Pentecost 6 July 12, 2020
Matthew 10:21-22, 26-33
19, 72, 28, 520:1,11-12
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you, the most blessed of all people—blessed because you both know the one true God and, even better, are known by Him. Amen.
The 19th century writer Charles Dickens began his masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities, with these words: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Scholars debate what Dickens meant by these words, but the best part of great literature is that the reader is free to assign his own meaning or interpretation—to find his own insights. My own personal takeaway is that any given time can be either, and we have the power of decide which it will be.
To put the thing into modern terms, given what you’ve been seeing lately in the news, would you characterize our present situation as the best of times or the worst of times? Whatever you allow to occupy your thoughts—whatever you allow to draw your attention and fill your world—that is what will determine your impression of the present. If you find yourself absorbed with pandemics, racial tensions, riots, destruction, anarchy, lies and lawlessness, you will inevitably conclude that we are living in the worst of times.
But then a strange thing happens when you turn off the news and drive from your mind what others are doing or saying, along with the fear of what might happen (to our country and to you personally,) and look only at the way things truly are right now in your world. In fact, we need to go even further. Even in our own world we need to apply this same mindset, because in every life there is always good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, desirable and undesirable. That means we can always find things that will demoralize and discourage us, things that, if we allow them, will fill us with fear and anxiety. Or we can trust God to be God, and dwell on the innumerable good things of the present.
No one has ever tried to prevent us from worshiping God according to the dictates of our conscience. We have enough money not only to live, but to live well. (Visit any Third World country if you doubt that.) Our homes are filled with non-necessities, our closets are bursting with high quality clothing, and watching our weight is more a concern than wondering where our next meal can be found. The vast majority of the incredible systems in our bodies function perfectly. We have families that we love and that love us. Focus on those things, and it will be difficult to come to any other conclusion than that we are living in the best of times. This should be a consistent Christian sentiment.
That’s not to say, of course, that there will never be difficulties or hardships. Of course, there will be, in a world broken by sin. But we can live joyfully in such a world. We can live without fear and anxiety of what might happen because we have certain promises from our God. With these truths in mind, we consider our text for this morning, the Holy Word of God found in Matthew’s Gospel, 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, and you 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 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. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, 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. ESV
This is God’s Word. The God who gave us these words certainly has the power to preserve all who put their trust in him. That our God would comfort and bless each of us through our study of these holy, perfect, inspired words this morning, so we pray, “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
The context of our text is Jesus’ sending out his apostles. He warned them of the very real danger that they could face hardship and persecution, but the whole point of the exercise was not only to spread the gospel, but to teach his representatives that God could be trusted to protect and provide for them. You may recall how he sent out the 12 without any provisions—no money, change of clothes, or food. He also later sent 72 others with the same orders. Do you recall their frame of mind when they returned? From Luke 10:17-20: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”
Every part of this dialog is important, and it goes to the heart of our study this morning. It is silly and naïve to imagine that those sent by the Lord, encountered no opposition, rejection, or hardship. Of course, they did. But what was their frame of mind when they returned to their Lord? They were filled with joy and excitement. Their minds were obviously not occupied with what went wrong, or with what was disagreeable, but with what was good and with what went right.
Still, Jesus had to guide them in their enthusiasm, didn’t he? The problem was that the basis for their joy was the fact that “even the demons are subject to us in your name.” While what they said was true, Jesus redirected them from what might not last to that which would: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
This is the base, the foundation, on which every Christian must build. Outward circumstances will always shift and change. The temporary things that give us joy or satisfaction is this life are fickle and unreliable. Not so with our ultimate goal. No changing circumstances in this life can ever rob us of the peace and joy in knowing that our salvation has been secured for us and that heaven is our final destination.
However, in our text Jesus teaches us that our joy could be buried under life’s hardships—if we allow it. 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.”
The challenge that we confront this morning is this: Can we really live joyfully in a world where we can expect to be hated—even if “the world” should include those nearest and dearest to us?
Profoundly sobering question, isn’t it? In fact, I would suggest that if we do not find this whole topic intensely sobering and relevant, then we’re probably not thinking about it clearly or honestly enough. No human being wants to be hated. No one relishes the thought of hard times or persecution. We are hard-wired with a desire to be loved and respected, and to live without discord and strife. 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 going out and saying and doing the very things that will make that hatred a reality—at times including resistance and animosity even from the unbelievers who are closest to our hearts.
And the solution is not to shirk our responsibilities as God’s spokesmen and representatives. Jesus made that clear in our text: “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” We have God-given work to do, and that work involves saying what many will not want to hear.
There are two realizations at work here for 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 hatred of the world around us. We all have a natural aversion to 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 discord and animosity? Three reasons. First, because he knows that that 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. Our own souls are at risk when we struggle to blend in with the world.
Here’s an example of how that works. 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. What happened to a significant number of them is that their acting became reality. Mentally and emotionally they became Americans, and actually 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 can happen 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 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 animosity that we cannot possible bear up under is that of our Heavenly Father. He is the one enemy that we absolutely cannot afford.
Our Savior in our text is instructing us on how we can have consistently joyful hearts, even while we carry out his work and will—no matter what our outward circumstances. Forgiveness and salvation are already ours—secured for us, and promised to us, by our Savior. Nothing in all creation can rob us of what our God has promised us. Whoever believes in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, will be saved. This is the bedrock on which we build, and when we do, nothing can rob us of the joy that our Savior has given to us as our permanent possession.
Obviously, there is discord in the world. Clearly there is opposition to God’s Word and will, so there will also be opposition to all that follow and proclaim that Word and will of God. Accept these as inevitable facts, but never let them rob you of the joy of living as those whose “names are written in heaven.” The One who earned your forgiveness and provided your perfection, can and will preserve you until he calls you home. 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.