Matthew 10:5a, 21–33
ESV Matthew 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them,… Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “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.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1933), that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He described that fear as a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Of course, the fact is there would have been no reason for the thirty-second president of our country to assert his “firm belief” that there was “nothing to fear” unless there actually was something to fear. The country was in the throes of a staggering economic crisis, the Great Depression, sparking fears that were not “nameless” or “unjustified.” Later in his speech, Roosevelt himself admitted: “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment”—dark realities that gave substance to people’s real and understandable fears.
In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples to “have no fear” as he sends them out to proclaim the coming of his kingdom to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv 6–7). Yet Jesus knows and acknowledges that he is sending them out not just to sheep but “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). His very words of admonition and encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that he knows that there is much to fear, at least from a human point of view. He starts off saying, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Now that’s something to fear. He says some of you will be put to death for the sake of the Gospel.
When Jesus says “have no fear” it is not just some pious cliché. He is not merely patronizing them with a pat on the head and saying, “Just hang in there, it’s going to be OK.” He is fully aware of the danger they face and of the very real fears they face. For Jesus himself faced these very real fears and suffered through these very real dangers. And to follow Jesus means to go where he went, to follow his paths; paths which led him to rejection, intimidation, mockery, arrest, beatings and execution. It is to this path that you are called as followers of Jesus.
As Jesus speaks today’s text, he knows that those who follow him have almost everything to fear. He is not deceiving us as Jeremiah claimed. He challenges us to face and to name our fears and to rejoice in confessing and proclaiming that
Jesus Is Greater Than Our Fears.
Let’s talk about rejection. No one likes to be rejected, and most of us probably have had experiences that give us a deep fear of rejection. The first disciples had to face that fear regularly and repeatedly (v 14). Still today, many reject not only the message of the Gospel but also those who proclaim this message—that’s you and me—which is undoubtedly one reason we shrink from bearing witness to Christ more boldly and consistently.
Or, what about Intimidation. Jesus warns his disciples to expect attempts to “silence” them by various tactics of intimidation both from friends as well as society in general and even the government in recent days (vv 17–18). How have you experienced intimidation in your attempts to bear witness to Christ by word or deed?
Or, Persecution. Jesus minces no words in this text as he describes the persecution that may—rather, will—encounter by those who bear witness faithfully to the Gospel of Christ (vv 21–22a). Although Christians in America have largely been spared this type of persecution up until now, we should not naively expect that this will always be the case—and evidence of more subtle forms of persecution is increasingly apparent.
Finally, Execution. Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the twelve disciples that they needed to be prepared to be “put to death” as the result of sinful opposition to the Gospel (v 21)—and most of them eventually were.
Martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel has been a reality throughout the history of the Church, and it continues to be a reality still today in many parts of the world. The average church-going Christian is not likely to know that of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ since he spoke these words, 45.5 million of them died in the last century. That means that more Christians were martyred in the 20th century alone than in the 19 previous centuries combined. For this reason, scholars refer to the past century as one of the darkest periods of martyrdom since the birth of Christianity.
Susan Brinkman, writer for the Catholic Standard and Times wrote a sobering and thought-provoking article entitled; “The Greatest Story Never Told: Modern Christian Martyrdom” (12/5/2008). (http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=30882&page=1). She states that in countries like Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, North Korea, and Indonesia, Christians are often arrested, tortured, and imprisoned just for converting to Christianity.
The fact is, “Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today, with the greatest number of victims,” (reports Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Puebla Program on Religious Freedom.) “The most atrocious human rights abuses are committed against Christians solely because of their religious beliefs and activities—atrocities such as torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings, and even crucifixion. Roman Catholics, together with Protestant evangelicals, are the prime targets.”
If we do not live in fear of martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel, this is due only to the grace and mercy of God; yet we do well to ask the question “What if . . . ?”
According to today’s text, those who follow Jesus have absolutely nothing to fear. Rejection, intimidation, persecution, execution: Jesus has “been there, done that” (vv 24–25). Jesus does not ask us to follow where he has not first gone. Because Jesus has faced every enemy that causes us fear, we can be sure that he understands our fears, can sympathize with all of our temptations to be afraid, and will provide mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (cf. Heb 4:15–16).
What’s more, Jesus has not merely faced them. He doesn’t merely understand and sympathize with our fears and temptations, he has overcome every enemy that threatens to paralyze us with fear. He has conquered death. He has overcome death by his resurrection. If death has been overcome, nothing can harm us. Let them persecute us. Let them revile us. Let them kill us, for death has been conquered. They can only harm the body, but it too shall be raised. They cannot cast you into hell. Jesus says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Mat 10:28.
God is able to use Suffering of every kind for our ultimate good and for his glory. Therefore, St. Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom 5:3–5; 8:28).
Do not fear Satan and all his works and ways. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn 3:8). Therefore, let him come at us with all his force and fury. As we sing in Luther’s most famous hymn: “This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him.”
Death and hell have been overcome. They can trouble you no more for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. (Rom 6:23). The Lamb of God has suffered, blood has been spilled, flesh has been torn, and the Lamb has been sacrificed to take away the sin of the world. (John 1:29). The wages of sin have been paid, and Jesus took our place in death so that we might live.
Jesus is with us, intimately caring for us, in every fear-filled situation. He is with us in his word. He is with us bodily in Holy Communion. He cries out, “fear not, for even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (v 30). No detail of our lives escape his attention, no matter how small or insignificant.
Fear not, he shouts, for No sparrow falls without his notice, and “you are of more value than many sparrows” (v 31). He created the whole universe just for you. He spared not his Son for you but offered him up to death on a cross. How shall he not give you everything you need? Hear the testimony of the psalmist, wonderfully fulfilled in Christ: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High” has absolutely nothing to fear (Ps 91:1).
Oh yes, fear will have its day and its say, but Jesus will have the last word. “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (v 32). Therefore, we can joyfully, boldly, fearlessly bear witness to Jesus until he comes again to deliver us from every form and cause of fear, proving once and for all that
Jesus Is Greater Than Our Fears!
No faithful undershepherd of the Good Shepherd would stand before his flock and glibly tell them: “You have nothing to fear.” According to Jesus in Matthew 10, those who seek to follow him have much to fear from a human point of view: rejection, intimidation, all kinds of opposition, even persecution that, in many cases throughout history, has led to martyrdom for Christ.
From God’s point of view, however, we have nothing to fear. Why? Because Jesus has faced the source of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where fear will be banished forever and ever. Amen!