Jesus' mission-charge to his disciples in Matthew chapter 10 has consisted of difficult commands and ominous prophecies. Jesus has promised rejection, persecution and even death. Now he has a positive word for the twelve apostles. God is a sovereign Lord; nothing falls outside his will, nothing disrupts his plan. For this reason a disciple of Jesus need have no fear.
v26. As Jesus was persecuted so disciples will be persecuted. Yet, a disciple should not be afraid of "them", ie. the persecutors, eg. the Pharisees. The persecutor must face the day of judgment, a day when their evil will be evident and will be dealt with.
v27. Unlike the persecutors who mask their evil, a disciple must openly proclaim the hidden mysteries of the kingdom of God. It may seem that both satanic and secular powers are able to frustrate the gospel by affronting Jesus' disciples, but nothing can restrict the gospel, for it is God's will that his message of salvation be available to all who seek him. The disciples can confidently look for opportunities to proclaim the gospel knowing that it will find its mark. So, they should be pro-active in the business of gospelling - proclaim it on the roof tops (the typical flat-topped Palestinian home makes for an effective pulpit).
v28. Continuing with the theme of fear, a second independent saying from Jesus reminds us that fear can be misplaced. There is only so much damage that evil people can do to us. Even Satan has limited powers with which to damage us. Satan is the great deceiver, but that's about the end of it. The real power lies with God; He is the one who can cast us from his presence and hand us over to eternal damnation. Rather than fearing the limited powers of evil people, we would do better to fear (respect) the one who possesses all power. Note Jesus' mention of "hell". "Hell" derives from "gehenna", a smouldering rubbish tip outside of Jerusalem, and came to image divine punishment. The context may imply that hell is a place of eternal torment, but annihilation is a better understanding of a person's end without God.
v29-31. Jesus now gives the final reason why we should not fear confrontation with the world. God cares for the totality of our lives, from big things to small things. God knows the fate of a sparrow and even the number of hairs on our head, so he is totally aware of all our circumstances. This passage is sometimes used to teach that God provides for our practical welfare, but it is more likely saying that he is totally aware of our circumstances, that we are not alone when bad things happen, and that therefore, we should not be afraid. Nothing will happen to you "without your Father knowing", Jerusalem Bible. This passage aligns with Jesus' promise to walk with us in life's journey, to laugh when we laugh and cry when we cry.
Fear is a very real part of human existence. In fact, without fear we would not survive. The fearless person takes too many chances, so aeons ago such people were reduced in the gene pool; they failed to consider the dangers of the wild. So, fear is part of being human.
Our major problem lies with irrational fear. We can become so fearful that we end up debilitated and unable the handle the business of life. We can be so afraid that we are unable to make decisions, even venture outside the home. A person with this condition can easily turn to drugs to make themselves feel better. Often, binge drinking by adolescents is nothing more than a cover for their fear of the crowd, their fear of rejection....
Fear, for a believer, is increased when we take seriously the Lord's instruction to preach the message of the kingdom. Communicating the gospel can be a dangerous activity. Certainly, Jesus wasn't immune from trouble, and his disciples can expect similar treatment.
Jesus sought to overcome the disciples' fear of gospelling by teaching three powerful truths:
i] The sovereignty of God in evangelism. God will see to it that the message of salvation is never far from the seeker after truth. Jesus is not dependent on us, rather we on him. We therefore don't need to panic about gospelling, get into programming, selling techniques, group dynamics.... to communicate the gospel. We can naturally communicate the truth in line with our circumstances and so minimize community reaction.
ii] The fear of God in evangelism. We can better deal with evangelistic confrontations when we remind ourselves of all that we possess in Christ. We would be nothing without him and are everything with him. If we are to fear anyone, better to fear Him.
iii] The care of God in evangelism. When we remind ourselves of our Lord's constant care, his constant participation in our lives, in good times and bad, we are better able to stand up for him. If we are getting a bit of flak because of our faith, it is very encouraging to know that Jesus is totally with us through all the circumstances of life.
So, stop feeling anxious!
1. Consider the nature of fear and how it affects the work of evangelism.
2. Apply the three truths Jesus gives us to overcome fear.