“A Sword, a Cross, and a Life” (Matthew 10:34-42)
Today Jesus tells us that he came to bring us three things: “A Sword, a Cross, and a Life.” Are you sure you want these things? Let’s find out.
Our text is the Holy Gospel for today, from Matthew chapter 10. Jesus has been instructing his disciples in this chapter, preparing them for what they’re getting themselves in for. And it’s not going to be a bed of roses. Because some of these roses are going to have thorns. Are you ready for this?
Yes, are you ready for this? Because what Jesus tells his disciples here, about the conflict and suffering that following him will bring–that still applies to us. It will apply to you. If you follow Jesus as his disciple, there will be conflict, there will be suffering, that you will encounter precisely because you are Christ’s follower.
A sword, a cross, and a life. Let’s start with the sword. Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Now this sounds kind of strange to our ears. Jesus did not come to bring peace? But at his birth, didn’t the angels sing “and on earth peace, good will toward men”? Yes, they did. And doesn’t the Old Testament prophesy that the Messiah would be called the Prince of Peace? Yes, it does. So what’s up with this “I have not come to bring peace”? Which is it, Jesus?
Well, it depends what kind of peace you’re talking about. If you’re talking about an earthly peace, where everything is peaches and cream, where life could be a dream, where everything is hunky-dory and everybody likes you–then no, Jesus did not come to bring that kind of peace.
Later on, Jesus will these disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” And again: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
So, peace in Jesus. In the world, tribulation, trouble. Jesus predicts it. Jesus guarantees it. In this world, in this life, you will have trouble. You will experience a sword, if you’re going to be a follower of Christ.
What is this “sword” that Jesus speaks of? What does it signify? It signifies conflict, strife, division. And this sword will even cut through families. Jesus says: “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.”
Now this is not how it has to be. Thank God for families that stay together and pray together and go to church and follow Christ together. May their tribe increase! But sadly that is not the case in every family. In many families, there are some who follow Christ in faith, and others who do not. And that can create strife and division within the family.
Sometimes, in some cultures, when a member of a family becomes a Christian, there can be severe repercussions. I know of a Jewish woman who became a Christian, and her family disowned her. They considered her dead. In certain Muslim families, if one of them becomes a Christian, he or she can literally end up dead, killed by one’s own family members. To follow Christ can be a dangerous thing.
Now maybe it’s not so severe and violent here, but still, a family divided, a house divided, is not a pleasant thing. Maybe you’ve experienced that in your own family. I know I have in my family: a sibling who left the church. Over my years as a pastor, I have had parishioners who have experienced grief because of, say, adult children who were raised in the church but who now have abandoned the faith and left the church and taken on the ways of the world. It can be a heartbreak and an ongoing heartache. There is the wife whose husband refuses to go to church with her and hear the word of God. And vice versa. It’s a source of pain that over time becomes a dull ache, but it’s still there. And so it goes.
As the prophet says, “Not everyone has believed our report.” Why do people not do the only sensible thing and come to Christ and his church and here receive God’s gift of salvation? Why will they resent and dislike you because you do? Well, because you are a living, breathing demonstration of someone who knows they’re a sinner and needs a Savior. And lots of people don’t want to hear that. They think they’re good enough on their own. And you’re a reminder that they aren’t. So they resent you. And they don’t like to hear that their favored desires may be what God considers sin. So if you identify with Christ and the Bible and the church, then they’re going to take it out on you. Well, don’t be surprised, Jesus is saying today. It comes with the territory.
This is the sword that Jesus is speaking about, the sword of division and conflict and strife that comes with being a Christian. And how we see that in our world today! Even in America–yes, here in the good old U.S. of A.–there is strong opposition and increasing hostility toward the Christian faith. Not only has America become a post-Christian society, it is even becoming an anti-Christian society. You know, this week we’re celebrating our freedoms here in this country. And that is supposed to include the freedom of religion. The First Amendment is meant to guarantee that the government will not prohibit the free exercise of religion. But in recent years, that freedom has been eroding. The previous administration tried to force employers to provide abortion-causing drugs to their employees. Two years ago the Supreme Court legalized so-called homosexual “marriage” across the land, and a clerk in Kentucky went to jail because she wouldn’t go along with that. We’ve all heard stories of Christian bakers and wedding photographers being driven out of business because their conscience would not allow them to celebrate such abominations. A college in Oklahoma is removing crosses, Bibles, and other religious symbols from their chapel–from their chapel, mind you–because they might offend somebody. This is the world we’re living in today, folks. And it may get worse before it gets better.
But while a university is removing its crosses, we Christians have a cross to take up. Jesus speaks of this also: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” A cross is an instrument of death. It is designed to cause extreme suffering and then death. And that’s what Jesus says we are to take up. Man, this is pretty tough!
The cross is the suffering we go through because we are a Christian. There is a putting-to-death that happens in a Christian’s life. Yes, it is the suffering that the world lays upon us because we are Christians. That is certainly at the forefront of what Jesus is speaking about here. In that respect, it’s much like the sword that we’ve already discussed.
But there’s another aspect of the cross we bear in being a Christian. And that is the putting to death of our own self–our own sinful nature, our Old Adam, as it’s called. That old bugger needs to be put under the water and drowned on a daily basis. It’s putting to death the sinful flesh that keeps on wanting to retake control in our life. In your baptism you were buried and raised with Christ, but that dying and rising needs to keep on happening every single day. “The Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” That, my friends, is the nature of the baptized life.
A sword, a cross, and a life. So you lose your old life, but you gain a new one. Jesus speaks of this as well: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” If all you’re looking for is the best life you can have now, a nice comfortable life with no troubles, then ironically you’re going to lose your life. You will not know the new eternal life that Jesus has to give you. But when you lose your life, when you give up on yourself and your own supposed righteousness, then you will really find your true life. Your true life is found only in connection with Christ.
For this Jesus–he came to give you life, and to give it to you in abundance! He did it by living the life you and I do not live as we ought. This Jesus walked the walk and he talked the talk–the way life was meant to be lived by us human beings. This is righteousness, and Jesus has it. He lived it. And yet, even though he deserved only praise and honor, this same Jesus suffered and died in shame and disgrace. And he did it for you. Talk about taking up one’s cross! Jesus did it, literally! He was lifted up on his cross to do what only he could do. The sinless Son of God suffered and died for all of sinful humanity. He shed his holy blood to cleanse you of your sins. You are forgiven in Christ, through faith in him.
So now Jesus has a life to give you. It is his life, the life that is victorious over sin and death. He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. And joined to him in Holy Baptism, so will you. Jesus has broken the hold that death would have over you. He will raise you up bodily to live with him forever. And he has already raised you up to a new life in him now. This is a life of love and service and joy in the Christian faith. In the church. In your home. In your daily life. Even in the midst of sword and cross, you have this life that Christ gives you, and no one can take it away from you. What good news Jesus has for us here today!
And the peace of God–yes, the peace–that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.