Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:33b “. . .him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
Jesus expects to be publicly acknowledged by His followers. We do not have permission to be ashamed of Him, to keep our relationship with Him a secret.
This is extremely important to Christ. On the final day of reckoning, failure in this duty will be broadcast before angels and the assembled hordes of humanity. Jesus will not claim as His servants any who refused to claim Him as their Master.
This verdict is not rendered against those who fail occasionally in moments of weakness. A lifetime of intent often can’t be accurately assessed in momentary snapshots. Judas temporarily claimed to be a Christ-follower. Peter once denied.
The stiff verdict presented in our text unmasks the prevailing attitude of a lifetime. Jesus will be disappointed with people who through the whole course of their lives consistently and habitually failed to acknowledge Him by life and lip.
None of us wants this verdict rendered against us. Our Master deserves better from us, and surely we all desire to do better than this. We don’t want Jesus to sneak us into Heaven, to slip us in, as it were, by stealth through the back door.
Let’s proudly acknowledge our relationship with Jesus. The future reward is worth far more than any current costs, even though those costs can be huge. . . .
Matt. 10:34 “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not
to send peace, but a sword.”
Strange words from One whose titles include accolades like “The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Did not angels proclaim at His birth, “On earth peace” (LK 2:14)? Did He not, in His Sermon on the Mount, bless peacemakers (MT 5:9)?
The seeming paradox is due to our misinterpreting peace. Christ’s original hearers wrongly believed Messiah’s peace would consist of health, wealth, and political power. People still misunderstand peace. They tend to incorrectly think peace comes from accepting our own sinful selves as we are, letting others remain in their sinful state, and rejecting the notion of a God who opposes sin.
This is diametrically opposed to the peace Jesus came to bring. True peace results from accepting the sin-opposing God, who engages in us a war against our own sins, and who enlists us in an effort to help others battle against their sins.
The peace Jesus brings is always the by-product of strife. Discord is not Christ’s ultimate intent, but is an inevitable consequence of heeding His claims.
Any who seek to follow the one and only, true and living God presented in Scripture will have trouble in this world, as our Master did. The peace Jesus now enjoys in Heaven at the right hand of the Father was gained through strife in this world. He waged war in His own self, in Gethsemane groaning in agony, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (MT 26:39). He faced constant opposition, and eventually outright war, from others. We follow in His steps.
God’s peace within us is birthed from labor pains of internal human strife. Jesus “cannot give His great heavenly peace till He has disturbed our low earthly peace” (Glover). He de-constructs our inner man before He reconstructs our lives.
The war for peace begins inside our own selves. Hearts are the first battle field. The Word of God sifts us to the core of our being (HB 4:12). It divides, slashes, cuts to the quick, painfully slicing through old habits and pet sins.
Our old man never dies without a fight. The conflict within can rage like a war between life and death. The battle inside can shake us into trembling outside.
In addition to internal strife, Christianity also results in division between individuals. This is Jesus’ reference in our text. He is addressing the inevitable controversy that arises between His followers and those who do not embrace Him.
Jesus was not saying His followers should take up a literal sword in His behalf. Waging warfare and executing capital punishment are duties delegated solely to governments, not to the Church. Jesus was speaking in our text of the natural separation His claims bring between peoples. Jesus divides humanity.
The Gospel brings peace with others only to the extent it brings them into peace with God. As some draw closer to the living God, and others do not, the distance between them by definition grows larger. Christianity is, as Huebner said, a message of peace for the world, but a declaration of war to the world.
Luther observed, when our Gospel is received in peace, it is not the true Gospel. He knew whereof he spoke. His emphasis on “Scripture only” caused one of the most massive rifts in human history, shattering a thousand years of complacency and political corruption.
Christianity brings controversy in its wake. It cannot propagate itself imperceptibly. The message of Jesus doesn’t lie still. It is not a quiet dead letter. It disturbs, upsetting and affecting everything. Hostile opposition against it is inevitable.
As long as Christianity promotes purity and love, impurity and selfishness will fight it. As long as we say Jesus is God, unbelievers will scoff us. As long as sin and lostness exist, our speaking against sin and lostness will stir up strife.
Religion is the ultimate separating influence in the world. The bitterest and most violent hatreds have ever been those that arise from differences in religion. No fury worse than that of the persecutors, no resolve like that of the persecuted.
Atheists love to point at the wars and hatreds that differing faiths have spawned, yet fail to mention that in the twentieth century alone, atheism killed more people than all religious wars in all human history combined. The death toll numbers stacked up by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Romania, and other atheist governments left religion’s cumulative death toll far back in the pack.
This is not an effort to justify the carnage caused in the name of religion. It is reprehensible, an awful blight on the reputation of all world religions.
I wish I could predict a better future, but I can’t. Christianity and all other religions have a seamy, aggressive, combative side. The twentieth century was marked by atheism versus all religions. The twenty-first century, I fear, will be marked by religious wars. Our shrinking world is forcing hostile competing world views into closer proximity. We have previously been somewhat able to get off into our own corners and avoid each other, but this option is no longer afforded us.
Everlastingly opposite principles, brought into close contact, erupt into hostility. Important issues divide people. Neutrality and calm are hard to sustain.
As we enter an uncertain future, three things will be absolutely essential. First, we must in the marketplace have open dialogue about religion. The effort by secularists in our country to remove religious debate from the public sector is foolish and suicidal. Foolish because secularists are clueless as to how strongly religionists cling to beliefs. Suicidal because, to be de-fused, controversy must be aired openly, not be hushed behind closed doors. Let atheists speak, Muslims speak, Hindus speak, Buddhists speak, Christians speak. At the same time, may atheists listen, Muslims listen, Hindus listen, Buddhists listen, Christians listen.
Second, we must speak respectfully to and about each other. If we honestly and studiously contrast our opposing beliefs, we should be free to discuss these differences, but always in calm, deliberative ways. Differ, but don’t demean.
Third, expect setbacks, but never give up the quest for peace. Jesus blessed peacemakers because He knew they would always be needed. Since Adam and Eve sinned in Eden, this has been a fallen world in unending rebellion and strife.
Political peace will come to this planet only when the Prince of Peace comes back to rule it in person. In the meantime we sue for peace with all our might.
However bleak the prospects for peace, keep striving for it. Continue the negotiations, for when the talks break down, babies die, children are maimed, women are raped, and young men’s lives are cut short. Though peace eludes us, we must never quit chasing it.
Let’s draw a conclusion on our text. Jesus came to bring peace on earth, but not immediately or magically. His is not a peace brought by compromise or evasion of truth, but by strife between good and evil in our fallen world. Through a personal relationship with Christ, we can have in this world peace within ourselves and peace with God, but not always peace with others.