by James T. Batchelor
Gospel Reading: St. Matthew 10: 34 - 11:1
Devotional Thoughts Based on Matthew 10:34-39
We use the word peace frequently as we experience God's Divine Service to us. Glory be to God on High and on earth peace, good will toward men. The peace of the Lord be with you always! O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. We thank Thee that Thou hast given us pardon and peace in this sacrament. The Lord lift up His countenance upon Thee and give Thee peace.
Furthermore, these words of peace all come from the Bible - the angels' message to the shepherds at Jesus birth - John the Baptist's proclamation that Jesus is God's sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world - the proclamation of Simeon when he saw the infant Jesus in the temple - the words that God gave to Moses for Aaron to place on the people Israel way back in Numbers 6. Peace with God and peace with man would seem to be one of the main themes of the Bible.
So why did 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"? Then He went on to say, "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. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." Whatever happened to "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild?" What in the world is Jesus talking about here? Shouldn't Jesus be in favor of peace?
Today's Gospel continues to tell us about the instructions and warnings that Jesus gave to His Apostles as He sent them out to the Lost Sheep of Israel. This is the third Sunday in a row that we have read from those instructions and warnings. Some of the instructions are unique to the situation at the time, but most of the instructions and warnings are good for all who confess their faith before others.
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! 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.
This is the sword that Jesus speaks of in His warning. He does indeed desire to give us peace - peace with God and peace with man. It is not His desire to bring the sword, but He knows that some people will reject His peace. Instead, they will respond to Him with the sword.
You see, Jesus does not call us to convert people to the faith. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls us to take the faithful confession of our faith into the great harvest of souls in this world. Jesus calls us to confess our faith to those around us and to send faithful confessors into the entire world. The sending of faithful workers into the harvest, however, does not mean that there will always be wonderful results.
The reason that the results vary is that we are by nature sinful and unclean. Our sinful nature does not want the salvation that God offers so freely through His Son, Jesus Christ. Some will hear the Gospel - and the Holy Spirit will use that Gospel to create faith in them. Others will hear that same Gospel and reject the work of the Holy Spirit.
Those who refuse the Gospel of Peace have a thorn in their conscience and become bitter and hostile towards those who wish to rescue their souls. Ultimately, they bring the sword of division into their relationships. Sometimes, that division comes between best friends and even family members. Sometimes, our friends and even our family may force us to choose between them and God.
Jesus 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. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." A cross is anything that causes us to suffer for our faith. Family rejection because of our faith is just such a cross. The thought that a loved one may not be with us in eternity is terrible to contemplate. How terrible is the possibility that this loved one will say, "I can't share you with Jesus. Choose me and my ways rather than Jesus and His ways." When one whom we love demands allegiance in a way that is clearly against God's will, the disciple must love Jesus more.
Not only must the disciple love Jesus more than Parent or spouse or child, but the disciple must love Jesus more than he loves his own life. Jesus said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." With these words, Jesus tells us that someone who loves his life here on this earth more than life with Jesus will lose that eternal life with Jesus. On the other hand, the one who would surrender everything on this earth for Jesus' sake will find that he already has eternal life with Jesus.
As we look over what we have learned from today's Gospel, our only honest response would be to confess that we can't fulfill the lifestyle that Jesus sets before us in these verses. We have already made idols of our families and set them above God. We are not even willing to accept a little embarrassment for Jesus' sake, much less surrender our whole life. As we look over today's Gospel, we must admit that we could never live up to it, no matter how hard we tried.
There is one who has kept all these demands. There was a time when even Jesus' family did not believe in Him. [Matthew 12:46-50] While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." 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. [John 19:16b, 17] So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 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 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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by Dr. Lonnie H. Lee
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by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
Second Sunday after Pentecost
by Richard Alan Jordan
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