The 4th Sunday After Trinity June 19, 2005
24, 789 [TLH alt. 428], 427, 769 [TLH alt. 451]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said]: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
In Christ Jesus, who quiets every fear in our troubled hearts, dear fellow Christians:
Why would someone who wanted to travel as quickly as possible from Milwaukee to Seattle pass up the opportunity for a plane ticket, and instead spend several tedious days behind the wheel of his car? Why would someone dissatisfied with his job give up a golden opportunity to launch a new career? Or why would still another person walk right by the person she had been wanting to meet and not say a word? In all three cases, the reason could well be fear: fear of getting on an airplane and flying 30,000 feet above the earth, fear of leaving a familiar job, and fear of being rejected by another person.
Have you ever been so afraid that it kept you from doing something you really wanted to do? Fear of what may or may not happen, or fear of what others may think or say can paralyze us so that we are not able to do what we should or want to do.
For us Christians nothing is more frustrating than to have fear keep us from confessing the Savior to others. It is something we truly want to do. God’s love has worked a miracle within our hearts by changing them from stone-cold unbelief to a living faith in Jesus as the Savior from sin. We want to share that glorious news with others. We take seriously Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). So we talk about evangelism. We study ways of doing it. We watch for opportunities. But then how often does it happen that when you are faced with actually doing it, you freeze up and say: “I’m afraid…I’m afraid I won’t know what to say…I’m afraid of how the other person will react…I’m afraid of being laughed at or being seen as a religious fanatic.” Maybe you have even come to the point where you are ready to wave the white flag of surrender and say: “I’m a hopeless case. Others may be able to share their faith, but not me.”
The good news is that it’s not hopeless for any of us. The fears are real, but Jesus works in our hearts and lives to build up our courage and keep fears from interfering with our confessing Him before the world.
Like us, the disciples were called and sent out by the Lord to spread the news of salvation. He also explained to them what kind of treatment they could expect: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” [v.24] As students and servants of Jesus, the disciples could expect to receive the same treatment Jesus did. Already as an infant His life was in danger. King Herod was determined to murder this new king as soon as possible. During the Lord’s ministry He was hated by His own people. The religious leaders plotted His assassination. Some even went so far as to claim that He was performing His miracles by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Finally, He was crucified.
The disciples then, too, could expect beatings, trials, family conflicts, and many other hardships when they would acknowledge Jesus as their Lord. That will never change. Every follower of Jesus will have to face the hatred and opposition of the world. For you it may not be beatings and prison, but instead a door slammed in your face, angry words, or the loss of a friend.
This all can lead to fear, the fear of failure. There would be times when the disciples would wonder whether their preaching was having any effect at all. There may be times when we wonder whether it’s worth all the effort and trouble. We may feel like Jeremiah when he said, “The word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long” (Jeremiah 20:8 NIV).
But Jesus says, “Don’t let that fear interfere.” Then Jesus works to take away fear when He says: “Do not be afraid of them. There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” [v.26] No matter how hopeless it seems, it will come out right in the end. The evil purposes and plans of Christ’s enemies will be exposed for what they are, and the truth of God will win out.
It is a sure thing because Jesus succeeded in everything He came to do. He came to live a holy life in our place, and He did it. He came to do away with our sin and guilt, and He did it by His sacrifice on the cross.
We have been set free from fear to speak the Lord’s Word out in the open wherever we can. We don’t have to be afraid of saying the wrong thing or wonder whether our words will do any good. Whenever we confess His name, the Lord is there beside us with His wisdom and protection. Success does not depend on our powers of persuasion or our winning personality, but on the Lord. He works through our faltering, feeble efforts to accomplish His saving purposes.
Like a farmer who plants the seed in Spring and trusts that God will cause it to germinate and grow so that in the fall he can harvest a crop, so we plant the seed of God’s Word in people’s hearts and leave the rest up to God. He promises: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish….so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV).
With success guaranteed, Jesus told His disciples to take what He had spoken to them in private and broadcast it from the housetops. Homes in Palestine typically had flat roofs which made an ideal platform from which to address a large crowd below. The Lord is saying, “Make use of whatever means you have to proclaim my Word.” He provides the means and opportunities for each of us in all kinds of everyday situations. What about the person sitting next to you on the bus or at work? What about your relatives and friends? What about social gatherings you attend? With fear taken away, we can talk about our faith in Jesus with others. His Word will not return empty!
Another fear faced by Jesus’ disciples is the fear of physical danger and harm. At the time of the apostles, Christianity was an illegal religion. Believers were hunted down, arrested, and often thrown to the lions or burned to death. Even today there are dangers which we may face in our efforts to spread the Word. It can be frightening to think about.
But Jesus comes to take away that fear. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” [v.28] The Lord uses the extreme scenario. What is the worst which an enemy could do to you? It would be to kill you, right? But as bad as that would be, it is very limited. Could the enemy harm your soul? Could he take away your eternal future with the Lord? Could he change your standing with God as His beloved child? No! If an enemy took your life this afternoon, you would be with the Lord in heaven at that very moment. That is what Paul had in mind when he wrote from prison: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NIV). That is what Luther was thinking of when he penned a stanza of A Mighty Fortress which reads:
And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife,
let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won;
the Kingdom ours remaineth. [TLH 262:4]
Even the threat of death does not have to frighten us because Jesus has gone ahead and defeated it. Death comes because of sin. Because we are sinners, we deserve both physical and eternal death. But Jesus, the holy Son of God, walked to Calvary and was nailed to the cross along with all of our sins. He died our death. He suffered our punishment. More than that, He rose from the dead as the Lord of life who gives life to all who come to Him. We have been set free from death, so that now we can go out into the world filled with people terrified at the prospect of dying and share with them the message of never-ending life through Christ.
Jesus deals with one more fear which we face, and that is the fear of losing earthly security. Our society is based on the premise that security is dependent on bank accounts, insurance policies, and tangible assets such as homes and cars. The child of God risks losing all these things by confessing Jesus as his Lord and Savior. In the early church many were killed for their faith, but many more lost their jobs and homes, and were forced to flee to other towns and cities. It is entirely possible that we have already or will in the future lose some earthly things when we confess Christ.
But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid!” “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” [vv.29-31] If God shows such tremendous concern for one of the smallest parts of His creation, a common sparrow, He is infinitely more concerned about your wellbeing. You are not just one small cog in the vast machinery of the world. You are the crown of God’s creation for whom everything else was made! You are not just a speck in the universe. You are God’s child! He has pronounced you holy and righteous for Jesus’ sake. He has made you an heir of heaven!
Can there be any doubt that the Lord is going to care for your every physical need? Each one of your 140,000 hairs is of concern to Him! You can rest assured that He is going to provide food for your table, clothing for your body, and shelter for your family. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIV).
We are set free from fear to share the news about the God who takes care of every need. In shaky economic times we can tell fearful people about the Lord who not only provides for every earthly need, but who takes care of our much greater spiritual need for peace with God and forgiveness of sins. We are set free to generously give for the Lord’s work through our offerings. Knowing that everything we have is from His gracious hand in the first place, we can freely give, trusting that the Lord is willing and able to provide us with daily bread tomorrow as He did today.
What is the end result? “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” [vv.32-33] Faith in the heart expresses itself in words and actions. It acknowledges Christ as Lord and Savior. It begins with the Means of Grace by studying the Word at home and in church. From there it reaches out to share the Word with others: the sick friend in the hospital, the family member who has strayed from the Lord, and the new neighbors who would come along to church if they were invited. Every day the Lord opens doors for us to tell of His love. Don’t let fear interfere and hold you back. May the Lord powerfully work in us to overcome every fear, that we may spread the news of forgiveness and life through Christ—to His glory and the salvation of many more precious souls! Amen.
Fear not, I am with thee, Oh, be not dismayed;
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,
and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand. [TLH 427:3]
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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