‘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 outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ Matt. 10:28-31
Brothers and sisters, this week we turn to Matthew’s Gospel, and will be working our way through this amazing biography for the rest of the Church year. Matthew was an eye-witness of Jesus’ ministry and before his conversion was one of the hated collaborators with Roman rule, and collected taxes on their behalf. If you’ve ever been tempted to think of Christ as ‘meek and mild’ then stick with us as we listen to the teaching of Jesus which Matthew records. We begin in Chapter 10, just after Matthew’s own conversion is recorded, with some of Jesus’ robust teaching.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to watch the marvellous film ‘A Hidden Life’ which recounts the struggle of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian Christian who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II. As a Christian, Franz argued, he could not swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler, and refused to fight in the army. The film is beautifully shot, and though it is almost three hours, you are quickly immersed in this amazing story of faith and courage in the face of fear and death. As I was watching ‘A Hidden Life,’ seeing the struggle of this young Christian, seeing the abuse he got from his friends for not joining the army, the threats he received from the mayor of his town, and the arrest and trial by the state authorities, I questioned whether I would have the courage to make such a stand. For most of us in the West, thank God, we do not face such an oppressive state, but nevertheless we do face odd looks from strangers and loved ones alike; many of us do face ridicule from those who do not believe including from within our own families; and no doubt as time goes on, if Britain continues to turn its back on its Christian heritage, such ridicule will only increase. How can we stand for Christ in such a situation? We are just human, we fear all sorts of things especially what others think of us, what others will say to us, and even what others may do to us. We are, especially when we stand out in a crowd, afraid. In our passage today Jesus tells us to think clearly and then to prioritise our fears: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’. Think clearly for a second. Other people can harm your reputation, your livelihood, and yes they can kill your body. These things are true, which is why we are fearful. But other people, for all their strength and brutality, cannot kill your soul, that part of you which will last for eternity. Other people’s actions will affect you for a little while, but not forever. ‘Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ If it comes to a competition of who to fear, if it comes to a choice over who to listen to, realise that only God has control over eternity, and so fear Him over all others. Not that we should sit petrified, or shake with fear, that at any moment God might strike us down. That is not the type of fear which Jesus means, but rather know whom you serve, and rightly respect the One with the real power.
How did Franz Jägerstätter have the courage to stand against Hitler and the entire Nazi state? Because Franz feared God more than He feared Hitler. Franz knew that Hitler could torture him and kill him. But Franz also knew that this life is temporary, and that one day we will all die, it is merely a matter of how and when. Franz feared God, the God who loves His people and who said ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. […] So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ God loves us, and cares for us, and calls us in our own ways to take a stand for Him, entrusting our life to Him. As the famous hymn puts it:
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Keep trusting the Lord. Keep honouring God. And keep holding on firm to the Faith whatever may come. God loves you. God will hold you in His hand. And whatever may come, whether oppression, or laughter, or scorn, Christ will be with you and will one day take you to the safety of His heaven. Amen. (from Rev. Mike)
To listen to the hymn, 'Abide with me', click HERE.
To watch a trailer for the film 'A Hidden Life', click HERE.