Sunday the 25th of June 2017
Matthew 10: 24-39
There are times as Christians when we read and hear God’s Word to us, that sometimes, what Jesus says can be confusing or even confronting. This may leave us in a place where we wonder what Jesus is telling us. This morning I am going to preach from the Gospel reading from Matthew 10, but before I get there I want to start with the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 20.
The Old Testament prophets had to confront a major problem with the people of Israel. The leaders, including priests, were committing great sins before God. They were corrupt and dishonest, they worshipped idols openly; they lied to themselves and to God’s people for whom they were to be responsible for shepherding; in fact they led them away from God. But the biggest problem was they thought that they could do these things without any consequences from God. When God sent his prophets to tell the truth, to call the leaders of Israel to repent, to turn back to God, they were persecuted. They were charged with disrupting the peace, telling people bad news that was upsetting them, causing conflict between people. The leaders were against God’s prophets and they turned the people against them as well, which is why we hear Jeremiah in today’s reading complaining to God about the treatment he was receiving because he was speaking God’s truth.
When Jesus began his ministry of preaching and teaching similar things happened. There were those who turned back to God, but the majority of them turned against him as they did not want to hear the truth. They wanted to keep living their lives as though God would not hold them to account, and when Jesus spoke the truth they persecuted him, even to the point of having him killed on a cross to get rid of him.
In today’s reading Jesus is speaking to his disciples about how this is also going to be the reality for all who follow him. Jesus even says these words: 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Now I don’t know about you but when I hear this I resist it. I think to myself this can’t be right because it sounds so wrong. Yet Jesus here speaks the truth. Have you ever noticed that those who speak the truth, those who stand up for what they believe in, do not usually receive a welcome response?
When we look at our society it is very much like this. If you support gay marriage, the legalisation of abortion, or the legalisation of euthanasia as examples, you are considered to be a hero in our society. If you support the right for every individual to do what is right in their own eyes, without taking into account the thoughts and feelings of others, you are held in high regard. However, if you want to publically oppose these things, if you were to stand up and call out what is considered wrong in the eyes of God, there are consequences to this as well and they are usually not good.
Jesus in this reading is not saying that he makes people divisive, that he deliberately brings about conflict. No, he is saying that when you tell the truth, not everyone is going to like it. Just like they responded to him, they will respond the same way to his followers. This is Jesus’ truth-telling at its best. He is providing no sugar-coating here, but telling it how it is. When you stand up and speak out for what you believe, people start falling away.
For his faithful followers who believe in what Jesus says, what Jesus stands for, and we openly speak about it, it is risky business. Relationships will change. Relationships could very well end. That is, in part, what Jesus is saying here. When you stand up for what you believe? Nothing will be the same. Anticipate being unfriended and pushed out, treated differently. Jesus says that it can even happen by those closest to us, our family.
I am sure you can recall relationships, some of them close relationships that have been changed because you are a Christian, because you hold firm to what our Lord says; because you stand up for what you believe in.
Jesus makes it clear that to follow him involves a cost. Are we going to compromise our faith, to please others, or are we going to remain faithful? All of us are confronted by this question at some point in our lives; it is a question we all have to wrestle with.
As I was thinking about this, these verses stood out to me: Verse 26: “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Verse28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Verses 29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Three times just before he said that peace would not come but the sword, Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid” and as always Jesus’ words are not just for those disciples, but to all his followers including you and me. This is the blessing that you and I have as those who hold on to our faith in Jesus amongst the pressure to let go—the blessing that you and I do not have to be afraid because we know that we are in God’s hands, that he is protecting us, that he is working in us. We have the blessing of having peace with God through Jesus, a peace that unbelievers do not have.
It is this peace that we need to trust in. It is this trust that will enable us as followers of Jesus to reach out to those around us, rather than lock ourselves away in fear. As Christians we need to in our world and society stand up for the truth, but often we do not because of the fear of how others will react to us. The truth is that not everyone will react well, but some will. We do not need to be afraid because we know that God has us in his hands and that he can and will use us to reach out to others with the Gospel; how they respond is up to them and the Lord, but we should not let our fear stop us from speaking up.
Jesus speaks in today’s reading of being willing to lose your life to save it; taking your daily cross and following him. I wonder at times whether we as Christians look around us at all the hardship that could be involved in our decisions that we make. It is easy to see the negative consequences that might happen if we live out our daily lives following Jesus. It is easy to see all the bad things that might happen, which is understandable, but I can’t help but think that it would be different if we were to look at the cost of giving up the peace and forgiveness that we have through Jesus; giving up the grace that our Lord lavishes on us, for the sake of pleasing others around us. You and I are in a position where we stand firm with God because we have been blessed by him through Jesus. We are in a place where we have the peace of God that is declared upon us, where we have the knowledge that our Lord has us in his hands.
As Christians living in this world we need to hear these words of truth from Jesus about the hardships that happen to us because we follow him; we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that these difficulties are not there, but we also need to rest assured in the fact that we do not have to be afraid because we belong to the Lord and we are in his hands. He will look after us as his children. I encourage each of you to hold firmly on to this promise, but also to continue to pray for our world, and those we know that either don’t know him or are drifting away. Stand firm in your faith and trust in Jesus and do not be afraid to speak the truth as the Holy Spirit leads you.