The 20th Sunday after Pentecost October 10, 2010
502, 770 [TLH alt. 496], 507, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Dear fellow students of God’s Word:
I heard once about a grade school student who would sometimes mark wrong answers on his homework intentionally. He knew what the right answers were, but he did not always want to put them down because he did not want to be ridiculed by his classmates for being a “smarty-pants.” Perhaps there have been times when you too have not spoken out or have not spoken up with a right answer because you were afraid—at work, with your neighbors, with your own family. Maybe there have been occasions when you felt it was better to keep your good knowledge, your thoughts, and your words to yourself because you guessed that they might not be well received and you were scared of what might happen if you spoke up.
I think you probably know what this has to do with Mission Festival Sunday. This is a day when we each examine and consider how we can best share our good knowledge of the Lord Jesus—share it with those who do not yet know Him, who do not yet trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins. This is the Sunday that is about our “zeal to help the heathen” as we sing in the hymn (TLH 498:5). But when it comes to telling others about Christ, to standing up for what we believe and speaking it in the hearing of the unconverted, when opportunities present themselves, we’re not always very open-mouthed, are we? Sometimes fear gets the better of us. Or if I might speak from personal experience, maybe I could even say that fear gets the better of us a lot of the time.
Our fear might well be one of the Gospel’s greatest barriers. Imagine how much more mission work would be done among us if we could just get past the basic fear and trepidation we tend to have about spreading the Word of our Savior and His mighty deeds to others in face to face conversations. I say “basic fear” because that is what it is. It is our sinful flesh which does not want to tell of Jesus. It is the Devil who stirs up among us a fear of evangelizing.
Throughout the history of the Christian church there have been seemingly fearless proclaimers of the Gospel: Martin Luther who spoke up in the presence of pope and emperor when it could well have cost him his life. Stephen in the book of Acts who preached the Gospel when it did cost him his life. The Apostle Paul who went on missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean sometimes chased and hunted, other times jailed, but always preaching Christ crucified. People like this were surely fearless! Or were they? Listen to the Scripture which is given today for our consideration, our learning, and our comfort.
…[praying] for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
These words of the Apostle Paul, greatest missionary of all time, writer of 13 of the 27 New Testament books, suggest to us that fear came knocking at his door too. From prison he wrote these words asking others to pray for him that whenever he would open his mouth he would fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel. He greatly desired boldness and fearlessness in witnessing. Paul emphasized this by saying it twice—the second time with these words: “…that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” [v.20]
How can we be encouraged to a bold and fearless proclamation of the Gospel such as that for which the Apostle prayed? How can I be encouraged so that the next time I have an open door to say something to an unbeliever about Jesus’ death for the sins of the world I don't stand there shaking in my timid shoes?
There is encouragement for us in Paul’s phrase, “…that utterance (words) may be given to me.” [v.19] Often when we are hesitant to share the Gospel it is because we are afraid that the words which will tumble out of our mouths will only cause more trouble. We might think to ourselves that it’s just better to say nothing than to say the “wrong thing” which could really turn someone off or rile them up.
But you know what? God knows how to calm our fears about this! He gives us the words to use so that we say the right thing. He gives us His words. In fact, He wrote them down for us. You can even buy a copy of your “script” at the dollar store! The Word He gives us to share is the Word that He has given us in the Holy Bible—that powerful, living, active, and enduring Word of God. It is the Word, for example, of John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…,” and the word of 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (NIV). You have the right words to use, dear friends! You know the Gospel. From the youngest of you to the oldest, you know what Jesus did! That Word has been given to you.
Your Christian witness is not about your words. It is about the words God has given you to speak. You are not under pressure to come up with new religious philosophy to share. You simply preach Christ crucified. You are not under pressure to give your witness in the eloquence of speech such as an Aaron or a Paul. You simply use the vocabulary and education God has given you—the words He helps you to speak in that moment.
Then whether your hearers like it or like it not, whether they receive your witness with joy or not, whether they think less of you or more of you for talking about Christ, none of this needs to concern you because that is not your business but God’s. You are only the messengers, the ambassadors, delivering the message you have been given to deliver. Now does there need to be any fear in that?
We have another piece of encouragement when we consider that the message we have been given to proclaim is not just any message, but it is
Gospel. It is not bad news which we have to deliver, rather it is Good News—the best news possible!. Jesus said: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV). The Apostle prayed that he would fearlessly make known “the mystery of the Gospel.” [v.19]
I think we would all agree that it is much easier to deliver good news than bad. Telling someone a piece of good news is not typically a frightening thing for us.
When I was growing up I had some of the usual elementary-school aspirations for my life and career—baseball player, firefighter. They each had their certain appeal. When I got around to considering how great it must be to be a medical doctor, I imagined that the best part would be when you would get to come out into the waiting room after a long surgery and tell the family that everything went alright. Now I’ve never asked any doctors if they really enjoy that part of their work, but I would suspect that being able to deliver the good news that a brain tumor has been successfully removed or that a ruptured appendix has been cleaned up is probably not too much of a “chore” for them. They probably do not sit back in the operating room when the job is done wringing their hands and saying, “I sure am afraid to go out there and tell them that their loved one is going to live!”
Now I’m thinking about how you can take some news to another waiting room full of people. I’m thinking about the waiting room that is your circle of friends or your neighbor or the world. Their best Friend, after all, has just underwent some serious surgery, and they really ought to know about it because their Friend had it real bad. He was carrying the sins of the world. Everybody’s guilt was killing Him—yours, mine, theirs. It looked like it might be the end. It got all dark outside and everything. The Patient’s heart stopped beating right there on the table. But you know what happened—He pulled through! He is living again! The sin that was troubling Him is gone… Don’t you think you might go out into the waiting room and tell the folks there that everything is alright? Don’t you think you might tell them that He has suffered for all their guilt and now He lives again? Don’t you think it would be exciting to be able to bring this kind of great news to others?
When we think about the fact that we are truly messengers of good news—the best news—it helps us to put away our fears. The more we immerse ourselves in the Gospel of Christ, the more we ourselves rejoice in it and become strengthened in it, the less hesitant we will be to share it. When you’re filled with great news, after all, you simply want to talk about it! It just comes out of your mouth. You can't help yourself! So the more we come to church and hear the Gospel, the more we sit at the pastor’s feet in Bible Class or listen to our Sunday School teachers, the more we read and study the Gospel in our homes, the more we have casual conversations with our fellow believers about spiritual things—the more this good news washes over us and envelops us and becomes part of our lives, the more fearless we will be in spreading it. God will work through the Gospel Word itself to move our hearts to happy and bold proclamation.
Yes, it is true that when we teach Jesus to the heathen there is some bitter with the sweet. In order to show that He saved us, we must show what He saved us from, and when a person's sin is revealed in the light of God’s Word it can hurt and irritate. But the pain is temporary for the Gospel is right there with its healing touch to bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty for those held captive by the bonds of sin. Always remember that Gospel mission work is not merely to tell people how to live or to hold Christ up as an example to follow, but rather it is to tell sinners everywhere how Christ lived in their place. How one died for all—even for them and for their sin. That is the good news.
Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him that words would be given to him to make known the mystery of the Gospel and that he would not be afraid to speak those words. Looking back on the life of this servant of God, we know that the Lord Jesus surely answered those prayers.
Need we doubt that He will answer those prayers again when we ask? Will He refuse us boldness and courage when we ask for it to glorify His holy name? Certainly not! The Lord of the Church Himself will come and stand by our sides and help us all to declare that saving Gospel without fear. Amen.
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.