It was in there again. Little Aidan knew it. He was making his best department store-mannequin impression in the bed: rigid with fear, he barely breathed beneath the blankets. Tight fists held the tops and eyes poked above, frantic and wide. He was like a rabbit, ready to run. In the dark, he thought he saw it move again; was sure it was waiting there in that evil night-cave – his closet. The nightlight (his safety) made it worse; played strange shadows across the door. Made him see things. Was that a shoulder – hairy gray in the charcoal darkness? He wasn’t sure… But soon, he feared, it would curl its horrible, knobby claw round the door and push, slobber and stink and sharp and sick, hulk into the room and loom fire-red eyes and wrinkled, terrible face, hungry at the foot of his bed and eat him alive. And so he took a deep, brave breath and, just as he was sure he saw the door begin to move, he exploded out of the bed, slapped frantic down the hall and slid into mom’s room – out of danger, secure. And of course, after a calming hug and a gentle word, minutes later, he clutched her hand tight as she walked him back. And, when they padded in and mom flipped the light, and he gasped…there was nothing at all. Not under the bed, not in the closet, not in the shadows, not a thing. As she tucked him in and nuzzled his nose and tousled his hair, mom said, “There’s nothing in here to fear. I’m right down the hall and I love you. I will keep you safe. Don’t be afraid.”
In the full light of day, long, long ago, twelve disciples listened attentively as Jesus said the same thing. He commanded them to go and preach the gospel of his kingdom – the Savior of the world was here and was at work and would win – this is Mark chapter 10. And, like a mother’s loving encouragement came Jesus’ word too: “Do not be afraid…”
The older we get, generally, the less afraid of the dark we are, right? Except when we’re not… when the power goes out and somebody had to venture down to the box in the basement with a flashlight; or if you’re working all alone in that big dark office building; or when you cross the dark parking lot at night. The dark does frighten us sometimes and it’s for the same reasons it did when we were kids: because in the darkness, you can’t see what’s out there and you can imagine all kinds of things. That’s part of the trouble when we consider how to take up Jesus’ command in our lives. When we make God’s Word known, we do so in a world where many things are hidden.
There is a lot we don’t know when we preach. When I speak God’s Word, I don’t know how it will be received – it’s hidden from me how someone will hear God’s correction or whether the world will fight back against this Word. And that’s hard if I care about people or if I like my way of life at all. And it’s worse because there’s a lot we do know too. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” And we know it. We watch the news. We’ve talked Bible with friends. We know how people kill people and hurt the body because of the Word. We’ve heard Jesus’ promise in the verses right after ours. He’s come to bring the sword – not peace – to cut and divide families, to bring strife and pain – not to make fairy-tale happiness. Jesus isn’t saying, “Don’t be afraid to speak my Word because the monsters aren’t real…” They are – the pain, the death, the possible shame – it’s all real, it’s all there. And yet Christ calls us to speak. He calls us to confess him with our mouths and lives without fear.
“Why not be afraid?” we might ask. “What’s the calculation here?” If Jesus said, “Why be afraid at all?” we might fire back, “But don’t you know how hard it is when they call me names?” “Don’t you get what it’s like to have your child tell you you’re not his father when you correct his way of life?” “Don’t you understand, Jesus how hard this is – how much you’re asking – how horrible it could be?” Truth is, Jesus does know how hard it is to be called names. He does know what it’s like to have family disown you because of God’s Word. He does know just how bad pain can get. The real question is in vv.24-25: “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” Is it enough for you and me to be like him?
Isn’t it rather often, not that the things themselves are too scary, but that what they might bring isn’t enough for us? And that’s what we fear? Like how if you share God’s Word and someone tells you you’re a fool – that won’t be comfortable, it’ll be embarrassing, and the truth is: I just don’t want that…I want respect, friends, peace. If you tell God’s Word and live it and hold to it even though they threaten you with your job or worse, to take your life – that will hurt and it will damage life as you know it and the truth is: that’s not enough for me, sometimes – I want more. I want to live, and well.
When we’re afraid, we should check whether this temptation is hiding beneath: the idea that it’s not enough to be like Jesus in suffering under the cross or bearing his Word or even dying. And Jesus’ warnings are there… If we are afraid of bodily killers and what they’ll take, we may be missing that there is an eternal aspect to our existence – these bodies pass away, but God is master of body and soul forever. If we calculate that all these things aren’t enough for us and we don’t confess Christ, then at the end we will not have the confidence that he will confess us. All we bring will not be enough to appease the wrath of his heavenly Father.
Instead, let’s preach to ourselves the kingdom message he’s sent us out to proclaim: Jesus’ work all-sufficient – to cover over our sins and to supply us what we need before God. The idea’s there in Romans 5 this morning – that there was a mountain of wrong piling up since the sin of Adam (your contributions and mine included), but the grace of God in Christ is so astounding – God’s gift is so much more than the trespass (all the trespasses we could pile up). It’s not even a question whether it’s enough – it overflowed to us. Live in that. Let that wash over you again and free you of sins and guilt and then of fears. Jesus knows you have been afraid, for that he died to pay. Jesus knows you fear it won’t be enough, for that he made sufficient sacrifice so that you will have more than you can imagine. In repentant faith, confess Christ because you count with him.
Isn’t it just that way for the child afraid in the dark? He doesn’t fall asleep because his mother had removed all possibility that something evil will get him or because she’s logically reasoned away all his fears. No, because his mother loves him he is not afraid. Look again at how Jesus reassures you with his love so that you are not afraid to speak God’s Word with your mouths and with your lives.
- In v.25, what a thought? It is absolutely enough to be just like Jesus! He’s the ruler of the kingdom and the very names they call you for speaking his Word bind you to him. They mean you’re just like him, right in line with him, members of his house.
- Vv.26-27, who wouldn’t shout from the rooftops the things we’ve heard, when we know the things we do? Like the truths around v.28? They can take the human body, may kill it – but one day the truth will be revealed: that even death is swallowed up in Jesus’ victory and we will be alive and just like him – immortal, beautiful bodies full and complete and fit for God.
- v.29 “[N]ot one [sparrow] will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” While we’re here, we need not fear because God gives intimate attention to our lives. It may feel as though he isn’t giving enough attention to us when difficulties come from living his Word. But the sufferings you may experience are NOT because God is disinterested in you. To the contrary: his care is extraordinary – more than just enough, it extends to the things you have considered not even worth remembering about yourself. “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” When was the last time you updated your head-hair-count spreadsheet? God’s got it open on his divine PC…along with the number of sparrows and the petals on flowers and the sand on the seashore – and for none of them did Jesus live and die: only for you was it not enough to sit on the sidelines – only for you did he do more than enough to make you all God loves. Only you are worth that much to him.
- And when you know these, then you can take it altogether as vv.32-33 do: “Whoever acknowledges me…I will also acknowledge him…” You’re going to confess Christ just like the word he uses implies. His word “confess” means something like “to say the same thing”. Your lives will say the same thing as Jesus says: you will love the things he loves and say the things he says and hold to the things he calls dear – all no matter what the world loves or holds or says. And you can do that without fear because when you confess Christ – acknowledge that you’re his people and that you love his Word and that you live for him – it will be enough. It will be worth it because he will not back out – he will say before his heavenly Father the same thing as you: that your words have been his Word and your lives have loved him and he loves you. Jesus will confess you too.
And that’s enough… That’s what you have with Jesus: everything you need. Especially to boldly to tell everyone everything he’s given you and everything in store for them. Do not be afraid my friends, but speak Jesus‘ Word. In the dark, bring his light. Amen.