Assumptions about Unity in Civil Society and Christ’s Response to Fear
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 10:21-33
June 21, 2020

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus spoke these chilling words to His apostles: “Brother will deliver brother to death. A father will deliver his child to death. Children will rise up against parents and put them to death. And you will be hated by all on account of my name” (Mat. 10:21-22). And then He goes on to say that “the one who endures to the end, this one will be saved” (Mat. 10:22).

In this context He then talks about fear: “So have no fear of them. . . 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 (Mat. 10:26, 28-33 ESV).

Jesus places us in a context. It involves generally being in relation to civil society. When He speaks of brother and father and children, He first places us in families. But when He speaks of brother delivering brother to death, He is placing us in relation to governing authorities, for these are the ones to whom bother is delivering brother. Jesus is talking about a context where the governing authorities have become hostile to the Christian faith and Christians. And it seems the Christian church has had to go underground. So brother betrays brother to the authorities.

But why does such a situation even come about? There are many different things we could say, but let’s talk about basic assumptions.

I think it is a pervasive phenomenon that human societies expect and demand unity. And so it is assumed that Jesus and society will be united. It is assumed that Christians and society will be united. This expectation of unity extends to values, beliefs, interests, aims, goals, and practices. And then when it is discovered that Christians have differing beliefs, society reacts. And it reacts with penalties, not tolerance.

We could also say that societies tend to have universal narratives that they assume everyone in the society has, agrees with, and orders their lives according to. The universal narrative serves as the assumption that everyone else can assume. It interprets meaning, it directs action; it provides expectations. Every other narrative, like the Christian narrative, must conform to it and be judged by it. When this conformity is not found, there is repercussion. The issue is not then whether there will be unity but whether Christians and Christianity will be tolerated.

This brings about brother delivering brother, and a father his child, etc. This generates fear so that the real danger becomes losing our souls and denying Jesus before human judges.

It is also interesting though that this pressure of unity can come from both the culture’s side and the church’s side. Christians may sometimes feel that if the culture goes sideways in some big way with respect to the teaching of God’s word, that something unusual has happened. That going sideways is not a good thing and it can be painful. But it shouldn’t be regarded as unusual.

So what about our assumptions?  I think once upon a time, it was thought that by and large the assumptions of Christianity and the assumptions of American culture were in sync. Not so much anymore.

Christians should really never assume that such unity between the faith and the culture exists. This is because we live in a fallen world, not the kingdom of God. God remains sovereign but that world out there is not the kingdom of God. We go through a new birth to enter the kingdom of God. Humans are corrupted by sin. This happens on the individual level and the corporate level. So we always need to be vigilant and watchful in the faith to remain in faith. We do this by knowing God’s word, both God’s word of Law and God’s word of Gospel. Both are in play and under pressure in our context here in America.

Let’s come back to fear.

Jesus instructs us, encourages us, and warns us. All three.

He instructs us about holding on to the most crucial thing, our souls, that is our faith. Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. We understand this as talking about beliefs and values. The challenging thing is that persecutors threaten to kill the body to get you to abandon the faith, God’s word; to make you conform in beliefs and values to the master narrative. They want your soul. But don’t let them have it.

Though they threaten, the soul is precisely where they have no power, unless we let them. Let them kill the body, but do not let them take your soul, your faith. Do not let them convict you of sin you did not commit. Do not let them take from you the Lordship of Christ known through His word over your conscience, and then over your eternal destiny. These things are beyond their jurisdiction.

And even if they kill the body they have lost, because Jesus will raise your body once again in indestructible life. You have the word of God. You have the Gospel. Know it, and hold fast to it. Preserve your soul, whatever they may do to your body.

The encouragement is that your heavenly Father knows you intimately. All the hairs of your head are numbered by Him. He knows your entire being such that you are completely in His hands and care, no matter what they might do to you. There is a combination of power and care here. To know you that completely is power, meaning that the power is His, not theirs. The care is that you are His and He is yours and they have no power to change that. Nothing they can do can extinguish His care and take you out of His hand.

The warning is just this. Whoever denies me before men. I will deny that person before the Father in heaven. We can take Jesus to mean this: keeping the faith is serious business. We know our hearts have been taken over by society’s master narrative if we have a nonchalant, no big deal attitude about denying Jesus and surrendering what our Christian faith teaches to societal pressure. He is warning us against this attitude here. For this attitude is a sure sign that we are falling from faith. For faith is never nonchalant about God’s word. Though our society’s pressure is that the teaching of the Christian faith should be easily surrendered, that is not Christ’s point of view.

Friends in Christ, Jesus is here with us, with His promises, grace, and Spirit. He delivers this grace to you in His Gospel of forgiveness and peace and with His body and blood. He speaks peace to you and says I am with you always. “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus says. But then He says, “take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).      

Amen.



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