. We are always under our Father’s loving care as we confess Christ boldly to a sinful, hurting, suffering world so that many more might receive Christ as their Savior, by grace through faith, and join the Christian Church as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Amen.