Today’s Sermon: Fear Conquering Promises for Evangelism

Speaker: Mark Vroegop
Scripture: Matthew 10:16-25

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. Matthew 10:16–25 (ESV)

Do you ever wonder why God chose to put you where you are in human history?  Have you ever wondered about why God chose the family into which you were born, the country in which you live, the personality that makes you unique, and the gifts that have been given to you?  When was the last time that you thought, “Why am I here?”  And I don’t mean asking the question in a frustrated sense.  I mean asking it in an honest, heart-searching way as you wrestle with the plan of God for your life.

I believe that every Christian should regularly ask himself or herself these kinds of questions because it is far too easy to go along with the ebb and flow of our culture and forget that there is a divinely ordained purpose for our lives.  Our sense of mission and purpose tends to leak.

Asking why we are here is not only something that individual Christians should do, but churches should also ask that question.  Why is College Park Church in the Indianapolis area?  Why has God given us favor over these thirty years?  What does He want us to do to reach our city?  Over time, a church can forget or accidentally neglect the fundamental calling from Jesus in Matthew 28 which Joe talked about last week:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19–20).

For the last few years, our Elders and Pastors have been talking about what evangelism and discipleship look like at our church, and this series – Life on Mission – is designed to help us remember that igniting a passion to follow Jesus involves evangelism and discipleship.  In other words, in the midst of all the good things that a large church can be and do, we need to regularly remind one another about what it means to “go and multiply.”

Two years ago we launched our Next Door Mission in an effort to reach unchurched people in our city and to make the theme of multiplication more prominent in our minds and hearts.  In the Fall of last year, we launched a campus in the city of Fishers, and it has been amazing to see how the Lord has blessed that effort.  In every way it has exceeded my expectations.  To date, our Fishers Campus has grown by 44 percent, averaging 450 people per week; it has baptized eleven people, and 85 percent of people are involved in a small group.  But our vision is not just for Fishers; it is a vision to reach our city with the gospel.  Let me remind you about this vision with a video that we produced some time ago: yourchurch.com/nextdoor

So we have a vision to see more campuses planted in other areas of our city.  In the next 5-7 years, I’d love to see a campus in Greenwood or Avon or downtown Indianapolis.  We are praying that the Lord will lead us and provide the people and the resources needed so that North Indy and Fishers will both be places where evangelism and discipleship are increasingly part of our church culture in new ways.

Our vision for the Next Door Mission was to launch new campuses so that we would all reach our neighbors – to “go and multiply.”  So I’m thrilled with what I see happening at Fishers and at North Indy, but it is only the first step in asking and answering the question: “Why are we here?”

Fear:  The Great Evangelism Mission Killer

As I think about this mission, I am convinced that one of the greatest barriers to our accomplishing it is fear.  I believe that fear is the great evangelism mission killer.  When it comes to sharing our faith, it seems to me that fear is one of the reasons, if not THE major reason, why we do not seize opportunities, to intentionally build relationships with new people and to share the gospel with people who do not know Jesus.

I think we are afraid of being awkward or offensive, facing a question we can’t answer, causing a negative effect on a relationship, turning someone off to the gospel, or messing up the presentation.  I believe that a great barrier to accomplishing the Great Commission on a personal level is our fears of what might happen.  And those fears do not cause us to outright deny the gospel.  No, instead we just go incognito.  We merge into the flow of culture, work, life, and recreation and lose our sense of mission.

What I’d like to do today is look at Matthew 10 to see how Jesus framed the mission of the disciples and what he told them about fear.  My hope is to help you reshape your expectations of what it means to follow Jesus such that you will be able to take one step in conquering whatever species of fear stands in your way when it comes to evangelism. 

The Context of Matthew 10

It is important for you to understand the context of our passage in order to fully appreciate what Jesus is saying and to see how it applies to us in 2016.  Let me highlight four things from Matthew 9:35-10:4.

First, chapter ten comes after the launch of Jesus’ public ministry, which included teaching the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and His early miracles (Matthew 8-9).  Until chapter 10, Jesus was the only one involved in this two-fold ministry (see Matthew 9:35).  Second, as Jesus traveled through these cities, he was burdened about the needs of the people.  They were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36).  In light of this burden, Jesus told His disciples:

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37–38 (ESV)

The solution to the needs of the people was for laborers to be sent out into the harvest field – people who would embrace Jesus’ mission.  Third, and in light of this burden, Jesus called His twelve disciples to replicate His ministry.  They were given “authority,” which means they were to go in Jesus’ name and minister in the same way as they had seen Jesus minister.

7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. (Matthew 10:7–8)

This is the charge that they have been given from Jesus, and it is a unique and special ministry given to them as Jesus’ disciples and as “apostles” (v. 2).  You might think of this text as the disciples’ initial commission to the nation of Israel.  And at the end of Matthew, the charge given in the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20, sounds similar but not quite the same:  to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching them to observe the teaching of Jesus.  What’s more, the scope is changed.  In Matthew 10, the disciples are only to go to Israel (vv. 5-6), but in Matthew 28, they are to go to “all nations.”  So we have to understand the place of Matthew 10 in redemptive history.

Finally, what follows in chapter 10 are some helpful instructions as to what the disciples can expect as they follow Jesus.  And while the specific mission is not the same as in Matthew 28, the expected response from the culture is consistent throughout the rest of the New Testament.  Matthew 10 is an early statement about what to expect when you represent Jesus and embrace His mission in the world.  It is similar to what we hear in 1 Peter 4:12 – 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

As Jesus sends His disciples out on their first mission, He sets their expectations as to what the mission will entail.  He gives them some assurances and some promises to help them with the fear that will, no doubt, be a part of their struggle.

Five Fear-Conquering Promises

As Jesus sends out His disciples, He gives them a number of assurances, promises, or qualifiers in order to help them understand what their mission will be like.  I believe that Jesus’ charge here helps us in changing our expectations of what it means practically to follow Him.

  1. The mission is ultimately not about you (vv. 11-15)

After Jesus instructs the disciples to only go to the people of Israel (vv. 5-6), tells them the essence of their mission (vv. 7-8), and identifies what they are to bring or not bring with them (vv. 9-10), He describes what their expectation should be as they enter various cities.  In short, they are to be aware that not every city and not every house is going to be receptive.  They are to travel from city to city and from house to house with the expectation that rejection is going to a part of the dynamic of their mission.

Some people will receive their message and others will not.  In verses 11-13, the people who receive the message are called “worthy,” and those who reject it are “not worthy.”  As the disciples enter a city, or even a home, they should not expect that every person, home, or city is going to be receptive.  Their mission, like Jesus’, will certainly be opposed.  They should not be at all surprised when they face rejection.  Nor should they be alarmed.  Nor should they assume that they have failed.

In fact, Jesus goes so far as to arm the disciples with two responses when they face rejection:  peace retrieving and dust shaking. Look at verses 13-14:

13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Matthew 10:13-14

To retrieve the peace is to no longer offer the Word which would have brought them peace.  There are times when the continued proclamation of the gospel to a non-receptive people is no longer wise or necessary.  The disciples cannot force people to receive the gift of grace.[1]

To shake the dust off one’s feet was connected to a custom that when a Jew entered Palestine from another country, he would shake off the unclean dust from the foreign nation before crossing the border.  Shaking off the dust was a symbol of moving out of a pagan nation.[2]  By doing so after leaving a Jewish home, they would be acknowledging that even within Israel there were pockets of rebellion specific to particular homes and cities.  In other words, the disciples would encounter pockets of rebellious people even within their own nation.

Finally, Jesus points to God’s judgment in verse 15.  Jesus uses the example of the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah to emphasize a very important point.  Those cities were notably destroyed because of their rampant sinfulness and immorality, and they became the ultimate example of God’s decisive destruction of rebellion.  But the disciples are told that the cities who reject their message will face a more significant judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah.  To reject the messengers is actually to reject the message of grace and repentance from God Himself.

Why did Jesus tell them all this?  John Calvin says, “the chief point of his counsel is to give some relief to them {the disciples} for their natural sorrow and dismay whenever their teaching my be flung back upon them, for fear that they might give up . . .”[3]  In other words, there is a real discouragement that can set in when you embrace your gospel mission, share the Good News, and someone flat out rejects it.  A normal reaction would to be disappointed or even dismayed as you begin to think that if the gospel is shared correctly, it will be usually received.

But Jesus reminds us here that our mission is not ultimately about us.  We are reminded, and I hope emboldened, with a perspective that anticipates resistance or rejection – even expects it.

If you wait to share the gospel with someone until you are reasonably assured that you will not be rejected, you will severely diminish the mission opportunities around you.  To conquer my fears, I need to be reminded that the mission is not ultimately about me.

  1. The Spirit will help you speak (vv. 16-20)

The second common fear is the concern that in the midst of opposition you will not know what to say.  You imagine the person getting angry, firing off a series of accusations or difficult questions, and you fear that you’ll be left speechless, not knowing what to say.

Jesus anticipates significant opposition, even persecution, as the disciples fulfil their mission.  In fact, He calls them “sheep in the midst of wolves” (10:16).  The metaphor is meant to communicate a strong word picture because everyone knows what happens to sheep when they spend time with wolves.

Moving from metaphor to specifics, Jesus tells them in verses 17-18 that they will be delivered over to courts, beaten in the synagogues, and dragged before governors and kings.  Part of their mission will involve significant and official opposition.  In fact, Jesus makes such a significant point about it here that it would seem that the followers of Jesus ought to be shocked when opposition is not a regular part of their experience in the world.

When it happens that they are put on the spot, Jesus offers a wonderful two-fold promise in verses 19-20:  1) They will be given what they are to speak as God helps them in that moment, and 2) the Holy Spirit will be involved in the empowerment of their words.  At the right moment, God is going to show up and help His disciples know what to say.

The Apostle Paul describes his experience of this in 2 Timothy 4:16-17.

16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. (2 Timothy 4:16–17)

If you wait until you have all the answers and know how to respond to every question, you will never share your faith.  What’s more, you will miss the unbelievable opportunity to know that it was the Lord who was speaking through you.  Frankly, I feel bad for some of you who have never known the sweet grace that comes at just the right moment when you are called upon to give an answer.  Some of you have no idea what it is like to have something come out of your mouth, land on someone’s heart, and know that it didn’t come from you.

By not taking the risk, you are missing out on the beauty of seeing God work through you.  For some believers sharing the gospel is fundamentally a trust in God issue.  Do you believe that God will help you or not? If you do, then go for it!

  1. You are being treated like Jesus (vv. 21-25)

The third promise gets to a foundational question for a disciple of Jesus: namely, how much do you want to be identified with Jesus?  Or to think of it another way:  How much is Jesus worth to you?  Only those who truly love Jesus and those who have been captivated by Him will value being treated like Him.

Verse 21 makes the opposition very personal and more painful because it involves family, the one group of people who are supposed to love you.  It is tragic to think of brothers turning on brothers, fathers turning on their children and children rising up against their own parents.  But Jesus suggests that is exactly what will happen.  The mission of following Jesus is enormously costly.  Verse 22 states it very clearly and soberly: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”  Therefore, the disciple is called to embrace endurance – “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  In other words, one of the ways that you prove that you really love Jesus is by not giving up or by shutting up when you are treated like Him.  The followers of Jesus are to keep sharing the good news until Jesus returns.[4]

This is why the disciples are found singing in prison (Acts 16:25) and rejoicing that they “were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:39-42).  This is why the book of Hebrews says that they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property (Hebrews 10:32-36) and why the apostle Paul described his sufferings as “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body” (Colossians 1:24).

Those who love Jesus accept being treated like Him.  To be a disciple means that your primary allegiance in life has shifted from everything else to Jesus.  He has become the central defining reality of your life.  He is what you love more than anything, and to be treated like Him is an honor and a privilege.

Verses 24-25 make this point painfully clear.  Jesus was derided in the world.  He was treated poorly, and He was even called a demonic name (Beelzebul).  And since Jesus Himself was maligned this way, His followers could expect the same.

Living on mission springs from a life that is in love with Jesus.  Part of the problem with your evangelism may simply be that you are not enamored with Jesus.  Therefore, it is very easy to fall back into the natural pattern of loving comfort, being well-thought of, and being treated fairly as more valuable than identifying with Jesus.

Some of us may just need to be honest with the Lord today that we are not all that excited about Jesus.  We may need to ask the Lord to give us a renewed sense of love for Him.  We may need to rehearse the gospel, sing about the gospel, and rejoice in the gospel so that we will be inclined to talk about the gospel.  Otherwise, being treated like Jesus will not be a motivator at all.

  1. God cares for you and will be the final judge (vv. 26-33)

The next promise mentions fear directly.  Jesus assumes that everything that is coming at the disciples will create the possibility of dealing with fear, and He provides assurance in verses 26-33 that God will care for His disciples.

These verses are loaded with a number of wonderful and powerful truths:

  • 26 – Anything that is hidden will one day be made clear and known. In other words, there is another day of reckoning that is coming.
  • v. 27 – The effect should be boldness on the part of the disciples.
  • v. 28 – The worst that someone on earth could do to you would be to kill you, but they cannot touch your eternal destiny. Living with God’s power in view helps to keep the power of human beings in the right context, especially when faced with persecution.
  • vv. 29-31 – You are extremely valuable to God; therefore you can trust that even opposition, persecution, and even your death is meant for good under the banner of God’s kind control.
  • v. 32 – There is a direct connection between the activity of earth and heaven. Acknowledging or denying Christ is connected to what happens before the Father.

The tone of these verses is to make a clear connection between earth and heaven.  What happens on earth affects what happens in heaven.  God will one day bring judgment and vindication.  Believers can be assured that facing difficulties or opposition on earth will be rewarded and acknowledged in heaven.  Loyalty to Jesus may result in persecution now, but it will result in the loyalty of Jesus on judgment day.[5]

Therefore, to conquer fear in evangelism, it behooves the disciples of Jesus to remember what realm they are living for.  Being assured about God’s care and His final judgment should motivate us to live on mission.

  1. In losing your life, you find it (vv. 34-39)

The final promise is set in yet another challenging context.  Jesus tells His disciples that His message and ministry are going to create division and opposition.  In this respect His ministry will not bring peace but a sword (v. 34).  Now Jesus is not literally talking about a holy war.  Rather, He is using the word “sword” to describe the conflict that the disciples could anticipate.

Verses 35-38 provide further color as we see that allegiance to Jesus can create division in families such that “a person enemies will be those of his own household” (v. 36).  Following Jesus means that a person’s affections for Jesus is greater than all earthly relationships (v. 37) and all earthly costs (v. 38).  In other words, there is a great cost in following Jesus, and He tells His disciples about this at the beginning of their ministry.

However, the promise in verse 39 is very important and powerful: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Here is the beautiful and motivating upside-down logic of Jesus, which serves as a great motivation in evangelism:  in losing your life, you gain your life.

So, when you think of evangelism, what are you afraid of losing? Are you afraid of losing the respect of those with whom you work?  Are you afraid of losing the comforts of a friendly neighborhood?  Are you afraid of being rejected?  Are you afraid of not having the right words to say?  Are you afraid of being treated differently?  When you think of evangelism, really, what are you afraid of?

For that matter, what do you expect the Christian life to be like?  You see, if there is a reasonable expectation that evangelism is going to be a bit challenging and that not everyone is necessarily going to be receptive, I think it can be liberating and even empowering.

Jesus sent His disciples out on a mission in Matthew 10, and He armed them with promises:

  1. The mission is ultimately not about you
  2. The Spirit will help you speak
  3. You are being treated like me
  4. God cares for you and will be the final judge
  5. In losing your life, you find it

And while they were far from perfect, and while they had a lot of things to learn, these disciples changed the world and brought the gospel to people who had never heard it.

So why has God placed you in your neighborhood, your job, your soccer team, your debate team, at the gym, or walking through Kroger?  And what if He has a particular person just waiting to hear the gospel from you.  Or what if you are going to be the first of five people that this person is going to reject before receiving Christ on the sixth presentation.

My challenge to you today is simple:  I want to invite you to ask the Lord to give you a gospel opportunity in the next two weeks, and I want you to pray that when it comes, you will conquer your fear and speak on behalf of Jesus.

And no matter how it goes, I want you to know that you were a part of the mission of Jesus.  After all, if you are a follower of Jesus, that is why you are here.

© College Park Church Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce this material in any format provided that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy:  by Mark Vroegop. © College Park Church – Indianapolis, Indiana.  www.yourchurch.com

[1] Fredrick Bruner, Matthew, (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Eerdmans Publishing, 2004), 469.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bruner, 470.

[4] I take verse 23b to be similar to Matthew 24:14 indicating a) that the mission is not yet complete and b) the followers of Jesus must persevere in it.

[5] David Turner, Matthew – Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008), 280.

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