“Expect No Peace Here!” (Matt. 10:34-39)
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost (June 28, 2020)
Let me begin today by asking you all some pointed, yet, I believe, very pertinent questions. What sort of faith do you want? What expectations do you have of your relationship with Jesus Christ? What do you want from your church?
These are essential questions for each of us to ponder, especially in light of just how secular many parts of the Christian church are becoming today. What is primarily giving rise to this alarming trend of secularization is a pervasive desire to avoid conflict. All too many of us are seeking an easy religion. We want a low-stress and hassle free faith. We want our worship life and service to the Lord to be one of convenience; void of any personal sacrifices and confrontations. We want our religious beliefs to be in harmony with the customs, philosophies and values of our culture so that we never have to suffer any sort of crisis of conscience or find it necessary to chose one to the exclusion of the other. We don’t want to be ridiculed or opposed for holding to a belief that is counter to what the majority of our friends and neighbors think. We want to be at peace in our world. But is such peace really possible?
A retired Lutheran pastor many years ago wrote an opinion piece in the Life section of Billings’ Gazette. I believe it illustrates quite well this acquiescence to the culture. He was writing in opposition to someone who had earlier written about the incompatibility of faith and science, most notably on the whole matter of Evolutionary Theory and the Biblical teaching of Creationism. The pastor wrote rather unabashedly that for him there was no conflict between faith and science. Science, he said, seeks truth by observing what goes on in the world. It depends on empirical evidence, what is determined by the senses. Faith on the other hand, he said, is based entirely on simply believing what the Bible says. He says there does not have to be any conflict between the two.
In his article the pastor then goes on to elaborate that faith is beyond the realm of the physical and science can only deal with the physical. He insists that there is no meeting ground between the two. One can accept the truths espoused by both and not experience some conflict. He said for him, it really doesn’t matter whether the earth was created simply by the Word of God, as the Bible teaches or that God used the evolutionary process to create everything. Likewise, he said it is not important to him whether the earth is 20 million or 10,000 years old. Rather what is important is that God loves the world. He is at peace with what both science and the Bible teach.
Sounds all so convenient doesn’t it. In his own mind this retired minister has sought to avoid any crisis of conscience... or any conflict with either side in the Creation vs. Evolution debate.
However, while this man might feel he is reconciled with two competing systems of reality, he actually is at odds with both and is danger of losing his very soul. He has found only a pseudo-peace. He has not managed to reconcile Creationism and Evolutionism but merely ignored the tenets of both. You see, there is nothing observable in a truly scientific sense about evolution. It is only a theory of human reason to explain the diversities in nature that one can observe. But no one has ever observed one life evolving into another. What is held up as skeletal evidence can also be explained by aberrations within species. By the same token, even with the ability to control all the variables within a laboratory, no one has been able to cause one species to evolve into another. Accordingly, there is nothing truly scientific about evolutionary theory. It can’t even be tested as good science demands. It is based on many priori assumptions and must in the end be accepted by faith.
Besides this, this Lutheran minister has also grossly erred when he stated that the tenants of the Christian faith contain nothing that has foundation in anything that can be observed by the physical senses.
The whole Christian Faith is based upon the incarnation of the Son of God. There God and science... God and earthly matter... have met in the person of Jesus. The Creator became one of His creatures. God became man. Unlike, evolutionary theory, the incarnation was scientifically observed and documented by many eye-witnesses. The Holy Scriptures have gone to great lengths to present the empirical evidence, whether it be of documenting Jesus’ genealogy to the physical evidence of His resurrection from the dead. John writes in the beginning of his first epistle, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life... we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3).
God has revealed the truth in empirical human flesh. Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the very observable evidence of what it truly means to be human, as well as the full revelation of who and what is God. To accept the truth as revealed in Jesus Christ leaves no room to accept any other conflicting truths, whether they come from human reason, earthly science, or some other faith system. Conflict cannot be avoided. As Jesus Himself once said, “You are either with Me, or against me.”
So we see in the Gospel text before us. Here Jesus speaks quite bluntly to all followers who seek to confess Him before the world. He says that they will not realize any sort of worldly peace on account of Him. He says, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
On first hearing, this all might sound a bit askew to our ears. After all, The Holy Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is the Prince of Peace! At His birth the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." It's hard to think about Jesus and not think about peace.
Yet, Jesus is quite emphatic here. We can expect no peace in the here and now. He came to cast a "sword" upon the earth. That is to say, Jesus came to challenge the status quo. Jesus did not come to make the true Faith at one with science and human reason, nor to make life easy and convenient in this world for His followers, nor to set up some kind of peace accord among nations or peoples or races. Jesus came to set at variance the things that are and to confirm the things that are not. He came to challenge human notions of justice and peace and to replace them with God's concept of peace. Jesus came to set what can not be observed over against what can be seen. Jesus came to reveal truth while exposing what is false. Jesus’ coming has unleashed a sword that divides. It is inevitable then that it will result in tensions, quarrels and separations.
This resulting division, however, is not due to God's fault, but man's fault. People resist Jesus and His way of peace. They want to pick out only parts of God's Word they want to accept and follow. They want to pick and choose what is truth for them. Accordingly, where one remains faithful to the truth of Christ, he is bound to be opposed and, therefore, know only division on earth.
One’s worst enemies can even become members of his own household. It was one of Jesus’ closest friends, Judas, that lifted his heel against Him. One of the most common causes of divorce is religion. Everyone of us has witnessed in our own families the division that has resulted because of what respective members of the family believe about God and salvation. Sometimes the only way we can "get along" at family gatherings is if we agree not to talk about religion or what our respective churches teach. Because there is resistance to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the want to re-write the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures to suit one's own personal views among some in our own family, we can expect no peace.
We are, therefore, to have no false conceptions of peace nor make God say something that He does not. Take for example the false prophet Hananiah in our Old Testament reading. In the face of Jeremiah's continual preaching that the nation of Judah was about to be hauled off into captivity and totally subjugated to Babylon, Hannaniah kept preaching messages of peace to the people. Even though he did not have authority from God to preach such a message, he became a most popular preacher. He told the people what they wanted to hear... that they were okay... that everything would be okay... that God was really not going to punish them for their sins as Jeremiah kept saying.
But God says to the false preachers: "So my hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people...It is definitely because they have misled my people by saying, 'Peace!' when there is no peace." (Ezek 13) "They have healed the brokenness of my people superficially, saying, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14).
There is allot of "superficial" healing going on today also in the name of Christian preaching. The "love preachers" are telling us not to focus upon the bloody atonement of Christ or man's sin, but simply preach "God loves you." But how can one truly comprehend God’s love apart from the cross of Jesus? The ecumenical gurus are telling us to do away with "doctrine", for they insist it always divides. They speak of all Christians being united in one communion through mergers. Trouble is such human agreements of concord are generally based on compromising respective teachings. Truth is sacrificed on the man-made altar of outward peace and the truth of real peace in Christ that saves souls is lost.
You and I, as followers of Jesus, are challenged to take a stand for the truth even if it brings us some pain. We must continually ask ourselves, “Are Jesus and His Word the most cherished things in our lives or is someone or something else? If Jesus and the truth of His Gospel are not our "first love," then, as Jesus says, we are not worthy of Him. "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." If obtaining a peaceful coexistence with people is more important to us that being reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ, then you can bet that our heart is not His and we belong to some other god.
A relationship with Jesus automatically sets us at odds with the world around us. For if our faith in Christ is genuine, then our goals, our aspirations, our hopes and our dreams by necessity will center in Him. It is communion with Him that we seek daily more than anything else. It is our heavenly home, not our worldly real estate that is our goal. It is the unseen, yet eternal, blessings of forgiveness, life and salvation that only Jesus can provide that are our most cherished possessions. It is falling out of favor and relationship with Jesus that is our greatest fear, not losing earthly relationships.
It is a foregone conclusion, therefore, that a follower of Jesus can expect no peace here. True devotion to Christ and His Word is "counter culture." When Jesus and His Word are our first love, we are "going against the grain". The world will not understand and may even hate us. That is why Jesus says, "Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." This is the first use of the word “cross” in Matthew’s Gospel. It refers to the lack of worldly peace you and I can expect by following Jesus. It comes with the territory and must be born lest we forfeit everything. Our cross is that the cross of Jesus puts a sword into our hands and not an olive branch.
But, know also, this sword is not an evil but a good. To be sure a sword cuts... divides... injures... and kills but in the process it also accomplishes a victory and saves. Jesus has come to "slash" His way right through faulty human reasoning and notions that peace is something established by human treaties and accords.... that somehow people can learn to coexist peacefully if they just learn to compromise their values and beliefs. The true Word of Jesus Christ cuts right through all self-righteousness and all worldly concepts of peace and puts them to death. It's sharp edge cuts away human achievements and reveals human sin and the depravity of the human soul that lurks beneath. But this same sharp edge slashes right through all falseness to reveal the truth about the gracious heart of God and His works to save sinners in Jesus Christ.
Jesus' arrival in the world reveals God's peace plan; a plan that calls for His own Son to perish by the sword. Jesus was crucified in atonement for your sins, my sins, as well as the sins of the whole world all so that God and sinners might be reconciled... be at peace. Jesus has said, ""Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you." This peace is eternal through the forgiveness of sins.
Dear friend, who might be at war in your family, in your work place, with your neighbors, Jesus is your peace where it really matters! He has reconciled you to your Heavenly Father. He made peace with you personally at your baptism. Every time you eat and drink at His Supper, He seals that covenant of peace with you through the very given body and shed blood of Your Savior. In Jesus’ you have eternal peace "that surpasses all understanding.”
In light of all this, we might want to ask ourselves, "Is it all worth it? Is the peace of Christ worth experiencing the cutting edge of the sword He has brought into our lives?" The answer depends upon what value we place on Christ’s true peace.
One Bible commentator once stated quite succinctly that if discipleship with Jesus is "worth anything, it is worth everything" (Matthew Henry). What possible lasting value can any of our earthly relationships, or any of our worldly honors and possessions have without Jesus! Is not having Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man... the One Who sacrificed all so that we might have all... of more value than possessing the whole world? Jesus Himself has said, "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?"
Jesus and the peace He gives are worth the loss of all in this world. They are worth any cross you will have to bear! Having peace in Jesus is worth any division you might have to experience now. Jesus promises: "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Find life indeed! In Christ and the peace that only He can give, you receive the gift of life full and eternal! Go in His peace! Amen.