The Work is NOT Finished (November 1, 2020)

The Work is NOT Finished (November 1, 2020)

November 6, 2020
Benjamin Ehlers

The Work is NOT Finished (Reformation Sunday)

Matthew 10:16-23

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Today we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation. Though, it’s important to be specific about what we are celebrating. We are not primarily celebrating the man, Martin Luther, but the work he did. We celebrate the work of standing faithfully upon God’s Word despite rejection and persecution. We celebrate the work of faithfully proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to all people. And, brothers and sisters, let me tell you the work is not finished. Nor did it start with Martin Luther. Throughout the history of the Church, the story of faithfulness to the Word of God has always been the story of persecution. We see it back in the account of Daniel who was persecuted for something as simple as praying in his own home. For Daniel, his bold confession and faithful witness was made with bent knees and folded hands. We see it in the apostle Paul who was imprisoned for proclaiming the resurrection of Christ Jesus. His bold witness was made in never remaining silent but always being prepared to give a reason for the hope that he had even while in chains with no hope of release. The work still is not finished, even to this day. Your witness may not be in nailing up theses for debate or speaking in chains before world leaders. But remember, Daniel boldly witnessed simply by praying. And Paul did not fail to sing hymns in prison or speak with the guards. What does your bold witness look like?

The Gospel reading for today is Jesus’ words to his disciples before sending them out on their first missionary tour. As he gives them a survey of what to expect, note how frankly the Lord speaks with them. He doesn’t deceive his own with false promises. They are informed in advance of the very real prospects they are about to face. Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Mt 10:16). This is ludicrous! If news of a wolf invading a flock deserves strong warning, the thought of someone actually sending sheep among wolves would be totally unthinkable. Think about what Jesus is saying. Would you send sheep out into the open fields where you know wolves roam – where you can visibly see packs of wolves pacing, salivating, set on edge and ready to strike? Of course not! That’s foolishness. The sheep wouldn’t stand a chance. They would be looking back at their shepherd thinking, “Ummm…. Are you sure about this?”

And there are two points to ponder that make matters worse. First, you won’t always know who the wolves are. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing infiltrating the flock sometimes knowingly – seeking to destroy – sometimes unbeknownst to themselves – holding to heresies they don’t even realize. Second, there are wolves within. As you stand guard against the ravenous wolves, do not forget about the pack that prowls within your own heart. Don’t forget the enmity that the sinful nature has for the gospel. That Old Adam that still reviles the truth of God’s Word. If not keenly aware, if not kept in check, the wolves within could also lead you on a path of destruction. Especially when this sinful heart joins forces with the external pack, stalking in the attack.

Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16). By itself, this innocence could sound as if it were “simple-minded” gullibility. Likewise, being shrewd, on its own is not necessarily a good quality. But together, they form a balance. The idea is a sanctified common sense. A keen awareness of what Scripture says, and the innocent purity of not letting it be mixed with any other teaching. But even the shrewdest and most innocent among us cannot stand alone. Daniel was not rescued by his own innocence, but by the angel that God sent (Dan 6:22). Likewise, Paul does not give credit for his first defense to the shrewdness of his arguments, but that the Lord stood at his side and gave him strength (2 Tim 4:16-17). So also, there is no need for panic among you or the disciples as they were sent out among wolves because of the “I” who stands behind this. “I am sending you out” (Mt 10:16). Jesus is the one commissioning them. The disciples could go out with full assurance and dismiss all fears. While it’s true, they are sent out among the wolves, they are not in the power of the wolves. It is your Good Shepherd who stands at the ready to protect and defend you from every evil attack. Whether the wolves prowl from within or out.

It is really most amazing how the Good Shepherd has kept so many of his flock physically safe in the very midst of ravenous wolves. How he allowed Daniel to face the very real danger – not of wolves, but of lions – and protected him through the night so that a king of a heathen nation would issue a decree that “in every part of [his] kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel” (Dan 6:26). How he stood at Paul’s side and strengthened him on trial, even when all others abandoned him. And how he used Paul, even in prison, as a witness to the guards, judges, and kings that Jesus Christ is risen. How he ordered events during the Lutheran reformation – keeping Emperor Charles busy with the war against the Turks, so that he would not have time to stomp down a monk who was discovering anew the true message of the Gospel and making it available to all.

While it’s true that God certainly can rescue us from physical and emotional harm. And while he certainly does rescue us on some occasions and prevent it completely in other situations, do not forget what the ultimate deliverance is. Eventually the headsman’s sword took Paul’s life; but it did not stop Jesus from rescuing him and taking him to his heavenly kingdom. “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22) eternally from every evil attack. Brought safely into his heavenly kingdom. This is the finish line for every witness.

So witness without worry. Yes, you may be put on trial – by governments, by courts, or even simply by friends. And at such times it’s easy to take it all personally. This is an attack on me. An attack on my faith. They don’t like what I have to say. But remember who sends you out. Jesus said to his disciples, “I am sending you out” (Mt 10:16). “On my account you will be brought before [them]” (Mt 10:18). “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Mt 10:22). It’s not you they hate. It’s not your name they are attacking. It’s Christ. Because sinful man cannot stand the accusation that God’s law makes. Nor can it fathom the deep love of free forgiveness that are yours through Christ.

So, “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:19-20). For most Christians, persecution doesn’t come from public writings like Luther. You most likely won’t be arrested for your foreign mission trips like Paul. But you will be persecuted for private acts like Daniel. We live our faith and are persecuted because of it. We don’t face a den of lions, but persecution abounds when we are faithful to the Word. We lose relationships because of moral purity. We lose promotions because of worship priorities. We lose friendships because we won’t join in sinful talking or walking. Faithfulness to God’s Word in the face of persecution requires trust in God and an eye on eternity.

When Daniel could have raged in anger against the king he faithfully served for throwing him into a den of lions, I’m shocked at what comes out of Daniels mouth that next morning. Not, “You fool! You’re messing with the wrong guy and the wrong God!” But rather, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (Dan 6:21-22). God shut the lions’ mouths to answer the king’s question: Is your God able to rescue you? Yes, he is. God shut the lions’ mouths to show his Church of all the ages that God is able to guard and keep his own. You can trust him and be faithful to his Word in the face of any persecution.

So, “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:19-20). And although that was spoken in a very special way to the disciples, who would be inspired by the Spirit to write the Scriptures, the Spirit still speaks through you! You have the Word of God in your possession. You have it in print, on a screen wherever you go, and even locked in your heads and in your hearts. The Spirit still guides you to the Scriptures you have learned. So witness without worry. It is not you they are attacking, it is your Lord and Savior. Therefore, it is also not you who have to convince them with your defense, but the Spirit of God convinces or convicts. Consider Paul’s confidence that God will rescue him from every evil attack—the point is not a rescue from danger, but rather a rescue through danger to the heavenly kingdom. Paul knew that even if he died for Christ, God would rescue him from that evil attack and bring him to heaven. Eventually the headsman’s sword took Paul’s life; but it did not stop Jesus from rescuing him and taking him to his heavenly kingdom.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the work is not finished. The work of your salvation is finished, yes. But the work of sharing that salvation and guarding the Word will not be finished until Christ returns for all the world to see – to take you to his heavenly home. So watch out for wolves. They are all over. They surround you and try to entrap you. And although you are sent out among the wolves, you are not under their power – because of the great “I AM” who sends you. Therefore, you can witness without worry. Fill up every day on Scripture so that when asked to give the reason for the hope that you have whether talking with a friend or standing trial for your faith, you will always be prepared to let the Spirit speak. Finally, remember that the Lord will rescue you from every evil attack – which ultimately means one day bringing you safely into his heavenly kingdom where you can rest from all your labors.