Meriam Yahia Ibrahim. Have you heard that name? On May 11th of this year she was convicted of apostasy and adultery. What had she done? Well, she was a Christian, having been raised by her Christian mom. But since her dad was a Muslim, even though he had been absent, since he was a Muslim – her being a Christian was apostasy. And then, she married a Christian and got pregnant. And since she was supposed to be a Muslim, and he wasn’t a Muslim man, that’s adultery. The Sudanese government gave her three days to reject the Christian faith and call herself a Muslim. She didn’t. So, on May 15th, she was sentenced to 100 lashes and death. While she was waiting for that, in prison, she gave birth to her child while shackled to the floor. All of that could have been avoided if she just would have told them she wasn’t trusting in Jesus. But she refused. She would rather die. Now, of course, international pressure and attention has since resulted in her charges being dropped, but she had no way of knowing that. And it’s not like she’s out of the woods, either. As of last week, she was still in custody, this time for some “issues with her paperwork” as she was trying to get on an airplane with her family. All of this because she could not help but confess what Jesus means to her.
In the section of Scripture we look at today, Matthew 10:24-33, Jesus says to expect that. Here he is sending out his 12 disciples for their work. And leading up to the section we have before us, Jesus tells them they’ll be hated, that he’s sending them out like sheep among wolves, that they will be persecuted, flogged and arrested. He says to expect it. Verse 24: “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” They persecuted God’s own Son – of course they are going to persecute you, he says. And he doesn’t really give you an opt-out clause. Look at how our text ends. Verse 32: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim really had no choice, did she? Neither do we. Jesus makes that clear today by putting our witnessing in the light of eternity. When it is all said and done – what matters? Whether we’re liked here or welcomed in heaven? Whether we suffer some here or forever in hell? Is doing what Jesus tells us to do here worth it? Of course, when you look at it in its true perspective, in the light of Judgment Day, the answer is easy. But how often does it happen that we don’t look at it like that? Could you have done what Meriam did? Could you do what the disciples were asked to do? Each of them were willing to (and most did) die in order to speak the truth.
My goodness, we often cave for so much less. Think about it – what we go through is nothing compared to that and yet too often we fail to speak up for the truth. After all, to claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation could seem prejudiced against non-Christians. They might think we’re not open minded. Who are we to say they’re wrong?
Or how about the sins our society is championing as freedom and right? Hobby Lobby just barely won the right not to be forced to pay for their employees to murder their babies – 5-4 in the Supreme Court. One single vote. What happens when just one justice changes for next time?
Or how about the news people or sports personalities who have said they believe homosexuality is immoral because God says so – and they’ve lost their jobs; they’ve had career doors closed? And you’ve been faced with choices on whether to speak up for the truth or not – at work, in your neighborhood, even in your family. Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep your mouth shut? Yes, it would be easier – for now. And for all the times we’ve answered as if “now” was more important than eternity, realize what Jesus says here. We deserve him to disown us, to condemn us, to deny us, to say “I never knew you.”
Kind of like Peter. Remember that? In that high priest’s courtyard, three times he denied even knowing Jesus, just because of the pressure of the situation he found himself in. But when the rooster crowed, when he realized what he did – he was crushed with guilt. And just as importantly – remember what Jesus did about that. He sought him out. He won his forgiveness and he declared his forgiveness. He reinstated him and gave him a job to do. Same thing he’s done with you. Even with all your past failures he is now sending you out as sheep among wolves. Being a Christian means that you are his witness, you are his worker. This isn’t a choice for you. You are being sent out. And that means you will face problems.
Now I realize, just knowing it is coming isn’t the whole answer. That’s where verses 26-31 come in. That’s where Jesus tells why we don’t have to fear what is coming. Make sure you come back to this column next Friday and we’ll see just how completely Jesus removes our fear to be what he has made us. In the meantime, go with God.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 & 10:30am. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.