Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
With confirmation on Sunday today I forgot to record a video sermon on Saturday. Here is the video version of Sunday’s sermon: https://youtu.be/JuzgUDzeVuQ
Note: All Scripture quotations in the sermon are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Text: Matthew 10:5a, 21-33, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
“These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them…
“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 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. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Introduction: Today is a day to celebrate, it’s one of my favourite days of the year when we have our youth confirmations. Today Markus Gyger and my son Joshua are being confirmed. Also we have the Dixon family, Andrew and his daughter Abigail joining us with mom, Rachel in adult instruction class and going to be confirmed later. Today is a day to celebrate confirmands because we follow in the long line of those who make the good confession of God’s existence and His saving work in Jesus Christ. Today is a day to celebrate, and yet it is also a day to listen to the Lord Jesus who reveals even on this joyous day: there is a cost to following Him and confessing Him as your Lord and Saviour, but as we shall see, the reward is even greater!
(1) Following Christ and confessing His Name comes with a cost
Jesus explains the cost of confessing His name to the Twelve
In our Gospel text, our Lord speaks to the twelve apostles and tells them what it will be like to follow Him and confess His name. The first half of the Gospel text is very first century specific: Jesus is talking to the apostles specifically and telling them what it will be like for them in their ministry. And then in the second half of the text, the message is more general and applies to us as the hearer of the Gospel.
For the apostles, Jesus tells them there will be opposition. They will be called evil, and mouth-pieces for Beelzebub, or Satan, and they will suffer persecution: some of them will be arrested and beaten and some of them will even be condemned to death. But in all of this they are called to continue to acknowledge Him and so receive eternal life from Christ on the Last Day.
(b) How should we understand Christ’s words today?
How should we understand Christ’s words now in 2020? As mentioned, while the first half of the text is first century specific, the second half is more general and we gain much from considering it.
Certainly there are differences between us and the apostles. We are not called itinerant preachers moving around Israel. God calls us to confess His holy name where we are. Generally, unless work takes us around a lot in life, we do not move around much. So we are called to confess Christ among our neighbours, classmates, colleagues at work and in our family. For us, persecution is not guaranteed to come but it could come. I liken persecution in the history of the church to forest fires that happen around this time of year: they just spark up randomly at different places. Throughout the history of the church we can see that persecutions have arisen almost randomly in different times and places. You never know when and where it will happen. So this is a call not to expect a life with no trouble as a Christian. We could get persecuted for our confession of Christ, you never know.
But certainly this text is an authoritative call by our Lord to share Him and confess your faith in Him.
How might that look like in life? For you confirmands, very specifically that means confessing your faith in Christ today before God’s altar here in church. For all of us, that will look like confessing the Creed in worship where we confess we believe in the Triune God, our Creator and in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. That will also look like not taking “holidays” from worship in life. What I mean by this is not skipping worship when you are up portaging in the Algonquin and can’t make it to church that Sunday but taking extended breaks from worship for weeks or months in life. Because those breaks are times when you are not actively confessing Christ in life. Confessing Christ can also be very simple things like wearing a cross or a crucifix out in public so that people know that you are a Christian. It is being willing to speak out in defence of Christianity and church when you are among your friends and acquaintances. It can also look like writing an editorial and sending it in to the local newspaper or writing on social media defending the church.
Looking at this from the big picture, in the context of God’s eternal kingdom, you stand in a long line of of those who confess Christ: Adam and Eve do so along with, Job, Abraham, Samuel, King David, the prophets, John the Baptist. They all met with opposition for their faith in the God who Created and saved them.
God sees us as He saw His faithful people of old: He expects us to confess His saving work in Christ, and the Lord warns us that we could face anything from mild opposition to physical harm for our confession of Him as Lord.
Though these obstacles and enemies may come He calls us not to fear. Three times in the second half of the Gospel reading Christ tells us not to fear. It shows us that in many ways fear is our greatest enemy. Our Lord’s message to us is, fear only your Heavenly Father who will reject all those who deny Him on the Last Day. Though we may suffer as our Lord suffered in various ways, this does not mean that our Heavenly Father has abandoned us. No, He is always with us.
(2) Though there is a cost for following Christ…the reward is even greater!
Think of the fears Christ faced: constant enemies who wanted to kill Him, Satan trying to get Him to sin, getting arrested and placed into the hands of His Jewish enemies and then into the hands of merciless Roman soldiers who tortured Him. And in all this Christ did not fear, with great courage He made the good confession that He was and ever is the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah, our Saviour. Jesus won the fight over fear and never retreated in sin because He had a greater fear, and a greater love: for His Heavenly Father. He lived and gave up His earthly life for you and me, to suffer at the hands of His enemies and die a most cruel and humiliating death to win the prize He sought-the forgiveness of our sin and our eternal reconciliation with God. He fought for the greatest reward for us of all: the defeat of death and eternal life with our Triune God. Though there is a cost for following Christ, the reward is even greater!
Even as Christ calls you to faithfully confess Him today and always, His promise to You is, your Heavenly Father cares for you. God values you greatly. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered! This is the detail of knowledge and care and concern God has for you that He even knows and numbers the hairs of your head! This is not a promise by the Lord that we will never face persecution but it is a promise that if it happens God knows it is happening and has permitted it to happen. The Lord will not allow you to suffer more than you can bear. And on the Last Day when you stand before the Father’s judgement throne, the Lord Jesus will confess you are His beloved child.
Conclusion: Stepping back again and looking at the big picture, we have the joy of being God’s servants and seeing God at work through our testimony: seeing new people come to God’s church, seeing people’s lives turn around from despair and hopelessness, to purpose and joy. You, the members of Grace have been so good at inviting your friends and your neighbours here to church. I have been teaching new adult confirmands for so long that I can’t remember the last time that I wasn’t teaching someone, it must be more than two years! You’ve done a wonderful job inviting others here to God’s house. We will have the eternal joy of seeing God’s completed work, God’s kingdom come in all it’s glory, together with Adam and Eve, Samuel and David, Isaiah and Jeremiah, kids from your Sunday school class and confirmation class, parents and family members, together with all those of every time and place whom God has saved through faith in Christ, and you will be among them! Christ Your Lord and Saviour conquered fear and defeated sin and death for you. God’s kingdom continually grows. Confirmands, today is a day to celebrate and confess the God who loves you, saves you, and gives you eternal life. In Christ’s Holy Name. Amen.