Matthew 10:34-39 Isaiah promised that the Messiah would be the Prince of Peace. When the Virgin’s Son was born the angels proclaimed peace on earth. Paul said that the Savior himself is our peace. And yet what we hear from Jesus today in our Gospel lesson sounds very different indeed! He says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
And so then, were Isaiah and the angels and the apostles wrong? Did they fail to understand the real mission and message of the Messiah?
No! The difference between their words about Jesus- and Jesus’ words about himself- is reconciled when we understand what kind of “peace” is being spoken of and when we can expect it. Jesus himself made this distinction. He told his disciples:
“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.”
The peace that Isaiah foretold-- and that the angels proclaimed-- and that Paul preached is the real and lasting peace of changed hearts and forgiven sins and a new relationship with God and the hope of heaven. The peace that Jesus gives is the peace of God which passes all understanding and we have it right now!
The peace that Jesus brings is completely different than what the world thinks of peace—as merely the absence of conflict while hatred and animosity still simmer below the surface.
Jesus speaks these words because he wants us to know that the peace that has changed our lives won’t necessarily make conflict go away. In fact, his peace will very often bring conflict from those who don’t share our faith! How can it be otherwise?
The peace that we have with Jesus begins with an understanding of our own sinfulness—that our lives don’t come close to living up to God’s expectations and what we deserve is God’s wrath in time and eternity.
Those who don’t have the peace of Jesus don’t measure their lives this way and they certainly don’t want to hear from us that they are sinners who need saving.
The peace that we have with Jesus comes from knowing that he has done everything for our salvation and that he is the one way to eternal life that God has provided in this world.
Those who don’t have this peace of Jesus reject his claims out of hand. It infuriates them to hear from us that there is only one way to God.
These differences between those who find their peace in Jesus and those who do not strike to the very heart of our human existence: our understanding of who we are and who God is and what the future holds for those who believe and those who don’t.
Because Christians and unbelievers have very different views about these things that matter eternally, there cannot help but be conflict between those who know the peace of Jesus and those who don’t-- or as Jesus says: a sword that divides.
At any given moment in the world the greatest division between human beings is not gender or nationality or socio-economic differences. The greatest division between human beings is where people stand in relation to Jesus.
From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the end there were those who received the peace he came to bring-- and there were those who rejected him and heaped scorn on those who believed in him. You can follow the conflict between these two groups in Holy Scripture and down through history to this moment in time.
Jesus wants us to understand the nature of this conflict up front because the division between those who trust in Jesus and those who don’t-- can cut right through the human relationships that are most dear to us. Jesus says:
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.
Conflict and division between family members over Jesus is nothing new—it began in his own family. We know that Jesus’ siblings rejected him, leading Jesus to say that it was only those who did the will of his Father who were really his family.
That faith in Jesus can divide our family, and bring conflict between those who are closest to us, is a difficult thing for us to hear! Of all of the earthly gifts that our heavenly Father gives, surely none of them are more dearly loved than our families. We want the Lord to grant us good marriages and close families and believing children.
When there is a shared faith in Jesus Christ these blessings are often found and our families become a foretaste of heaven. But when that shared faith in Jesus doesn’t exist—there is conflict in our families on account of Jesus. How could it be otherwise?
The Christian believes that it is love for the Lord that must come first and the unbelieving spouse resents it. Christians have a different moral perspective on the role of men and women and the sanctity of human life and divorce than those who don’t follow Jesus. Every Sunday there is tension because the Christian knows it is their first priority to worship Jesus while the unbeliever sees no point.
And it can’t help but always be in the back of everyone’s mind that as close as family members may be one earth—there are two very different eternal futures that will separate them forever: the Christian will go to heaven and the unbeliever to hell.
Because there is this conflict about things that matter eternally—the Christian will always face the temptation to simply give up and give in and go along—to make peace without Jesus. But Jesus warns us what a terrible mistake that would be:
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. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
To be worthy of Jesus means to have faith in him—to recognize him as God in flesh—to trust in his death and resurrection as our salvation—and to follow him as Lord. It means we fear, love, and trust in him above all else—including our families.
There can be no divided loyalties when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. Nothing else and no one else is permitted to have the first place in our life that is reserved for God alone—not even a family member. As much as we love our spouse or our children—we must love Jesus more. So what does that mean?
It means that we cannot compromise with evil to make things convenient for an unbelieving family member. We cannot hide our faith to avoid arguments. We cannot change our priorities to suit someone who does not believe the Bible.
Jesus wants us to understand that there are consequences when we put God first. We see that in his life. He was misunderstood by his family—branded a heretic by the church of his day—rejected by his own people—and finally nailed to a cross—all because his loyalty to-and love for- his heavenly Father came first in his life.
When we faithfully follow Jesus we will find the same experience is true in our own lives. There will be very real difficulties and perhaps even suffering from being a disciple of Jesus Christ--what Jesus calls “the cross.”
The cross we have to bear on account of Christ is unique to each of us. Maybe it is being ostracized from friends at school because our faith in Jesus keeps us from going along with sin. Maybe it is suffering the ridicule of those in our social circle because we believe what the Bible teaches. Maybe our understanding of the sanctity of life means that we have to bear the burden of a disabled child or a chronically ill loved one rather than cause their death.
There are countless ways that we can suffer hardship because we are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. That we can bear these crosses is only possible because Christ first bore his.
Because he did not shrink back from his cross, we know that those times we have sinfully avoided the cross are forgiven. And because he has risen from the dead, we know that ultimately the cross is not the end—not for Jesus and not for us—but that we too can find hope and life even in the midst of suffering and death.
It is vitally important that we keep his resurrection victory before our eyes as we follow him because the consequences of forsaking our cross are not only for this life but also for the life to come. Jesus says: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
We are surrounded by countless people who honestly think that they are living life to the fullest because they have their health and because they have money in the bank and because they have earthly success.
But because they do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior—they are living, breathing dead men and women. And having satisfied their souls with the things of the world they will lose their souls when they pass from this world.
But to take up our cross and follow the crucified Savior—to offer up our lives in service to him as living sacrifices—to accept the hardships and difficulties of being a Christian is to find a life that even death and the grave cannot end.
It is perhaps the greatest paradox in all of Holy Scripture that the only life worthy of the name can only be found in the death of the old person within each of us and the new life we have in Christ.
And because we have seen in the life of Jesus that death leads to life, we gladly, willingly take up our own cross and follow him as his disciple-- knowing that the way of the cross leads to life. Amen.