In this morning’s Gospel, we heard Jesus say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) These words sound violently uncharacteristic for Jesus. After all, isn’t this the Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) What’s the deal?
To truly understand what Jesus is teaching, we need to understand it in its context. It is often very misleading to read a single verse of the Bible in isolation. In some cases, a verse in isolation can seem to mean almost the opposite of what it truly means when taken in context.
Today’s Gospel is a short section taken from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples as He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God to the lost sheep of Israel. He has given them the authority to drive out demons, heal the sick, and even raise the dead. He has told them how God will care for them as they travel so that they do not need to take extra provisions with them on the trip. He has told them how to bring the peace of God on the places where they stay.
Now, if you go around healing the sick, driving out demons, and raising people from the dead, you would expect people to be lined up for miles waiting to see the disciples as they brought the good news of the Kingdom to the people. The words of Jesus that we heard today are a reality check. You may think that people would be grateful for all these things, but don’t count on it. Jesus is basically telling His followers that they should expect conflict when they faithfully proclaim the Gospel. It is not that Jesus wants the sword instead of peace. Instead, Jesus wants the Gospel proclaimed to the world, but the world does not want to hear the Gospel. When Jesus states that His Gospel will bring the sword, He is telling the simple truth that the world will use the sword against those who proclaim the Gospel. He is simply telling those who faithfully proclaim the Gospel that they should expect violence against them.
Jesus told the disciples that the violence will even come from family and friends. Jesus said, “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. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:35–36) Again, it is not that Jesus wants it to be this way, but He knows that sin, death, and the devil will do everything within their power to strike at the proclamation of the Gospel. They will even use the ones we love the most to attack us.
What this means is that we may, at times, must go against family in order to remain faithful. That is the point Jesus made when He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37–39)
You see, we who confess our faith to the world have the most wonderful, soul-saving, message of peace to share with everyone. God Himself has come down from His throne to live among us as one of us. He has taken all our sin into His innocence and taken on Himself the punishment that we deserved for that sin. He has absorbed the total judgment of God against all our sins to the point of dying on the cross. He has proclaimed that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient by rising from the dead. Now He reigns in heaven and prepares a place for us to live with Him in paradise forever. And to top it all off, all this is free! It was very expensive for Jesus, but it is free to us. Even the faith that receives it all is a free gift from the Holy Spirit. It’s all free!
Now, you would think, with a message like that, that every man, woman, and child would want a piece of that action. But Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel tell us to think otherwise. Jesus told His disciples and He tells us that, as wonderful as the Gospel Message is, many will reject it. Even though our message is the most wonderful message of all, it will make some people angry instead of thankful. Even people that we love will become angry with us because we are faithful to God.
Here is where it gets really tough. It is as if Jesus said, “Who is more important to you … your parents or me? Who is more important to you … your children or me? Who is more important … you or me?” For several centuries, we in the United States have been a little spoiled in that our family, friends, and neighbors were either Christian or at least respected Christians. As the writer to the Hebrews said, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4) When I was at seminary, I met a couple who were forced to watch as a mob tortured their children to death because they refused to confess that Allah is god and Mohammed is his prophet. Are you ready to follow their example?
When I begin to understand what we just heard Jesus say in the Gospel, I must admit I am not worthy of Jesus. I can’t live up to the standard that Jesus sets in today’s Gospel. I am guilty. No one can live up to this standard.
Well, that’s not quite right. In all the history of the cosmos, there has been one man who lived up to this standard. That man is Jesus Christ Himself.
There was a time when even Jesus’ family did not believe in Him. While [Jesus] was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50) Jesus left His family behind for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
As far as taking up the cross, His cross was not just a figure of speech. So they took Jesus, 17and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. (John 19:16–17) He literally carried His cross as well as our sin. He suffered shame, torture, and ultimately surrendered His life for us. He kept the standard that we could not keep. He secured the salvation that we could not reach.
Jesus Himself suffered the sword that He speaks of in today’s Gospel. Judas was one of His chosen disciples … a close friend. Never the less, Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter was also a chosen friend. He denied Jesus. The most prestigious members of society backed Pilate into a corner in order to put Jesus to death. The people who should have known and loved Jesus the most were those who hated Him the worst. Never the less, Jesus earned salvation even for them.
Jesus now offers that salvation to the entire world and we receive the benefits of that salvation through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. Along with that faith comes the comfort that carries us when the world responds to the peace of Christ with a sword – especially when those carrying the sword are people we love.
God desires peace. That is the reason He sent His Son into the world to suffer and die. Jesus purchased God’s peace with His cruel, bloody death and we receive the peace that Jesus purchased through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.
The world hates God’s peace. That is the reason that His message often brings the sword instead of peace.
The same Holy Spirit who gives us the faith that receives God’s peace will also give us the endurance to carry the cross of the world’s opposition and rejection. Sometimes it is very painful and depressing. The Gospel of Jesus Christ often brings the temporary sword of this world, but it ultimately gives us the eternal peace of God. Amen
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