Summary: Fear God and Be Fearless 1) Fearless of bullies; 2) Fearless of the future
What do you fear? Spiders? Don’t like how they scuttle along the floorboards in your living room and build webs in the corners of your garage and furnace room, right where the light switch is? Do you fear lightning and thunder? A sudden flash followed by an ear-splitting crash sends you scurrying into your parents’ bed in the middle of the night. (For that reason many moms and dads are also afraid of thunder and lightning.) Others fear heights and won’t even climb ladders. I used to be afraid of water after I toddled off the end of a dock when I was only two years old. We all fear rejection. That’s why walking into a room full of strangers is a bit unsettling. Is there a way to overcome our fears no matter what they are? There is says Jesus in our Gospel lesson this morning. Fear God and you will be fearless – fearless of bullies, and fearless of the future.
Jesus spoke the words of our text to prepare his disciples for missionary work – the work of telling others about their sin and their savior. They would be well prepared for this effort because Jesus had given his disciples the power to heal the sick and drive out demons (Matthew 10:1). Still, their task would not be easy. Jesus explained: “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:24, 25)
Jesus warned his disciples that since he had been harassed, the disciples could expect to be hassled too and this should not surprise them. That’s a good reminder for us isn’t it? Although we would love it if news about Jesus was always as welcomed as a coupon for free ice cream would be, telling others about Jesus doesn’t always elicit a joyful response – not even from those who should know better like people who grew up in the church. But we should not become discouraged. Jesus was often rejected and so will we if we are truly his followers.
And that’s a good question to ponder this morning isn’t it? Am I really a follower of Jesus? Do I walk in the path he has laid out for me in his Word, or do I press on in directions I want to go? Jesus has called me to be a faithful pastor, for example, but do I use the excuse of my work to hide in my office while I should be engaging my children and serving my spouse as a faithful father and husband? Jesus has called on us all to deny our sinful flesh, but do we use our intellect to rationalize our pet sins instead of figuring out how to avoid them? The problem could be that we don’t see Jesus as our leader, but see him as our maid – someone who is to follow behind us and clean up after the messes we make. And when Jesus doesn’t clean up after us, when he lets us suffer the consequences of our sin, we complain that he isn’t there for us. But Jesus is not our maid; he is our leader and he gives us good reasons to let him do the leading. He went on to say to his disciples: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
There was no reason for the disciples to be bluffed into silence by the bullies they would encounter. Those bullies could kill them, but they couldn’t touch their souls. When my laptop fell off the old pulpit a couple of years ago there was an audible gasp from those who saw it happen. I admit my heart sank too, especially when I saw the big crack in the screen. But when I hooked up the laptop to another monitor it was clear that the hard drive and processor were in working order. I just needed a new screen. Today Jesus is telling us that this is also the worst man can do to us: break our “display.” No matter how hard they hit us, they cannot break what’s on the inside – our soul. God, however, has the power to break the soul as well, that is, he has the power to end our joy forever by banishing us from his love. “So save your fear for God,” urges Jesus.
Now when Jesus says that we should fear God he’s speaking about a respectful reverence not an attitude of terror, as if God is a mean school teacher or an ornery boss whom we better keep happy if we know what’s good for us. Jesus’ point is this: stand in awe of God, not man. Don’t be awed by the intellect of the scientist who tells you that this universe must be billions of years old. Don’t be awed by the slick computer generated animations you see at museums to illustrate the theory of evolution. Stand in awe instead that the God of truth has told you in plain simple terms how this universe came into existence: by the power of his Word in six, twenty-four hour days. Don’t be awed by the power and prestige celebrities possess. Don’t crave their shameful lifestyles. Instead stand in awe of what God has already given to you: his love and promises of daily bread and eternal life. This is what Jesus was getting at when he said: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:26b, 27). The Message translation puts those same verses like this. “Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now” (Matthew 10:26b, 27).