There are fewer and fewer people alive who can remember the horrors of the Second World War, what it was like to live through the Blitz, how to survive on rations etc. We do sadly have men and women who have served in recent wars, many have suffered terrible injuries as well as PTSD. This Sunday, we take time to remember them. We give thanks to God for the peace we enjoy and pray for ongoing peace.
To serve in a war takes courage in the face of fear. We are also seeing many people showing great courage in the face of Coronavirus, choosing not to be afraid but rather to serve on the medical frontline even if that puts their own health at risk.
Today, we will look at the courage Jesus asks of his disciples. It is a courage that is only going to be truly possible when they receive the Holy Spirit. However, even before then, Jesus commissions the 12 apostles and sends them out as his ambassadors. Last week we saw that this commission was for a mission and a life that is radically different to what this world has to offer. Today, we will explore that further by seeing how in a chaotic world that refuses to acknowledge Christ, we do not need to be afraid.
Don’t be afraid – suffering and persecution are temporary (16-21)
I can cope with injury and pain reasonably well, I can tolerate the sharp jab of an injection needle. Whilst the pain may be intense, I know that it is temporary. Most of us however fin it much harder to live with chronic pain. The good news for believers is that even chronic pain is temporary
Four animals (v16)
Jesus gets us to picture two sets of animals. First, there are sheep and wolves. We are sent out into the world like sheep among wolves. In other words, the world is dangerous around us, there are enemies who want to harm God’s people and we are pretty much defenceless. Sheep are completely dependent upon the Shepherd. So Jesus says that we will need wisdom. The next pair of animals are serpents and doves. We are to be wise just like serpents are cunning, but we are to use that wisdom for self-preservation from harm and not to inflict hurt.
Patient endurance (v17-23)
The wolves refer to people who oppose Christ. This will lead to the disciples to be dragged into court, both civil courts and religious courts (The Synagogues). The horror of these trials is seen in the way that it will turn families against each. However, they are not to be anxious. First of all they can be at peace because God, The Holy Spirit will enable them to speak for Him. They will not be on their own.
Secondly, although this will be a period of intense trial, it will be for a fixed time. They may have to flee from town to town – a reminder that their serpentine wisdom is to protect not to harm -and they will even experience family splits but they will not even get through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
The phrase “Son of Man” comes from Daniel 9 where the prophet has a vision of one who is like the ancient of Days and there is one who looks like a son of man who approaches Him, coming with the clouds. The imagery here is of someone ascending to the highest heaven to receive glory from the King of Kings. Jesus is not therefore talking at this point about his second coming but about the glory and honour he will receive from the Father.
Whilst the focus at this point is specifically on the twelve going out on mission, the implication is clearly wider. There is a Biblical theme that whilst we must face suffering it is time limited. God’s plan is not to harm and destroy us and so if we are going through suffering now, we know that one day it will end. We have hope.
Don’t be afraid – you are following in Jesus’ footsteps (24-25)
On holiday in Cornwall, some years ago, my dad and I discovered a cave entrance up on the cliff side. For some inexplicable reason known only to both of us, we decided that a night time exploration would be a great adventure. So off we headed with our torches into the dark bowels of this tunnel. As a youngster, heading into dark, underground uncharted territory was quite scary stuff. However, rightly or wrongly I wasn’t afraid because my dad was up front leading the way.
The second reason that the twelve were not to be afraid was because they were following in the experience of Jesus. They had already been told in the Sermon on the Mount that they could expect opposition and persecution because that’s what Jesus faced. You cannot expect to be treated differently to the one you serve and follow. Again this is a New Testament theme. Peter teaches the recipients of his first letter how to suffer on the basis that Christ suffered on their behalf.
We don’t suffer in order to earn Christ’s love and affection. We suffer because we are already loved and called by him. Suffering is a reminder that this life we now have in Christ is radically different to the life that the world offers.
Don’t be afraid – because you have a task/ mission to fulfil (v26-33)
The suffering is coming in the context of the work that the disciples now have to do. Jesus has taught them privately as a 12, it will now be for them to take the good news out into the wider world. This is why in verse 26-27, Jesus says that everything will be revealed. It is now their responsibility to speak out and reveal God’s truth.
So, they are not to fear those who they will be going to with the message. They are only able to kill the body. There is one who can destroy the soul too. The point is that their anxiousness about the danger and trouble they might face should not distract them from the cause. The mission and the one who calls them to mission should take precedent over everything else (v 28)
Now, what sort of fear is this? Well it isn’t fear of something cruel and bad. Rather it is a right response to God’s power and holiness but this does not overwhelm. In verses 29-31 we are reminded of God’s providential care for his people. They are worth more than the little birds who don’t have to worry about anything because God provides. God knows every little detail about them. He loves the so much that he even has counted every single hair on their heads.
Because we are on God’s mission, the important thing is not what happens in human courtrooms but what happens in Gods’. You see, Christ has sent them out and he will either take delight in what they say and do for him or if they fail to speak for him, it will bring shame and dishonour. They will be disowned. (v32-33).
Do not be afraid – the Gospel brings radical change (v34-42)
This last section amplifies and repeats what we have already seen. The mission of Jesus will being conflict with the religious leaders. It will lead to division even at the very hart of families. This is because the call to follow Christ is radical and requires a whole-hearted response.
This whole hearted response must be seen in the radical decision to leave everything else behind and put your faith in Christ. There is a call to take up your cross daily and follow Christ. Taking up your cross is a metaphor for being ready and willing to die for the Gospel. For the disciples it would mean that their physical life would be in danger. However, there is also a sense here of dying to self and to life as we know it. After all, these men would in effect be dead to their families and neighbours.
Once again, we are being reminded that the Gospel is about a kingdom that is radically distinctive and new. You cannot live in the new kingdom without dying to the old. You cannot have dual citizenship, retaining your citizenship of the kingdom of sin and taking on the citizenship of heaven. It is one or the other and there can be no compromise.
It’s one of the things that we have kept coming back to during the virus. We do not need to fear the world around us because we can cling to Christ. I hope that through this we are learning not to fear in other ways.
There will be opposition to the Gospel, sometimes direct and obvious, sometimes in some parts of the world physical. Here in the UK it is often more subtle and the fear is that we will lose status, friendship and even work. Jesus calls us to count the cost and to see that the Gospel is worth the cost as we seek to help those we love come to faith in Christ.
Don’t be afraid. Perfect love casts out fear.