"To Confess the Name of Jesus"
+ In Nomine Jesu +
The message this morning is based on these words of our Lord from the Gospel of St. Matthew. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
Let us pray…
"Lord of glory, You have bought us
With Your lifeblood as the price,
Never grudging for the lost ones
That tremendous sacrifice.
Give us faith to truth You boldly,
Hope, to stay our souls on You."
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The man was a convert to Christianity from Islam. For obvious reasons, when he tells his story in print, he uses a fictitious name, an alias, if you will. This morning we'll refer to him simply as Omar.
Omar said, "Every Sunday my mother tried to keep me from going to church by asking me to do something for her at home. So Saturday night I would ask her what she wanted me to do the following day. And when she would tell me what task I was to perform on Sunday, I would arise early in the morning and finish it in time for me to go to church. My mother became very angry one day and said, "Son, you have to choose between me and Jesus Christ."
I replied, "I am sorry, Mother, I have to follow Christ. It does not mean that I hate you; I love you, but I must put Christ first in my life."
"She kept silent. Then I told her that I was going to become a Christian preacher. My father and mother both stood against my decision. My father was the ambassador to a European country and he could give me many advantages. The choice before me was clear. They said that I must choose them or Christ. They warned me that I would lose all the privileges and opportunities that they could give me: a European university education, a car, travel in the West, and, so forth.
It was not an easy decision for me to make. A conflict raged in my mind. I wondered what would happen to me if they disowned me. Where would I get the money I needed for my education? Was I being a fool for giving up all the advantages I knew were in the palm of my hand? I was still young and dependent on my parents' support. And I did not want to hurt them, for they had been kind to me and I loved them very much. But I had to determine whether or not Christ was worth the renunciation of all things. After careful consideration and agonizing reflection, I decided to let nothing be more important to me than Christ. There was no alternative, for he gave all for me - he died for me and he is coming again for me. I knew I must put him above everyone else. I wanted to serve him and tell others about his power to forgive and reconcile them to God. I was convinced that no other endeavor in life could compare with that joyful calling. By the grace of God, my decision was made. There was no turning back."
The choice before Omar was not whether to believe in Jesus or not. Like all of us, that wasn't a choice he had the capacity to make, dead as he was in his trespasses and sins. As to his conversion from Islam to Christianity, in the fullness of time he was "called by the Gospel" through the proclamation of another Christian. Jesus died, not simply for the "world," but for this man, for Omar. Having heard that message of God's grace in Christ, and having believed it, the choice he had to make was between staying with his family, his father and mother, or, following Christ. In Omar's case, because he was Muslim, there wasn't any in between. In other words, he couldn't stay at home and be a Christian.
In many ways it is difficult for us to comprehend Omar's situation, much less relate to it. Generally, in our context, the family is a place of refuge, that one place in the world where we can find love, even that otherwise illusive "unconditional love." Blood is supposed to be thicker than adversity. And Jesus is supposed to be the One who affirms those family ties. He is, after-all, the God of peace. He implores the world to live in peace. He instills peace in our hearts. He reconciles sinners to Himself declaring peace between heaven and earth.
Even as we reflect on the advent of His reign, our minds are drawn to those images of peace given to us in His Word. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea."
From the tranquility of those images and from those thoughts of peace, and from our general perception that the family is that one holy, ordained institution of God, Jesus jolts us back to reality, as He says, "I did not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household."
Perhaps for us the problem is that there is too much middle ground between what we believe, and the people we love and the things we enjoy. The fact is, if we don't take our faith and the confession of that faith too seriously, we generally aren't confronted with decisions like the one Omar had to make. We can just go along believing what we believe in relative obscurity and anonymity. Perhaps it was in reflecting on that kind of "following Jesus" that someone once asked, "if you were arrested today and accused of being a disciple of Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
Now, please understand, in the context of this message this morning, I'm not talking about living a perfect, holy and sanctified life. Ah, that any of us could actually do such a thing. The fact is, none of us are capable of throwing off the old nature such that the life we live leaves no doubt as to what we believe and to whom we belong. Rather, I am, as I believe Jesus was, talking about our confession of the faith. To take up the cross and follow Jesus is to confess His holy name and to bear the consequences of that confession.
At times, the consequence of our confession will be division within our families. It's not our cantankerous ways, or, a lack of love that is to create such a division. Rather, it is our conviction, rooted in the First Commandment, and drawn out by Jesus' love for us, that there is no one and nothing, in heaven or on earth that can come between us and our God.
Omar wrote…"When I became a believer in Christ, I lost my family and relatives, for they rejected me. But Christ has taken care of me, and since I came to know him I have found that I have hundreds of brothers and sisters in Christ all around me - and many more all over the world. I lost my family, but God gave me a greater family. In fact, God gave me far more than I lost.
Sometime after I became a believer in Christ, he says, I went to see a former Christian teacher of mine. I had given him much trouble, for I was a proud, argumentative, mocking student. When I went to his home, I found that he had heard about my turning to Christ. As soon as he saw me, he arose and came to me and embraced me. My astonishment at this only increased when he sat down next to me and spent several hours talking with me. He had nothing but love and forgiveness in his heart. It was further evidence to me of the power of Christ. My former teacher said, "You were my foe, but now you are my friend."
And therein, my friends, lies the peace that Christ came to give us. We were His foes, but, by His blood bought gift of forgiveness, we have become His friends. God grant you joy and peace in this family of fellow believers in Christ, and in the blessed call you have to take up your Cross and confess His most holy name. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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