2nd Sunday after Pentecost June 3, 2018
8, 414, 430, 651
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Fellow Ambassadors of the One True God:
James “Mad Dog” Mattis (who currently serves as the US Secretary of Defense) faced something of a dilemma earlier in his career. As commander of the First Marine Corps Division, he wanted to communicate to those resisting the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that not only was resistance a profoundly ill-advised idea, the opposite was also true. He wanted to let the enemy know that the soldiers under his command could be relied upon to risk their lives in the defense of their friends and allies. The motto he came up with can now be seen on bumper stickers all across this country and wherever the Marine Corp is assigned to serve. It reads simply:
"United States Marine—Your Best Friend, Your Worst Enemy”
You have to admit, the slogan communicates both sides of the Marine Corps.
Most of you know someone like that, someone who is a true and loyal friend, but who would also make a very, very bad enemy. Yet no matter who on earth might fit such a description, it applies nowhere more accurately than with God himself. To resist God, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth, is to create absolutely the worst kind of enemy. Yet that same God can also be the best possible friend and ally, as is certainly known by all those who now call that same God “Father” through the merit and mediation of Jesus Christ.
Yet how can anyone ever know which is which? How can any of us know when he is struggling against God and when not? How can we know when God is our friend and ally, and when we have made him our most terrifying enemy? Our text for this morning supplies answers. That text is found recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, the tenth chapter:
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, andyou will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved…
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is coveredthat 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 n the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cnnot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hel. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them wil fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of yur head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more alue than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me beforemen, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven./p>
So far the Word of our God. This is really the only trustworthy guide to teach us which of our actions are God-pleasing and which are not. That our God would bless our study of these holy, perfect, inspired words this morning, so we pray, “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Yourword is truth.” Amen.
Christians tend to accept Christ’s call to “take up our cross and follow him” only in the abstract; that is, only when we think of it in general, non-specific, impersonal terms. We don’t tend to deal with specifics nearly as well. In other words, we don’t tend to get all that concerned when Jesus tells us that we will experience hardship here on earth, but that bravado tends to disintegrate when we are faced with concrete, personal examples.
In the area of hatred, that means, on the one hand, coming to grips with the fact that it is sinful idolatry to love anyone or anything more than God. Still not specific enough? It is a sin to love your precious child or grandchild more than God—to love your parents, your spouse, your best friend more than God. But that’s still not specific and personal enough, is it? It means being prepared to remove your beloved child or grandchild from your inner family circle if they give themselves over to sin or turn away from the Christian faith. It includes being willing to alter all of your words and actions in a truly loving attempt to turn the most precious souls in your life from their sin and unbelief.
More to the point this morning, it means being willing to accept the hatred, the loathing, and the rejection of even those closest to your heart for bringing God’s Word (both law and gospel) into their lives at those times when they absolutely do not want to hear it. Are you ready for that?
Jesus spoke the words of our text to the 12 apostles as he sent them out into the world as his witnesses. They would break no laws, hurt no one, deprive no one, say nothing untrue, and yet Jesus assured them that they would be hated by all, “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.”
That then is the element of “counting the cost” and “taking up the cross” (Luke 14:27-28) that we examine this morning. Are you really ready and willing to be hated by the world—even if “the world” should include those nearest and dearest to you?
Profoundly sobering question, isn’t it? In fact I would suggest that if you do not find this whole topic intensely disturbing, then you’re not thinking about it clearly or honestly enough. No human being wants to be hated. We are hard-wired with a desire to be loved, admired, and respected. And yet Jesus here tells us that the job description of every single Christian includes not only enduring the hatred of every single element of the unbelieving world, but actually saying and doing the very things that will make that hatred a reality—at times including even those closest to your heart. The hatred comes when a Christian speaks the whole counsel of God’s Word.
Now, if you are anything like me, you may be experiencing a troubling disconnect here. You may well be thinking, “But I am already a Christian and I have experienced little or none of the hatred Jesus promised. Why is that?” Two answers: First, you really don’t know how the world feels about you. Second, if you and I really are experiencing no animosity from the unbelieving world around us it is because we are, for the most part, hiding. The fact is we tend to live and move in the clever camouflage of the world. We act, speak, dress, and move about just like everyone else around us. We have become very good at fitting in, at remaining invisible to God’s enemies. Practically speaking, that means that when we hear that someone is living in sin, we hide in our silence. When we hear someone talking about how “good people will all go to heaven,” we deafen the conversation with our stillness. Even when other nominal Christians articulate a belief that is thoroughly non-Biblical, we switch on our own personal cloaking device, reasoning that it is neither the time nor the place to start an argument or to create discord or animosity.
There are two realizations at work here in every Christian heart. The first is the instinctive understanding that to actually speak up and speak out would accomplish the very thing our Savior said it would: the pure, unmitigated hatred of the world around us. We fear that hatred; we dread it like the plague. And yet the second realization is also at work, which is that speaking up and speaking out also accomplishes something else: human souls are rescued, saved, delivered, won. These two truths continually war within us.
Why would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, advocate such discord? Why would the very embodiment of divine love ever encourage or even compel us to be the creators of conflict? Why would he tell us, his beloved children, to do what he knows would cause others to hate us? There are three reasons for this. First, because he knows that such hatred already exists in the heart of every unbeliever, at times lying dormant, but always present. Second, because he knows that there is no other way to address unbelief, no other way to rescue sinners. Third, he knows that there is also a personal element in all of this, since God has made it clear that our own souls are at risk when we struggle to blend in with the world.
Anecdotal evidence abounds of deep cover agents inserted into the United States by the Soviets during the Cold War. These men and women were extensively trained to speak, act, and think exactly like Americans, and to go about their lives in the United States ever ready to heed the call to action from the motherland. Fortunately, what happened to a significant number of them is that their acting became reality. Mentally and emotionally they became Americans and refused to obey the command of their former country when it finally came—this despite the meticulous vetting and training process where only the most dedicated and patriotic individuals were sent.
The same thing happens to Christians. Live long enough in the world as a deep-cover actor only pretending to love the world, and that love and allegiance for the world eventually becomes our reality.
Our text spells out the advantages of the other scenario—where Christians strip off their camouflage and actually “say in the light what Christ said in the dark” and “proclaim on the housetops what we once heard whispered.” The result is that God, your friend and ally, works in and through you—not only strengthening you, but also saving others. Our text assured us, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” The only hatred, the only animosity that we cannot possible bear up under is that of our Heavenly Father. He, again, is the one enemy that we simply cannot afford.
So then what is the goal here? What is the point or purpose of Christ’s words in our text? Does he say this to terrify us into compliance? Are these words recorded to frighten us so terribly that we finally do what he wants out of abject fear or dread that if we don’t, we won’t be saved? Or is the point to make us think that we only have his love when we are doing what he wants us to do? Obviously none of the above. Our text is addressing the evil that is all around us—and within us. It addresses the evil that will certainly engulf and destroy us if it is ignored. In this there can be nothing kind or gentle. That evil must feel only the hammer of God’s law—words in our text like these, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
To rightly understand where our Lord is coming from here we need to take a step back and see—really see—the big picture. Why did Jesus come to earth in the first place? To save fallen mankind by sacrificing himself in our place. That’s the beauty of the gospel. Jesus Christ did everything necessary to pay for the sins of the world. His goodness is credited to us through faith, not by anything we do or don’t do. Since Jesus’ sin payment is an accomplished fact, the only sin that can now damn is unbelief, and the best way to perpetuate unbelief is through ignorance. Man cannot believe what he never hears or knows. Satan’s plan then becomes obvious: persuade Christians to shut up and blend in, and millions of souls will die in their ignorance.
How then could a loving God not seek to crush this sin, this unbelief, with the hammer of his law? He loves souls too much to allow them to slip quietly into the night of eternal darkness and unspeakable torment. Pray then that our God would not only show you your own personal problem in this area, but that he would remove it. Pray for the courage to “come out from them and be different.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) Pray for the courage to be “salt” and “light.” Pray for the spirit of those who went before, like Jeremiah—that spirit whereby even when he tried to remain silent, he could not, saying: “…there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)
Above all, thrill once again this morning to the incredible truth that you have a God who, knowing how naturally sinful every single one of us was in absolutely every aspect of our lives, still he loved us enough to sacrifice his own Son to rescue and save us. Then let even your past failure fill your heart with the joy of full and complete forgiveness through faith alone in Jesus Christ. As you struggle to purge all that is evil from your life, use the very fact of that evil to magnify God’s grace. Use it as added cause to thank and praise him for the fact of your forgiveness, your eternal salvation, and marvel anew at the love of God for sinners like you and me. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.