Text: Mathew 10:34-42
Date: Pentecost IV (Proper 8a) + 7/2/17
Peace be to you, and grace from Him who freed us from our sins (Rev 1:4-5).
You’ve heard the term “spin” meaning a person’s treatment of the facts, twisting and turning them to appear to support their own desired outcome. Such was the case in Jeremiah’s time when Hananiah, a false prophet, came on the scene seemingly contradicting what the true prophet was sent to speak. Hananiah spoke of the deliverance of God’s people and the restoration of the temple. Though he knew this was “spin,” Jeremiah began sort of in a mocking tone, saying, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true.” But he warned, “the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” Well, it didn’t come to pass. As Jeremiah said earlier, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14).
But the warning against “spin,” that is, misrepresenting the Word of the Lord, has remained with us to this day. And this is what Jesus was getting at when He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Certainly, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Peace is the third fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Pastors have greeted and blessed their people with the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim 1:2). And what did the angels sing at the birth of the Christ? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14).
But that’s not the whole picture of what a disciple of Jesus will encounter in the world. So it is as if Jesus were here saying, “Do not think that I came only so as to bring peace upon the earth.” Because His mission was and is to confront, defeat, and save us from our sins this necessarily calls for conflict and strife issuing in repentance. “I came not only so as to bring peace, but even more, a sword.” This sword is an offensive weapon in the battle against sin, death, and the devil, first of all for Jesus, but then also for us who still feebly struggle. The Book of Hebrews says about Jesus, “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb 12:3-4). But Jesus did!
The same call of the kingdom, for all to repent and believe, comes to all people. But there can be two opposite reactions to this call to salvation. Some will hear and be drawn by God’s grace to admit their need, to repent of their sin, and to believe in God’s gift of salvation. Others, however, will feel the sword of God’s judgment and rebel because of their sin and reject Christ. To one Christ brings peace, to another the threat of God’s wrath.
This sword of spiritual division is an individual thing. It will also, sadly, divide even the most intimate relationships in the family. As much as I desire for you to come to the peace of Christ, I cannot repent and believe for you. And when you won’t, it hurts in a profound way. What to do?
I suppose we could “spin,” that is ease up on the demands of God’s Law and hope, as did Hananiah, that just emphasizing the Gospel, hope that somehow everything will come out okay in the end. But when so-called “hope” diminishes God’s hope and Word that calls people to repentance, we become false prophets, false witnesses and maybe even help keep people separated from God.
Those twelve Jesus has here been preparing to announce the kingdom of God need to know, as we heard in our study of the prophet Zechariah last Sunday, “This is the word of the Lord…. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:6), that is, we must be dedicated to proclaim and confess fully, accurately, purely the Word of God, rightly dividing the Law and the Gospel for the Lord to do His work in the hearts of all who hear.
Once again, we are reminded that, as Jesus was persecuted and crucified, so will His followers endure persecution and suffering. But we are to take heart because we do not endure it alone, but Christ goes with us all the way. Our final hymn today puts it this way:
The Son of God goes forth to war
A kingly crown to gain.
His blood-red banner streams afar;
Who follows in His train?
It recalls the martyrs such as Stephen who “prayed for those who did the wrong.” Then the Twelve who:
mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant’s brandished steel,
The lion’s gory mane;
They bowed their necks their death to feel….
Finally, we are to see our glorious future, regardless of what we have endured.
A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heav’n
Through peril, toil, and pain.
O God, to us may grace be giv’n
To follow in their train! (LSB 661)