The words of our Lord found in the 10th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel are stark and difficult words to hear. They are marked by a raw honesty about the faith, about discipleship, about what it means to be called a Christian. There is a foreboding darkness hanging over Jesus’ words in this section. It is not all sunshine and rainbows or a prosperity preacher’s Pollyanna dreams. He is not saying, “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give them rest.” This is not the image of a shepherd seeking out the lost little sheep, putting it on his shoulders and carrying it back safely into the sheepfold full of celebration and joy; not here, not in this text. No, this is about the brutal reality of the cost of being a disciple. Yet somehow, all its darkness and honesty are exactly what we need to hear, especially in these days, these dark and uncertain times.
With chilling imagery Jesus depicts a world where the most intimate parts of one’s life is wounded. “Brother will deliver brother over to death,” He says. “And the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:21-22). This is not exactly what you would want to put on your recruitment poster. Death, betrayal, and hatred do not sound like the type of club you want to be a part of. Turns out there is a high cost to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Is this what He meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow me?” If so, perhaps we might want to rethink our allegiance. This sounds more like going to war than joining a church.
Yet, it is not all gloom and doom. In fact, the overall message is one of enduring hope and promise. Will there be opposition to the disciples of Jesus? Yes! But that is only because the cause is so great, the message so life changing. The trial and hardship serve as a foil which reflect the goodness of the gift. He promises that the one who endures through it will, in fact, be saved. Salvation itself is the cause of the faith. Salvation is the promise made to the followers of Jesus. The life of a disciple is one marked with the promise of the gift of life itself, real life, eternal life that cannot be snatched away by any force or opposition in this world. So, Jesus says,
“Have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:26-28).
Do not be afraid. This is a message we can get behind. Here we have a message we need with all that is going on in our world and our country. But how do we do that? It is not like you can just flip the switch and fear melts away. Amid the harsh reality Jesus is describing He says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” This means in the dark, in the troubling and harsh realities of being a disciple, the Word of Jesus is still found. He still speaks to you. In fact, it may not even be all that loud, all that profound and life altering in the moment. It is not necessarily a profound epiphany that shocks you awake. It might just be a still, small whisper, but that whisper is enough. A whisper in the dark is enough for you to endure.
Make no mistake, there is real darkness clinging to the life of the children of God. It would be wonderful if once you became a believer, why then, everything just gets better. You confess your faith, get baptized and next thing you know you get a better job, a better car, your love life improves, and your relationships get better. Would that not be wonderful? This is the sort of thing you would want to put on a recruitment poster. Join here and live your best life now! But it simply does not play out that way. This is not some wish dream. This is real life. I have known good, strong, faithful Christians who have had terrible lives marked with pain and suffering. Just one ailment after another plaguing them and beating them down. I have had the bedside conversation where they want to know why, why would God allow this to happen to them? And it is even worse because I do not have a great answer. I sit there like an idiot in the darkness of their lives. I knew a pastor, a good faithful pastor who battled crippling depression. He would call me now and then when life seemed so bleak, so painful he found himself on the edge of his bed with a loaded gun ready to just end it all.
That is true darkness. That is pain and suffering which is difficult to imagine. There are a lot of things worthy of our fear in this age. There is depression and loneliness and anxiety. There are the broken relationships and deep unspoken grudges we cannot seem to get over. There are wounds caused by those who were supposed to love and care for us that never quite heal over. In fact, sometimes it can be the smallest thing which will tear it wide open again. To say, “Do not worry, be happy,” is not going to change it. To simply say, “Do not be afraid of the darkness,” does not get rid of the darkness.
But our Lord does not leave you in the darkness. You are not alone. He joins you. He binds Himself to you as He takes all your sin and wears those filthy rags as His own. He hides in your shame, failure, and fear right there in the darkness. And then He speaks. As we said, it may only be a whisper, a softly spoken word you can barely make out for all the noise surrounding your life, but He is there. And He has something to say to you that does change things.
It seems impossible what He says. It seems too good to be true. As Jesus clothes Himself in your sin He says, “Don’t worry. These are mine now. Their filth, their hideous odor, it is not who you are, it is not your identity, for you are mine, my brothers and sisters, you are saints of God. I know. I know you do not look like it. And I know you cannot see it in the darkness, but I have new clothes for you to wear. If you could only see, they are absolutely beautiful, for they are mine. They are all my righteous deeds, my faithfulness to our Father in Heaven, my perfect living and perfect faith, my trust and confidence in the Word of God, they are yours now. They cover you. Perhaps you cannot see, but I can. I can see them as clear as day, and even more than that, God sees. He sees your life wrapped in my work and so He sees your salvation and invites you into the great wedding hall.”
So, you do not need to fear my friends. There is nothing in all this world that can separate you from the love of God. He knows all things. He knows what happens in the darkness. He knows about your particular darkness. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-30). If you do not think so, just look to the cross. Look to the length He would go to enter the darkness to save you.
There is no silencing the Word of God, no limiting of His promises. He loves you, embraces you and forgives each one of you. What you have heard in the darkness we gather to proclaim in the light. What you heard as just a whisper we now shout from the rooftops. Salvation has come to the children of God. Eternal life is yours. So, do not be afraid.