Text: Matthew 10:24-33
Date: Pentecost VI (Proper 7) + 6/22/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
As the Good News of the Gospel was being fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, from beginning to end the story is punctuated with the comforting words, “Do not be afraid.” These were the words of the angel to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Likewise when the angel appeared to the women at the empty tomb after Jesus’ death he said, “Do not be afraid.” Throughout Jesus active ministry he calmed his disciples’ fears with these words as he revealed God’s plan of salvation in him as well as what it means for them.
In the tenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples that he was sending them out “as sheep among wolves” describing and predicting the opposition they would encounter because of the Word and the faith they were sent to proclaim. Rather than being a fearful thing, however, he repeated those same, comforting words, “have no fear,” “do not fear,” “fear not.” Today we ask, of what are you afraid? If we can discover that all fear ultimately is rooted in our separation from God, our sin and fear of punishment for sin, then we can discover also that the key to overcoming fear is reconciliation with God by God’s own gift of faith. The Faith that Overcomes all Fear is the faith created and strengthened in the believer by God through his Word.
The first thing about faith is that it is something God creates and works in the heart through his Word. That is, it’s not something we somehow conjure up on our own. Jesus says, “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” Faith (if it is to be real, Biblical faith) is totally dependent upon the God who gives it. “It is enough, for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (vv. 24-25). Jesus is not only the source of faith but is also the model of faith as He relied totally and solely on His Father in all things in His days of humiliation. He fended off the temptations and attacks of the devil in the wilderness with nothing but faith in the Word of God with the words, “It is written.” In probably one of the most mysterious passages in the letter to the Hebrews we read, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:7-9). Because our experiences and circumstances are always changing, the Christian disciple is forever learning from God’s word new insights, putting things together in ways he or she never thought of before, or maybe even had to. True faith is based not on my own assumptions, thoughts or opinions but on God’s Word.
Jesus uses the terms “servant” or “slave” and “master.” Slaves do not apply for the job. They are purchased. Servants are hired by their master who remains the “boss,” if you will. So Christians are to see themselves as students and servants of Christ, not as a result of their seeking out and choosing Christ as much as the result of Jesus seeking us out and choosing us, as he said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Using Biblical language, Luther’s Small Catechism says Christ purchased us “from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” The first thing about faith is that “it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.”
Why so? “Enough” for what? Again, Jesus spoke these words as he was telling His disciples of the opposition they would encounter because of their testimony. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul”—literally, a devil’s name—“how much more will they malign those of his household?” And if that were all, one wonders why anyone would want to be His disciple. But that’s not all! It is because of the truth of God’s salvation that faith endures any suffering associated with confessing and believing and holding to the Gospel.
The Apostle Paul talked about being “like” his master when he wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8, 10-11). Indeed, it is enough to be like your Teacher and Lord—like him not only in his patience and kindness, but also in his suffering which faith takes as a blessing, an expression of the love of Him who suffered for us.
The starting point for becoming like Christ is in holy baptism; first of all because baptism is not as much something I do as it is something God does to me. For “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus,” says the Apostle Paul, “were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Jesus did not say that he came just to give us a boost or as an additive for life, but he came that we may have a whole new life. That implies an “old life” that must be left behind! Again, the Apostle says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Because we still struggle with sin, however, this new life is lived under the shadow of the Cross. Now, of course, suffering is never fun. It is, however, when important things, fundamental to our life are at stake that we may risk suffering. We Americans try to avoid war. But when our fundamental freedoms come under attack we have proven how we unite and endure the sufferings of warfare in order to preserve and protect freedom and liberty. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Christian’s fundamental value because it is the only means of salvation. When the Gospel is under attack, likewise, Christians are called to unite and endure the sufferings associated with standing boldly for the truth of God’s Word. And that takes faith.
Fear is the greatest enemy of faith. What are you afraid of? Jesus speaks of the fear of failure, the fear of death and the fear of poverty or want. We could say that underlying these fears is a common thread, namely, the fear of being alone, or of going it alone. Whether it is the fear of the little toddler standing desperately alone in the department store aisle tearfully crying for his mother, the single mom or dad, newly divorced and worried about the future, the elderly living alone in an apartment or a nursing home, or facing the prospect of death, the greatest fear is that of being alone.
Jesus says, “do not be afraid” because you are not going it alone. In the midst of the known and even the unknown motives of those who question or criticize the Christian church and the gospel of Christ, Jesus assures us that his word will not fail but will accomplish that for which he sent it, namely, convicting the world of sin and bringing about saving repentance and faith and eternal life in those who hear the gospel.
Jesus says, “do not be afraid” because you are not going it alone—even when you are facing death. “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.” True fear of God is to believe his word for ourselves. It is, first, his word of Law that makes us admit our sin and need, that, on our own, we deserve nothing less than judgment and punishment both now and forever. But it is also his word of Gospel that, for the sake of the innocent, bitter, suffering and death of his only Son in our place, all who repent, believe and are baptized receive the forgiveness of sins and are declared righteous and acceptable to God by faith in his Son. In him, even in the face of death he comforts us, saying, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” “Let not your hearts be troubled…in my Father’s house are many rooms…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Jesus says, “do not be afraid” because you are not going it alone—even in your day-to-day needs of daily bread. “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.” This is not a promise that no physical harm will come to you, but that the Father sees it all and somehow even difficulty and persecution are caught up under his Fatherly care.
Do not be afraid. In Christ you are not going it alone! In all of these things we are to know that the Faith that Overcomes All Fear is the faith that is grounded in the Word of God. Therefore our Lord adds the final promise and warning, “everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
This is of greatest comfort, first of all, because, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Confessing with the mouth and believing in the heart go together! To “confess” means, literally, to say the same thing, to put into words the truth of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. This is why the creeds are so important. For they have been carefully worded and confessed by the church throughout the world from ancient times both to teach the one, true faith as well as to preserve and defend it from all false teaching. As a summary of the chief teachings of the Bible, the words of the creed, when they are spoken strengthen the very faith that is being confessed.
Fear does the opposite. Peter denied his Lord through fear. How many—we’ll never know, of course—denied the Lord for fear of the persecutions of history. How many times have you hesitated to confess the faith out of an alien fear of offending someone, or fear of falling out of favor with someone? The great thing is, as with St. Peter, the grace and forgiveness of Christ abounds as the blood of Jesus covers and cleanses us from all sin—even the sin of giving in to our fears. Therefore, may we all the more boldly confess our faith publicly before the world in order that many may hear and come to the saving faith with us—The Faith That Overcomes all Fear—Faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.