Sermon on Matthew 10:16-23
Text: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
Nearly five hundred years ago, a man by the name of Martin Luther walked to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, with a piece of paper in his hand. On this piece of paper were ninety-five theses or points he wanted to debate. He was doing this in response to certain abuses that he was taking place in the church of his day. While he had no intention of breaking away from the church or starting a new church, it was the beginning of what is the Lutheran Reformation. The Lutheran Reformation has been called the second most important event in the last 1,000 years, right behind the invention of Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press. Dr. Luther, in a recent book which ranked the most influential people of the last millennium, was ranked third behind Gutenberg and Christopher Columbus. Is this why every October 31 or so, we stop and talk about the Lutheran Reformation? Is it to pay homage to Dr. Luther and his achievements? It is good for us to pause and think about what happened, but we dare never make this the emphasis. We thank God for what he achieved through the Reformation. The truth of the Gospel that was so long hidden was brought back to the forefront of biblical teaching. This morning, however, we are reminded that LUTHER’S WORK OF REFORMATION IS NOT DONE. 1. The Great Opposition Still Continues. 2. Courageous Witness Is Still Needed.
Jesus spoke the words of our text to his disciples right before he sent them out on their first evangelism trip. He had given them authority to go out in his name and preach. However, he did not want them to be blind sided by the fact that they would not always be welcomed with open arms. As a matter of fact, Jesus uses the picture of sending sheep out among wolves. Now, a wolf invading a flock of sheep could destroy many sheep. A sheep venturing into a pack of wolves would face certain death. Who would send defenseless sheep into a world of ravenous wolves? It makes no sense, yet that is precisely the plan that Jesus describes for his Church. It makes no sense—unless you are the Good Shepherd who wants his sheep to utterly depend on him.
Jesus warned the disciples that opposition and hatred were waiting for them. It was not a question of “if” but “when.” He said, “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” The book of Acts is full of accounts of this happening. Peter and the others were brought before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and told to stop preaching about Jesus. Paul was brought before local councils and the court of the Roman governors of Felix and Festus. Eventually he was taken to Rome to appear before Caesar himself. As far as the warning of death waiting for them, according to church history all of the disciples, except John, were martyred for their faith.
This hostility has continued throughout the ages. Many people lost their lives witnessing for the truth of the Gospel. Today, we especially think about Dr. Luther. After he nailed those 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church, a furor was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. He was called to the floor of the Diet of Worms in 1521. The previous year Pope Leo X had issued a decree outlining 41 errors in those 95 theses as well as other of Luther’s writings. Now Dr. Luther stood in front of Emperor Charles V at this meeting of the Holy Roman Empire and was asked if he wished to recant what he had written. After taking a day to carefully consider his answer, he said, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” He clearly witnessed to the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel message contained therein. As a result of this witness, Emperor Charles V declared, “For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, where upon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.” Luther’s life was in peril. As a result, he was whisked away by some friends and hidden in the Wartburg Castle.
Can such a thing happen today? Is there still such a great opposition to the Gospel message? The answer is “Yes.” In some parts of our world, you cannot talk about Jesus openly. You cannot do mission work in their country. If you do so, you might be thrown out of that country or you might be imprisoned. There are places where you might lose your life, if you speak openly about Jesus and what he has done for the world. Some have speculated that more people have died for being Christians in the last 100 years than the 1,900 previous. Yes, opposition to the Gospel message is still out there.
Is there opposition to the Gospel message in our country? After all, isn’t one of the freedoms that we are guaranteed the freedom of religion? While this is true, there is still opposition, though it manifests itself is more subtle ways. For example, how many times in a day aren’t basic Christian morals attacked in the media or on college campuses or in the voting booth? Look at the way that Christians are often portrayed on television or movies. They are either the biggest idiots in the plot or they are the worst hypocrites. You must not say anything negative against any belief system or religion, except for Christianity. That is fair game for all. People look down on you because of your faith, thinking you to be intellectually inferior. At times, job advancement is stifled because of your faith. There are even voices in the churches, claiming to be Christian, but downplaying or overlooking basic Scriptural teachings. Dear friends, great opposition to the Gospel message is still here.
What message brings about this sort of hostility? Jesus gives us clues when he says that this fierce opposition would happen “on my account” and “because of me.” It is because of Jesus and all that he has done for the world that this hostility occurs. The reason for this is man’s natural hatred of God. He is born outside of the family of God. He does not think that he needs God to help him with anything because he really is not that bad a person. So, for God to tell him that he has sinned and broken God’s law and should rightly be punished for time and for eternity, it makes him angry. If there is any wrong that he has done, he feels that he can make it up to God, assuming in the first place that there actually is a God.
Yet, this message of the Law must be proclaimed. The Law must convict the world. It must convict you and me. We do not want to hear that we have sinned against our God in our thoughts, words and actions, including those times when we have failed to make a good witness to the Gospel message. Yet, we must be convicted before the Gospel message means anything to us. You and I need to hear that we have sinned, so that we can see that in Jesus Christ all of our sins have been paid for. Then, when we hear that Jesus lived a perfect life, we rejoice because we know that he did so for us. When we hear that Jesus suffered and died on the cross, we are amazed at God’s love. This sacrifice that God was willing to make on our behalf was the one thing that could fully pay for our sins. There is no greater message that we can hear than of Easter morning. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead assures us that Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation. Those who are brought to trust in Jesus as their Savior have heaven waiting for them. There is no greater message that has ever been spoken to you and to me. This is the message that we are entrusted to carry out to the world. We are to witness to the truth of the Gospel.
This can be a daunting task, because of the opposition that will be faced. To help his disciples of then and now, Jesus promises aid. He says in verses 19&20, “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” In other words, when you are called on to witness, you do not have to worry about having a speech prepared ahead of time. You do not have to rely on your own natural abilities. The Holy Spirit will help us to say the right thing at the right time. This is not to say that we will be verbally inspired the way that the writers of the Scriptures were. Rather, as we study the Scriptures, our faith is strengthened and the Holy Spirit will use them to guide us in our witnessing.
How this promise must have bolstered the apostles. When they were called upon to defend themselves and their teaching before the Sanhedrin, Peter said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) As a result of this conviction, Peter made the declaration, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Peter was not a highly educated man. He was a fisherman by trade, before the Lord called him into full-time service as a disciple. When called upon to witness, he simply spoke what he had heard and seen. This conviction came because of the working of the Holy Spirit.
We also see this in the life of Dr. Luther. The night in between when he had been asked if he would recant what he had written and when he gave his famous answer, we are told that he spent the night in prayer. How fevered that night of prayer must have been! Was he correct? Was he leading people astray by his teachings? However, as he searched the Scriptures, he knew that this was what the Bible said. He was given this conviction through the Holy Spirit, for faith is simply a conviction that Jesus is our only hope for salvation. As a result of the working of the Holy Spirit, he was able to make that courageous witness, even though it might mean the end of his life.
You and I are Jesus’ modern-day witnesses. We derive comfort from Jesus’ words, as well. There will be times when we are called upon to make a witness to the faith that is in our hearts. It may come from a family member that is straying. It may come from a co-worker who is doing something wrong. There will be the temptation for us to keep quiet. However, may we remember Jesus’ words, in which he promised, “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Let the faith that the Holy Spirit that is in you speak. You may not always be the most articulate in your speech. However, let the truths that God has shown you in his Word be shared with others. May God give us the conviction of Peter, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” May the Lord give us the conviction of Martin Luther, who, through the strength given to him by God, was willing to stand up to both the emperor and the pope, at the peril of losing his life. God has given us the message of salvation. He has shown to us through the eyes and ears of faith all that he has done for us. May the Lord make us courageous witnesses to the truth that he has shared with us.
On October 31, we celebrate the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. Note that this was the beginning. It is not the end. The end of the Reformation spirit will not come until the end of time. There will always be great opposition to the clear Gospel message. People will not always welcome it. Some will hate it. May we not be frightened by these things. May God make us courageous witnesses to everyone of all that he has done for us. May we find our comfort in Jesus promise, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” May the Lord keep us all in the faith and may he make us courageous witnesses of him to the world. Amen.
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