Trinity 2

RSS

Readings

Jeremiah 20.7-13;
Romans 6:1b-11;
Matthew 10:24-39

Sermon

It’s well known that the first century disciples’ football team had a terrible disciplinary record. Indeed it was so bad in one match that they had to play with just nine men, as we read in Acts 13:3 that both Saul and Barnabas were sent off. A poor joke, I know, and a nod to the resumption of the Premier League this week.

In chapter ten of Matthew’s Gospel here, Jesus speaks about the mission of the kingdom. The first part of the Gospel describes what the kingdom of heaven is like, including the Sermon on the Mount, and here Matthew goes on to record the mission of the kingdom. Here, in chapter ten, Jesus sends off the twelve – not in a red-card sense, but he sends them out into the world with instructions for the journey.

Three times Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” We know that’s the most common command in the Bible: not “ pray more” or “read your Bible more” or “go to church more ” but simply, “Do not be afraid.” Three times we read it here in Matthew 10: in verses 26, 28 and 31. Why is Jesus so keen to tell his followers not to be afraid?

There was much for the first-century followers of Jesus to be frightened of: ridicule, oppression, violence both physical and verbal, arrest and maybe even death. It’s no wonder Jesus wants to encourage them not to be afraid of worldly threats which were very real and genuine and which could well prevent the mission of the kingdom. Jesus knows that they will face challenges and says, “Don’t be afraid!”

Why, though? Why should they not be afraid? Jesus goes on to explain something important which needs to be understood well. He says that everything will be disclosed; everything will be made known. He says, don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Eh? So, don’t be afraid, but be afraid?! Which is it?

It’s a warning and an encouragement to the disciples: not to be afraid of worldly threats, but to be rightly wary of those who would ‘kill the soul .’In the kingdom of God there is more than the visible world: and we fight against more than just earthly powers. They faced – and we face – enemies who would use our human and material battles as a cover to bring us down, to paralyse and subdue – powers we cannot see but are just as real.

In a way, we face a very real fear from the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s not an irrational fear, like my fear of spiders and Liverpool winning the Premier League, it seems a very genuine one. As hard as it may be to do, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Each one of us is more precious to God than many sparrows. I’m not sure how much a sparrow is worth, but you get the message: God loves us and treasures us: all of us.

We need to recognise, too, those invisible threats: the ways, perhaps, in which our faith is challenged and the mission of God’s Church endangered. Maybe we’re finding faith difficult in lockdown; we might feel isolated or ineffective, unable to worship or fully express our faith. Perhaps doubts have set in: where is God in all of this? The anxieties of this season can easily paralyse: financial, health, relational, social and many more.

We saw recently a political leader standing in front of a church holding a Bible in the midst of widespread injustice and violence the kind of which the very Scriptures he held denounce. Many despaired at the message this conveyed, with the potential to discredit our faith. Many rightly objected to such a gesture. Such actions, whether innocent or ill-judged, can easily be exploited by a cunning and elusive adversary; can be a distraction from the kingdom mission.

Tom Wright refers to “demonic powers that are greedy for the souls of God’s people ” who use the more obvious enemies as a cover for a deeper, more significant attack – one of which we should really be afraid; one who subtly tries to deceive us into moving away from God and losing our souls. These, rather than worldly threats, are what we should really be afraid of: afraid of being drawn away from God, of losing our souls and compromising the mission to which he calls us.

Whilst this world often projects fear, we can have every confidence in God and his mission of which we’re part, in the same way the first disciples could in the context of the dangerous place they inhabited. God is in control and loves each one of us more than many sparrows: so much that every hair on our head is numbered – which at the moment is even more evident than usual with hairdressers still closed until July at least.

With God, we have nothing to fear. The psalmist asks, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ” (Psalm 27). Paul writes in Romans 6 that we are united with Christ; dead to sin and alive in Christ.On the cross, Jesus won the victory over sin and death and in him our lives are secure: in this world, and the next.

Jesus has defeated the greatest adversary possible through his death and Resurrection: the same Jesus who calls us to follow Him in his kingdom mission wherever and whenever we are. As Tom Wright says, “ Followers of Jesus should expect attacks at all levels. But they should also learn that the one they are serving is stronger than the strongest opponent they will ever meet. 

Jesus didn’t promise those first Twelve an easy ride, and he doesn’t promise us that either. If we really are to further the mission of God’s kingdom, we should expect to meet obstacles and challenges – and be worried if we don’t. We know that Jesus is with us, and has already defeated the most powerful of enemies on the cross. That’s why we can hear with confidence the reassuring words, “Do not be afraid!

Questions for Reflection

  • Who had more to be afraid of: the Twelve who listened to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10, or we who read these words today? What about you, in your particular circumstances and context?
  • What are the things we should really be afraid of, and what aren’t?
  • What particular anxieties are we living with amidst the Covid-19 pandemic? Are there secondary, indirect challenges we’re facing?
  • Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your faith or relationship with God?
  • What is the kingdom mission to which you are called? What might threaten to draw you away from this call? Have the last three months changed this missional call?
  • Are you “dead to sin and alive in Christ?” Reading Romans 6:1-11, what does this mean?


Page last updated: 10th June 2020 5:21 PM