Stand Firm to the End!

A sermon preached on Matthew 10:16-23 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on November 1, 2020.

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What’s it mean to take a stand? You stand up for something you believe in and voice or protect your opinion. This week many of us will be standing up for our values and morals in the voting booth. There are times God calls on us to take a stand for what we believe in. When a law was made that you couldn’t pray to anyone but the king, Daniel stood firm and prayed to God even if it meant he’d be thrown into a lions’ den. Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood firm and would not bow down and worship a statue, even if it meant getting thrown into a fiery furnace. The Apostle Paul stood firm before courts and rulers confronting false teachers. Martin Luther stood before an emperor and defiantly stood firm to defend God’s Word.

Today, in our Gospel, Jesus calls you and me saying: Stand Firm to the End! How? Be 1. Shrewd as Snakes and 2. Innocent as Doves.

Be as shrewd as a snake. I’m guessing some of you don’t like that comparison. But really, I think snakes get a bad rap. They are smart creatures. They know when to flee, but they also know when to stand up for themselves. So when Jesus says be as shrewd as snakes, he is saying go about your life with your eyes open. He says “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Wolves attack sheep. It shouldn’t surprise us then when the church is attacked. After all, the devil is more than just a wolf, the Bible describes him as a roaring lion. He will attack us.

It’s not hard at all to imagine now when cancel culture will try to cancel you just depending on what candidate you support – it’s not a stretch to see it happen over my faith. It’s already happened with the baker in Colorado or four years ago the mayor of Houston tried to subpoena pastors’ sermons for preaching against homosexuality. Jesus said: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.”

Standing firm won’t just bring persecution from outside forces. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me.” The message of Christ crucified for us sometimes even causes division within families. A Muslim becoming Christian in this country causes division. In other countries, it can result in death! I have a friend who was an atheist for much of his life. Now as a Christian, his own family detests his faith and forbids him to mention Jesus if he wants to see his grandson.

In fact, Jesus says, “All men will hate you because of me…” Now that sure makes me not want to stand firm. That makes my knees shake and makes me want to run and hide. And I would completely be forsaking Jesus’ call to stand firm in my faith. You see Jesus said these words to the disciples as he was sending them out on their own for the first time.

He sends you and me out to stand firm for him in how we live. But so often I don’t stand firm. You ever find yourself sitting down instead of standing up for Jesus? You’re talking to your coworker about something they are struggling with and you avoid bringing up Jesus because you wouldn’t know what to say and it would just make it awkward anyways. Maybe I see someone comfortable in sin and I hesitate to say anything because I don’t want to be considered judgmental. I certainly don’t stand firm for God always.

That’s why the true joy we celebrate on Reformation is the free and full grace and forgiveness we have in Jesus. Note, Jesus went through everything he warned the disciples about. He was handed over to the local officials who lied about him and beat him. He was flogged. He was tried before a governor and put to death. And because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, his death paid for all of your sins. God promised that through Jesus “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

In Jesus, I am not just innocent as a dove, I am fully forgiven and clean in God’s eyes. So I can stand firm. I can stand firm as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a dove. I can be shrewd as a snake in knowing when it’s time to flee and walk away or when it is time to stand firm and seize an opportunity. The apostles Peter and John stood before the Jewish leaders and stood firm proclaiming of Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Martin Luther stood firm when asked to denounce biblical teaching and proclaimed to the emperor: “unless I can be shown from God’s Word where I have erred, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other, God help me. Amen.”

Being as shrewd as a snake might mean knowing when to walk away from an argument. Another day might be better. Being shrewd as a snake means knowing when it’s better to walk away and when it’s important to stand your ground. Yet, being innocent as doves means doing it patiently and lovingly. To be innocent as a dove is trying to be patient and listen and be peaceful. Being innocent as a dove means speaking the truth in love, knowing you are no better than the person you are witnessing to. It means humbly sharing God’s Word while knowing someone might be upset and attack the messenger. Being shrewd and innocent means standing firm in God’s Word, not in my feelings but in the printed Word of God. Jesus promises you when you stand firm in God’s Word: “it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Yes, there will be costs for following Jesus. It cost the disciples – almost all of them were killed for their faith. It cost Luther as he was declared an outlaw by the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. But Jesus promises stand firm to the end and you will be saved. Continue to cling to God’s promises in Jesus and nothing can rip it from you.

Luther wrote the words of our hymn of the day, A Mighty Fortress. Verse three that we just sang says, “Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us.” That’s just as true today as it was 500 years ago. So is the rest of the verse. “We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpow’r us. This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done! One little word can fell him.” The devil doesn’t want us to remember that. He doesn’t want us to remember that he already has been defeated on a Friday we call “Good.” He’s finished. Jesus has paid for all your sins.

That one little word that can lay the devil low? It’s Christ. It’s the gospel. It’s the righteousness that no one could ever earn or pay for but God has given us as a free gift by his grace through faith. We stand on this. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). I don’t rejoice in what I have done. I rejoice in what God has already done. Stand firm in God’s Word. Here God unveils treasures beyond imagining. Here the Holy Spirit fills you and helps you stand firm. In God’s Word. Here I stand. Amen.