“Confessing Christ. Confessed by Christ.”
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
June 25th, 2017
As most of you know, this year marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation – 500 years since 1517, when Luther nailed those 95 theses on the church door of Wittenberg. The events that followed, both for Lutheran personally, and really for the whole world – would change the course of history. 13 years into this movement, it finally came time to settle on a formal presentation of just what the Lutherans believed, and taught, and confessed. That statement, that formal document, is known as the Augsburg Confession. Today, June 25th, marks the “Presentation of the Augsburg Confession”, now 487 years ago.
And we also have Jesus' words to his disciples today from Matthew 10, as he sends them out as sheep among wolves. He warns them that there will be persecution, and that some will even seek to kill them. But he tells them not to fear, and that “whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father”. Or, whoever “confesses” me before men.
Today in light of the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, and of Jesus' own words from Matthew 10, I'd like to talk to you about the Christian practice of confession – especially in terms of confessing, making known, proclaiming positively, exactly what it is we believe – as the Christian confession ought always be a confession of Jesus Christ.
Back at Augsburg, the Lutheran princes had been asked to give a public account of just what it is that they believed. Phillip Melancthon, Luther's good friend and colleague, wrote the text of this document, and the princes who espoused these teachings set out for Augsburg Germany where the document was formally read aloud to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. It was a Saturday afternoon, about 3pm. Dr. Christian Beyer read the entire document aloud, as a hushed crowd listened through the open windows and over 200 gathered in the hall.
This confession of faith really is the birthday of the Lutheran church, if there is such a thing. The 95 theses got the ball rolling, but Augsburg meant the clear and true articulation of just what this was all about – the Gospel! That man is entirely sinful and unable to contribute to our salvation. That we are saved, not by works, but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ alone. Article 4, the most important of the 28 articles, is short but powerful. It states:
“Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works. People are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight.”
This may not sound all that radical or strange to you, especially if you are a lifelong Lutheran. But for those who confessed Christ at Augsburg, it meant taking their lives in their hands. To stand before one of the most powerful men in the world, and boldly proclaim a truth he and the Roman Catholic Church wanted stamped out... it was a fearful thing. But thanks be to God that he so strengthened them, so that they and their spiritual descendants, including us... that we can hear the pure Gospel of Christ preached from Lutheran pulpits everywhere.
But friends, this is just one example, albeit a dramatic one, of a time when Christians made the bold confession of Christ in the face of danger and persecution. The disciples that Jesus first sent out preaching would meet opposition. The apostles he sent out after his ascension would be persecuted, and most of them martyred. The early church found no friend in the Roman empire as they suffered for confession Christ, thrown to lions, cut down in the Colosseum, even crucified in mockery of Christ. Christians today are still being killed for their confession, as youtube videos appear with Christians being beheaded and worse.
Christians here in America are faring better, but we can see which way the winds are blowing. The signs are ominous as those who confess Christ and his teachings are pushed further to the edges of the public square, fined for refusing to bake cakes or take photographs, facing jail for exposing the abortion industry, mocked and ridiculed for our backward and bigoted and narrow minded bible-thumpery. Perhaps you also can feel the noose tightening around the church, the jaws of the lion widening to devour us (if he could). Enemies abound, near and far. It could easily drive us to fear, or worse, despair.
But here in Matthew 10, Jesus has words of comfort for us – in at least these three ways: He warns us that the persecution will come. He assures us we are of great value to him. And he promises to confess us before the Father.
“You will be hated by all for my name's sake”. While this warning of persecution isn't strictly a comfort in itself, at least it means we won't be surprised and shocked when it happens. What about those Christians who are taught that life in Christ means all sunshines and rainbows, buttercups and smiley faces... and then suffering comes, tragedy strikes, and they are persecuted? It could lead one to conclude that God has forsaken him. It could make you think that God can't be trusted, or that the persecution is evidence of his anger. But because Jesus predicts these things, we are not taken unawares when they happen. In fact, we expect it. The Christian life is a life of cross-bearing. And it means that sooner or later, one way or another, persecution will come. For the world hates Christ, and no servant is above his master. If they hate him, they will hate you, too, Christian. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that when we are persecuted, we are “Blessed”, “for in the same way the persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In other words, when you are persecuted for Christ, you are in good company. You are part of the company of heaven.
Will we see such persecution, even here, in the United States? It's certainly possible. Anyone who has witnessed how quickly the world has moved the ball down the field on the question of sexuality shouldn't be surprised when it moves further. And anyone who hears these words of Christ, dire warnings that they are, should not be surprised when a world that hates him hates you, too, a world that shed even his blood, would shed yours, too. We pray for peace to practice our faith unmolested. But we are not so naiive to think it must always be this way. Our trust must be in God, over and above even country. And we ought to teach our children as much.
“But have no fear of them. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In other words, these worldly enemies are not worth your fear. Their power over you is limited, by the One who holds all power and authority. They can only hurt your body, at worst. He has your very soul in his hands. But the good news is that he values you, and will care for you. The sparrows are worth only a few cents, and he knows all about them. He even has the hairs of your head numbered. He won't lose you to the world. He won't let them take you away from him. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. So have no fear. We can sing with the psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
And finally, Jesus encourages us to make the good confession when he promises to do likewise, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Yes, it's one thing to believe in Christ in your heart. And that is faith that saves. But that faith will always lead to confession before men.
And it's not that confessing before men that earns Jesus' approval. It's not a “you-scratch-my-back, I'll-scratch-yours” sort of thing. It's like when Jesus says, “her sins are forgiven, for she loved much”. We can see faith's effects in outward ways. Love of others. Forgiveness of others. Confession before others of that very faith in Christ. It is therefore the one who has such faith, a faith that confesses Christ, that Christ himself will acknowledge or confess before the Father.
What a promise! That Jesus will stand before the Father and acknowledge you. That he will say, “This one's with me. I vouch for him. I died for her. Yes, Father, accept this one for I have paid the price, shed my blood for this child of yours.” With Christ on our side, as our advocate, who can condemn us? Not even God himself.
For Christ has died for you. Christ has declared it finished, for you. Christ has swallowed up death in victory, for you. And Christ reigns on heaven's high throne forever, for you. And Christ will confess you before his Father. Believe it for Jesus' sake. And confess him always. Amen.