Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
June 22, 2008
Text: Matt. 10:5a, 21-33

“(Y)ou will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10: 22; ESV). That’s a promise straight from the mouth of Jesus. None of us likes to be hated. We’d much rather be liked by all, held in high esteem, respected, honored. But if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you have to expect to be hated. That’s hard. I confess to you, dear brothers and sisters, that as a pastor, I would much rather do whatever it takes to be liked, to please everyone, never rock the boat, never say or do things that might offend, or with which someone may disagree. It’s much harder to be faithful, speak the Word of Christ faithfully, even when it’s not popular, perhaps even have to suffer for it. And I suspect in every congregation there are lay people who would say to me, “We’d rather you didn’t speak such hard things, Pastor. Just be kind, winsome, and tell us what we want to hear on Sunday mornings. Otherwise, leave us alone.” But you know, and I know that Christ our Lord has not called me to that kind of milquetoast ministry. And you know, and I know, that that is not the kind of ministry you need. Therefore you and I both need to repent. For you need the often displeasing, rock the boat, offensive, disagreeable Word of Jesus Christ.

And so does the whole world. It’s the only thing that can lead them to salvation. So you can expect to be hated, hated by all, for the Name of Jesus Christ. If you’re being faithful to Christ and His Word, the world will take offense, and you will bear the brunt of their hatred. And sometimes this will hurt more than others, because sometimes those we deeply love will be the ones who hate us for our good confession. Sometimes friends and family members will despise and persecute us for what we believe and confess. Jesus declares, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (v. 21). Now, here in the United States we are blessed with great religious freedom, and certainly no one here has had to suffer death at the hands of their loved ones on account of their faith, at least not with the official sanction of the authorities. But understand that historically, Christians have had to face precisely this persecution, even being martyred for the faith, and it is true, often at the hands of loved ones who turned out to be Judases. This was true in the Old Testament as much as it is in the New. Consider the prophet Jeremiah, who writes in our Old Testament lesson, “I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! ‘Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ say all my close friends, watching for my fall. ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him’” (Jer. 20:10). And even though persecution unto death is not the norm in United States, it is very much the reality in other nations of the world even today. This is true especially in Islamic nations where it is illegal to evangelize in the Name of Christ. The public confession of Christ can and often does lead to imprisonment and death. And at the very least, if a Muslim converts to Christianity in one of these countries, they will be disowned by their family and exiled from their home. Brother will rise against brother, father against child, child against parents. Jesus predicts it, and how true it is.

At this point you have haven’t been called to shed blood for the sake of Christ. But you do know what it is to be hated by all for His Name’s sake. Even in this country where we enjoy unprecedented religious freedom, being Christian is not popular, at least not if you want to be faithful to Christ and His Word. You know that your stance against abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and physician assisted suicide, your insistence that sex is meant for marriage between and man and a woman who are married to one another, that therefore homosexuality and sex before and outside of marriage is wrong, you know that such notions are unpopular in today’s society, that you are ridiculed for your archaic notions of right and wrong. But most of all, the fact that you say Jesus is the only way to salvation, that you must be a Christian to be saved, has earned you the ire, the hatred, of the world. How intolerant of you! So today’s text has a lot to say to you this morning. You will be hated by all on account of Jesus’ Name and His Gospel.

But do not fear. “(T)he one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). God is with you, to strengthen you and to help you, to uphold you in the day of trouble. He is your sufficiency, and He fights for you. In the face of persecution, the prophet Jeremiah writes, “But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior” (Jer. 20:11). Don’t fear those who persecute you. We must not fear men more than we fear God. To do so is to break the First Commandment by making gods out of human beings. Rather we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things, including all people, even our loved ones, even our brothers and sisters, our children, our dearest friends, our parents, our spouses. Even these good gifts of God, these wonderful relationships that God gives us, can become idols to us if we choose them over God, if we fear the opinions of our loved ones more than we fear the commandments of God. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is our God, and no one else should take His place, no matter how much we may love the person who wants to get in the way of our faith and our relationship to God. As much as we love our family, our friends, our spouses, we must fear and love God more, and trust Him above all else.

If it is true of our loved ones, that we should fear God more than we fear them, then it is certainly true of others who want to persecute us. Jesus says, “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” (Matt. 10:28). Have you ever wondered if someday God will call upon you to suffer physical persecution for your confession of Christ? Again, this is the historical precedent in the Christian Church. What would you do? Are you willing to suffer the loss of all earthly goods, imprisonment, torture, death for the sake of Christ and His Name? What if that day comes? It could, you know. Well, if that day comes, again, remember that Christ is your sufficiency and strength. God has not abandoned you. He is with you and He will deliver you. Remember that Jesus suffered all these forms of persecution for you. He lost all earthly possessions for you. He was arrested for you, tortured for you, crucified for you, and died for you. He did all this even though you are a sinner, one born blind, dead, and an enemy of God and His Son. That’s how God revealed His great love for you, that while you were still a poor miserable sinner, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8). He did this for your forgiveness, to reconcile you to God, to pay your debt to God, to release you from Satan’s chains and a certain eternity in hell. And Christ is risen! He’s conquered death! He’s conquered the devil! He’s conquered hell! Heaven awaits you!

So don’t fear men. You have nothing to fear from them. The worst they can do is kill your body. They cannot kill your soul. God can destroy both your soul and your body in hell, but He does not. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem you to Himself. So don’t reject Him in fear of men and go to hell anyway. That would be tragic. Jesus says, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). Rather, believe in God. Trust Jesus. Your reward is with Him. He has delivered you from the things that can really harm you. Don’t worry about others, what they think, whether they like you or hate you, or what they might do to you. Justice comes in the end. All will be brought to light. “(N)othing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be made known” (v. 26). In the end it will be clear to all that you are in the right, that you suffered unjustly, and those who persecuted you, if they did not repent in this earthly life, will receive their judgment when Christ comes again.

In the meantime, it is enough that you are like your Teacher, your Master, Jesus. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (v. 25). If they persecuted Jesus, they will certainly persecute you. The “they” in this verse is the unbelieving world. But do not be discouraged. Count it an honor to be considered worthy to suffer for Christ. Your very suffering is a confession of faith. It is a confession of the Lord Jesus who suffered for you. And it is a great privilege.

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10). Confessing Christ will bring the hatred of the world down upon you, but so what?! Christ promises that even the hairs of your head are all numbered. In other words, God loves you, and nothing can happen to you without His permission, and everything He permits is for your good. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without your heavenly Father’s permission. If He so loves and cares for the sparrows, how much more you, who are worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:28-29, 31)? And you have Christ’s sure promise, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (v. 32). That is to say that on the Last Day, Jesus will point to you and say to His Father, “This one is mine. This one confessed me before men. Come, dear child, and receive the inheritance prepared for you before the world began.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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