June 22, 2014 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Jeremiah 20:7–20:13
Second Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Jeremiah 20:7-13 (Matthew 10:5a, 21-33)
You’re not allowed to follow Jesus. You can’t be a Christian. If you would be his disciple, you’re going to pay the price. You’re going to get in trouble. Can you keep it secret? Someone might see you if you’re praying before or after your meal. If a friend comes over and notices a Bible in your home, they might tell someone else. You can’t tell your coworker or the stranger who confronts you that Allah or Buddha is the true God confessed by the Christian faith. You certainly can’t go to a church for worship, to hear God’s Word proclaimed and to be filled with the gifts God gives; that would be like painting a target on your back.
If you lost your job and couldn’t get another because people knew that you were a Christian, it would make sense to be afraid. If your grandfather was taken away in the middle of the night by armed men because he was a Christian, it would make sense to be afraid. If you saw a church building burned down by a shouting mob, it would make sense to be afraid. All this has happened. And it will happen more and more. It might happen right here. It would make sense to be afraid.
Not following Jesus, not being a Christian, seems a whole lot safer when you think about the trouble that comes along with being his disciple. If nothing else, it’s certainly a lot more convenient. You can just keep on thinking about yourself and your own interests first and foremost. You don’t need to get into the messy and potentially uncomfortable business of being the hands and feet of Jesus in service to the people around you. You don’t have to trouble others with the thought that there is an absolute truth about who God is, a right and a wrong, consequences for actions both now and into eternity. Why put yourself in the sights of the enemies of God?
You can imagine a little bit of what Jeremiah would have felt back when he was called to proclaim God’s word to the nation of Judah. The leaders of the people did not want to hear the message that Jeremiah brought from God that they were going in the wrong direction and taking the people farther and farther away from the Lord. Jeremiah had just been beaten and locked up in stocks by a priest who was chief officer in the temple, Pashhur. People even when to the royal court to say that Jeremiah was speaking out against the nation by proclaiming God’s judgment on them if they didn’t turn from their ways. But Jeremiah could not contain God’s word inside of him. He spoke that word to Pashhur, telling him that the Lord had changed the man’s name to “Terror on Every Side.” It would make sense for Jeremiah to be afraid – fear coming at him from threats on every side, all threatening to overpower him. You’re not paranoid if everyone really is out to get you, right? Jeremiah knew of only one source of salvation, only One who could save him from being overpowered, and so he called out to the Lord.
Centuries later, Jesus is getting the twelve apostles ready to go throughout Israel before him and spread the message of God’s kingdom, His reigning, that was now breaking into the world. Preparing them, he sets their expectations, letting them know that persecution is waiting for them. People will reject them, just as the reject the message they’re bringing and the Lord who’s sending them out. As the apostles go out, it would make sense for them to be afraid.
If you put yourself at risk by following Jesus, the world is going to come after you. People rejected Jesus, and people will reject you for being his disciple. The world is going to try to overpower you. And there’s a lot out there that can hurt you and the people that you love, all because you’re a Christian.
There’s a cost to being Christian in that you’re a target. When you are baptized, the devil and all the enemies of God set their sights on you. If you’re following Jesus and living out the new life given to you by the Holy Spirit in those cleansing waters, you are a threat. You threaten the world that says everyone can and should be their own god. You even threaten the devil, because he no longer has the capability to enslave you and lead you wherever he would have you go. It would make sense for you to be afraid. But you don’t have to be afraid. Part of the reason that the devil hates the baptized who are living out that new identity given in Holy Baptism is that their very life points to the champion who has broken the forces of sin, death, and the devil.
There’s a reason that a cross hangs front and center in our sanctuary. The cross is where Jesus took on all the enemies of God. That’s where they threw everything they had straight at him to overpower him – all the hate, all selfishness, all the persecution – and even you and I supplied the ammunition of our sins. He carried the weight of every blow. And it killed him.
But it didn’t stop him.
Jesus is that champion who Jeremiah named: the Lord, come to the battlefield for His people. Christ is that dread warrior who stands with his people against all the enemies of God. This isn’t some namby-pamby, wishy-washy Messiah who would be blown away in a light wind. The risen Christ is a mighty force who will overpower all those who would seek to bring doom on God’s people. The Son of God came to earth to deal with the devil and all those who sought to overpower souls who the Lord has claimed for His own. Like a juggernaut, nothing could stop him from claiming victory for the people of God. Nothing did.
The crucified Christ delivers the end of the apostles’ work, the proclamation of the coming of God’s reigning which he sent them to speak to Israel. He delivers the end of Jeremiah’s prophesying, God’s victory over all those who would be His enemies and do harm to His servants. Overpowering the forces of evil and their plans for domination, Christ crucified becomes Christ victorious.
“Have no fear.” That’s what Jesus told his apostles, even knowing that they would know persecution as they went out in his name. We might live in the “now” and look ahead to the “not yet,” but both are reality for those who follow Jesus. Jesus, crucified, risen, and ascended, sets you free from fear because he has broken the power behind that fear. You now live under grace from our all-mighty God. But in this time in between, you will face trials and temptations. You will experience the pressure of persecution. It might be subtle, or it might be obvious and brutal. The persecution of Christians will continue until Christ comes again. If you live in a nation where you still have the freedom to gather with other Christians, remember those who are experiencing violence, imprisonment, and economic loss for the sake of Jesus’ name. Pray for them. Support them as you are able. Jesus, the mighty champion, has not forgotten them and he has not forgotten you. He remembers his persecuted people. Stand strong in him, even when there is terror on every side.
As you wait and watch for that day of the “not yet,” know that God has promised to be with you. Satan’s power is broken, as St. Paul writes in Romans 6: you are no longer a slave to sin, but someone whose life points to the champion who can set all people free. Go through in this time between the “now” and the “not yet” bound up in Jesus your Savior, living boldly in His name and sharing his gospel with your world.
Look ahead to the day in which Jesus returns and overpowers all the enemies of God, all that continue to plague, pester, and persecute His people. They will be wiped away, utterly defeated by Christ the mighty champion. That day of final victory is coming: Jesus’ victory and your victory. The suffering that you have known and the pain you have endured in Jesus’ name will all be worth it as Jesus acknowledges you before his Father and your Father. You will be with God.
In these days in between, sent out as God’s baptized, Jesus’ disciples, remember our Lord’s words to the apostles and take confidence in him: Have no fear!