I don't know the origins of the slogan, "No Fear", but I see it on t-shirts, posters, and trucks. "No Fear" taps a deep need not to be afraid. The first human emotion in the Bible is Adam being afraid of God. After this, when the Divine meets the human in Scripture, God always says, "Fear not," so, "No fear" is God's slogan too. Of course, the popular slogan "No Fear" is little more than positive thinking, a bold determination not to be afraid. That may work well when skateboarding, rock climbing, or mountain biking, but what do you do when real fear comes looking for you?
Our text is Jesus sending out the apostles. In the verses right before this, He told them the things that would happen to them, things any right thinking person would fear. He told them He was sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Sheep are defenseless against wolves. When sheep meet wolves, wolves win. He told them they'd be handed over to courts and whipped in churches. Jesus said that even their own brothers would hand them over to death. A father would betray his child, and children their parents. They would be hated by all for His sake, Jesus told them.
This is your lot in life too. You too are sheep in the midst of wolves. The world considers you crazy for believing in a God you can't see who sent His only Son to die for you. You're crazy to believe Water saves, Words forgive and Bread and Wine are really the Body and Blood of your God. And you're intolerant, narrow-minded, bigoted an un-American for saying any god other than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a false god.
It's no better in the church either. The apostles were whipped for saying, that the 10 Commandments didn't save people, Jesus did; that Jesus rescued people from having to keep the 10 Commandments to go to heaven; that God didn't send His Son to make people better. You will be rejected and attacked today if you tell Christians who think God is pleased with them because they follow God's laws that God is only pleased in Christ. Worse will happen if you tell Christians who pride themselves in their good works that their good works are only stinking rags before the holy God.
The apostles were whipped in the church because they taught that it was necessary to eat and drink Jesus' Body and Blood; that being baptized washed sins away; that an Absolution spoken on earth was valid in heaven. These teachings could get you whipped in some churches today. Many think eating and drinking Christ is blasphemous, Baptism is a mere outward sign, and Absolution only announces the forgiveness of sins; it doesn't actually forgive them.
You'll get along fine in this world as long as you only speak of a Supreme Being, a god, and of trying your best to please him. You'll get along fine in the church of this world as long as you don't say Jesus' Body and Blood are present in Bread and Wine. Baptism saves. And Absolution really forgive sins. But if you say these things, you'll be no friend of the world or friend of most American churches. You will be in the eyes of many what Jesus Himself was, Beelzebub. Doesn't that make you afraid?
It does me. So much so, that I'd rather not preach this sermon. And you'd better not listen because these words will only bring you grief, and the grief is more than just name calling. Jesus warns about life taking. The devil is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. People devoured by lions don't live. Jesus elsewhere says that those who kill you will think they're doing God a favor. The people who crucified Christ and stoned Stephen thought they were doing God a favor.
Do you get it now? We're in a war. Christ and all in His house our on one side and everything else is against Him and His house. The other side has such weapons as sickness, money problems, weather disasters, family strife, addiction, spiritual apathy, and doctrinal division. These troops march against us. We see this one fall ill, that one die, this one on poverty's brink, that one beleaguered by family troubles, and this one by spiritual ones. It's scary. I don't know about you, but I want to turn and run.
Jesus does something dramatic at this point. He does as an ancient doctor did to a man whom he wanted to stop from drinking alcohol. He ordered him to drink only out of one particular cup. From all other cups he was forbidden to drink, but from this one he was free to drink as much as he wanted. This went on for weeks. Finally, the doctor came over and without a word smashed that one cup.
Jesus does a similar thing here. He takes these very real fears we have: the fear of being persecuted for the faith; the fear of some dreaded cancer; the fear of our kids going bad, of going bankrupt, of car accidents, of dying, and narrows it down to just one fear. Jesus says, "Don't go on fearing all these things that can kill the body but not the soul. No, if you want to get into this business of fear, the only thing you can be afraid of is God; the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell."
Yes, when the fears of persecution, disease, death, disaster, or family trouble build in my heart driving me this way or that, when every new medical study points to my having cancer, every ache my loved one has points to them dying, and every doctrine of Christ points to a martyr's death, I come up against Jesus' words. If I want Someone to fear, I should fear God. Cancer can't touch my soul; neither can the death of a loved one, the biggest tragedy, harshest family trouble or the worse persecution. If I want to be ruled by fear, then I should be ruled by the fear of the only One worthy of it.
But I don't want to be afraid at all! Thanks be to God, Jesus doesn't want me or you to be either. Like the wise doctor of old, after narrowing our many fears down to just one, Jesus then smashes that fear completely. Look at the text. Jesus says, "Don't continue to be afraid of those who can kill the body, rather be afraid of God," But then He goes on to talk about a Father who takes note of every half-cent sparrow and every hair on your head, and concludes, "So don't be afraid; you're worth more than many sparrows."
What an understatement! Do you know what you are worth? You who have failed to speak Christ's truth; you who are afraid of your own shadow. You are not just worth more than many sparrows, you are worth more than God's own Son. Yes, that was the deal. God could keep in His hand, safe and secure, either His own Son or you. He chose you, and sent Jesus to the cross to suffer and die. God could either number your hairs or count your sins which the Psalmist says are more than the hairs on your hair. He chose to count your hairs, and to pay for your uncountable sins by putting a crown of cruel thorns on the hairs of His beloved Son.
Need you be afraid of such a God as this? Are sparrows? If the sparrow can find a home in the holy of holies where the Cloudy Presence of God dwelled as Psalm 84 tells us, then I don't think sparrows are at all afraid of God. And, be very clear on this point, sparrows have 'No Fear' of God even though God does indeed let them fall to the ground. Sparrows are hit by cars, devoured by cats, and shot by little boys with BB guns. But they aren't worthless to God even though they seem to die in such a haphazard manner.
And neither are we no matter how things look now. Right now it appears that genetic roulette determines who gets cancer, and chance who has car accidents. Right now it appears pointless when St. Stephen is stoned by the church and St. James is killed by a politician's sword. But it won't always appear this way. There will come a Day when the Father will uncover and reveal His secret plans and purposes. Then we will see just how valuable we are to Him; just how precious is the death of His saints; just how little we needed to fear Him much less any created thing.
Now having been rooted in the Father's love, having seen how His Son gave His hands up to a cruel death, just so the Father could lovingly use His hands to count our hairs, now we are ready to hear those last verses of our text which strike fear in so many of your hearts: Literally Jesus says, "Whoever confesses in Me before men, I will also confess in him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before Men, I will deny him before My Father in heaven."
What fear these words bring! Have I trusted God enough? Will I deny Him on my deathbed? And false preachers stoke fear's fire: "Better have the right words on your lips; better not be sinning when you die." But Jesus preaches better than they; He puts our security not in our right confessing or right living but in Him. "Whoever confesses in Me, I will confess in him before My Father," says Jesus.
But how do I know if I'm in Him? Sure, every sparrow I see preaches to me of God's care for me, and every hair of mine I find on the bathroom sink speaks to me of how God takes note of me. But how do I know if I in particular am in Jesus and Jesus is in me? Am I more loveable or saveable than other sinners? No, but God tells me that He took special note of me in Baptism, and put me in Jesus. God tells me He takes special note of me in Absolution forgiving my sins in Jesus' name. And God tells me He takes very special note of me in Communion because there He sees Jesus in me.
On the Last Day, Jesus will say to the Father, "You remember Paul. You made him; remember those hairs? I baptized him, forgave him, and he ate Supper with Me for years. He's been with Me to Calvary, to the tomb, and back out. We've been together so long now, there's just not anything of his that isn't Mine or Mine that isn't his. I know You remember Me Father. Then you remember Paul."
"No Fear" is found in Jesus, not me. "No Fear" is found in Jesus confession that He knows me and saves me in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost V (Matthew 10: 24-33); 6-19-05