So, What Are We Afraid Of? - Matthew 10:26-33
Fear. It is probably the most troubling and devastating of emotions that we experience. It has the ability stop us in our tracks, leaving us riddled with indecision. It has the ability to remove choices from our lives. It has the ability to remove blessings from our lives, weaken our faith, and put our relationship with God in jeopardy, or at least call that relationship into question.
The problem of fear in our relationship with God is so important that if we were to go through our Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, and count the number of times God’s Word says, “Do Not Fear,” “Do Not Worry,” “Do Not Be Afraid,” and “Do Not Be Concerned,” we would come up with a grand total of one hundred eleven times and of those one hundred eleven times, three of them occur in this brief passage.
Jesus is talking to those that He has called to follow Him and who have had the courage to lay aside their lives as they knew them and commit to seeing where this new rabbi on the scene would lead them. Jesus has been teaching—they have heard His words and watched the response. Many times I am sure that they said, “I’m glad he said that and not me,” because they had watched the reaction of those who really did not like Jesus, what He taught, and how He acted. They were probably thrilled to be followers. However, the time has come as Jesus has led them, for them not just to follow, but to go. As Jesus sends them out, He offers instruction and warnings:
Proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Do not charge anyone for what you do for them. Take no financial provision for yourselves. Know that some will welcome you…know that many others will reject you. Know that there will be some who will seek to devour and destroy you. You will be arrested. You will be beaten. Your family may turn against you. You will be persecuted. Anything you see them do to Me, they will do to you.
After all of this, Jesus says, “So have no fear of them….” How many of us would have looked at Jesus and said, “Really? Really Jesus? You’re telling us to go out without You, do all the miracles you have been doing, and take no means of supporting ourselves. You are also telling us that while some folks may listen to us, most are going to reject us, and some may even try to hurt us, arrest us, or even kill us. All of this, Jesus, and you’re telling us to not be afraid? Yeah, right…”
Yet, that is exactly what Jesus is telling them. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of them. They cannot do anything to you that won’t be revealed in the end. They will be shown for who they are and you will be shown as faithful and true. Take our private conversations and make them public…proclaim the Kingdom of God has come as loud as you can. Don’t worry about what the folks may do to you, even if they kill you…because they cannot truly permanently harm you…you are designed for more than the time from your exit the womb until you enter the grave…that is just a short time…what you need to be concerned about is your relationship and faithfulness to the One who controls the rest of eternity for you.”
My brothers and sisters, these words of direction, warning, and encouragement were meant for the Twelve…however, they are also meant for us. Committing our lives to be disciples of Jesus…not just fans, thinking “hey Jesus is a nice guy and all,” but really disciples, being among those who would truly call Him, “Lord”…those words are meant for us…follow Jesus is not just about reading about Jesus or hearing about Him, or even studying the Scriptures, but it is about truly committing ourselves to, with the strength of God’s Spirit filling us and enabling us, surrendering our lives to becoming Christlike, so that all that we do, say, and even think is centered on Christ and living out His commission to continue His work of touching and healing the lives of those who are physically, emotionally, and spiritually suffering—it is about liberating those who are in physical, emotional, or spiritual bondage—it is standing firmly counter-culturally in a society that says anything goes and any path that leads to my happiness is heaven-sent and divinely-ordained. Unfortunately, though, many times we respond to the commission of Christ to take the Gospel message, in word and action, into the world with fear and silent inaction.
So, what are we afraid of? We are afraid of those things that the twelve closest to Jesus would have been afraid of. We are afraid for our financial security and provision for our needs; we are afraid for our social standing and what others might think of us; we are afraid for our physical wellbeing and our very lives.
When we’re planning trips, how many of us hold off on that trip until we are sure that we have enough money or resources to take care of any expenses we might have. I remember the days of going to the bank and getting Traveler’s Checks before heading out because you didn’t want to carry that much cash and there was no such thing as a debit card. How many of you can imagine setting off on a trip, leaving your wallet, your cash, your credit cards, and any other financial resource at home. That’s just what Jesus instructed the disciples to do. Not only that, but he told them not even to take extra clothes, or shoes, or anything other than the clothes they are wearing. Even beyond that, they were told that they could not charge anyone for the miracles that they would be performing—we encounter those folks throughout Scripture. They were to head out empty handed, do the work of God, and trust God to provide for them through freely given love offerings of those to whom they were revealing the Kingdom of God. How many are ready to sign up for this kind of trip?
Not many of us may be called to do that, but God may push us to risk financially in other ways. Maybe He’s encouraging to increase our giving, or give to a special ministry when we’re already living on a shoestring budget. Maybe he’s calling us, either as individuals or as a congregation, to stop socking things away in a rainy-day fund for what might happen, for a tomorrow that we’re not even promised, and use those resources to reach and help those who are in need of encountering God today, and trust that He will provide what we need through the generosity of those to whom we are sent.
Maybe we’re good with trusting God to meet our needs. We have no fear of God letting us go hungry. The next fear the disciples had to confront was fear of how folks might view them. We all like to be liked, right? I think there is something within so many of us that just longs to be popular. I’ve encountered a few people, now and then, that don’t care who they are talking to, or how it might be received, they are going to say exactly what they think or believe. Most of us are not there, though. Many of us will tend to go with the crowd, remaining silent, even if we don’t agree. The disciples faced that…they had to be concerned with how they were seen and understood. They knew that even Jesus’ own family had accused him of being crazy. They knew that the religious leaders were constantly trying to undermine Jesus’ work. They had seen Jesus get run out of town time and again. And of course, they wanted folks to like them because they were dependent upon their generosity for their livelihood. Jesus though, says proclaim the Kingdom as God reveals it to you, without fear or reservation, find folks that are receptive and spend time with them…and in those places where you are made fun of, ridiculed, threatened, or even ignored, shake the dust off your sandals and move on with no worries—as Paul will later tell the Galatians and Thessalonians, our lives are about pleasing God and not winning popularity contests among those around us.
Finally, maybe it is not our threats to our livelihood or reputations that cause us to be afraid, but we are worried about our very lives. The disciples knew that not only had Jesus become unpopular in some areas, not only had his own family deemed Him off His rocker, but in a couple of places where He had revealed the Kingdom of God, they had actually tried to take His life, tried to through Him off a cliff, and He knew they would eventually see Him arrested, tortured, and nailed to a cross. They knew they would face those threats to their lives and more. There are many who are called to mission for Christ in those same kinds of places…Iran, China, Pakistan, Indonesia…and other places around the world where Christianity is not only in a minority, but illegal under threat of death. However, most of us may not be called to go to those places, but we may still face paralyzing threats to our lives in our own locale. Maybe God’s calling us to take His love and acceptance into the gang ruled neighborhoods or housing projects. Maybe He’s calling us to go into the jails or prisons. Maybe He’s simply calling us to simply be in public places in the height of flu season, or even visit those in the hospital or at home with contagious illnesses.
Just as Jesus promised those who followed Him that it meant putting everything at risk, He promises the same to us. Truly following Jesus, truly being a disciple of Christ, means living a life of risks-not playing it safe. Failure to trust in the grace of God and face down our fears can cause us to lose everything.
Failure to trust God and risk our resources, which in reality truly belong to God anyways, puts us in the position of missing out on blessings (think of the parable that Jesus told about the farmer who kept having abundant crops and using it to build bigger barns, never enjoyed the blessings God gave him, dying after a round storing up those blessings for a rainy day when he could have had the joy of sharing those blessings with the hungry around him). There is also the risk of having the blessings we have received, when we bury them, refusing to risk them, stripped away from them like the servant with one talent in Jesus’ parable of the three servants given investments from their master.
Failure to have the courage to speak out for Jesus because we are embarrassed or worry what someone might think of us puts others at risk and puts our relationship with God at risk. Think of the lives that were lost to lynchings because folks were afraid to stand up to the Klan, afraid not for their lives, but about their reputation in the community. Think of the folks now who hesitate to speak up when they ate in a crowd where racist or other ethnically derogatory jokes or comments are being made—failing to take a stand for precious children of God because of their skin color or country of origin. Think of those who hide their faith when they are in places belief is ridiculed—whether it be the work place, places of academia, or just in some social setting. Some of us might be thinking, “I can see how it MIGHT put others at risk, but preacher, how does it put my relation with God at risk?” Jesus makes that clear in our reading today, “…whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my Father in heaven.”
Likewise, if we fail to put our whole lives, and even the lives of those close to us, on the line for the sake of the Gospel, we risk ours, and their eternity. Jesus later confronts His followers with this simply, “For those who want to save their life will lose it…For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”[i] In other words, are we willing to find ourselves give up eternal life in the presence of our Creator, simply to extend the end date on our headstone?
However, if we will truly face down those fears...if we will simply trust in God for our provisions…if we will simply understand the value we have in His eyes is worth much more than any reputation here on earth…if we will simply trust in the giver of life with our own lives, the blessings are abundant:
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven…”
“…those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”[ii]
“…And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”[iii]
My brothers and sisters, I struggle living without fear along with each of you…yet to live immobilized, voiceless, or tight-fisted out of fear is to distrust God…but to face those fears, knowing that the One who faced the cross for each of us conquered the grave and holds out His nail-scared hands to pull us through and trusting those hands to hold us can enable us to truly live fearlessly!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!