Preached: July 17, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word of our Savior recorded in Matthew 10.
A student is not above the teacher, nor a slave above his master. It's enough for the student to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more so the members of it?
So don't fear them. For there's nothing concealed that won't be revealed, and nothing secret that won't be made known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light; what you hear whispered in your ear, preach from the roofs. Don't be afraid of those who kill the body but can't kill the soul. Rather fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? And one of them will not fall to the ground without your Father. As for you, the hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid. You are more important than many sparrows.
So everyone who will confess me before others, I will confess him before my Father in heaven. But whoever will deny me before others, I will deny him before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:24-33)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
How Jesus' heart went out to the lost sheep of Israel! Leading up to today's text, recall last week's Gospel: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36 NIV1984). So many wandered after false hopes, mislead by their religious leaders. They dreamed of earthly salvation, while the real salvation walked among them unknown.
So in Matthew 10 Jesus sends out his apostles. He sends them to the lost sheep of Israel to preach "The kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 10:7 NIV1984). Yes, the King was walking among them on his path to defeat sin and death for them. As Jesus instructs them for this first preaching mission, he sees their future work as well. Now they were going to the lost sheep of Israel, but after his resurrection, Jesus would send them out into all the world. How the devil would rage against them, raising opposition and persecution -- ridicule, arrests, floggings, trials! But the heavenly Father, their Father, would take care of them.
Jesus' words here speak of that future that continues down till our day and will continue until the Last Day. Just as those first disciples confessed Jesus, so also do we. And just as the Father's care drove out their fear and gave them courage, the Father still does the same for you and me. Our Father's care for us creates courageous confessing from us. That's the theme today.
May the Holy Spirit work that courage in our hearts as his words bring home how great our Father's care for us is. Dear friends, fellow Christians, courageously confess your Savior, Jesus Christ. As you do so, expect cruel opposition (part one), but count on the final outcome (part two). Our Father's care for us creates courageous confessing from us.
It appears that these first preaching journeys went well for the disciples. After one of the times that Jesus sent out about seventy-two of his disciples, they returned rejoicing that even the demons submitted to them (Luke 10:17). But these outward signs of success would change.
Just consider Jesus' own ministry. At first the crowds flocked to him. They brought their sick and demon possessed. They listened as he preached. They marveled at his teaching with authority. But as time went on many left him (John 6:66). The crowds grew smaller. His enemies became bolder, accusing him of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons, Satan himself (Matthew 12:24). You know how bad it got. Jesus was falsely arrested and unjustly tried. The Innocent One was condemned as guilty -- ridiculed, spit upon, beaten, crowned with thorns, crucified.
If that is how they treated our Lord, our teacher, our master, what should we expect from the world? "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?" (Matthew 10:24, 25 NIV1984). Expect cruel opposition.
How special a student would feel if the teacher asked her to sit at the teacher's desk for the day! How honored a slave would feel if his master had him sit at the master's table! But do we want to walk in Jesus' footsteps, carry his cross, and suffer at the hands of the world as he did? If the world ridicules or mistreats us for believing in Jesus and confessing his name, do we count that as a badge of honor and a cause to rejoice? Recall what Jesus said in the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11,12 NIV1984). Expect cruel opposition. Expect it as you courageously confess Jesus.
But I know that twinge in my stomach that wishes my faith to remain anonymous. It doesn't want to expect opposition. If others don't know I'm a Christian, then I don't have to worry about saying the wrong thing or misrepresenting my Savior. And if they find out I'm a pastor on top of that, how much more pressure that adds! Sometimes I just don't want to deal with the condescension or the struggle of trying to explain what I believe to someone who seems more interested in criticizing.
I'd rather be a nice guy, a likable fellow. But do you see how that's one of Satan's traps to muffle our confessing. How often do we compromise our faith because we think we're being nice to someone? We do it their way instead of God's way. We put them before God. Rather than standing up for Jesus, we cover up his truth so that others don't feel offended. Maybe that's nice in the eyes of the world, but that's not courageously confessing Jesus. It's denying and disowning him.
This is serious business. We can become so fearful of what others might think or do if we appear too religious. We become fearful of losing our job or alienating our family if we put Jesus and his truth before them. We become fearful of missing out on what this life can offer, if we focus on Jesus rather than earthly success. And yet as great as these fears can feel, what is the worst this world and its people can do to you? They can only hurt your body. No matter what they take from you or what they do to you, they cannot touch your soul. So if we really want to be afraid of someone, forget about those who can only hurt the body. What about Almighty God who can send both body and soul to hell forever? "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" (Matthew 10:28 NIV1984).
Now if your life denies Jesus and so reveals a heart that doesn't trust him, then you better be afraid. Our words and actions are the windows into our hearts. If words and actions keep denying Jesus, then faith doesn't live in your heart, no matter how much you know about him. Then, as I said, be afraid. For Jesus says, "[W]hoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:31 NIV1984). Without Jesus as your advocate pleading your case, presenting his record of righteousness as yours and his blood as the ransom for you -- without Jesus as your advocate, then you, soul and body, will suffer hell's unending destruction.
Rather, just as Jeremiah in the First Lesson could not keep the word of the Lord bottled up in him, so also your faith longs to courageously confess your Savior. Your faith wants all to see the light that shines from Jesus' word, the light that has shown into your heart once dark in unbelief. Your faith wants to proclaim for all to hear that soothing Good News of forgiveness Jesus whispers in your ear through Baptism and his Supper. "What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs" (Matthew 10:27 NIV1984). Faith wants all to hear, no matter how they may react. Courageously confess Jesus and his truth, expecting cruel opposition.
But how do you and I find the strength to overcome that twinge in our stomachs, that growing fear of what others might think or say or do? Where do we find the strength to courageously confess Jesus, acknowledging him before others? Jesus words here teach us to count on the final outcome.
"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:32). As you stand before God, Jesus himself acknowledges you as his own blood-bought member. He stands at your side. He shows that Father his nail marks as the proof that your sins are all paid for. He shows his side from which blood and water flowed, his blood that ransomed you to be his own for all eternity. You have been reborn as his own through the water of Baptism. His body and blood in the Lord's Supper confirm your faith that you are his. For he gives you his very body to eat and his true blood to drink. That same Jesus will acknowledge you as his own before his Father in heaven. Count on that final outcome. Then with that courage and hope confess your Savior.
Now if that is the final outcome as we stand before God, how well he must be taking care of us until that time! "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" (Matthew 10:29 NIV1984). Think about that. One of the smallest coins could buy you two of them, but each one of them was cared for by your Father. Now since he is your Father, don't you think he'll take even better care of you, his believing child?
Or what about the hair on your head? It grows and falls out. But your Father not only knows how many you have, he knows which one is which. He knows it was hair number 245 from the center right side that fell out this morning. If he is that concerned about your hair, how much more concern doesn't he have for your whole body and soul? "And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:30, 31 NIV1984).
Such care he shows us day after day! How much more so for all eternity. So count on the final outcome as you courageously confess.
Yes, fellow Christians, expect cruel opposition, as we talked about in part one. For look at what happened to Jesus, our teacher and master. Yet no matter how hard the world makes it for you to live as a Christian, be confident that your heavenly Father cares for you. Look at the swallows. Such care is far beyond our comprehension. Through Baptism you were reborn as his own dear child, so much more precious than the sparrows he watches over! Our Father's care for us creates courageous confessing from us. For you know the final outcome of his care. Heaven. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.