Matthew 10:34-39 New International Version (NIV)
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 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—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[a]
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
So, there is a big difference between self-denial and living the life that Christ calls us to. You see self-denial, is essentially wilful denial of something for an outcome that you desire. For example; I want to be healthier, so I will deny myself the comfort of relaxing and I will go out and do exercise, and will deny myself indulgent food and eat stuff that is good for me so that I can be healthier.
What Christ calls us to is to die to self, to let all of our allegiances in this world; the hope of comfort, the desire for a safe and happy life, and even deny the instinct for self-preservation for His sake.
The payoff in all this is found in verse 39, “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Essentially Jesus is giving a proposition; one that is found throughout his teaching; you want significance, you want real life; real happiness, well it is not found where you think it is found. In fact it is found in the absolute, and complete self-abandonment that is the demand of the gospel.
So that is what we are going to look at tonight. Tonight we will see how the message of Christ (the gospel) interacts with three realities in this passage; the sword, our allegiances and finally our lives.
And hopefully, if I do my job you’ll see that Christ is more.
So let’s look at;
1. The Gospel and the sword
The first aspect of the extreme, or unbelievable demand that Christ brings with the gospel is the gospel brings the sword.
Now, I have heard atheists and non-believers use this verse to justify the idea that Christianity is not what it says it is. I don’t know if you have heard the argument, but it goes something like this; you all claim to be all about love and peace. Well your God demands war, look at this verse, you see He explicitly states that he has not come to bring peace but the sword. How can I follow a god who demands the sword.
So, the question is does Jesus demand of his followers to take up arms and go to war? The absolutely clear answer is no! He never does in fact you only have to read the rest of this chapter, and just the next few verses to find out that this is simply not true.
So why has Jesus stated that he has come to bring the sword? Well, it boils down to the very the nature of the gospel.
The Gospel is a confrontational doctrine; most of what is clear in the gospel is what we don’t want to hear.
The gospel states you are hopelessly sinful, we want to hear we are okay.
The gospel states that your hope lies in the work of Christ, which means we owe God everything; we want God to owe us.
The gospel states that therefore your life and allegiance belongs to God we want to be our own.
The Gospel puts us at an inevitable confrontation with the ideals of the world. The next logical question is how does the confrontation of ideas bring a sword or death?
Well, this I want to develop more in the next point; but before we get into this; people are possessed by ideas, so that they are not just idea’s but so that their very identity and hope are wrapped up in these things; and when your hope and identity are wrapped up in something there is no length you will not go to ensure that that identity and hope is protected.
So let’s look at this in;
2. The Gospel and our allegiances
Jesus next goes on to say unless you love Him more than your own family you are not worthy to be called his. Again, this seems to flow with the unbelievable nature of the demand that Jesus makes on His disciples.
Well, it all comes down to what I just spoke about; the confrontation of ideas, is the same as here, where do we find our worth, our identity our hope?
You see we all find our identity, our worth, our hope in something; some of us find this in how we look, if I just have the right clothes then I will be liked. Or some of us have this in what we can achieve, some people’s hope and identity is found in their ideologies. Some and this is the group that Jesus is identifying here; find their hope, their worth and their indemnity in the family.
The name of the family is above everything. Or allegiance to the family is the most important thing; and because it is the most important thing; nothing is unjustifiable in defending the honour of the family.
We all live our lives for something, church, and it might not be for our mothers or fathers, but maybe it is to receive the approval of our father, or the respect of our mothers, and this idea drives everything we do.
Essentially all these things, and the issue of the ideas as stated earlier come down to idolatry. Essentially man is a funny creature, he has to worship something; it is baked into our being.
Biblically speaking, this makes sense, because, we were made by God for God, so a sense of awe and the need to find our significance in worshiping something beyond ourselves makes sense.
Now, because all of us have sinned, we do not find our hope, and meaning in the only one who can give it to us (that being God), so we replace that need to worship with the worship of things around us.
This can come out in the worshipping of ideas, as discussed in the previous point; or worshiping our family as Jesus mentions here.
Any time that something becomes more significance to us that God, anytime, as Jesus says, we love something more than Him; we are idolaters. Augustine a very famous Western Church theologian from the 5th century argued, quite correctly, that all sin is disordered love.
In other words, when we love something that should be a 3rd or 4th love in our life as a first love we sin. We know this; if you love your work more than your family you are sinning, you are fracturing your life and bringing chaos into your life. Because your work cannot give you what you are seeking in it.
And the only thing – the only person – that can bear the weight of being our first love, our ultimate love is Jesus!
Every other love we will demand of it what it cannot give. You see only Christ, is truly the ultimate reality that we long for.
We long for love that never ends, well even the best love ends with someone dying. We long for hope that endures all thing, well nothing in this world truly endures, everything decays and everything is at risk of being destroyed or lost.
Even the most noble of idea, can be lost by the stupidity of the crowd.
Your hopes, desires, and needs are too great for the things of this world, because your hope, desires and needs were made to be fulfilled by the only eternal and dependable being.
So Jesus is right (obviously), you cannot love something more than him, firstly they are not worthy, they will disappoint you. But also, because it is a wrong order to love, it will ultimately destroy you!
All this leads to the ultimate love; the love for self!
3. The Gospel and our lives
Jesus finishes off this call with a famous passage, whoever does not take up their cross is not mine!
Now the significance of what He is saying is lost on us, because not one of us have ever seen what a cross was. But for Jesus’s disciples, they had experienced, their own people being crucified when Rome invade, they had a gruesome intimacy with what a cross was.
It is an instrument of death. Jesus is saying to us, and to his disciples, pick up and carry your impending death. The call is simple die to your self-preservation. Die to yourself.
We love to think of this as a kind of self-denial or suffering; you know, I didn’t get into the University I wanted – everyone has their cross. Or I didn’t get the job I wanted – everyone has their cross.
There is a sense of suffering, but these are losses, this is the disappointment of life. A cross is an instrument of execution.
Jesus again is reminding us that the call of Christianity; the call of following Him is to live a life that is poised to die.
Surely this all sounds a little heavy and depressing, most of our lives are lived to ignore the inevitability of death. Death is not a comfortable nor uplifting conversation.
But Jesus says; those who cling to their lives will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
This is a huge proposition; but actually makes sense. And it makes sense on many levels.
On a basic – almost just practical level – life happens and has meaning when we risk, when we step outside of our comfort zone, when we die to the desire for things to stay safe and easy.
Most kids given the choice would far rather sit watching tv and playing videogames than study and push themselves. But those who die to the selfish desire are the ones that find life, they are the ones that get ahead.
This is the same at every level of life. Those people who play it safe and don’t stretch themselves do not get ahead, they exist.
So on a practical level this works. But this is not what Jesus is pointing us to. Jesus says those who die for His sake will find it.
The critical premise of is to lose our lives for His sake; this is where we find life. Life is found when we sacrifice our lives for Him. Why? Well it all boils down to what we worship. To what we give ourselves to.
We spoke about this a couple of weeks back, but all of us sacrifices our lives for something; we sacrifice our time, we die to our desires to get ahead, to get the girl (or the guy), we die to our wants so that we can afford the things we really want. We are all dying for something; the question is will that something be worth it.
And I want to suggest tonight that none of them come close to the security and joy that sacrificing for Christ will offer you. Because think about it, you can sacrifice it all to get the job and the job is good, it is fulfilling, it bring joy, until the economy tanks and then what? Then the very thing you died for has died and abandoned you and with it your hope, your security goes with it.
But Christ is the only hope that has shown love for you first; by sacrificing for you. die to yourself, not because you must earn his love, but because he first died for you.
That is why Paul says in Romans 12 in light of God’s mercy live your life as a living sacrifice. We don’t sacrifice in hope that He will come through, no He has sacrificed it all, so that now in the light of, in response to His great love, let go, die to yourself, let Him be your all.
Essentially all this comes down to where is your hope? Where is your life’s meaning coming from? Peace? That can be taken away from the war of ideas. From relationships? They will turn on you., from your life? It is a vapor!
If your life’s hope and meaning is in Christ, the cross has shown that it is already secure and nothing can take that away!
Tonight, shift your hopes, put them on the only secure hope there is; The love of God in Jesus Christ!