End Times 1: Reformation

Preached: November 2, 2014

Jesus’ Words Embolden Us To Be His Witnesses
Matthew 10:16-23

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which Jesus speaks to us is Matthew 21.

“Behold I am sending you like sheep among wolves. So be clever like snakes and pure like doves.

“Watch out for those people, for they will hand you over to the councils and whip you in their synagogues. You will be led before rulers and kings because of me, as a witness to them and to the nations. When you are handed over, do not worry about how or what you will speak. For what you will speak will be given to you at that hour, since the speaker will not be you but the Spirit of your Father, who is speaking in you.

“Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father, his child. Children will stand up against their parents and have them killed. You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures until the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one city, flee to another. For I truly say to you, you will not finish with the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:16-23)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Jan van Esch and Hendrik Voes. Do you recognize those names? They were contemporaries of Martin Luther. Like Luther, they too had joined an Augustinian monastery before they knew the full truth of the Gospel. But instead of living in Saxony, Germany, these two men lived in Antwerp, which today is in Belgium. In 1522, five years after Luther posted the 95-Theses at Wittenberg in Saxony, their whole monastery in Antwerp began following Luther's teachings. They confessed that every Christian was a priest who could approach God through Christ without needing someone ordained by a bishop to intercede for them. They confessed that the Scriptures, not church laws or papal decrees, were the only foundation for faith and life. They confessed that forgiveness comes only through faith in God's promise that Jesus' blood washes away all sins.

This did not sit well with the Roman Catholic bishop. He had all the monks in that monastery arrested and interrogated. When the monks realized they could be burnt alive, many of them recanted. They said they no longer believed what Martin Luther was teaching. And the Roman Catholic authorities released them.

That's all Jan van Esch and Hendrik Voes had to do, but they didn't. So they were questioned again and they still refused. So the Roman Catholic authorities handed them over to the secular government in Brussels to be sentenced to death. Even then they were given more chances to renounce their belief in what Luther taught. That's all they had to do, but they refused. And on July 1, 1523, they were burnt alive in Brussels—the first Lutheran martyrs.

“You will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles" (Matthew 10:17, 18 NIV11). Just as Jesus warned his first disciples of the persecution that would come even from their fellow countrymen, so also throughout history those who have held to God's truth have suffered even at the hands of those who claim to be Christian.

God has blessed us with a time and place where our government does not arrest or torture us for following Jesus. Yet we still face the temptation to compromise God's truth. We face the temptation to hide our faith so that we fit in with the world and don't feel its ridicule. Jesus sent out his disciples like sheep among wolves; we face the temptation to stay hidden in the barn so that our economic and social status stays secure. Then even if our words don't deny him, our failure to speak and act does.

Jesus' words, though, emboldened his disciples on the mission he was sending them. And if his words emboldened them to face even imprisonment and death for his name, won't his words embolden us as well to face whatever hardship or ridicule comes as we testify about Jesus? His words emboldens us to be his witnesses. That's the theme today. He emboldens as he takes the responsibility, as he sends us the Spirit of our Father, and as he saves all who stand firm to the end.

A. He takes the responsibility

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16 NIV11), Jesus says. He knows what's out there, and he sends his disciples anyway. He takes the responsibility. You heard him describe the persecution that would come. His message would even tear apart families: brother against brother, father against child, children against parents. He is very clear about why his disciples would suffer: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings” (Matthew 10:18 NIV11). "You will be hated by everyone because of me" (Matthew 10:22 NIV11). He takes the responsibility. Don't get me wrong. Jesus is not guilty. He's not the one to blame. The fault lies with the unbelief that rejects his message. But if we turned our backs on Jesus and his message, then the world would accept us. In that sense, following Jesus brings hardship, and Jesus takes the responsibility for that.

How comforting this truth is when trouble does come! How easily the disciples might have second guessed themselves! “Should I really be telling others about Jesus? Is all this trouble God's way of telling me to be quiet? What a mess I've made of this all!” But then they could remember: “Jesus sent me to be his witness. He said these troubles would come. In fact, he said they would come because of his name. His message would bring hatred from others.”

So, dear friends, don't be surprised by the ridicule or troubles that come as your words and life-style testify about Jesus. You are his witnesses. That's what he has sent you and me to do. He takes the responsibility. So know God's truth and don't be afraid to speak it and live it. Take his word to heart and let it shine out into the darkness, even though the darkness fights back.

As you do so, practice Jesus' words, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NIV11). How do we do that? A snake can move unnoticed, drawing no attention to itself as it goes through the tall grass. In the same way, as we serve as God's witnesses testifying about Jesus, don't draw attention to yourself. Be smart about it. Yes, get the message out loud and clear, but without stirring up unnecessary controversy or doing things beyond God's Word that attracts the world's hatred all the more. Rather, as we share God's message, we do so with winsome tact and genuine love, not with an in-your-face, let's-fight-about-it attitude. Be smart about it.

Yet don't let human smartness take away from God's message. That's why Jesus adds “Be ... as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NIV11). The word translated “innocent” means “pure, unmixed.” We witness about Jesus without guile or deception mixed in. We don't resort to sinful ways to avoid troubles from Jesus' name. And we don't mix his truths with falsehoods to make it go down easier. Then we would not be as innocent as doves. For example, human shrewdness tells us to tone down God's law so people don't get upset by it. But we keep God's message pure and unmixed as we proclaim his law with its full weight crushing us with how sinful we each are and how powerless to save ourselves. Human shrewdness says to broaden the Gospel's appeal by letting people take some credit so they can feel good about their part. But we keep God's message pure and unmixed by proclaiming Jesus Christ alone as the only Savior from sin and death, God's Son who died and rose for all sinners. He freely brings us eternal life not due to our works or effort in anyway but by grace alone. This is God's unconditional promises received by faith alone. So all the glory and credit goes to God alone.

So go out like sheep among wolves with the shrewdness of snakes and the innocence of doves. Go out, for Jesus sends you as his witnesses. He takes the responsibility. So be bold as you share his pure message with winsome tact and genuine love. Be bold in the face of the troubles Jesus said would come. And be bold because Jesus sends you the Spirit of the Father.

B. He sends us the Spirit of our Father

“But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19, 20 NIV11).

What words of hope and promise! First, focus on those words, “your Father.” How astounding! I'm just a created creature, a sinful creature at that. In fact, I began life in rebellion against God and still fall into sin every day. You know where I'm coming from because you're there as well. But despite who I am Jesus paid for my sins with his own blood. He gave me rebirth into God's family through the water and word of Baptism. Through faith in Jesus I call on the holy, almighty God as my dear Father.

Through faith in Jesus, the Almighty is your Father, dear Christian. In Baptism you were born again into his family. Jesus' blood has washed away your sins. Won't your Father surely take care of you? Won't he guard and protect you, no matter how bad things become as we testify about Jesus as his witnesses? Sometimes confessing Jesus may mean suffering economic setback. Maybe we don't work those extra hours because we want time with Jesus. Some have been held back in their careers or even lost there jobs because of their faith in Jesus. But your heavenly Father will take care of you, providing what you need. And if others ridicule you because of Jesus, know that you have your Father's approval. For he sees you through Jesus. He sees you as his own dear child, clothed with his Son, Jesus Christ. For by faith you are dressed in Jesus' righteousness.

And he gives you and me the greatest gift of all. He give us the Holy Spirit. So don't worry about what you will say when called on to testify about Jesus whether that's in front of a friend, a neighbor, or a judge. Prepare yourself now by being in God's word. For the Word is the Spirit's tool. That's how the Spirit comes to us. But then, don't worry, but trust that he will bring the words to mind for you to speak at the proper time. You have Jesus' promise on that. How that emboldens us to be his witnesses!

C. He saves all who stand firm

And in the end, no matter what the world heaps on you and me for following Jesus: ridicule, hatred, economic loss, suffering, even death; Jesus saves. “But the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 NIV11). Hold on to that promise, dear friend. Hold on to it with the full confidence of faith. Hold on to it no matter how bad life gets. Jan van Esch and Hendrik Voes held on to it, even as the flames destroyed their bodies. In Jesus they were saved. And even though these words we sing today had not yet been written, they would've fit on the lips of Jan and Hendrick: “And do what they will—Hate, steal, hurt, or kill—Though all may be gone, Our victory is won; The kingdom's ours forever” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 200:4)

The man who did write those words also knew what is was like to stand before the authorities with your life on the line for what you believe. In 1521 (two years before Jan's and Hendrik's executions), Martin Luther was ordered to come to the city or Worms to stand before Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain and its new world territories. Without being given an opportunity to defend or explain himself, he was ordered to recant. He knew his life was on the line. They had burned John Hus at the stake for teaching the same things he did. But the next day, he gave this answer: “Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason ... I am bound by the Scriptures. My conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God. I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” (see Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career, by James M. Kittelson, p. 161 and Luther and His Times, by E. G. Schwiebert, pp. 504, 505)

Jesus' words emboldened Luther to stand firm and be a faithful witness. According to his wisdom and mercy, the Lord also protected Luther from being burnt at the stake. Yet that would not have changed his testimony. He spoke those words convinced he would die for it. No matter what you and I face as witnesses of Jesus, may we be bold to stand firm with our conscience held captive by the Word of God as we speak the words the Spirit gives us confident that Jesus saves. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313