Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Battle Your Heart to Keep Jesus First

by Gregg Bitter, Hancock, MN

Gospel: Matthew 10:34-42

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is Matthew 10.

[Jesus said,] “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I came to divide a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man's enemies will be his own family members.

“Whoever loves father or mother above me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter above me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not receive his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the prophet's name will receive a prophet's reward. Whoever welcomes a righteous man in the righteous man's name will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever give one of these little ones even just a cup of cold water in a disciple's name, truly I say to you, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:34-42)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

There could have been peace instead of war in 1939. Great Britain and France could have just let Hitler have Poland. That had worked the year before when they let Hitler have part of Czechoslovakia, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich declaring “peace for our time.”

There could have been peace instead of war in December 1941 if the United States had just let Japan do what they pleased, instead of labeling December 7 as “a date which will live in infamy.” So what if they bombed Pearl Harbor?

World War II could have been avoided if the rest of the world would have let Hitler and the Empire of Japan keep on taking as much as they wanted. There could have been peace. But not the kind of peace we would want to live under.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34 NIV), Jesus said. For Jesus wages total war against the prince of this world, the enemy far worse than any Hitler or Kamikaze pilot. And you, dear friends, are on the front lines of this war. You could find a kind of peace by appeasing the prince of this world and surrendering to him. Or you could keep on following Jesus, though it is a daily battle of conflict and lose. Yet the distant triumph-song of heavenly peace rings out from the empty Easter tomb. So battle on, dear Christians, battle on. Battle your heart to keep Jesus first. That's our theme, our military cadence, today. Battle your heart to keep Jesus first.

A. Though bombarded by conflict and loss

1. Why does placing Jesus before family cause conflict?

In this battle you are bombarded by conflict and loss. That's part one. Jesus puts it all out in front of us. He's not like a recruiter who paints a rosy picture of national honor, military glory, and exciting world travel to get you to sign up.

Jesus has told his disciples that they will face persecution and now he explains why. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household'” (Matthew 10:34-36 NIV).

The world can tolerate many different religions, but it cannot tolerate Jesus and his followers. They are enemies. Why? Because Jesus condemns the world's power. Because he claims to be the only Savior. Because anyone outside of Jesus is lost and damned. You see, all other religions give some credit to the power of humanity. But the Christian faith confesses: “I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him” (Luther's Small Catechism, The Third Article). The world wants the different religions working together recognizing that each one has contributions to make. But the Christian faith confesses Jesus alone as the only Savior, without any help from anyone else. And those two truths together, namely, that we're powerless to save ourselves and that only Jesus saves, means that those who do not believe in Jesus are lost. The world will not put up with that kind of exclusiveness. So the world hates Jesus and his followers

Even those closest family bonds are cut apart by the world's sword of hatred against Christians. It turns son against father, daughter against mother. What conflict! It brings us to the point of saying, “Wouldn't it be better to compromise a little bit in our faith to keep peace in the family? Hasn't God given us our family and told us to love each other?”

Yes, God holds family in high regard, but not higher than he is. Compromising faith in Jesus for the sake of family puts family before Jesus. Family becomes first instead of Jesus. Listen to Jesus dire warning against that: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37, 38 NIV). How clearly those words speak! To place family before Jesus is to make family our God. “You shall have no other gods before me,” the Lord God declares. “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther's Small Catechism, The First Commandment). Above all things includes family.

What a battle in our hearts to place Jesus first before family! Our natural affections draw us to our family. From the world without and from our hearts within we are bombarded to place family first. What a blessing when a family shares the true faith and supports each other in it, when we don't need to choose between family or Jesus! But when it comes to either keeping family peace or following Jesus, there is only one right answer. What a battle when following Jesus and holding to his truth alone earns us the anger and rejection of family members! How heavy the conflict that bombards us! How tempting to compromise God's truth to keep family peace! But that's loving family more than Jesus. Remember his words: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34 NIV). Anyone who loves family more than me is not worthy of me.

2. What is a cross?

But it's not just with family that placing Jesus first can become a battle in our hearts. For, battling to keep Jesus first brings suffering, sacrifice, and lose in so many areas dear to our hearts. Just as soldiers risk great lose under bombardment from the enemy, so also in following Jesus. He says, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38 NIV). When Jesus talks about the cross, he's not referring to the troubles, disasters, pains, and diseases that believers and unbelievers likewise suffer. You don't have any choice in bearing those things. They come because of the sinful world we live in. And crosses are certainly not the troubles or pains we bring on ourselves by disobeying God's commands.

Rather a cross is a hardship or sacrifice that you could avoid. How? By compromising God's truth, hiding Jesus, demoting him in your heart. Yes, crosses are the troubles, pains, hardships, sacrifices, and loses that come only because we follow Jesus. Demote him from first place and the crosses would disappear. How tempting to do that to gain superficial peace! But Jesus did not bring that kind of peace. Heed his warning, “Whoever finds his life will lose it” (Matthew 10:39 NIV). Compromising Jesus to avoid the crosses for a better earthly life loses eternity for you.

Yet even though bombarded by conflict and lose as you keep Jesus first, yes even if you lose everything, even your family's love and life itself, even if you lose everything for following Jesus with your cross, take heart, dear Christian friend. Eternal life is still yours. “ . . . and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39 NIV), Jesus promises. Martin Luther confessed: “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The kingdom ours remaineth” (The Lutheran Hymnal, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” 262:4). Battle your heart to keep Jesus first.

What wonderful promises like that Jesus makes as we follow him, listening to his voice, holding to his truth, keeping him first! His promises brace us against all that the world may bombard us with, which brings us to part two.

B. Braced with God's gracious promises

1. What does it mean to receive the apostles?

Battle your heart to keep Jesus first, braced with God's gracious promises. First, consider whose side you're on. In World War II France was overrun by Germany. Only with the other allies, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States was France retaken. As you battle to keep Jesus first, remember who is your ally. Jesus told his disciples that those who received them and their message received Jesus. He said, “He who receives you receives me” (Matthew 10:40 NIV), and then he added, “he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40 NIV), namely, God the Father.

Still today the testimony of the apostles sounds out from the Scriptures. You have received it, that is, you have heard it and welcomed it into your heart. You believe it and put it into practice. You have received the apostles' testimony, so you have received Jesus, who says to you, “he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40 NIV). You are on the side of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In God you are braced to battle on keeping Jesus first.

2. What does Jesus mean by reward?

Next Jesus talks about reward. Keep in mind that rewards from God are never merited as something God owes us but come as a free gift from his grace. Jesus brought this home at another time with a short story. Suppose you had a slave plowing the fields. Now when that slave came in, would you say, “Sit down and I'll get you some food”? Rather wouldn't a slave be told, “You, wait on me first and then see to your own food”? Would such a master thank a slave for doing only what he's told? Then Jesus concluded, “So also you, when you have done all that was commanded of you, say, 'We are worthless slaves. We have done only what we ought to have done'” (Luke 17:10).

But what a gracious God we have! Even though we are unworthy slaves, he rewards us out of the bounty of his grace. Listen to what Jesus says here, “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward” (Matthew 10:41 NIV).

A prophet faithfully proclaims God's word. A righteous person believes God's Word. For you see, no one is righteous before God based on their own work and effort. The only righteousness that stands up before God is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. A sinner, like or me, is righteous only when God freely credits us with Jesus' righteousness. That's exactly what God's Word promises. Faith believes this promise. So a righteous person is one who believes God's word of promise. The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 4: “To the man who . . . trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5 NIV).

So when you welcome someone who is faithfully proclaiming God's Word because he is bringing you that word like the prophets of old, then you will receive a prophet's reward. When you welcome a fellow believer because they are righteous before God through faith in Jesus Christ, you will receive a righteous man's reward.

What is a prophet's reward? What is the reward of the righteous? Not earthly pleasantness or goods or fame or power or health or wealth. In fact welcoming a prophet or a righteous man may well cost you those things as we talked about before with taking up your cross and losing your life for Jesus' sake. Rather this gracious reward includes the deep assurance that God's Word is faithful and true. He will keep his promises no matter what. It includes the spiritual peace that rests in Jesus and his righteousness, confident that your sins are forgiven, sure that you, dear Christian, are reconciled to God through Jesus' death. That's the real peace the angels sang of when they proclaimed at Jesus' birth: “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” The reward includes the strength to stand up for Jesus, braced with God's gracious promises, not a strength that relies on your inner power, but a strength that gives up on our natural power and looks only to the power the Holy Spirit works in us through God's Word and Sacraments.

3. What's the final peace God's promise bring us?

And we could go on talking about how God rewards his people with other spiritual blessings and gifts such as joy, love, patience, perseverance, knowledge, insight, wisdom, discernment, kindness, service, leadership, generosity, hospitality and so on. But let's wrap in up with the last verse, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42 NIV). These words take my mind to the Last Day as all people stand before the King, Jesus Christ, and he says to his believers, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34, 35, 40 NIV). What an inheritance awaits you! Could there be any greater gift or reward of grace? That final peace will never be disturbed. No earthly war or victory can claim that. Anticipate that final peace no matter what conflict or lose, no matter what sacrifice or cross. Hear the distant-triumph song as the risen Savior says to you: “ My peace be with you.”

So battle on, dear Christians, battle on. Battle your heart to keep Jesus first. Battle on though bombarded by conflict and loss. Battle on braced with God's gracious promises. Battle on. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and mind sin Christ Jesus. Amen.

See Also:

I Have Not Come to Bring Peace
by Aaron Burgess

Taking Gospel to the People
by Elisabeth Johnson

True Discipleship, Christ Brings Division
by Edward F. Markquart

Losing Life and Finding It
by The Joshua Victor Theory

Peace With God
by Dr. Lonnie H. Lee

The Welcome Wagon
by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.

Second Sunday after Pentecost
by Richard Alan Jordan

Devotional Thoughts Based on Matthew 10:34-39
by James T. Batchelor

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

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