June 26, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
[Jesus said:] “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
A sword-wielding Jesus: it isn’t the typical depiction of the Lord that will be found hanging on a church hallway wall or in a living room. The local Zondervan Christian bookstore probably doesn’t have a picture of Jesus with sword-in-hand. Yet, this is what Jesus says He bears: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Jesus refers to Himself as a person who brings division, strife, and war. A battle will be waged, and Jesus is the principal actor in it.
Why has Jesus come bringing a sword to the earth? Because of what is found here. This is the place where sin and rebellion are located. Here on earth are the enemies of the Lord and the victims that they hold captive. So Jesus comes to deliver and redeem. The sword of Jesus is pointed at those who oppose the Lord’s good and gracious will: “the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.” Jesus’ work of redemption takes the battle to the serpent and his seed, those who are at enmity with Eve and her descendants.
For those who are delivered by these actions of Jesus, a new life is given. There is a renunciation of Satan, and all his works, and all his ways. Allegiance is given to Jesus. Pledges are made to abide in His way of life. Devotion is shown to the One who delivers and ransoms. He has set people free, set you free: “You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” And what Jesus—the Crucified and Risen Lord—expects of you is fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.
Yet, there are hurdles to this devotion. You live week-to-week with many things that attract and demand your attention and love. These include matters that stand in opposition to Jesus and His way of life. There is a plethora of other gods who seek devotees. But these other gods, other objects of devotion, are not Jesus. They have not saved you. They have not acted on your behalf, striving to win salvation for you. In his Large Catechism, Luther mentions what God demands: “Look, here, you have the true honor and worship that please God, which God also commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than in Him, nor let itself be torn from Him, but for His sake should risk everything and disregard everything else on earth.”
This is what Jesus lays out when He says: “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.” Think on those words. Jesus goes to the very heart of human devotion. He speaks of the closest relationships that people have. He even dares to speak about life that is held dear. Yet, even these can be objects of devotion that stand in opposition to Jesus and His way of life. Love of family and love of oneself can demand more from the heart, mind, and soul than love of Jesus.
So Jesus says about Himself: “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.” Enemies in the familial structure? Yes, indeed. So it is when family members are not united in allegiance to Jesus. Jesus’ sword sets these units asunder. He is a divisive figure. The division is over the confession of faith and the life of discipleship: What do you think about Jesus? What do you believe about Jesus? Will you follow what Jesus establishes as your way of life? Where opposing answers are given, the promised division comes.
Such was the situation in the 1st Century Ancient Near East. Belief that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, led to divisions in familial households and in the synagogues, the households of faith. Jesus’ sword was present. The phenomenon is also found in 21st Century America. Divisions over Jesus identity, work, and teachings are present in communities and in families. It is what you in the pews endure. And when those differing allegiances conflict, the suffering and sorrow is great. No one wants to love parents or children less. No one wants to be set against kin. Yet, Jesus’ words remain: “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.”
Jesus also says: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” For some of you, division in the household is the cross that you bear in this world. But Jesus’ words also speak about devotion to personal life: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Those who will love privilege or wealth or well-being or anything in this world more than leading the new life that Jesus has established will lose what they have. That loss may not come in the present day, but it will be so at the Last Day. But those who die with Jesus, those who lose and abandon their life for His sake, those who are devoted to Him, will find everlasting life at the end. What they gave up in the here and now will be superseded by the reward that Jesus will give.
Jesus’ teaching that you heard this morning spoke about the divisions that come because of faith and devotion to Him. But Jesus also spoke about what is given to those who are devoted to Him. The sword that Jesus brings to this earth does cause divisions in relationships here. But He has also used it to save and deliver. He has gone on a path of conquest, overturning the tyranny of Satan, removing the guilt of sin, changing the mindset of you and others. Through His death and resurrection, this battle has been won. The sword has been victoriously wielded on your behalf.
So Jesus can speak about reward to His people: “Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Jesus can give out reward to those who receive Him, who believe in Him, who are devoted to Him.
Receiving, believing, devotion: these are all faith terms. They are actions that stem from acknowledgment and recognition of who Jesus is and what He has done. They are what His disciples do. Fear, love, and trust in God above all things cannot be given by anyone, except those who have been called to faith and belief in Jesus. But that is what has happened for you. You have already lost your life, dying with Jesus. You have made the confession that Jesus is Lord. You have received the divine words of His prophetic teaching. You see the obedience and life of righteousness that He has given for you. Those whom Jesus has sent to speak to you and declare all that He has achieved have been given welcome in this place. So you will have the prophet’s reward and righteous person’s reward. You will not lose it.
But what has been promised to you is not fully received now. It is given at the end of all things. So you will have to endure in this world, dealing with all the hurdles and barriers that arise in opposition to Jesus and His way of life. The crosses are laid out for you to pick up and bear. That is the way of life you have been called to follow. But you do so always knowing that the One who redeemed you has already walked that way and has been victorious over your opponents. What has been established for you is certain and sure. You also know that the One who redeemed you has not left you alone. He is present with you as you follow in His way.
So in the midst of opposition and division and cross-bearing, you ask the same thing as the psalmist did centuries ago—another of those who had been helped by the Lord: “Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget Your law. Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to Your promise.” Your vow is the same: “Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from Your testimonies. I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep Your commandments.” The plea and vow are made in faith. They stem from belief in the Lord and His way. Desire to be allied with the Lord and to receive His blessing and reward shines through the statements: “Consider how I love Your precepts! Give me life according to Your steadfast love. The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous rules endures forever.”
Your belief is exhibited, even faith in what Jesus says about division: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You believe that. You experience that. But you know that what has brought division to this world has actually brought salvation to you. So you will endure the uncomfortable divisions in relationships, trusting in the blessing that Jesus has earned for you. You will take up the crosses laid on you, knowing that death is not the end. You will forfeit your life now, so that you may find it forever in the Last Day. But this is all done with one key belief in your heart, soul, and mind: the sword of division that Jesus has brought to this earth is also the sword of victory that He has wielded for you against your great opponents. His promise of blessing has been made and is being fulfilled. So you will cling to Him, devoted to the way of life that He has given to you. And on the day when Jesus appears with sword and scepter in hand, you shall surely have your reward.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.