Jesus is Our Zoo Keeper
A sermon based on Matthew 10:24-33
Sunday, July 17, 2011 – Pentecost 5A
What sorts of things scare you? Are you scared of getting mauled by a bear or trampled by a moose? Maybe you're afraid of something smaller like snakes or mice or spiders. Maybe you're scared you won't be able to provide for your families the way you'd like. Maybe you're scared your kids won't have all the best opportunities to grow. Maybe you're scared of all the sickos and predators that may hurt your children.
We all have lots of fears and often for good reason! This world often seems like a zoo gone wild! With predators out to hurt you and your kids, with wild animals that seem to run free, with people fighting like a pack of wild dogs to get what they want at anyone's expense. And fear can easily make us immobile and when it comes to living and sharing our faith, it can make us like the Kenai River in January – frozen at the mouth.
But this morning Jesus gives us comfort in his Word. He reminds us that he's like a zoo keeper (1) who protects us from the predators, (2) who keeps us in his care. And so he Listen now to the comfort Jesus gives in Matthew 10:24-33…
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! 26 "So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 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.
I. He Protects Us From the Predators
Last week we heard the beginning of Matthew 10 where Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to begin their "vicar year"—their formal training in the ministry. He gave them some amazing promises of power to drive out demons, cure the sick, and raise the dead. But as he continued his instructions to the disciples, he also gave them some pretty serious warnings. He warned that if they would treat him, Jesus, the Son of God, with shame and contempt, they couldn't really expect to be treated much better. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! If they attacked Jesus calling him the devil, they couldn't expect many complimentary titles be thrown their way. If they surrounded Jesus like a pack of wild dogs, eager to tear him apart on the cross, they could expect that they too would be hated, persecuted, tortured, and even killed for following him.
No doubt they were a bit intimidated by this warning and by the serious task that lay ahead of them—perhaps even scared. So Jesus stepped in and reminded them they need not be afraid. The enemies of the gospel would try to hurt them, Jesus said. They would try to kill them and destroy their bodies. And often they would succeed!
"What?!" you might want to cry with the disciples, "How is that supposed to comfort us?! We will be hurt!? We will be killed!? So, don't be afraid?!" But Jesus says, "Yes. Exactly!" You see killing the disciples was the worst anyone could do. And if the disciples were killed, they won! They would go to heaven! There was nothing anyone could ever do to take that away. They couldn't touch their salvation and therefore couldn't do any permanent damage.
Only God could. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Better to fear the one who had the ability to destroy not just their bodies, but could also cast their souls into an eternity of torment if they abandoned their faith in their fear. "Don't be afraid of those who can't really hurt you. God is the only one to fear. All others will be shown for what they are on the Last Day and will be judged accordingly. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. So be courageous! Show no fear! And boldly proclaim the gospel. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.
Ever been to the zoo and see the lions just on the other size of the fence of the zebras? The zebras aren't scared are they? They're not cowering on the side of their field furthest from the lions. Why not? Because they know the lions can't hurt them. They're kept separate in their cage. A heavy wall, a deep trench, or thick iron bars protect them. And the same is true of us. No one can really hurt as wild and ferocious as they might seem.
The truth is that Jesus never promised life would be easy. In fact, he promised the opposite. He promised persecution and suffering and pain. When you share your faith with your family, you may lose some popularity. When you talk to co-workers about the taboo subject of religion you may lose their respect. When you commit intellectual suicide by submitting your reason to God's Word, you may lose some friends. And some day you may even lose your life, for daring to speak the truth.
But better to lose your life than to lose your salvation. The only one we need to fear is God. And we only need to fear him because of our sin. For failing to speak up with the truth we deserve his wrath. For refusing to carry out his command of sharing the gospel out of selfish fear, we deserve hell. And if we continue to reject what God says, woe to us! "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)
But finally, though we rightly deserve to face God's wrath, we don't even need to fear that, because God in his grace has defeated all our enemies. He sent his own Son to die on the cross to pay for every sin we've committed in rebellion or simply out of fear. He died in our place and suffered the hell we deserve so we won't have to. He defeated satan, that lion that prowls around looking for someone to devour. He erased our sin, conquered death, and rescued us from hell. So we don't need to be afraid of anyone or anything. Like the zebra safely grazing, we don't need to cower. The predators can hurt our reputations or our bodies, they can take our lives, but they can't ever touch our salvation. We're kept safe by our Keeper, who keeps the predators at bay.
II. He Keeps Us in His Care
So far it might be easy to think of God as rather aloof and unconcerned about this life. "Sure bad things might happen, you might be beat up and persecuted, but what's the big deal?! You still have heaven." But that's not the case. He is concerned about you and Jesus the perfect Keeper takes the best care of you right now in this life.
When was the last time you saw some road kill? How long did you stop to think about it? Did it ruin your day? Did it get you all choked up to think of that poor little squirrel or spruce hen? (Sniff! Sniff!) Or did you hardly give it a second thought? You see most of us are oblivious to everything that happens around us, unless it directly impacts us. After all, what wrecks would we be if we had an emotional attachment to everything we saw? And so, we become (to some degree) desensitized to the hurt of the world. Thirteen troops killed in an ambush? Wow, that stinks. Several families lost their homes in a fire? Must be rough. My neighbor's lost his job? His marriage is falling apart? Glad it's not me. And we move on. But while you and I may be numb to what goes on around us, God isn't.
Possibly pointing to a dead bird on the side of the road, Jesus said to his disciples, 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
What comfort is found in these short verses! Jesus cares about the road kill! He cares about every animal, even the birds that most consider worthless! He knows when each moose is hit by a car, when each salmon is killed by a bear, when each mosquito gets swatted. If he cares about the animals that much, about road kill, how much more doesn't he care about you?!
He has the very hairs of your head all numbered! Did you know that the average person has 100,000 hairs on his or her head and loses anywhere from 40 to 100 strands a day? But what's the exact number of hairs that you have? Do you know? Do you care? Even for those of us who care when another hair falls out (since they're more valuable to us, with the laws of supply and demand) we don't care enough to have them all counted and categorized. But what's so amazing, is that God does! Not a single hair falls to the ground without him knowing it.
Does that sound like a cold, uncaring God, who has no concern for the suffering you go through in this life? Of course not! If he cares that much about your hair, he surely cares about the rest of you! This is the God who says, "If I love you enough to send my Son to hell in your place to pay for every time you've let fear immobilize you and keep you from sharing the gospel, how can you even think I don't care about you?!" (Cf. Romans 8:32) No. God keeps us in his care—the very best care—like a zoo keeper cares for the animals, like an owner loves his pet.
Not everyone likes zoos. In fact, some people think zoos are morally wrong for caging animals against their will. There was a group who recently petitioned the zoo in Singapore to release their animals. But in an interview with a reporter one of the zoo keepers estimated the number of minutes -- not hours, but minutes! -- that any one of their animals would survive if it was released back into the wild. Right or wrong the fact is that zoos care for animals and provide them with food, shelter, and safety.
And that's what God does for you. Did you notice what Jesus called God in these verses? Don't just skim over it, but notice the loving term. He calls God, the Creator of the universe, the almighty, omnipotent, divine being, "your Father."
Like a loving father, God would do anything for his kids. He longs to provide us with food, shelter, and safety. But he loves us and want to do what's best for us even if it means letting us grow through adversity. He will always do what's best for us, his kids.
He already took care of your sin in Jesus. Jesus promised "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven." So you can be confident that through faith in Jesus, heaven itself is yours. Your name is written in the book of life. You have reservations and your room is being prepared. And with your sins forgiven and heaven secure, you have nothing to fear. God will continue to keep you in his care.
Now, in thanks to him, boldly proclaim the love of Jesus, your Keeper, your perfect caretaker. Share with others how Jesus longs to acknowledge them on Judgment Day. And don't worry about how you'll be treated for it. Don't be afraid of ridicule or persecution, of pain or death. Don't be afraid of satan or your sins or hell. They've all been defeated by Jesus, our perfect Keeper, who protects you from the predators, and who keeps you in his care. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.