Summary: It is not easy following Jesus. We can lose friendships, our family, and endure hardships and heartache. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that these things will happen, and that we look to Him when they do.
In High School, one of my favorite teachers was Mr. Smith. I enjoyed his humor, his teaching styles, and his supportiveness. I also really enjoyed him as a soccer coach. I know I was one of his favorite students too, as he once said that in a class. He was instrumental in getting me a $2,000 scholarship for college. There was only one problem with Mr. Smith: he was a staunch unbeliever. One time at soccer practice, when the Varsity Coach said something like, “now, when you guys go to church on Sunday….” Even though the coach said this in a joking manner, Mr. Smith chimed in and said, “Church? Ha! I would never waste my time doing that.” He wasn’t shy about his unbelief.
During one of the last days of my senior year, he asked me in the hallway: “So Nick, I heard you got one of the big scholarships. Where are you going to college? What are you going to do with your life?” What followed next was one of the most awkward and flat-out uncomfortable moments in my life. I debated about what to say. I knew that I wanted to be a pastor at that point in my life, and I knew that as one of the people who got me that scholarship that he would be upset with my decision. I valued our friendship and our relationship, but I couldn’t hold back the truth. So I mustered up the courage and told him the truth: “I am going to Concordia University Wisconsin and plan on being a pastor.” He looked puzzled, betrayed, and speechless. There was silence for a moment, and he awkwardly said, “Well, hot tamale,” and went into his classroom. I don’t recall having a conversation with him again.
Following Jesus can be a challenging thing to do. It can lead to uncomfortable moments like the one I just described. It can lead to a loss of friendships and close relationships. It can lead to hardships and suffering. In our Gospel text, Jesus says that this will unfortunately happen. It is not fun, nor is it easy when it does. The message of Jesus’ peace can bring problems. The message of the Savior and salvation can bring strife and suffering. Jesus tells us and the disciples this morning that division and suffering will happen when we follow Him.
Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” What a shock this must have been to the disciples. They are sent out to proclaim a message of God’s peace and told to let their peace come upon the home that they will stay in. But now they hear that their Lord has come to bring a sword. It can be a surprise to us as well as people who focus on Jesus’ saving work. It is strange to think that He comes to bring a sword. The Lord wants them and us to know that His coming is like a sword that splits people in two: some people will believe and be for Him while others will not believe due to sin and stubbornness, and be against Him. There is no fence sitting when it comes to Jesus. You are for Him, or you are against Him. There is no middle ground.
As a result, this brings division. Jesus quotes Micah 7 to illustrate His point, and to show the depth of this division. The prophet says, “Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.” In Micah’s prophecy, the terrible conflict within families is symptomatic of the sinful condition of the people in his day. In a tragically similar way, even though divine peace, reconciliation with God, comes to those who are given faith to trust and follow Jesus, conflict will result between those family members who refuse to repent and believe in Jesus. It too is a result of the sinful condition.
This division is not easy, especially when it is in our family and with close people in our lives. This division can be painful as we may have arguments about faith at family parties and gatherings. Perhaps it is a family rule to not talk about faith at these events. This division can be devastating as we see people in dangerous spots spiritually. The division created by Jesus can be awkward and uncomfortable as you have your beliefs, and someone else has their own that they are not willing to change. This can also be hostile. The message of Jesus’ peace creates division, and it creates division to the closest people and places in our lives.