3rd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 7) LSB #867
Text – Matthew 10:28
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul & body in hell.
TO FEAR OR NOT TO FEAR
Shakespeare is well-known for having written the words, “To be or not to be.” This morning we’ll be considering a variation of that from Holy Scripture, “To be afraid or not to be afraid. To fear or not to fear.” The Bible speaks of the concept of fear on over 500 different occasions. It seems to be aware that fear is common in the world in which we live.
In fact, it doesn’t take long for the concept to appear in God’s Word. Already in the 3rd chapter it shows up, after Adam & Eve had rebelled against their Creator. Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, & I was afraid, because I was naked, & I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10 ESV) What is it that makes you afraid? What causes you to hide yourself away?
Before the fall into sin mankind didn’t know what fear was. Neither did the animal kingdom. The wages of sin is death, but we could say that fear came along with it. Death strikes fear into the heart of even the most arrogant human being. How conscious we are of that fear does vary greatly from person to person.
To fear or not to fear? That’s the question we ponder for this day. Adam & Eve brought fear into God’s creation. Our heavenly Father demonstrated His love for us by sacrificing His Son to save us from sin & death & fear. Love is the antidote to fear as the Apostle John wrote:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, & whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV) I asked you earlier, “What is it that makes you afraid?” Based on the verse I just read it sounds like God is telling us that fear somehow revolves around the idea of punishment. Certainly it did when Adam 1st sinned. He knew he’d done wrong the moment he ate of that fruit. The fear of God is still at work, subconsciously driving the thoughts, words & deeds of countless people around the world. We know many of them – even ourselves. In order for our heavenly Father to restore the relationship He wants with each of us, His plan must 1st address the issue of our fear.
Since fear has to do with the expectation of punishment, the Gospel of John reaffirms that the reason Jesus entered our world had nothing to do with our punishment: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17 ESV)
However much our Creator loves us, & longs to recreate His perfect relationship with us, not all of God’s creation loves you & me. The Devil wants to devour us & he’s perfectly willing to use other human beings in accomplishing that goal. In the section just before today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus acknowledges that He’s sending His disciples out:
“…as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16) We are certainly to beware, but not fear, the kinds of hostility we’ll face on account of the reign of God that’s happening in this depraved world. Here’s a recent example from Great Britain.
In a public shopping area, in the city of Bristol, two men were explaining the difference between Islam & Christianity, using the Bible & the Quran. Bystanders began hurling insults at them so police removed the two men from the scene. The prosecutor in the case said, “To use words translated in 1611 in a very different context, in the context of modern British society, must be considered to be abusive & a criminal matter. To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they’re saying the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”
In their ruling, the court said, “We feel it has been proved that both defendants’ behavior went beyond preaching the virtues of their religion.” Both men were ordered to pay fines & they are appealing the conviction.
In a statement one of the convicted men said, “We want people to have access to the good news about Jesus Christ. I am shocked that God’s message of love is now considered hateful & dangerous. Today, speaking God’s truth seems to be a hate crime.”
He should not be shocked by the court’s ruling. Neither should we. Jesus warned us that
the world would hate us simply because the world hates Him. Jesus made it quite clear in the reading from Matthew: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:24 & 25b ESV) The Pharisees had called Jesus the prince of demons.
Jesus continues, “So have no fear of them…” (10:26) That’s easier said than done for the sinful creatures that we are. After encouraging us to continue proclaiming the truth, Jesus then says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul & body in hell.”
For now, our heavenly Father is all about grace & mercy, forgiveness & life. Yet, there is a day when that will end. For now, punishment is not in the picture at all. There is a day coming when that will return. Jesus came the 1st time in humility, as a helpless child, as one of us, that we might not be afraid. He did so that we might be drawn to Him by love.
When the appointed Day arrives, then our Lord will come in power & might & majesty. The earth & the heavens will be shaken & every knee will bow before Him. No human being, however powerful, can do any more than kill our already dying & corrupted body. For today, we have no reason to fear God, but for eternity all men do.
Peer pressure is real. It causes us, at times, to question our faith & even to silence our confession. Our Lord gives us, in this Gospel reading from Matthew, the eternal picture. We have nothing to fear in this life. It is the eternal life, which we cannot see, that matters far more than any suffering or glory of this world.
That death strikes fear into even the most arrogant human being reveals a glimmer of the gravity of our eternal existence. We shall continue, after death in this life, in one place or the other. Jesus warns us not to fear men & encourages us to put our trust in Him who died for us. Our Savior offers us the faith necessary to trust Him, to live for Him, & to reject the lies of Satan. By that faith, we do experience our Creator as the words we spoke in the Introit earlier today described:
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Following Jesus does not make this life easier. In fact, on a human level it will make life more difficult. Yet the child of God keeps this prayer always in heart & mind: O God, because Your abiding presence always goes with us, keep us aware of Your daily mercies that we may live secure & content in Your eternal love.
Even if that means death at the hands of men, we will prove to be ‘more than conquerors through Him Who loves us’ (Romans 8:37) because our Creator will protect us &, in the final judgment, will confess us in the presence of His heavenly Father. Jesus tells us, “You are mine” in the waters of holy Baptism.
In Holy Communion Jesus gives us His body & blood to demonstrate the lengths to which He would go to save us. The people of our country seem to be drifting further & further away from a relationship of humility with Yahweh. We ourselves may have opportunity to rightly fear retribution for our faith in Jesus. We should consider that a blessing from God.
In the OT reading, Jeremiah cries to God, “I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” In the Gospel reading, Jesus asks us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Those are His words of encouragement to us. They are also words of promise. We truly are worth more than many sparrows. Jesus is the only way to the Father, but He does everything necessary to get us to heaven. We only need believe that it is so. Amen.
Our sons & daughters we shall tell & they again to theirs that generations yet unborn may teach them to their heirs. O teach them with all diligence the truths of God’s own Word, to place in Him their confidence, to fear & trust their Lord, to learn that in our God alone their hope securely stands, that they may never doubt His love but walk in His commands. Amen. LSB 867:3-5.
 Jeremiah 20:7b ESV
 Matthew 10:29-30 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet