Monday, June 26, 2023

Don't Fear, Follow Christ No Matter What

[Below is the message shared during both worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio

[We were joined by Claire Brown Kriel during the announcements at the beginning of both services. Claire and her husband Shaun were with us to share updated information on the ministry Claire founded and directs in South Africa, Lydia's Mission. Living Water is happy to be partnered with Lydia's Mission, which empowers women to move out of poverty and also provides ministry to children and to the elderly. 

[If you watch the video of the 8:45 AM service, you'll note that I flubbed-up the opening of the sermon...but God is gracious!]

Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

As Christians, we take comfort from the promises of God found in places like the last verse of our second lesson for today: “​​For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Not everyone finds comfort in God’s promises though. To be told that Jesus says, “Whoever believes in [Jesus, God the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son,” arouses their anger. (John 3:17) They get angry too when they hear Jesus claim, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

You see, we all are born under the condemnation of the Law. The Law is, essentially, the moral law of God as given to us in the Ten Commandments which Jesus summarizes in the Great Commandment: Love God and love neighbor.

Apart from faith in Jesus and the power of His death and resurrection to save us from sin and its result, death, we human beings, incapable of perfectly obeying God’s Law, are condemned for all eternity.

People have all sorts of reactions to hearing that they live under condemnation by God’s Law.

Some deny the existence of God or of things like right and wrong. These folks try to wriggle out of responsibility for their actions when confronted with God’s will by telling Christians, “That’s your truth.” But there is only one truth. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

Other people live in self-righteousness, convinced they are decent, righteous people whose every second is lived above reproach. A prominent Baptist theologian told of the student who, beaming, told him after class one day that it had been three years since he had been tempted to sin. The theologian told him, “That’s about the worst thing I’ve ever heard.” For the student to have been unconscious of temptation may have meant that he was so deeply mired in self-righteousness that he was insensitive to the constant temptations presented to God’s people by the devil, the world, or our sinful selves.

Other people live in constant fear of God’s condemnation. They think their salvation depends on them being perfect moral beings. Every time they become conscious of their sins, they think that until they make things right, they’re damned for all eternity. Many of these people give in to despair and give up on having life with God.

All of these folks–and you and I who are prone to falling into precisely these patterns of thinking at different times in our lives, first of all need to hear–really hear–God’s Law.

The Bible tells us that we were born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and “were by nature deserving of wrath” from the moment of our conception (Ephesians 2:3).

Lest we try to evade this truth about ourselves, we also need to hear what sin is spelled out for us.

We sin when we worship God’s creatures rather than God the Creator; when we dishonor our parents or those in authority; when we murder in thought as well as deed; when we use God’s gift of sex outside the bounds of heterosexual marriage; when we speak falsely or uncharitably of others; when we swipe what’s not ours; or when we covet what others have.

We need to hear this Law to remind us of the distance we are, by our natural inborn inclinations, from God and from life with God.

We all also need to hear the Gospel.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus, Who died and rose to set you from sin and death, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

We need to hear Jesus tell us again this morning: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

We need the Word of God for us again this morning: “...a person is justified by faith [in Jesus] apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus sends the twelve apostles out to share His Word with the people of Israel.

Their mission foreshadows the mission that you and I have, to make disciples of all nations.

Jesus says that not everyone will want to receive God’s Word, Law or Gospel. The message of Christ to repent and believe in Him always arouses opposition.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death,” Jesus warns. “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but [then He promises] the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

But, how do we stand firm in our faith in the face of opposition? Jesus goes on to tell us how in our lesson.

First, Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid of [those who come after you for following Him], for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” (Matthew 10:26-27)

In the past few weeks alone, I’ve been called “a tool” and judgmental by different people when I’ve tried to share God’s Word in love with them.

But friends, we need not fear Christ’s opponents! The plans God has revealed to those who listen to His Word, will one day be revealed to all. Christ will return. Then death and everything that intimidates us in this world will die.

What we see today by faith through the power of God’s Word--that Christ has triumphed over sin and death, and that all who trust in Him live with God now and forever--will only then, on His return, be seen by those who reject Christ today. We take comfort from knowing that even now, we live in Christ’s eternity and we belong to Him!

Second, Jesus says, “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)

Don’t be afraid of the world, Jesus says. The most it can do is kill us.

Instead, we should have a holy fear of God, the One Who can condemn people to hell.

When we die, our bodies and souls are separated. Our bodies decay in this world, but the souls of those who trust in Jesus will rest in His presence until the Day of Jesus’ return.

Meanwhile, the souls of those who refuse to trust in Jesus will be in torment.

On the day Jesus returns to this world and establishes the new heaven and the new earth, our bodies will be raised and gathered again with our souls.

Those who have refused Jesus will be sent to eternal condemnation.

But those who trust in Jesus will hear Him say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

Those who trust in Christ know that nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

Finally, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

If you follow Jesus, you will encounter opposition, ridicule, maybe even persecution or death. But Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5) Jesus says elsewhere, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

As, by the power of the Gospel at work in the Word and the Sacraments, you turn to Christ in daily repentance and faith, you live in the certainty that your sins are forgiven and you belong to God forever!

At the end of our lesson today, Jesus tells us, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

Friends, I love telling you what God has called me to tell you: In Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven and your eternity with God is secured.

Acknowledge Jesus as your Savior and Lord by turning to Him each day for the forgiveness of your sin and for life with God.

No matter what this world may say about you, think about you, or do to you, you can trust in Christ to be Your Savior for all eternity.