“Have No Fear of Them” (Matthew 10:5a, 21-33)
Today is the start of the long green season in the church year. The festival seasons have passed–Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter–those months when we tracked Jesus’ birth, his baptism, his transfiguration, his suffering, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and his pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Now today we begin the non-festival half of the church year, with several months ahead of us of more general teaching, much of it dealing with the life of discipleship that we Christians are called to live.
This is not an easy life, this life of following Christ. For one thing, the world will be against us. And so, many of the Gospel readings from Matthew this summer will describe the opposition we will get from an unbelieving world. And that opposition can be brutal, even deadly. But the amazing thing is, even though Jesus knows people will treat us this way–indeed, he tells us they will treat us this way–still, he also tells us, “Have No Fear of Them.”
Dear friends, I have to tell you, we may be in for a long hot summer. Oh, I’m not talking about the weather outside, which will indeed be sweltering. No, I’m talking about the heat that will come to us in those Gospel readings we will hear. Many of them will describe the hot, adverse conditions we Christians will face for being Christians. For instance, next week we will hear Jesus say: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. . . . A person’s enemies will be those of his own household. . . . Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Then later this summer Jesus will speak again in similar terms: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
These are not easy words to hear. They sound discomforting. They sound disturbing. They sound downright dangerous. And the Gospel reading for today sets the tone. Jesus says: “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.”
Jesus speaks here of persecution, severe persecution. People will even hand their own family members over to death because they belong to Christ. Do you think Jesus is exaggerating? Think again. These words have come to pass many times over the centuries. Christians have been handed over and put to death, even by their own family members, because they have become Christians. The history of the church is written in the blood of the martyrs.
And this persecution, this martyrdom, is happening still in our day, perhaps now more than ever. Particularly in Muslim lands around the world, Christians are being murdered and massacred and martyred for the faith. In Sudan, in Nigeria, in Syria, in Iran and Iraq, our brothers and sisters in Christ are being disowned by their families, persecuted and imprisoned, dragged out by mobs and put to death. It is a dangerous thing to be a Christian.
But, you say, not here in America. And true, Christians are not being put to death in our country. But opposition and hostility can take other forms, less severe. And so in our text Jesus says that we Christians will be maligned, spoken evil of, because we belong to him: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”
By the way, about this “Beelzebul” thing: That was a derogatory term that Jesus’ enemies used against him, saying that he was actually in league with the devil. And if they said this about Jesus, the greatest and most holy man who ever lived–if they called Jesus a devil, think of what they’re going to call us, we who actually have things we can be criticized for. The world is going to despise us and malign us and speak evil of us.
And this sort of thing is happening in our country. Officials in our government, various politicians–they are coming out against Christians because of our beliefs. Pundits and opinion-makers, figures in the media and education and the entertainment industry–same thing. They are ridiculing Christians and saying we are on the wrong side of history. Well, so be it. We will see who was right and who was wrong when the Lord of history returns. But for now, our culture as a whole has turned against the church in a big way. America is no longer a friendly place for Christians to make their home. And it’s probably going to get worse. If you want to get a picture of where America is headed, look at Europe. Europe has become extremely secularized and post-Christian, hostile to any semblance of the historic faith. And that’s likely the direction we’re headed, too.
So the world is against us. This is nothing new. Jesus told us this would happen. Hostility, opposition, rejection, ridicule, persecution, even martyrdom. These things happened to Christians back then, they’re happening now, and they will continue to happen as long as we are in the world.
But notice, Jesus also says: “Have no fear of them.” Huh? What? What are you saying, Jesus? Don’t you know what they can do to us? They can ruin our reputation. They can make life difficult for us. We could lose our job or lose our friends for being one of those religious kooks. Family members may turn against us. Better to keep quiet, don’t you think? Better to lay low, not disturb the status quo. Don’t rock the boat, you know what I mean?
But then that Jesus–he was pretty much of a boat-rocker himself. And look where that got him. It got him nailed to a cross. We don’t want that.
No, we don’t. Our flesh shies away from any thought of trouble coming to us on account of our faith. And really, nobody likes to undergo suffering. We don’t enjoy it. Even Jesus himself prayed and asked if there was any other way possible, other than going to the cross, that’s what he would prefer. But there was no other way. Only the Son of God, suffering and dying for us sinners, could win the salvation Jesus was sent to win. And so that is what he did.
And so if suffering and persecution is what we must endure because we belong to Christ, so be it. It comes with the territory. But thank God for that territory! It’s the kingdom of God that Christ has brought us into. And that’s why Jesus can tell us, “Have no fear of them.”
Actually, if there’s anyone we should fear, it’s God. The damage the world can do to us is only temporal. The worst they can do to us is kill us. Far worse would be to be lost for eternity, which is what would happen to us if we were to turn our backs on God and go it on our own and give up the faith out of fear of persecution. That would be infinitely worse. And so Jesus warns us against that.
No, you don’t want to give up the faith–and with it, your salvation in Christ. There is nothing more precious than that. In Christ, you have a sure and certain hope, the sure hope of everlasting life, life that conquers death. What could be greater than that? Nothing. This is God’s free gift to you–eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. The world’s opposition pales in significance next to this one great gift.
Christ assures you of this love. He says he will confess you before his Father in heaven. That’s really something, isn’t it? To have Jesus himself speaking up for you before the throne of God? And that’s what he says he will do. It might sound like this: “Here is my follower Bill or Fred or Martha. I died for his sins. Her slate is clean. These ones trusted in me for their salvation and not in themselves. Their faith showed itself in how they clung to me and trusted in the promises I gave them. This faith, because it is faith in me–this faith was bigger than their fear. Here, Father, let me present my followers to you.” Yes, friends, this is what Jesus will say about you and me before the Father in heaven! You can’t get a better spokesman than Jesus. So now you don’t have to be afraid to speak up about Jesus.
And there’s more, there’s always more. Jesus assures us of the Father’s own love. He says if God cares for just one seemingly insignificant sparrow, a mere bird, and that not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father knowing about it, how much more then is the Father going to care about you? A lot, a whole lot! Even the hairs of your head are numbered. Now for some of us, that will be less of a challenge than for others. But the point is, God your heavenly Father, infinite in his mercy and love and care–your Father loves you more than you can imagine. And the proof is in the cross of Christ, isn’t it? If God loved you that much, to send his own Son to die for you, surely he will see you through all the troubles of this life.
Dear friends, today Christians all around the world are being hated and persecuted by the people of this world. And yet our Lord Jesus says to us today, “Have no fear of them.” For your heavenly Father will strengthen you and see you through the long hot summer of this world’s hostility. And a day is coming when the sun shall not strike you any longer, nor any scorching heat. So, Jesus says, have no fear of them. Instead, have all faith in God.