"Don’t be afraid, says Jesus, go out as my disciples were sent out, share the Truth I have shared with you and don’t worry, because God is with you, now and always."
Read Matthew 10:24-39
So we’re going to look at Matthew’s words, just five verses near the beginning which follow Jesus sending out his disciples, like lambs into a pack of wolves he says, when Jesus has told them to be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. I think they must have got the impression that doing a bit of mission work for Jesus was not going to be as simple as knocking on doors and handing out a Bible tract. In fact, he’s told them that they’re possibly going to be arrested, and dragged before the authorities to explain what they’re up to and get into a lot of trouble.
This was serious work, definitely not for the faint-hearted. But they have an advantage, says Jesus, because God’s Spirit will be with them and tell them what to say in all the desperate situations that they find themselves. The over-riding principle is to be faithful in all circumstances, and whatever people say about them. Because if they insult me, says Jesus, you can be sure there’ll be name calling when you start saying the same things.
Do you know which command is repeated most often in the Bible?
It’s ‘Don’t be afraid!’
It’s there three times in our reading.
Don’t be afraid!
For the disciples back then, that meant not being afraid of the authorities and what they might do to them. There was a real possibility that they might suffer both physically and emotionally for doing what Jesus had asked of them.
Good reasons for being afraid, or at least being very nervous!
So why shouldn’t the disciples be afraid? The obvious answer is that God would be with them, and Jesus does get around to that, but the first reason he gives is that ‘Everything that is hidden will be found out, and every secret will be known.’
Truth will triumph!
Now maybe as individuals we might be less than happy about all our hidden secrets being revealed – if we have any of course! But I think Jesus is looking at the bigger picture here, of his disciples being truthful to the words of Jesus that are in their hearts. What he has taught them, they are to share with the people they meet. There will come a day, says Jesus, when the loyalty and faith of the disciples will be seen for what it is by God and they will have their reward.
Truth will out, justice will prevail, and those who have lived out their faith with integrity and innocence will be vindicated. It’s not just about a quick-fix God-will-be-with-you so don’t be afraid, it’s a two-way thing, it’s a relationship. ‘Whatever I say to you in the dark, you must tell in the light. And you must announce from the housetops whatever I have whispered to you.’ says Jesus. Get out there and tell the truth as it has been revealed to you, because the truth needs to be heard and it will be heard!
And in a very real sense that applies to anyone who considers themselves a follower of Christ. It’s not a static position, a once in a lifetime decision and then carry on with life, but a relationship that we enter into, and one into which comes conversation, as it would with any relationship. The conversation we have with God is, generally, a prayerful one. It might also be as we read the Bible and words seem to stand out or speak to us as they possibly haven’t before. But God speaks to us, and as God speaks to us then we apply those words to our lives and that affects our relationship with others. God’s word gets heard both through our telling of it in conversation and through the way we live out our lives and interact with others.
It’s not just the disciples, or indeed the preachers who are told to listen to God’s whisper and act upon it!
We are all called to listen, learn and share the truth. But truth is not always a welcome thing. Jesus knew that, and his disciples would soon find that out.
There’s a story about Bishop Hugh Latimer being asked to preach in the presence of Henry Vlll, not a man to trifle with I would guess. Latimer felt called to say something that he knew the king would not appreciate, so had a bit of a cunning plan. In the pulpit, he has a bit of a conversation with himself.
‘Latimer! Latimer! Latimer!’ he said, ‘Be careful what you say. Henry the king is here!’ Then he paused for a moment and said, ‘Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The King of Kings is here!’
When we as preachers stand up here or anywhere and speak out, we do so in the presence of God, but whenever any of us go about our daily lives and interact with others we also do that in the presence of God, because we, as Christians, believe that God is with us. That’s a good reason to live our lives not being afraid of saying what we believe is the truth that God has taught us through his word.
Now, in-between his statements about not being afraid, you might have noticed that there’s apparently something to BE afraid of, ‘Don’t be afraid of people. They can kill you, but they cannot harm your soul. Instead, you should fear the one who can destroy both your body and your soul in hell.’
What’s all that about you ask?
Good question, I reply!
Jesus knew that there was a physical threat to the nation from the Roman occupiers, and people like Herod who ruled under their power. They were the ones who could cause physical harm, who had the power of life and death over people in the here and now. But Jesus also knew that there were darker spiritual forces at work, that could tempt and entice the people to prefer the darkness to the light. Jesus wanted to warn his disciples to be aware of the spiritual threat to their work.
Forewarned is forearmed!
God is certainly not to be feared, as Jesus goes on to reveal, using the well-known pictures of those sparrows and even the hairs upon our head (more of a touchy subject with some than others!) We get a lot of sparrows in our garden, and although they’re fairly common as a species we feed them through the winter, and in the spring welcome the new hatchlings as they explore their surroundings and are fed by mum and dad with our help. Outside of our garden of course the same thing is going on, and each year a new generation of sparrows, and indeed hundreds of other species appear in the countryside and coastline of our country. It’s easy to take them all for granted. We have a tick list each year of species we see, and we’re up to over 100 this year so far. And, says Jesus, if God has their care in his hands, if each of those birds is valued by God then even more so are you.
It was a message that would mean so much to a people whose faith was so connected to a God who they believed created the heavens and the earth and all things upon it, and had the care of his creation at the centre of who he was.
Only a couple of days ago I found myself spending time rescuing a young blackbird who was all tied up in the bird netting on our allotment. It places you in a position of great power compared to a small bird, and puts a lot of things in perspective. Hopefully it survived the experience!
So many people in this world feel undervalued, either because of where they live, who they are, the colour of their skin, and all manner of other reasons no doubt. As Christians, we can be guilty of judging others unfairly, again for many reasons. When we do this we also question their value to God, and should of course remind ourselves of that parable about specks of dust and planks of wood in our own eyes.
God cares for us. God values us and God is with us in our lives and in our interactions with others when they question our faith. We don’t have to be afraid of talking about or sharing our faith, and we are encouraged to do it, because God is with us as we do. God knows all about our cares and concerns and the details of our lives (the hairs of your head, if you like!) and so we can rest easy and not be afraid – yes, bad stuff might come into your life, but God is there and God is bigger and more powerful than whatever is threatening you at this moment in time.
And the experiences of your life, both good and not so good, enable you to relate to others, to share their joys and sorrows, be compassionate and empathise with their difficulties. God love them, he may be using you to share his love for them.
Don’t be afraid, says Jesus, go out as my disciples were sent out, share the Truth I have shared with you and don’t worry, because God is with you, now and always.