“Nothing to Fear?”
Pentecost 2 (Proper 7), June 22, 2014
Nothing to Fear?
Text: Matthew 10:5a, 21–33
What are you afraid of? What do you fear? I sound a little bit like a movie trailer don’t I…I fear hearing the words, “Supreme Court Justice Miley Cyrus.” I am afraid of Americans liking soccer too much because once we get our hands on it, there will be commercials every 5 minutes like in the NFL. I fear reading the words “Learner’s Permit” and under that reading, “Christopher Erler.
We all have our fears. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1933), that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, the fact is there would have been no reason for him to assert his “firm belief” that there was “nothing to fear” unless there actually was something to fear. The country was in the Great Depression, which led people to many fears.
In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells His apostles to “have no fear” as He sends them out to proclaim the coming of His kingdom to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv 6–7). Yet Jesus knows and acknowledges that He is sending them “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). His very words of admonition and encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that He knows that there is much to fear, at least from a human point of view. As we consider today’s text, we are challenged to face and to name our fears and to rejoice in confessing and proclaiming that Jesus Is Greater Than Our Fears.
As Jesus speaks today’s text, He knows that those who follow Him have lots of fears. For example, one thing Christians fear is Rejection. No one likes to be rejected, and most of us probably have had experiences that give us a deep fear of rejection. There is that person we asked out who said “No” or even worse, “Let’s just be friends.” But I bring this up today because a lot of Christians say they do not want to share their faith because they fear rejection. But if you think about it, telling someone about Jesus, inviting them to church, and having them blow up at us…what does that really cost us? The first disciples had to face that fear regularly and repeatedly (v 14). In seminary I went out with my buddy, who was 6′ 6″ and a svelte 250 canvassing a neighborhood in St. Louis County for an LCMS church. As we went along, this dude just started screaming obscenities at us for trying to tell him about Jesus for an LCMS church. It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t really do anything to me.
Still today, many reject not only the message of the Gospel but also those who proclaim this message—which is undoubtedly one reason why many are afraid to talk about Jesus Christ more boldly and consistently. I know you do not like the thought of being mocked, insulted, passed over for promotion, because you believe in Jesus. But that should not stop us from doing so.
Another fear of modern Christians is Intimidation. Jesus warns His disciples to expect attempts to “silence” them by various tactics of intimidation (vv 17–18). The courts, the media, and lobbying groups are out there every day saying we are the problem, and telling us what we can and cannot say, what we can and cannot do. Like the baker in Colorado who didn’t want to bake a cake for a same sex wedding. That whole thing sounds like it came out of the book 1984 and “Thoughtcrime.”
Then there is outright Persecution. We talked about this a few weeks ago, but this text obviously brings it back up again. Jesus minces no words in this text as He describes the persecution that will be encountered by those who bear witness faithfully to the Gospel of Christ (vv 21–22a). Although Christians in America have largely been spared this type of persecution up until now, we should not naively expect that this will always be the case—and evidence of more subtle forms of persecution is on the increase here in the US of A.
Another thing that happens that is feared is Execution. Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the twelve apostles that they needed to be prepared to be “put to death” as the result of sinful opposition to the Gospel (v 21)—and most of them eventually were. Martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel has been a reality throughout the history of the Church, and it continues to be a reality still today in many parts of the world.
A magazine article written by Roman Catholics points out: “The average church-going Christian is not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. For this reason, scholars such as Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C….refer to the past century as one of the darkest periods of martyrdom since the birth of Christianity.” In countries like Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, North Korea, and Indonesia, Christians are often arrested, tortured, and imprisoned just for converting to Christianity.
“Christians are, in fact, the most persecuted religious group in the world today, with the greatest number of victims,” reports Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Puebla Program on Religious Freedom. “The most atrocious human rights abuses are committed against Christians solely because of their religious beliefs and activities—atrocities such as torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings, and even crucifixion.” If you are wondering why you have not heard this before, do you think the mainstream media is interested in publicizing any of this?
While all of this may sound like gloom and doom, according to today’s text, those who follow Jesus have absolutely nothing to fear. While we may fear rejection, intimidation, persecution, execution: Jesus has “been there, done that” (vv 24–25). Jesus does not ask us to follow where He has not first gone. Because Jesus has faced every enemy that causes us fear, we can be sure that He understands our fears, that He can sympathize with all of our temptations to be afraid, and that He will provide mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (cf. Heb 4:15–16).
Jesus has overcome every enemy that threatens to paralyze us with fear. Because Jesus has died for us and rose again for us, Jesus has overcome suffering of every kind. Jesus has overcome Satan and all his works and ways (1 Jn 3:8). Jesus has overcome death and hell (Rom 6:23). Anything that can really hurt or harm us in an eternity sort of way has been smacked down by Jesus, His death and His resurrection.
Jesus is with us, intimately caring for us, in every fear-filled situation. Whenever we are afraid, worried, anxious, remember Jesus has promised to be with you always, He always knows what’s going on in here and in here, He knows us so well that “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (v 30). No sparrow falls without His notice, and “you are of more value than…sparrows” (v 31). When we have faith in Jesus, then what the psalmist wrote in psalm 91 is wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus Christ: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High” has absolutely nothing to fear (Ps 91:1).
Fear may have its day and its say, but Jesus will have the last word. Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (v 32). Therefore, we can joyfully, boldly, fearlessly bear witness to Jesus until He comes again, to deliver us from every form and cause of fear, proving once and for all that Jesus Is Greater Than Our Fears!
No faithful pastor of the Good Shepherd Jesus would stand before his flock and glibly tell them: “You have nothing to fear.” According to Jesus in Matthew 10, those who seek to follow Him have much to fear from a human point of view: rejection, intimidation, all kinds of opposition, even persecution that, in many cases throughout history, has led to martyrdom for Jesus Christ.
From God’s point of view, however, we have nothing to fear. Think of how many times God has told His followers, “Do not be afraid.” To Abraham God said, “Fear not.” To Hagar God said, “Fear Not.” To Isaac God said, “Fear Not.” To the Children of Israel through Moses, God said, “Fear not.” Jesus told the apostles when He was done walking on the water, “Do not be afraid.” The angel said to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid.” The angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus told Simon Peter in the fishers of men conversation, “Do not be afraid.” And Jesus told the women outside the empty tomb, “Do not be afraid.” Why? Because Jesus has faced the source of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where fear will be banished forever and ever.
Whatever you are facing, no matter what you are dealing with, whatever that thing is in your life that is costing you sleep, gray hair, peace, it is ok! Whatever “it” is, Jesus has got this. So fear not! For behold I bring you Good News of Great Joy which shall be for All People.