This text does not sugarcoat the difficulties of the Christian life. But neither does it leave the Christian without courage and confidence. It is a sobering text, and yet also a hopeful text. The order is important, however. You do not get the hope without first taking seriously the difficulties. Which is to say, this text is well-appointed for times like these.
What are these times? Your local context always matters, so there will be differences depending on your particular hearers. But recent national and international crises are raising issues faithful preachers cannot ignore. The pandemic, and the uncertainties it continues to cause, is not going away anytime soon. Racial turmoil, and the varied and troubling responses to injustice, is forcing all of us to do some honest self-examination. Add to these the continued decline of the institutional church, which is exposing the fragility of the ways we organize our life together and is calling us to reconsider much of what we have long taken for granted.
A natural response to such difficulties is fear. And we have not even gotten to Jesus’ difficult words in these verses.
In the text, Jesus is unambiguous to His disciples about the difficulties they would face. Verses 21-23 seem directed more specifically toward the disciples of Jesus’ day. By the time we get to verse 24, however, it is clear Jesus is talking about all disciples of all times. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master,” He explains. The former should expect what is experienced by the latter. This may have sounded theoretical to the disciples before Jesus’ suffering and death. But afterward, as Matthew wrote these words for future disciples, he knew exactly what Jesus had in mind. The Master was rejected. The Teacher was crucified. The servants, the students, should expect nothing less.
To any normal person, the natural response would, again, be fear. But Christians are not normal people. They listen to Jesus, not only as He describes the difficulties they will face, but also as He calls them to life without fear (v. 26, 28, and 31).
But Christians are not normal people. They listen to Jesus, not only as He describes the difficulties they will face, but also as He calls them to life without fear (v. 26, 28, and 31).
On what basis can Jesus call them to such courage? They have no need to fear because of their Father. Their heavenly Father is unlike any of our earthly fathers (here is your Father’s Day connection). The Father in Heaven is the only one we have legitimate reason to fear (v. 28). But in Christ, we learn that the Father knows His children intimately (v. 30) and values His children exceedingly (v. 31). Every child of the Father who acknowledges (or, “confesses,” as the KJV puts it) Jesus will be welcomed in the Father’s presence (v. 32).
If I were preaching a sermon on this text, I might go with the theme: “Rightly Placed Fear.” I would call my hearers to take seriously Jesus’ exhortation not to fear so many of the things we traditionally fear. Do not fear the pandemic. Do not fear the social turmoil. Do not fear the suffering which is surely coming to every student and servant of Jesus. Expect such things, but do not fear them.
Instead, fear (and love and trust) God the Father. He has power over all things. All will be held accountable to Him. This includes those who do not fear or acknowledge Him. The Old Testament reading promises the Lord will come as a “dread warrior” (Jeremiah 20:11) to overcome the enemies of His people. The appointed Psalm promises His protection for all who find shelter in Him (Psalm 91).
This is the promise you get to proclaim to your hearers. The Father, the protector, the dread warrior, knows and values His children. He knows and values you and your hearers. He has promised to do for them what He has already done for His Son. He raised the crucified one to new life on the third day, and He will raise your hearers to new and eternal life when He returns. Indeed, the raising has already begun. The epistle reading reminds us how we have already been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13). We have already been set free from sin (Romans 6:18, 22) through faith in God’s baptismal promise (Romans 6:3-4). With this new life, we go forth in the fear of the Lord.
This is the promise you get to proclaim to your hearers. The Father, the protector, the dread warrior, knows and values His children.
What does this new life look like? It is countercultural, to be sure. It is characterized by loving what the Father loves and valuing what the Father values. We love and value those who suffer directly or indirectly from the pandemic. We love and value those who suffer directly or indirectly from racial turmoil and social injustice. Enlivened by the Spirit of Christ, we present ourselves as servants of righteousness (Romans 6:19) to confess Jesus not only in word, but also in deed.
Fear is not a bad thing, as long as it is rightly placed. When it is accompanied by love and trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it leads to faith and life by His Spirit, which works itself out in sanctification and love for others.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 10:5a, 21-33.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 10:5a, 21-33.
Lectionary Podcast-Prof. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 10:5a, 21-33.