Jesus Came to Disrupt

Original Date: 
Sunday, December 9, 2012

Matthew 10:34-36 Stable Influence: Jesus Came To Disrupt

Christmas Peace
It’s one of the most heartwarming stories in history. And it’s true.

The year is 1914. The setting is the Western Front in Europe. WWI is just a couple of months old, but already hopes that it would be a brief war have been dashed as two massive armies have settled into the brutal trench warfare that will drag on for years and cost millions of lives.

If you’ve seen the movie WarHorse you have an idea of just how terrible it was. A huge system of trenches, buffered by rolls of razor wire and land mines, separated from each other by an area known as “No Man’s Land.” Artillery fire would occasionally light the sky, random rifle fire would ring out, and those who failed to keep their heads down were in constant danger. It was a remorseless killing field.

But then, on Christmas Eve, something changed. German soldiers began singing “Silent Night” in German. Men on the other side joined along in English. Soldiers who hours before were trying to kill one another were now singing together about the wonder of Christ’s birth.

As the night and the singing continued, the soldiers came out of their trenches and joined one another in “No Man’s Land.” Gifts were exchanged. They shared in burial services. They played soccer. For one amazing 24 hour period, some 100,000 soldiers along the Western Front laid down their weapons and celebrated Christmas together.

In the years to come, the commanders decreed that fighting continue through Christmas Day. But for this brief, sacred interlude in 1914, a reminder of the incarnation caused a cease-fire. There really was peace on earth.

“Peace on earth” is one of our favorite themes at Christmas. It’s what the angels said to the shepherds. Isaiah promised that Jesus would be called the “Prince of Peace.” We sing about it in our Christmas carols and print it on our Christmas cards.

Christmas is one of those times when we dare to dream that peace just might be possible.

And yet, our text this morning is going to call that whole idea into question.

Hard Sayings
We are in the midst of a sermon series we are calling “A Stable Influence.” We’re asking the question: Why did Jesus come? What was the point of the manger?

And the answer, on the one hand, is pretty straightforward. Jesus came to save us. God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son into the world so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But we noticed, also, that there are several places in the Bible where Jesus—as an adult—says things like: “This is why I came…” or “I am here so that…”. He gives several explanations for why He came—each related to His mission of salvation—but also giving additional depth and insight into what He came to do.

So last week, Jay looked at the passage where Jesus says He came not to be served, but to serve. We saw that Jesus isn’t looking for our help nearly as much as He is looking to help us. We must be served by Jesus if we want to be saved.

Now, this week, we’re going to look at one of the more puzzling things Jesus ever said.

Our text is Matthew 10:34. Matthew 10:34. We’re asking the question: why did Jesus come? And here’s His answer, in His own words:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Wow! That’s not a very Christmas-sy verse, is it? The angels sing “peace on earth”; Jesus says: “I didn’t come to bring peace.” We tell stories about enemy soldiers singing “Silent Night” together; Jesus says He came to bring a sword. What’s going on?

This is what you might call a “hard saying” of Jesus.

If you read through the gospel stories, you’ll find that Jesus sometimes says some things that take you by surprise. Just when you think you have Jesus figured out; He’ll surprise you by saying something that shakes all your categories. This is one of those occasions.

You might even file this under “Things we wish Jesus hadn’t said.” No peace? A sword? That seems a little weird. Kinda extreme. But Jesus did say it, and we need to try to understand it, because it is a part of His understanding of His mission. This is why Jesus came, in His own words.

So the way we’re going to proceed this morning is to first consider, briefly, what Jesus did not mean. Then I’ll tell you what I think Jesus does mean (and that will be the main body of the sermon). And at the end, we’ll think about what it means for us.

So, let’s pray, and then we’ll dig into this hard saying of Jesus.

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What Jesus Doesn’t Mean
We begin with what Jesus does not mean.

As I researched this passage I came across some sermons—on the internet, where you never know what you’re going to find—where they took this statement of Jesus as evidence against pacifism. “Jesus knew that sometimes Christians have to fight,” they said, “we need to be prepared to carry the sword.”

And, I’ll admit, at first glance that does appear to be what Jesus is saying. He came to bring the sword. That sounds like He’s saying to His disciples: “Hey guys, sometimes you need to fight for the faith.” With this verse in hand, things like the crusades and militia groups start to look like a good idea. Right? This is the sort of verse that might make it sound O.K. to keep a compound in the woods with a big arsenal.

But when you reflect on it more, you realize that can’t be what Jesus means. Jesus taught his followers to offer no resistance or retaliation when they were ill-treated. “Turn the other cheek,” He said. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He said, “for they will be called sons of God.” He was consistent in expecting His followers to avoid violence—later in this same gospel he tells Peter to put away his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying: “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (26:52)

And Jesus’ earliest followers reflected this. Individuals and groups who formerly would have despised each other found themselves united by their common devotion to Christ. Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector found themselves as partners in the band of twelve. Gentiles and Jews saw the walls of hostility taken down. They called the message they proclaimed the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15)

So, just because Jesus says: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” that doesn’t mean He advocates violence. I think Jesus would have been entirely in favor of what happened on Christmas Eve in 1914, and this verse doesn’t contradict that.

Or, again, another common interpretation I saw was to take the word “sword” and decide that Jesus meant something different. Later in the Bible, in Hebrews 4:12 the word of the Lord is called a sword, and in Ephesians 6:17 Paul talks about the “sword of the Spirit.”

And so, those uncomfortable with the possibility that Jesus could be talking about a real sword or what a sword really represents, have decided that Jesus is using the word “sword” in the same way here. What He is really saying, they claim, is that He came to bring the Bible—His words, His truth.

While this might seem like a good solution, it really doesn’t work. For one thing, just because the Bible uses a word one way in some places, that doesn’t mean it is used the same way in every case. In this situation, there is nothing that would indicate that Jesus is talking about His words. And even if Jesus is using a metaphor for the Bible here, it doesn’t really clear up what He means when He says “I did not come to bring peace.”

So, we cannot conclude that Jesus is advocating violence here, but neither can we evade the problem by assuming that Jesus means something else.

What Jesus Does Mean
So the question remains: what does Jesus mean when he says: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”? That’s the second part of my sermon.

The key to understanding this verse—as is the key to understanding all other verses in the Bible—is to pay attention to context. The verses of scripture do not occur as stand alone phrases. We are not meant to go around quoting lines of scripture without an awareness of the situation in which they were first said. There are things that come before, as well as things that come after, every verse in the Bible which help us to understand them better.

In this case, the context in which Jesus makes this statement is in the midst of sending the 12 disciples out on their first missionary assignment. Matthew 10 is all about Jesus coaching the disciples to go into towns and villages to proclaim “the kingdom of heaven” and tell people about Jesus.

And, in the midst of His coaching, Jesus acknowledges that not everyone will want to hear what the disciples have to say. In verse 17 He says: “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in the synagogues…” In verse 22 He says: “All men will hate you because of me…” In verses 24 and 25 He says: “A student is not above His master…if the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household?”

Jesus isn’t saying that these are good things, but He is being a realist in acknowledging that they will happen. In the course of following Jesus, His followers can expect opposition, persecution.

As one preacher writes:

As Jesus describes the Christian mission, he doesn’t offer an attractive recruiting poster--“Be all you can be.” In the short run, at least, Jesus is not an optimist about the Christian mission. It’s a rugged minority movement, and when it confronts the massive majority culture, whether that’s Roman or American, there’s going to be lots of friction. In recruiting foot soldiers for God’s Kingdom, Jesus warns us to be prepared for the worst. The Christian mission, the battle of God’s Kingdom is going to be a long, slogging, divisive campaign. Jesus does not raise false hopes. His recruitment campaign is not about self-fulfillment; it’s about self-sacrifice. (Leonard J. Vander Zee, http://www.sbcrc.org/sermons/2005.02.13.html)

But Jesus’ coaching for His disciples is to hang in there. It is worth it. “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” he says in verse 28. The One who holds your eternal destiny in His hands is the one to worry about, He says, and then He reassures us that the Father in heaven cares about the sparrows; and—if He can care about sparrows who are a dime a dozen—then He certainly won’t forget about us. (29-31)

Then, in a couple of very pointed verses, Jesus makes it clear that He is looking for followers who will be loyal even when it is hard:

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. (v. 32-33)

It’s going to be tough, Jesus says. People are going to persecute you and oppose you and possibly even kill you. But if you stand up for me, I’ll stand up for you. As long as you believe in me, I promise it will be worth it.

And then we get our verse, verse 34. Jesus says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Essentially, Jesus is following the same line of thinking He’s been following throughout the chapter. Don’t be surprised if there is opposition. Being my follower won’t always be peaceful.

The sword He’s talking about isn’t a sword Christians carry, or even the sword that Jesus carries; but the sword that will be carried by those who oppose the message.

I believe Jesus is talking, not so much about the purpose of his coming, but the effect of it. Jesus’ coming means lines will be drawn. Jesus’ coming means people will have to choose sides. His coming means there will be opposition.

You can see this even more in the verses that follow. Jesus goes on, in verse 35 to say:

For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’.

It’s not that Jesus is against the family. It’s not that He wants to break up families. But He knows it might happen. When one member of the family decides to follow Jesus, the others might not like it. Even as a son decides to commit his life to Jesus, the father might see it as a betrayal of everything they’ve believed before.

As the message of Christianity first circulated in the Roman Empire, it caused exactly the divisions Jesus described. Religion and family were deeply intertwined. It often happened that when someone became a Christian and other family members did not, bitter tensions erupted--especially in gentile families. A son or daughter who converted to Christianity could not honor the household gods, or walk in procession as a family to the pagan temple, which infuriated the parents and scandalized the community.

The same things go on today in many cultures around the world. I read this week about the Hmong people in Vietnam. Traditionally an ancestor worshipping people, it is now believed that over 50 percent of the Hmong people in Vietnam have embraced Christ as their Savior. But these conversions don’t always sit well with family members, or the government.

In the past few years, police have moved into Hmong villages. No one is allowed to leave or enter without permission. Any villagers confessing their faith in Christ are immediately taken into custody where they are pressured to renounce their faith. A statement is prepared that reads (in part): "I will not take part in Christian practices. I will return to traditional practices of the Hmong culture (animal sacrifice). I accept that I have a responsibility to warn others not to follow the Christian faith. I have a responsibility to report others who become Christians." (http://www.persecution.com/basic/feature.cfm?Archives=13)

In that culture, to become a Christian means at least half the people will reject you.

We may not face the same sort of persecution, but some of us may have faced the apprehension of family members when our devotion to Christ took center stage (Have you ever been told, “Now don’t get all religious on us”?) It may happen that we are laughed at for our faith.

It is the nature of Christ’s coming. He represents a dividing line. Either you follow Him or you don’t. And sometimes those who don’t do not appreciate those who do.

And yet, Christ is clear. By telling us that he did not come to bring peace but the sword; He’s telling us we need to be prepared to count the cost of following Him.

In verse 37 He says: “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.” Again, He’s not proposing the break-up of families. He’s not saying you have to cut these people out of your will. But He is saying that He demands a decision, an allegiance and a devotion that outstrips even these relationships which naturally hold lofty positions in our hearts.

In verse 38 and 39 He says that we must take up our cross and follow Him. He says that we must willing to die for our faith. Clearly, Jesus demands to be first. He is seeking devotion to Him greater even than our devotion to our own lives.

You Must Decide
So, final part: What does this mean for us? How does this apply? What are we learning about Jesus’ mission?

Well, in the title of the sermon I summarized this verse like this: Jesus came to disrupt. If I understand this verse correctly--that one of the inevitable consequences of His coming is that people will divide over Him--then I think one of Jesus’ purposes in coming is to disrupt. That is, He intends to disrupt our lives. To shake us out of our comfortable routines and force us to make a decision.

Ultimately, that’s what I think Jesus is saying to us in these verses: You must decide. You must decide if you really believe Jesus is who He claims to be. And then you must make a decision. Either radical commitment to Him, or a rejection of Him altogether. There’s no in-between.

The babe in the manger is a dividing line, folks. Either you are wholeheartedly committed to Him—ready to acknowledge Him before men and love Him more than family or life itself—or you are not. He did not come so that we could waffle. He did not come so that we could hold Him at arms’ length. He came so that we would worship and follow and give Him our lives.

Jesus was not born in a stable so that we could pick and choose convenient times to follow Him. He did not set aside His divinity so that we would sing songs to Him on Sunday and then ignore Him the rest of the week. He demands that we choose. The point of His coming was so that we would decide.

Some of you—I’m just going to be blunt—some of you are guilty of being lukewarm about Jesus. You’re here now, that’s great, you make some time in your schedule for church or for youth group or for Bible Study; you do it to make peace with a spouse or with Mom and Dad or to put on a good appearance to those who are watching; but—honestly—beyond that Jesus doesn’t mean that much to you. You don’t want people to think you are too religious. You don’t want to go overboard. When following Jesus and doing what you really want to do conflict…well… more often than not you’re going to do what you want to do.

And I know that’s true of some of you because all too often it’s true of me. I get wishy-washy in my commitment. When it’s not convenient to be a Christian, all too often I sort of forget that I am. But Jesus says I have to decide.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago a coworker of mine at Orchard Hill church shared the story of how he became a Christian in his twenties. He had grown up outside of the church and he spent his college years leading a fairly typical, carefree lifestyle. After college he went to Europe as a ski and tennis instructor, and again, he pursued a pretty self-centered lifestyle. But, somewhere along the way, someone explained the gospel to him and he accepted Jesus. Then, when he got back to the States, he got involved in some Bible studies and really started to learn about what it means to be a Christian.

Not long afterward, his brother, who was a strong believer, was getting married. This fellow had his girlfriend—a beautiful girl from Poland--fly in for the wedding. The day before the wedding, his brother asked him if he was going to stay in the hotel with all the other groomsmen, of if he was going to stay in the hotel with his girlfriend. For the first time, this guy realized that being a Christian meant being different. He realized that if he was really following Christ, then his lifestyle had to change. So he went to his girlfriend and told her he wouldn’t be staying with her that night. In a huff, she got in the car and drove back to the airport and headed back to Poland.

A big sacrifice. A hard choice. But as this guy said, he knew right then that if that was how she was going to react, then she wasn’t the gal for him.

That’s what Jesus means when He says: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” His coming disrupts. You have to make a decision. There’s no neutral ground.

Is He Safe?
In C.S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe there is a scene where the children are being told about Aslan—the character who represents Jesus. When the children learn that Aslan is a lion, they become frightened. “A lion? Oh my. Is he safe?” “Safe? Who said anything about safe?” comes the reply. “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

I think about that line when I think about Jesus and this verse. Jesus never promises that following Him will be safe. In fact, He’s pretty upfront about the difficulties involved. There’s nothing particularly safe about Jesus.

But He is good. And He promises that those who follow Him will not be disappointed. He promises that if we stand up for Him, He’ll stand up for us. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”

And that’s really all we need to know.