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Matthew 10:26-33 NET

26 “Do not be afraid of them, for nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 Even all the hairs on your head are numbered. 31 So do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows. 32 “Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven.

When the Apostle Paul was saying goodbye to the elders of the churches in Ephesus, he told them that he had not held back from teaching them anything that would be helpful or from announcing to them the whole purpose of God. I want to be able to say that when it comes time for me to leave this place. I don’t want to be known as the preacher who only preached about one thing. But these last few Sundays, I have been focusing on evangelism. I’m not always going to preach about evangelism, but I did commit myself to teach all the commands of Jesus. It just so happens that Jesus commanded us to pray for more evangelists. It just so happens that Jesus commanded us to seek the lost sheep. It just so happens that Jesus told us that we would be opposed and attacked for preaching the gospel, but we should keep doing it anyway.

So, I find myself reading another text this morning in which our Lord told his followers to evangelize. I could read it some other way – many have. But I have a personal responsibility as a preacher of the word to say what it says. If this message was important enough for Jesus to teach to his apostles, it is important enough for me to share with you today. If it was important enough for the Holy Spirit to inspire Matthew to record it and for it to wind up in our Bibles, then it deserves our attention.

We have already seen that Jesus was sending his apostles out to do evangelistic work among the towns and cities of Galilee. He told them to preach the gospel, and he told them that some would accept what they had to say and some would not. Some would welcome them, and some would reject them. Some would praise them; others would curse them. In fact, Jesus told the apostles that the response they would receive would be like the response he received. Some people wanted to make him their king; others wanted to crucify him.

It is in that context that we come to today’s text because it deals with the natural reluctance all of us have to get dead. We don’t like to do things that put our lives in danger because we like being alive. We don’t want to do what is wrong, but if someone put a gun to our head, they could make us do something wrong. We believe we know the truth, but if someone threatened to kill us, we would be tempted to recant that truth.

What we are talking about today is the natural fear that keeps people from sharing the gospel. It’s fear of rejection – fear of suffering for our faith – fear of being called names – and in some cases, even fear for our lives. Jesus knows how we feel. He has personally experienced all those things – not just the fear of rejection, but rejection itself. He suffered for his faith. He was called ‘Beelzebul’ the prince of demons. In fact, he suffered the ultimate rejection of being crucified. The world got tired of his good news and decided to shut him up permanently. It didn’t last, but they did put him to death.

So, Jesus is perfectly qualified to talk to you and me about our fear. That’s what he does in today’s text. Notice that the words “do not be afraid” show up three times in this passage: verses 26, 28, and 31. Jesus is showing us that our commitment to sharing his word is going to be challenged in three different ways. To put it another way, we are going to be tempted to not share his word for three different reasons. Jesus wants us to overcome each of those temptations and to continue to share the gospel.

What we need to do today is to recognize what we are doing that is wrong because that is the only way we are going to be able to correct our behavior. So, we need to understand the temptations that keep us from sharing Jesus to our friends and relatives. Today’s text can help us to do that.

The first temptation that Jesus identifies is the temptation to stay friends with everybody by keeping our mouths shut. Nobody is going to have a problem with us if we just simply stay silent about our beliefs. They will believe that we believe just what they believe. They will think that we doubt just what they doubt. There is safety in silence. But Jesus tells us to…

Evangelize boldly because of future revelation (26-27).

Jesus had been teaching and training his apostles in their own little private sessions. Now he tells them to go and share those lessons in public. Christians learn a lot about God, human nature, sin, Christ, salvation, and future things. Most of those things we learn in private sessions or through the private study of the Bible. They come to us in the dark. But then we are challenged to share these things in the light. We first hear them by a whisper in our ear. Then we are challenged to proclaim those things from the roof of our houses.

But we are reluctant to do that. We don’t want to disturb anyone with our views because we are afraid of what they might think about us. We don’t want to make ourselves targets of other people’s displeasure.

But Jesus is telling us that we do not have the right to remain silent because there will come a day in which everything we believe privately is going to be exposed and made known publicly. On that day, the people we are afraid of now are going to be weeping and gnashing their teeth. They are going to face the judge without the forgiveness of God’s grace.

God told his prophets to proclaim his word to warn sinful people. He also told them that if they refused to say what he wanted to be said, he would hold them responsible for those sins. It is a transgression to remain silent when God tells us to say something. One of those prophets was Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah said, Nah, I’ll just keep silent and go on vacation in Tarshish instead. Jonah never made it to Tarshish. He got a ride in a fish because God wanted the Ninevites to know what Jonah knew.

Every day you and I face the same challenge that Jonah did. He may not call us to go to far-off Nineveh but he is challenging us to evangelize our friends and neighbors. Being silent is not an option because one day all our knowledge will be exposed for all to see. But if we wait until judgment day to let our neighbors know what we believe, it will be too late to do them any good.

The second temptation that Jesus identifies has to do with the urge we have to keep ourselves alive. We know that everybody dies but we are not too keen to speed up the process by saying something that dangerous people don’t want to hear. Jesus would tell his apostles in this same sermon that “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me … and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.”[1] Those disciples were not stupid. They knew what a cross was for. They had seen criminals take up their crosses and carry them to the sight where they would be executed. They knew that Jesus was challenging them to stay committed to him even if it led to their deaths.

Jesus spoke to that need for self-preservation when he told them to …

Evangelize boldly because of future annihilation (28).

He told them that they would have enemies and that those enemies would be perfectly capable of killing them. But he challenged them to look past that reality in the present, no matter how painful and unpleasant that reality is. He told them there was a fate worse than death. Death is the destruction of a body that is not intended to last forever anyway. When we stand before Jesus on judgment day, it will be in our resurrected bodies. But after that, those who did not come to Christ in this age will be condemned to a second death – a death from which there is no resurrection.

Peter called that second death ἀπώλεια – a Greek word meaning destruction.[2] Paul called it ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον – a phrase that means permanent destruction.[3] John saw this destruction taking place in a vision. He saw a lake of fire and people being thrown into it. He said that this lake of fire is the second death.[4] Where did all of these apostles in the Bible get their understanding of the fate of the lost? I’ll tell you where. Peter did not invent the word ἀπώλεια. Jesus used it in Matthew 7:13 when he said that “the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to” ἀπώλεια – destruction. He used the verb form of the word in today’s text when he says that God “is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” This hell is Gehenna – not the fairy tale hell that people say bad people go to when they die. Gehenna is the second death the unbelievers will experience after judgment day. There is no coming back from that permanent destruction. That is why Jesus mentions it here. He is telling his apostles that they should not fear those who can just kill them. They should fear the one who can destroy their body and soul in hell.

The final temptation that Jesus addresses is the temptation to doubt our own value. We are reluctant to evangelize because we doubt that anyone would care about what we would have to say. That is why Jesus starts talking about sparrows and the hairs on our heads being numbered. What Jesus is saying is that we are valuable in God’s sight. He even cares about the birds, but we are more valuable than them. Everything about us that makes us unique is recorded in the mind of God – down to the number of hairs on our heads. On resurrection day, he’s going to give us life again – a life that we can never lose. And…

Evangelize boldly because of future vindication (29-33).

On that day when we are all brought back to life and made to stand before the throne of judgment, do you think it is going to matter what other people thought of you? The only opinion that is going to matter is the opinion of the judge. On that day the books are going to be opened, and there will be a column on the pages of those books that reads: ACKNOWLEDGED CHRIST BEFORE PEOPLE. There are going to be some names listed in that column. If a person’s name does not appear in that column, then Jesus says that he will not acknowledge them before his Father. That is why our commitment to sharing the gospel with others is so important.

William Barclay wrote, “Even when the Christian is involved in suffering and sacrifice and even martyrdom for his faith, he must remember that the day will come when things will be seen as they really are; and then the power of the persecutor and the heroism of the Christian witness will be seen at their true value, and each will have its true reward.”[5]

The gospel we preach is our testimony that Jesus is real and what he wants matters. That truth that we know makes us valuable because the world needs that truth more than anything else.

[1] Matthew 10:38-39.

[2] 2 Peter 2:1.

[3] 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

[4] Revelation 21:8.

[5] Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew. vol. 1., 1958. p. 396.