Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
Dear children of God who have nothing to fear: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fear is something with which we are all acquainted, at least to some degree. Whether it is fear of flying, fear of dogs, or fear of the dentist, we’ve all been afraid of something. There are also greater fears, like fear of disaster, fear of cancer, fear of death. We don’t generally fear such things until such a time that we must face them. We don’t fear disaster until that disaster appears to be looming around the corner. We’re not likely afraid of cancer until the doctor tells us we have it. We may not even be afraid of death until we are told we have only a few weeks to live. Nevertheless, we know fear.
Fear is part of our lives because we are sinful. If we were able to trust God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, we would never fear anything. But we are sinful so we cannot trust God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. We have fears about all kinds of things.
God knows this. That’s why when Gabriel announced to Mary that she will conceive and bear Jesus, he said, “Do not be afraid.” That’s why the angel announcing the birth to the shepherds started by saying, “Fear not.” That’s why when the disciples saw Jesus walking on water, He said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” God knows we fear all kinds of things, that is why He continually tells us, “Fear not.”
In our Gospel reading, Jesus told His disciples three times to have no fear. Jesus was sending them to preach His Word and He was telling them what to expect from the world. The world called Jesus Beelzebul, the prince of demons, so Jesus told the disciples not to expect any better treatment – but to have no fear. Jesus told them that they will be hated by all for His name’s sake, that they would be persecuted, that they will be maligned – but to have no fear. Jesus warned the disciples that their own family members would betray them and deliver them to death for preaching God’s Word – but He said have no fear of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
The funny thing is for us, Jesus’ very words not to fear cause fear in us. If He tells us not to fear persecution, our response is, “I sure hope I don’t have to face persecution” because we are afraid. That’s us. We fear. So we need to hear again and again, over and over, “Do not be afraid. Have no fear even of those who can kill the body because they cannot kill the soul.”
“Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This sounds like a threat from Jesus, and in a way it is. Only God can punish a person, body and soul, by casting him into hell for eternity. Thus, we should fear God so that we seek to avoid those things that deserve His wrath and punishment. We should fear God and do what He wants instead of giving in to pressure from man. We should stand our ground and do what we know is right, regardless of how other men may respond to us or even threaten us. Man can do nothing to us compared to what God can do to us if we turn our backs to Him in order to avoid conflict with men.
However, we don’t need to fear God like He’s out to get us. We don’t need to fear God like He wants to punish us; like He wants to hurt us in some way. Rather, we fear God like children fear a perfect Father. We know that He loves us and wants only what is best for us. He may discipline us as a father disciplines his children, but it also is out of love for us and is for our good. We fear God in the sense that we want to do what pleases Him. We fear God in that we revere, respect, and trust Him. As the First Commandment says, we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7). The fear of the Lord is knowing who He is and what He has done for us. Fools do not know God and do not want to learn. Fearing the Lord is trusting in Him for salvation. Fools trust in themselves for salvation and do not know what God’s Word says and have no desire to learn.
Fearing God is thus trusting Him above all things. When we fear God, we have nothing to be afraid of. When we fear God, we do not even have to be afraid of His punishment.
The reason we don’t need to fear God’s punishment is because Jesus has already been punished for us. The punishment of our sins has already been paid by Jesus’ death for us. That’s why we are forgiven. That’s why we are God’s children through Baptism – because we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.
John writes in his first epistle, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment.” (I John 4:18) Fear has to do with punishment, but since our punishment was put on Jesus we don’t have be afraid. We don’t need to fear God’s punishment or anger because His perfect love casts out our fear. His love shown in sending His Son to die for our sins casts out fear because we have no punishment waiting for us on Judgement Day.
Whatever difficulties we must face in our lives, we know we have nothing to fear. Our feelings sometimes can still get the best of us and we may feel fear, but those are especially the times we need to hear God’s words of comfort and promise. Fear not. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even death is nothing more than the doorway to heaven. You are safe in your loving Father’s hands.
He who cares even for the sparrows, cares for you. Not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father. You are of more value than many sparrows.
Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. An insignificant detail that changes continually and we ourselves don’t even care to know, but God knows. Not one of your hairs falls to the ground apart from the Father.
God shows such love and care for you so you know you have nothing to fear, no matter what you must face. God is with you. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life waiting for you. Fear not. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.