RPM, Volume 20, Number 16, April 15 to April 21, 2018

The Jesus Nobody Wants To Know

Matthew 10:34-39

By Reverend Bryn MacPhail

If I were to ask you today to name some characteristics of Jesus, what would you name? If you were describing the personality of Jesus to someone, what adjectives would you use? Think of some in your head, and I will share with you the first ones that came to my mind.

The three characteristics that immediately came to my mind were: GENTLE, FORGIVING, and LOVING. My guess is that most of you think of Jesus in similar terms as well.

When I came to the end of chapter 10 in Matthew, however, I got a very different portrait of Jesus. After reading this section, I was reminded of the book by Philip Yancey entitled, "The Jesus I Never Knew". Not many people, until reading this particular section in Matthew, know this side of Jesus. And if we are aware of this side of Jesus, we often choose to forget about it.

We are anxious to hear how Jesus loves His enemies, forgives prostitutes, touches lepers, and feeds the hungry, but that's it. The Jesus we see in chapter 10, verses 34-39–this Jesus, quite frankly, is the one that nobody wants to know.

It would have been so easy, and tempting, for me to skip this section of Matthew as I endeavour to reach the "Passion" narrative by Easter. But if I skipped this section, you would miss an essential side of Jesus. The side of Jesus that is DEMANDING.

This is where Jesus is, what you might term, "brutally straight forward". He holds nothing back here. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (v.34).

What a shocking statement! Jesus "did not come to bring peace, but a sword"?!. Why would He say such a thing?

What Jesus is doing here is He is correcting false assumptions about what the Jewish Messiah's mission was. According to Isaiah 9:5-7, the Messiah is described as the "Prince of Peace". The interpreters of the Hebrew Scriptures took that to mean that the Messiah would be the "Prince of Peace" ON EARTH. That, however, was not Jesus' mission. The ultimate goal of the Gospel was, and is, not harmony on earth, but PEACE WITH GOD (Rom. 5:1).

Jesus says, "Do not think that I came to bring peace ON THE EARTH", but He did come to make peace between God and humanity (Rom. 5:1).

I think we would all agree that peace does not come easily. Right now, all over the world, wars are being fought. And it would be ignorant for us to suggest that these countries are enjoying being at war. Peace is always preferable, but the reality is, when two sides strongly disagree on something conflict is inevitable.

The same goes for the Gospel. The goal of the Gospel is NOT conflict–with God, or with each other. The goal of the Gospel is "peace with God" (Rom. 5:1). The difficulty is that the Gospel is such a penetrating message that it acts like a "sword". It pierces the consciences of humanity and calls us to love God more than we love ourselves.

Jesus warns us that profound conflict should be expected between those who accept the Gospel and those who reject it.

I am not telling you anything new here. Likely every person in this sanctuary can relate to what Jesus is saying. When you go to work, what do you usually talk about with your co-workers? Sports? Fashion? Home repair? Anything and everything, but not religion.

When your family gathers at Christmas, what do you talk about? Anything and everything, but not religion. Why? Because honest, from the heart, discussions on religious beliefs inevitably causes conflict. We have all been there–at least I have–many times. Even with fellow Christians, conflicts arise when it comes to getting straight the message of Jesus. The Corinthians fought, the Galatians fought, therefore so will St. Andrew's and Fraser if you try to get the message right, stand by that message, and share it with others.

Nowhere in this section is there the sense that we should run from this conflict either. It is presented as an inevitability–"A man's enemies WILL be the members of His household" (v.36). Now that doesn't give us permission to be obnoxious for the sake of the Gospel. This does not give us permission to pick fights with people who don't share our views. We are still required to be gentle, patient, loving, and gracious towards everyone. The cause of conflict SHOULD NEVER BE our personality or our manner of presentation. The only legitimate cause of conflict is the CONTENT of the message. An abrasive personality should never be the "sword"–the content is the "sword"–the Gospel is the "sword".

After warning His disciples about the potential the Gospel has for conflict, Jesus reminds them of their need for loyalty. Jesus tells them that "he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (v.37).

Now Jesus isn't calling us to dislike our family members. And even though Luke's version would have us "hate" our family, we must conclude this to be relative. Scripture is clear in its command for us to "honour (our) father and (our) mother" (Ex. 20:12). And Scripture makes it clear that we should love our spouses (Eph. 5:25).

So what is Jesus getting at here? Quite simply, Jesus wants us to prioritize Him. He wants us to make Him our first loyalty, and to emphasize this He names the two things most precious to us: our family and our own life.

Those of you with aging or ailing parents, think about how you devote yourselves to seeing that they are looked after. Those of you with children, think about to what extreme you would go to, to defend, protect, and look after your children. You invest your valuable time and resources in them on a daily basis. Quite frankly, you put your "heart and soul" into your care for them.

Then you read this passage, "he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me".

If you work hard to love, and care for, your parents and children that is terrific. It really is. Jesus would think so too. Jesus is NOT asking anyone to abandon their love and care for family. What Jesus is calling for here is, that you put the same energy and care into your relationship with Him, as you do with the people you love most. In fact, He calls for more. This is the mark of a Christian disciple: ONE WHO PUTS JESUS FIRST.

Christians should be known as hard workers at work. Christians should be known as good parents and committed spouses. But above all, Christians should be known as people committed to Christ–committed to Him above all else.

And just in case those listening to Jesus' message still haven't figured that out yet, He drives the point home with this challenging statement: "He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it" (v.38, 39).

What does Jesus mean, "take (our) cross"? I have heard some people describe their chronic illness as a "cross". Others will name everything from their nagging boss to their car trouble to their cranky mother-in-law as their "cross". But this is NOT what the word "cross" meant to a first century audience. The "cross" did not call to their minds the idea of long term difficulties or troublesome burdens. Even though Jesus had not yet revealed how He would die, the disciples knew the meaning of cross bearing well enough. To bear a cross was to shoulder a heavy wooden beam on the way to one's execution.

No, this doesn't mean disciples of Christ should go and get themselves killed. Christianity does not teach salvation by martyrdom. What Jesus is calling for here is loyalty so profound that one should be willing to make the most extreme sacrifice if necessary.

The apostles of Christ did just that. "The Foxe's Book of Christian Martyrs" records, that of the 11 apostles who remained after the Resurrection of Christ, 10 of them were executed for preaching the Gospel. At least 6 of them were executed by crucifixion.

We are extremely blessed here in 20th century North America. Few, if any, of us will ever be in danger because of our belief in Christ. Yet the Word of God still challenges to make sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. And making sacrifices of time and resources is never easy. In fact, sacrificing may make us quite uncomfortable and cause us distress.

But this is the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. We stretch ourselves. We think about the vigour we have towards our career, towards supporting our family and we hear the call of God to give even more vigour and more enthusiasm for the sake of the Gospel.

I am not trying to present the Gospel as some charity case that needs our contribution. I am trying to communicate precisely what I see here in Matthew 10–and that is a summons to sacrificial discipleship. Not sacrifice to a "charity case", but sacrifice to a God who came to us in human form and made the ultimate sacrifice–He died for us.

He died because He loves us. And He wants our loyalty not simply because we owe it to Him. Christ desires our sacrifice to have the same motivation as His–LOVE.

May you resolve today to follow Christ no matter what the cost is. And may you resolve to follow Him day after day because you love Him.

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