In our gospel text Jesus makes a promise, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mt 10:22). I doubt that these words have ever been framed and hung on someone’s wall. You won’t find them written in a calendar or Hallmark card. And yet these are the words of Jesus. This is his promise to his followers, to his church, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” These are words we might like to forget. No one enjoys being hated. It’s not fun. It hurts. Naturally, we desire to be admired and loved. We want to be popular and accepted by everybody. So what do we do with Jesus’ words? Too often we treat the Word of God like a buffet line. When we find something we like we scoop up a big serving, but we skip over the parts we don’t care for. We open our Bibles and read, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). “What a wonderful promise! I’ll take a double portion of that.” But then we read, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” “Oh, no thank you. I couldn’t possibly – I’m stuffed already.” This is not how the Word of God works. St. Paul said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Ac 20:27). We don’t select or change God’s Word to suit our fancy; no, the Word changes and conforms us into the image of Christ.
To be sure, many Christians are hated by this world – but for all the wrong reasons. Christians often lie and cheat. Some Christians do things that a good heathen would never do. “Oh, I cheated over here; I ripped this guy off over there – but hey! nobody’s perfect; it’s all forgiven!” Does the world hate that guy? You bet it does! And it should. But what about you? Did you ever defraud your neighbor? Have you stolen from your boss by fudging your hours to get overtime? Have you cheated on your taxes? Have you slandered someone’s reputation? When we do these things, the world rightly hates us. We are not bearing reproach for the name of Christ. Instead, we are bringing dishonor to our Lord.
The hatred that Jesus speaks of in our text is different. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me first” (Jn 15:18). Why is Jesus hated? “The world hates me,” Jesus said, “because I testify about it that its works are evil” (Jn 7:7). Nothing will get you into trouble faster than calling people’s works and actions evil – especially when those people believe that their works are good. But Jesus refused to acknowledge the outward goodness of the religious leaders. He called their works evil. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8:44). How’s that for politically correct speech? Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, white-washed tombs, fools, and blind men. No wonder they hated him. No wonder they, in turn, called him a Samaritan and a devil. The world can do nothing but hate Christ and his followers. For Jesus says, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Mt 10:25b). When you were baptized, whether you knew it or not, you became a member of the household of Christ. All the hatred of the world toward Jesus is now also directed at you, because you speak his words and you bear his name.
Don’t be surprised. This is what it means to be a Christian. In fact, Jesus says that if the world doesn’t hate you, you’ve got a problem. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Lk 6:26). The church today is full of false prophets and people love it. Why? Because they tell us what we want to hear. Your sinful nature doesn’t want to be called to repentance. No. It wants to be told, “Jesus loves you and accepts you exactly how you are. Live according to your sinful passions. Follow your heart. Do whatever feels right, and whenever you need him, Jesus will always be there to pat you on the back.” This message can’t save you from your sins, but it is appealing to the Old Adam. This is the gospel of the world, and its false prophets are well-paid and well-respected. Many Christians have embraced this message because it’s easy. “Don’t tell people that sin is destructive. Instead, help people feel loved. Embrace diversity. Affirm and accept sinful behavior.”
But are you more compassionate than Jesus who calls sinners to repentance? Are you more loving than God who desires that all would turn from their sin and be saved? A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master (Mt 10:24-25a). But sinful pride doesn’t want to be loving and compassionate like Jesus. It wants to be more loving and compassionate than Jesus. “Did Jesus say that marriage is between a man and a woman? That’s not very loving. Did Jesus say that your lifestyle is sinful? That’s not compassionate or accepting.” Jesus says to you, “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed” (Mk 8:38).
We must speak the words of Christ. To be sure, we should all learn to speak the truth with humility and gentleness. But we must speak the truth! Is it so important that people speak well of you that you’d rather let them die in their sins than call them to repentance? Are you ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ because it might disturb the peace in your family? Sin has real consequences. It destroys lives in this world and the next. Many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East have lost their lives because they were not afraid to confess Christ in a hostile culture. But here in America, we’re often afraid to speak the truth because we fear being un-friended on FaceBook. Repent! Martin Luther wrote, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” You’ve sung these words. Did you mean it? Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).
Whenever faithful Christians speak the truth of God’s Word that exposes and reproves sin, someone’s always there to remind us that Jesus loves sinners. This is true. Jesus does love sinners. He loves us so much that he refuses to leave us in our sins. If the lesson you get from Jesus hanging with sinners is that you should hang more with sinners, you’re confused on who you are in the story. “Jesus loves sinners” means that Jesus loves you. That’s the point. But he loves you so much he’s not going to leave you that way. Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery and told her, “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11b). He told the man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years, “Sin no more, lest something worse happen to you” (Jn 5:15b). But that’s not all Jesus did. He took their sins, he took your sins, and he carried them to his cross. So when you were baptized, Jesus also said to you, “Sin no more!” How? Because you are no longer a slave to sin. Of course, that Old Adam will still be hanging around this side of heaven, but you are no longer ruled by your sinful passions. Your sins were nailed to the cross of Jesus. You no longer live under the fear of rejection or ridicule. You don’t even fear death, because you have already died. In baptism, you were crucified with Christ. You were dead and buried, but now you live a new life as a member of the household of Christ.
At one time you were ashamed of Christ. You were ashamed of his Word. You were afraid to suffer ridicule and hatred for his name. But Jesus didn’t leave you that way. He was not ashamed of you. He was not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb 2:11). Jesus left his throne in heaven, came down to earth, and associated with the likes of us. He became the friend of sinners and bore the reproach of our sin. He endured the hatred of this lost world. He did not despise the suffering of the cross. Instead, he did what we could not do. For the joy set before him, he willingly endured the cross, despising its shame (Heb 12:2). Want to know what true love and compassion look like? Look to the cross. This is God’s solution for sin: forgiveness. Not acceptance. Not tolerance. Not agreeing to disagree. Forgiveness. God doesn’t wink at sin. He doesn’t ignore or excuse it. He forgives sin.
This is the message of salvation. This is the Word of Christ that has been entrusted to you. This is the gospel that must be preached to the ends of the earth. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is the mystery that God had prepared from the foundation of the earth. What was once said in the dark now must be said in the light. What was once whispered now is to be proclaimed on the housetops (Mt 10:27). Christ crucified for sinners of whom I am chief. This will never be a popular message. The world will always hate Christ and all who bear his name. The world will hate you. This is a promise. Satan, the blasphemer, will rail against you. But have no fear, for Jesus also promises you, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32). By the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, may we all live and confess these words of St. Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Ro 1:16). Let us pray.
Preserve Your Word, O Savior,
The bold blasphemer smite;
Convince, convert, enlighten
The souls in error’s night.
Reveal Your will, dear Savior,
To all who dwell below,
Great light of all the living,
That all Your name may know.