Matthew 10:5a, 21–33
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Be afraid… Be very afraid.” For some reason that saying was very popular in my household growing up. Don't ask me why; I couldn't tell you. I was curious where it came from, so I looked it up this week. It turns out, it’s from a 1986 remake of a 1958 movie, both entitled, “The Fly.” Both movies are about a scientist experimenting with teleportation. And somewhere along the way a fly gets trapped in the machine with him and as he teleports across the room, his DNA is mixed with that of a fly and he becomes this human/fly monster. The tagline for the movie was, “Be afraid… Be very afraid.”
Jesus speaks words this morning of where our true fear should be directed. Three times, He says, “Do not be afraid.” Not of persecution, not in any situation in life, not in human/fly hybrids. Well, He didn’t say that last one, but it still holds true. Do not be afraid of these things. Instead, Jesus says, you should fear God Himself.
Today's reading flows from last week as Jesus is sending out His 12 disciples. He's sending them out ahead of Him to prepare His way. He's given them authority and power to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cast out demons, and most importantly, to proclaim the gospel—the good news of the kingdom—to those they encountered. But in His words today, Jesus warns the disciples that it's not all going to go well. In fact, He says things are going to get pretty bad at times. “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name's sake.” What they do to me they’ll do even more so to you! “If they've called the master of the house Beezebul, how much more will they malign those of His household.” You will suffer on account of Christ.
If that sounds familiar at all to you, it probably should. We’ve just finished spending several weeks in the book of 1 Peter, and that was Peter's refrain again and again. Not only will we suffer but we are called to suffer. It is God's will that we suffer on His behalf, because of his name. And we are called to submit to that suffering. It is God's will to endure it, to see how God is at work, even through our pain, even through our suffering to accomplish His will to draw us ever closer to His Son. Peter wasn’t making things up. He had these words from Jesus in mind. Suffering is part of the Christian life.
But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Three times in the center section of this text, He tells His disciples—and us—not to be afraid of those who persecute you. Each of those three times, He gives a different reason—a different rationale—for why God's people don't need to be afraid in the face of persecution.
First, He says, “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.” Jesus says that the disciples do not need to be afraid, because God's plan will be revealed and the truth will come out. Even as they face persecution, even as they come face to face with sin and corruption, the disciples don't need to be afraid. The truth will not be buried forever. Lies against Christians will be exposed. Bribes will be made clear. Injustice will be brought to light. Don't be afraid. Sin will be exposed and dealt with.
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Don't be afraid of your enemies, because they can't touch your salvation. Jesus is reminding his disciples of a deeper truth—one that we fail to comprehend more often than not. There's more to healing than simply being free of disease. There's more to happiness than simply having a bunch of stuff. There's more to life than simply surviving for 80, 90, 100 years before dying. There’s more to Jesus than simply being satisfied in this world. Instead, Jesus says that what truly matters is not what happens in this life, but in how this life leads into the next. Do what you want to this body. Hammer away at me emotionally, mentally, physically. Do your worst, and you will not touch my salvation. Because the worst that anyone can do is to kill me. And at that point I am with Christ. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Don't be afraid. The worst thing can do is kill you. And that is gain for Christians.
Jesus continues, “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” That comes at the conclusion of argument that Jesus makes. Sparrows are worthless. You can buy two for a penny. But God takes even those worthless things, and cares for them. He knows them. He watches them. How much more will God watch over you, who are of much more value than a bird. Or take something insignificant like the number of hairs on your head. Some have more, some have less; the exact number doesn’t matter. But it does to God. To Him, even the hairs on your head are worth knowing. And if that's worth knowing to God, how much more significant are you to Him. You don't need to be afraid because God is watching over you. It doesn't mean that you will be free from suffering, or pain, or persecution. But it does mean that in the midst of it all, God is still holding on to you.
But Jesus doesn’t end there. While we should not be afraid of most things, there is one thing—or rather one person—we should fear. “Fear Him, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” It's not Satan. Let's get that image out of your head. Satan is not the King of Hell, the one in charge of torturing sinful human beings. Satan is in hell with the rest of fallen humanity, being punished by God eternally. God is the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
We have a hard time with this idea of fearing God, don't we, it strikes us as as a little strange a little out of place and so we immediately jump to, “well it obviously can't mean fear, like terror-fear. It must mean respect, or deference, or honor.” While there is some truth to that, we jump to that conclusion far too quickly. I believe it’s because we take sin far too lightly. To sin against God is not simply an, “Oops, I made a mistake.” When you and I deliberately choose to go against the will of our sovereign God, we are setting ourselves in opposition to Him. We are confronting God face to face, telling him, “I know better than you.” We are taking his order and turning it into disorder. We're taking his law and turning it into lawlessness. Sin is taking the gifts of God and corrupting them, defiling them. Because we have this small view of sin, we're not afraid of God.
We fear God, because apart from the saving work of Christ, you and I are lost forever. We are in the hands of a God who can destroy both soul and body in hell eternally. He is the one worth fearing. Martin Luther explains this in the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” That's the problem with fear. When we fear anything other than the one true God. We've turned that thing into an idol. When we are afraid of a disease so much that God must be absent if he doesn't heal me, then we've turned health and even life itself into an idol. If we fear when a politician takes office or makes choices we disagree with so that it must be the end of the world, he must be the Antichrist, God is certainly not on her side, We have turned our politics, our nation, and our government into an idol. When we are too afraid of what others may think of us to speak out against the evils of racism, when we are too scared to denounce the murder of unborn babies, when we're afraid of being called names for standing on God's teaching of human sexuality, then we have turned our status in society into an idol. We've turned our approval from others into a God who is to be feared above all else.
To this, Jesus says, “Don't be afraid of these things.” Don't be afraid of what is eternally inconsequential. Instead fear God. “Fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That doesn't mean life will be easy for you. It's pretty much guaranteed things will not go your way. But when you fear the one person worth fearing, you are free from the terrors of this world. You recognize that because you fear Him You have nothing else to fear. The worst thing this world can do is to drive you ever more into His loving arms. Not only do we fear God, we love, and we trust in Him as well. Be afraid… Be very afraid. And be free from the fear of this world. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell