Do Not Be Afraid

Title: Do Not Be Afraid

Text: Matthew 10:24-33

Date: June 21st, 2009


Continuing in The Gospel According to Matthew, this week we look at Jesus’ instructions to his disciples concerning fear and intimidation. He just gave them their assignment to preach the gospel but now he’s warning them about some of the difficulties they will face and how to deal with these difficulties. But it’s interesting that he talks about the biggest challenge they will face – their own fear. Jesus warns them about what other people will do in opposition to the gospel but then he focuses in on what the disciples will be tempted to do in reaction to what people do to them – and that temptation is to fear or be anxious or worry about it. Fear is a perfectly natural reaction to perceived threats against us. I’m sure we all fear over some things in different situations at different times. We are like the disciples because even though we are separated by over 2000 years, human nature is essentially the same. What made those early Christians fear would make us fear, and vice verse, what makes us fear would probably make the disciples fear too. But Jesus wants to teach his disciples – and that includes us today as 21st century disciples – not to fear. He was qualified to do so because he had mastered the ability to press on in the face of fear during the course of his ministry. For example, remember when the New Testament describes that Jesus “set his face towards Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) knowing that he’d face opposition, knowing that he’d face persecution, and ultimately knowing he’d face death. That attitude of facing his fears and forging on ahead in the face of them served as a role model for the disciples because we see them later gathering up their own courage and making statements such as “Let us go with him (Jesus) into Jerusalem and even die if need be” (John 11:16). So the disciples had courage, they had loyalty, they were brave, but Jesus had to continually remind them to be not afraid because they were just like everyone else – they had their moments of doubt and fear. That’s the funny thing about human nature. In some things an individual will be rock solid, as brave as can be, but in other moments under other circumstances the same person will act cowardly. That same phenomenon exists in the animal kingdom. Remember the elephant? A huge creature that towers above the other animals in the jungle except perhaps the giraffe, yet this same creature when confronted with a tiny mouse crossing its path will rise up its front legs and scream out in sheer panic. Go figure. Well, people do that too in their own ways when confronted with some situations. Jesus knew that, so he continually instructed his disciples on how to deal with fear as they carried out their missionary assignment. Between verses 24 to 33, Jesus tells his disciples not to fear three times. So let’s take each of those instructions to fear not and look closer at them. Remember, Jesus isn’t just instructing first century disciples; he’s also speaking to us today in the 21st century. So let’s see what we can learn from Jesus about avoiding fear.


First, Jesus warns us against fearing what others will say. Matthew 10:24-27, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” So the first type of fear Jesus covers with his disciples is the fear of words. He warns them not to fear the words of others. “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of the household?” If they spoke negatively of Jesus – and the Jewish leaders did – then the disciples of Jesus should expect to receive verbal criticism also. Jesus warns all of his disciples, and that includes all of us today, that just as he was talked against so too will his followers. But not only should we not be afraid of the words of others, we should not be afraid our own words. Or in other words, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak on behalf of Jesus and the Word of God. In fact, we will encounter the fierce criticism of others because we speak the Word of God. We’ll be tempted to not speak or we’ll be afraid to speak because of the criticisms we’ll receive when we do. But Jesus instructs us not to fear words, nor to fear speaking God’s Word to others, nor to fear receiving verbal criticism in response. “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” As disciples, we can’t let what people say intimidate us from witnessing the gospel to them. We can’t let fear of argument or fear of disagreement or fear of controversy stop us from communicating God’s Word. Lots of Christians today are silent when they should speak; they hold their tongues when they should be explaining God’s Word to a lost and sinful world. Why? Because they are afraid, they are intimidated; they fear the consequences of being outspoken for the Lord. They may be too timid to talk about their faith at work for fear of offending others. They may be afraid to witness to their neighbors out of fear they will be labeled fanatics. They may be intimidated into silence among family and relatives because they don’t want to cause division or risk misunderstandings. All of these fears are natural and normal. But Jesus is teaching his disciples to be supernatural, or in other words, to rise above natural fears and speak out by faith. Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, nor was he afraid to face the criticisms it produced. Neither should we allow the lost and fallen world filled with sinful individuals intimidate us into silence. How will the world be saved if Christians refuse to speak out of fear of offense? Out of obedience to Christ we must overcome this fear. But that’s not all.


Second, Jesus warns us against fearing what others will do. Matthew 10:28-30, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” The first fear Jesus addressed was the fear of what others might say and our own fear of saying anything that might offend someone else. But the second kind of fear Jesus warns us against is fear of what others might do – and us being afraid of doing something offensive in our gospel witness that might cause others to do something bad to us. And when I say something we do might cause others to do something bad to us, I’m talking about something really bad, like death. Jesus warns that it may come to this. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Now that’s the ultimate in bodily injury – death. In tackling the ultimate negative action that can be taken against us, Jesus is preparing us for anything that might come our way. If we’ve already settled in our hearts that we won’t fear even death, then anything else anybody comes against us to do won’t be overwhelming. According to Jesus, we shouldn’t fear death, because that’s not the worst that can happen. Spiritual death – the lose of our eternal soul in hell – that’s worse; that’s something we might want to fear. But of course, if we are truly a believer in Jesus, we are saved from sin, judgment and ultimately damnation. So since we don’t have to ever fear the worse possible scenario – the loss of our soul in hell – then we really don’t need to fear death either. There is nothing that anyone can do to us that is overwhelming for us. If we die, we die – and go to be with Jesus in heaven. Isn’t that the point the Apostle Paul was making when he asked, “I’m torn between two things, whether to die and go to heaven with the Lord, or stay here and continue my ministry,” Philippians 1:23-24. His conclusion was that even though he’d rather be in heaven with the Lord, he’d continue on earth to finish his ministry. So the worst thing man can do is kill us, yet even this as Christians is not all bad. But even though we know this in our head, we are still tempted to fear death simply because it’s unknown. We fear the unknown. But according to Jesus we should not fear death. We should not cease witnessing and living for the Lord because it might result in our death. Tradition teaches us that all but one of the remaining eleven disciples died a martyr’s death. Only the Apostle John was spared, but still he was exiled to the Island of Patmos to live out the rest of his life alone for his faith. So this teaching from Jesus is far from theoretical for the original disciples. Will we face death for our faith? Probably not, so there’s really no excuse for us to be intimidated from believing, witnessing and living out our Christian faith. We need to remember, that of all Christians in all generations for the last 2000 years, we probably have it easier today to live the Christian faith. But are we living out boldly? Are we outspoken for God’s Word? Are we willing to even suffer to any degree any inconvenience for the Lord? In many ways we are spoiled today. We think and have come to expect that there should be no price to pay for being a Christian.  Somehow or another we’d got to be willing to suffer for our faith if that is the price to pay. We shouldn’t be surprise when people criticize us or oppose us for living consistent Christian lives. If they opposed Christ and his followers in the 1st century, who are we to think we should escape all suffering? Are you willing to suffer for the faith? I hope so. There’s one more thing.


Third, Jesus warns us against fearing what others say, do or even think. Matthew 10:31-33, “So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” According to Jesus, his disciples don’t have to fear because God will take care of them in his providential care. He uses the illustration of the sparrows. God knows all about sparrows – a typical and common bird, nothing special – and yet he provides for them. If God does that for birds, how much more will he take care of us in our moment of need? If we know that God will take care of us, why would we worry? And yet it’s human nature to worry about many things. Many Christians aren’t so much worried about physical, bodily persecution or even verbal criticisms, but rather what people might think of them. The old saying, “What will the neighbors think?” applies to many Christians. “What will they think of me at work if they find out I’m a Christian?” Jesus spoke of how his disciples should not fear what people will say or what people will do, but we are so spoiled here in the United States that our greatest fear is what other people will think. “Will I be seen as a kook?” “Will they think I’m a fanatic?” “If I witness to my family and relatives will they think I’m too carried away with my faith?” In our society, peer pressure is our number one fear. We are so sensitive to image and status and social standing and reputation. I remember back in my high school days when all of us teenagers were so concerned about how others viewed us. The absolute worst thing was to have others think of you negatively. Well, that same fear applies to adults as well. It’s just like high school days only for adults. Christians are intimidated into silence out of fear what others might think if they speak up. Christians fail to share the gospel and witness to others because they don’t want to be thought of as religious fanatics; they don’t want that reputation. But Jesus is calling us to boldness. He’s not calling us to be rude or obnoxious in our witness. We’ve all seen people at one time or another who just clumsily and without any sensitivity plowed into spiritual conversations that actually did more harm than good. I remember meeting someone in the parking lot a few years ago who was bound and determined to convince me I was a lost sinner bound for hell and he wanted to help me get saved. There was nothing I could say that would convince him I was saved, even though I explained the gospel to him as clearly and as succinctly as I could. He just wouldn’t listen. We don’t want to be argumentative or belligerent but we do want to be bold in the right kind of way. We do want to be outspoken at the right moment when it’s appropriate. We need to be willing to speak up and live out our lives for Christ and not be ashamed of doing so. We must be willing to testify to our faith in Jesus and pay whatever price for doing so.


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