We have been on a track of proclaiming God’s love, love in action, and love and peace. Last Sunday, we talked about peace through strength—through God’s strength. Before that, it was peace that goes beyond what we can understand. It was peace that actually brought us to a place that we have yet to arrive. Peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
And now, nothing says peace more than Jesus saying I didn’t come to bring peace.
Jesus told his disciples that he came bringing a sword. This was not a sword to shed Roman blood—which would have met their expectations of the Messiah—but a sword to divide families. If you are visiting today and normally go to a church that keeps it warm and fuzzy, you will never hear this verse.
This is not the Jesus we put on the marquee. This is not the quote we put on the church tee shirt.
I’M BRINGING A SWORD
When I am preaching abundant life and the blessings of the Lord, what do I do with this verse? There are two things that should be done. First, consider it in the context of the pericope. Second, consider it in the context of the full biblical witness.
In the immediate context, Jesus has told his disciples that he is sending them out as sheep among the wolves. He is sending them only to the lost sheep of Israel; yet he knows they will not be well received in many places.
This is the sending of the disciples during the earthly ministry of Jesus. Jesus obviously knew educational and training models: Lecture, discussion, and then application. This was application.
He told them to equip themselves, not with extra clothing or money, but with his authority by which people should know that they are on a godly mission. Heal and drive out demons. Grant peace where it is deserved, and where it is not, keep your peace for another place and let it rest there.
If the community does not welcome you, go elsewhere noting that this bunch of people has not chosen wisely. In that day you would have shaken the dust of that place off of your sandals.
Jesus told his followers that they should expect to be hated in many places, but they should not worry for God’s own Spirit will be with them. Proclaim repentance and the kingdom of God that is so close. Speak as the Master spoke to you. Be led by God’s Spirit who is with you.
These disciples got a dose of what would follow at Pentecost.
Stand firm. Many households that you will visit have made peace with the world. They don’t want to hear what you have to say, even though your very words came from the Creator of this world and everything that was created.
There are some tough days in this discipleship business. You cannot be a friend of the world and a friend of God. Our God is a jealous God.
There are some tough days in this discipleship business. We are called to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness before anything and everything else. God is always first.
There are some tough days in this discipleship business. They are tougher when we insist on our own ways. Consider the words of Isaiah.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
Have we not learned from the lessons of God’s Chosen People? Do we really understand that God is always first? Do you have experience with God being first and other days where we just tried to work him in where we could? Do we understand that our very identity lies in God?
Our very identity is in God. It is (eg-o' i-mee') in the Greek. It is (haw-yaw) in Hebrew.
If I were to ask you a simple question, how would you answer? I’m asking for a complete sentence in your reply.
Who are you? More specifically, what is your name?
You would likely say, I am Joe or Bill or Betty or Rose.
Our language itself recognizes that God is first, even when we don’t. What?
Before we speak our name, we speak God’s name. When God sent Moses to liberate his people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses ask God, “How will they know that it was you who sent me? How will they know that I’m not just making this up for my own amusement?”
God told Moses to tell the people that I Am sent you.
When I asked your name, your reply came with I am…
Our language even recognizes that God is named first when we identify ourselves. God must be first for us to enjoy harmony and peace. This extends to our very basic human unit—the family.
When God is first in the family, harmony and peace are at home there. When there is dissension and rebellion, God’s peace shakes the dust off of its sandals and departs. Harmony is in search of a new dwelling. It is as if a sword ripped through the family.
In a family where God is not first, peace is tenuous. Harmony is temporary. Both are built upon false premises. When the world rules in part of the family, the family does not know peace.
Members of that family may receive God’s peace as they might receive it in the middle of an ungodly world, but the family will not know the true peace and rest that God longs to give us.
The word of God cuts through the family as it did through the lost sheep of Israel. There is no fence sitting. There is no détente. There are no half measures. You are with God or against him. God must be first.
I am following Jesus or I am not.
Understand, that the God who must be first is a God of love. He is a God who did everything required for you and everyone that you know to come home and abound in the peace and rest of his family.
And he is a jealous God. He plays second fiddle to no one. You can’t expect blessings when you just work him in. You can’t expect harmony in a family that has three votes for and two against putting God first.
Discipleship is tough. Discipleship begins in our own families. We reach out to our communities. We reach out across the world. We are God’s love in action but some wrestle with harmony at home. For some, a sword has come and divided the family.
Jesus did not come to bring a peace that conforms to the model of the world. He brought a sword to divide the living and the dead. What will come when Jesus comes again has begun now. He has brought a sword to separate those who love God and put him first from those who love the world.
For some, God is first in the family. God reigns in all decisions. God’s sovereignty is evident in the lives of family members. That family is blessed with peace and harmony.
Let’s continue in this same chapter with the words of Jesus.
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Only when God is first—when we have given up our claim on our life and give it fully to God—are we ready to truly live.
Only when God’s way is not just the best choice, but the only choice as his disciple will we know peace.
Only when all in the family put God first will the family enjoy peace and harmony.
We value our families so much. Most people would say that, but not all live that sentiment, for that is all it is without action. I see so many people who want help, so they can maintain a lifestyle where God is not first. So many want help to remain a friend of the world and not have to make God first. In some cases, he is not even on the top ten list.
I can talk and talk and point people to Bible verses all day long or until they can’t take any more and suddenly realize that they are going to miss their flight to Kalamazoo. This ministry of leading families to harmony and peace is mostly in your hands.
People listen to me for as long as they can stand it, but ministry is most effective when they can see it and touch it and know a thing to be true by relating to others.
People who struggle with putting God first, need to see godly examples.
People who struggle with putting God first, need to talk to people who have done just that.
People who struggle with putting God first, need a place to go where they can be encouraged.
People who struggle with putting God first, need you—the body of Christ. They need to be a part of a group where God is always first.
Some of you may still not understand my passion and perseverance in connecting the disconnected, and once connected, bringing them into the family of faith. Some may not comprehend the premise that I have promoted for a decade, that abundance in this new century must be built upon inclusion in the body of Christ.
We need this family. So do others.
Some do not understand my insistence upon being people of transformation and not people of transaction. Connections and inclusion are what we are about in this life where God is first in everything.
If we feed someone for a week but never seek to connect them with the One who will feed their soul for all eternity, we have not put God first. That comfort zone needs a sword slicing through it.
If people are not interested in hearing the truth but we keep them comfortable in the ways of the world, we have not put God first. We need a sword to disrupt that comfort zone for we are helping people be a friend of the world.
Sometimes, discipleship is tough business. Sometimes, the truth cuts through the family like a sharpened sword. Sometimes it cuts between our family and our neighbors. But as long as it is called Today, we can do something about this.
The simple truth that I ask you to consider this week is: We are with God, following Jesus, and putting God’s kingdom and righteousness first in our lives and in our families and in our ministries, or we are not.
I told you that we should also consider the full biblical witness. Here it is. God is first or he is not. It is a very simple dichotomy. There is no fence-sitting in this matter.
God doesn’t do gray areas. He is first or he is not. He has called us friend, why would we forsake him and be a friend of the world instead? Why would we leave a family member in this condition? Why would we leave a neighbor on the wrong side of the sword?
Our discipleship begins first at home and with our relatives. Harmony and peace in our own families comes with putting God first in everything.
This is a blessing for us and an example to those who struggle breaking away from putting the world first.
This is a blessing for us and a witness to those who struggle with the god of this age, who can’t seem to break the chains of oppression that the enemy disguises as self-gratification.
Knowing that God is first in our family gives us peace in a turbulent world. It is a paradox that those who do not know the Lord cannot understand.
God is first or he is not.
Many of your families are blessed because there is no doubt and no dissension. God is first.
There is a sword that is swift and sharp and divides those who put God first from those who do not. We know this sword best as the word of God. It divides soul and spirit, joint and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Because we know this and live by God’s holy word, we have peace. There is peace for those who seek God first and his kingdom and his righteousness. And there is peace and harmony for the family that truly seeks the Lord in all things.
My prayer for you this morning is that you have peace in your families and share that peace with those who remain captive to the world.