Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:37c “. . .is not worthy of me.”
Audacious, to say the least. On the lips of any other religious figure of history, these words would sound insane, intolerable, insufferable. Jesus, though, makes the extraordinary demand, and it seems perfectly easy and natural.
The words fall from His lips without fanfare. He speaks calmly, as if the words are reasonable and self-evident, requiring no further explanation. Jesus felt not one ounce of need to offer any justification for His requirement.
The demand is, on the surface, a strange claim to leave the lips of a Jewish peasant carpenter. Just as strange, or maybe better to say just as remarkable, is the fact that here we are two millennia later, and countless millions do love Jesus more than they love anyone else, their chief regret being they do not love Him more.
Jesus left Earth 2000 years ago, yet still confronts every person on the planet, asserting He has every right to be loved supremely. Unbelievers, by the millions, call it blasphemy. His devoted followers, also by the millions, call it obvious. Into this wild melee of disagreement, I cast three opinions.
First, if Jesus is not God, His demand is preposterous. Only a divine being should require from us supreme love and allegiance. If Jesus was merely a man, however good or noble He proved to be, He had no right to command us to love Him more than we do our own families. Only if He is God, should we love Him more than we love those who birth us, and those we birth.
In my recent studies to prepare for our Christianity 101 class here at Second, I have been reading many different sources. Interestingly, I have run across the same quote from C. S. Lewis in three different books. It is a classic statement from the brilliant twentieth century apologist and deserves our attention here.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (from “Mere Christianity”).
Christ was conscious of His own infinite self-worth. He had divine, sublime self-respect. Jesus claimed to be God in human flesh. Any who study Him or consider Him must accept the tenet of His being God or reject Him altogether.
Second, loving Jesus makes us love family more. He elevates and ennobles our love for kith and kin, even if they cast us away because of our faith. Family love is placed on the altar, not to be sacrificed, but to be sanctified.
Our coming to Christ may adversely affect the quality and quantity of inter-action our family has with us, but does not violate the love we have for our relatives. Jesus makes our love for family better, not worse. Family love is inherently sacred, solemn, and sweet. Our Master improves it.
Once we come to Jesus, we better understand the infinite value and worth of our loved ones. We clearly see the everlasting danger looming before them, and realize we are possibly their only hope, their only up-close example of a believer.
Their rejection of us offers us a chance to show unconditional love to them. Though family cast us away, we are not justified in responding to them the same way. A Christian is never permitted to set aside his or her love for family.
Their rejecting us does not give us license to neglect them. However poorly they treat us, we are not exempted from duties of family relationships. We make sure family is cared for. We follow One who looked down upon His tormentors and prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (LK 23:34).
Third, ultimate love for Jesus is ever the litmus test of our devotion. In Jesus’ estimation, He must be, in our affections, first or nowhere. Jesus claims our total allegiance as His due. The Ephesians were rebuked for having left their first love (RV 2:4). Jesus asked Peter, “Lovest thou Me more than these?” (JN 21:15).
Family love is meant to be the strongest and most precious bond in human relationships. Jesus did not disparage family love. The sole issue is priority. Who has the chief claim on us? The universal and unalterable condition of Christian discipleship is, in everything and everywhere, Christ must be put first, loved above all or not at all. Family first makes family an idol. Jesus requires from us the highest devotion. The priority is ranked without chance of change.
The standard is severe, but by it we stand or fall. Life is a blur of choices between many competitors that can easily push Jesus into the background–family, friends, pleasures, plans, pursuits, sins. Ever be testing ourselves by this. Love Him first, love Him more than ever before, love Him forever.
If He does not have our absolute loyalty, we are not faithful followers of Him, not all we are meant to be, not worthy of Him. Let self-examination never end. Do our thoughts float to Him? Is a conversation going on between us? Is anyone or anything gravitating into a position above Christ? A caution–family love and peace can be a more dangerous temptation than family hatred and strife. Even as we must not be drawn from Christ due to rejection by our family, even so must we never be drawn from Him by their kindness.
Maybe the saddest tragedy among the kings of Israel was the backsliding of Solomon away from the worship of God. The Lord exalted Solomon, giving Him wisdom, worldwide acclaim, wealth, and a peaceful reign. But as the years went by, Solomon began to be pulled away from God, not by angry family members, but by seductive wives who lured him away an inch at a time with their wiles.
As we leave our text, I hope to imprint it into our memories by means of a story, a striking illustration of a love for Christ that superseded love for parents and children. In 205 A.D., Vivia Perpetua was arrested in Carthage, North Africa, charged with being a Christian. This beautiful, wealthy, 22-year-old lady of high society enjoyed everything that, for most people, makes life desirable and attractive. History fails to record whether or not her husband was a believer. Her elderly, unbelieving father was granted permission to visit his daughter in prison, and tried by every possible argument to shake her constancy. To serve as his strongest appeal, he brought with him Vivia’s infant son, hoping to convince her to renounce Christ for the baby’s sake. Vivia refused to surrender her faith. She bravely met death, killed in the arena by a wild animal. The early believers, mostly poor, were deeply moved by the story of rich, noble Vivia. Two hundred years after Vivia’s heroic death, Augustine, who ministered near the arena where she died, felt the need to remind his congregants that though her story was wonderful, it was not equal in authority to Scripture. Eighteen hundred years later, Christians still honor the dauntless heroism of Vivia Perpetua. She remains a testimony to the fact it is possible to love Christ more than parents or children, and thereby be found worthy of Him.
Belonging to Jesus is an inestimable privilege. Our only adequate response must ever be to love Jesus supremely.