Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our text for today, Matthew 10:34-37, is a terribly difficult passage of Scripture. Not so difficult to understand, but difficult to accept. These words are even more disturbing because they come from the One whom Scripture calls the Prince of Peace. Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
Most Christians want to think of our home as a place of refuge and peace, our family as a source of strength and comfort—especially in times of difficulty and tumult. Heaven help anyone who would try to drive a wedge between your dearest loved ones and you! So we have to ask, “What kind of God would come to this earth with the expressed purpose to “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”?
Jesus. Jesus is that God. Your Jesus—the one whom you love and the One to whom you pray—He is that God. “I have not come to bring peace,” He says, “but a sword… And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
What’s going on here? Well, there are a couple of clues. The first clue is a matter of Law. When Jesus speaks of turning families against each other, He is echoing the Old Testament prophet Micah, who is commenting on his day. Rejection of God and His Word has led to many terrible consequences in society. Rulers are corrupt and judges are easily bribed; there is no justice for anyone. Friends and neighbors are not to be trusted; sin has turned people to selfishness and greed. The family structure has broken down. Micah writes: “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” (Micah 7:6). In contrast to this breakdown of human relationships, Micah places faith in God and reliance upon His Word: “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7).
This is the first clue in understanding what Jesus is saying according to the Law in today’s text. When all share the same faith in the Lord, there will be harmony. When some in the family are believers and some are not, there will be strife because some hold to the truth of God’s Word and some reject it, some worship the one true God and others turn to idols of their own making. Such a family will find peace in only one of two ways: Either all will come to believe in the Lord and abide by His Word, or all will decide that family is more important.
The second clue to understanding Jesus’ harsh words is Gospel. Jesus comes to undo the wages and consequences of sin. All deserve eternal death, because all are sinful, and the wages of sin is death. But Jesus comes to die for the sins of the world. He has won peace for us between man and God. He is Lord and God, truly worthy to receive glory and honor and power.
So, given all of this, the question you face is this: Are you worthy? Do you really want Jesus to be your Lord and God? Do you really want to trust in the Lord and abide by His Word?
“Of course, I do, Pastor?” you say. “What a silly question for you to ask! Do you think I would be here if I didn’t?”
But I ask you again: Are you worthy? Do you really “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”? All the time? In every way?
Part of you certainly does. That baptized, sanctified, fully cleansed part of each Christian wants nothing more than for Jesus to be Lord and God. This is the part of you that Paul calls “a new creation.” This is what Luther’s Small Catechism describes as the new person who emerges and arises from Baptism “to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
But here in this life, that new creation is not the only part of you. Another part of you doesn’t want Jesus to be Lord and God. That part is the old evil flesh, “the body of sin” still living and working within you. The Old Adam wants nothing to do with Christ crucified and seeks to worship other gods! No, you do not want Jesus to be your Lord and God. Not all the time. You are an idolater!
Knowing who you are—your natural tendencies and inescapable desires—Jesus says to you: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34, 37).
With these terrible-sounding words, Jesus is lovingly cutting away objects of your idolatry. Remember: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress… Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (LC, Part I, 2,3). Jesus does not want you to have any illusions about what shall be most important to you. He’s not even asking you to choose between Him and your gods. Jesus is making the choice for you because He knows you don’t have the ability to choose correctly for yourself.
Perhaps you have one of your idols sitting with you today. Go ahead and take a look. Maybe your favorite gods live somewhere across the state or the country. Inventory your memories. Assess your fondest hopes for the future. Consider your happiest moments of your life along with the people who were with you in those times. Think about how secure and comforted those loved ones have made you feel. Have you turned them into an idol?
Consider this in regard to a few common family situations faced today. Suppose your son decided he was going to live with his fiancé before getting married. Would you call that sin or remain silent in order to keep peace? What if your daughter’s team were scheduled to play on Sunday morning? Would you let her miss worship just this once so that she wouldn’t lose her spot on the starting lineup? What if your boyfriend was pressuring you to do things God’s Word has clearly saved for marriage? Would you give in, rather than risk losing him?
Jesus’ says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And the sword of Jesus’ Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrew 4:12-13).
That Word terrifies the Old Adam, but it brings great comfort to the baptized new man. Jesus wields the razor-sharp sword of His Word to bring you true peace. This is not a half-hearted peace. This is not a comfortable peace brought by calculated compromise and careful negotiation. This is not a “peace” maintained by silence or at the cost of truth. This is peace through strength, the power of God’s Word. The Word is the Law that kills and destroys sin in the death of Christ; but the Word is also the Gospel, which raises you to life and heals you in Christ’s resurrection. This is the Word that declares you righteous and holy for Jesus’ sake.
So, don’t fear the Lord’s sword or flee from it. For the One who wields this sword is the same Christ who gave His life into death for you on His cross. He knows the killing edge of that sword. For you, He has experienced it firsthand, in His own body. And on the way to Calvary, He experienced the rejection and scorn of even His own family members. He wields this sword—not as an instrument of destruction—but as a skilled surgeon, slicing out sin and death, carving out the cancer of idolatry, reviving and restoring you with His breath and His blood.
But the sword of Christ also brings earthly conflict and division. The cross of Christ always precipitates a crisis when it confronts us. We either deny it in unbelief or we confess it in faith. And the line between faith and unbelief is always up close and personal. It cuts through family ties. It severs every human connection, whether by blood or marriage.
Why would Jesus do that? Why would God tear down the bonds He has joined, the ties of family that you know are so essential to this life?
Jesus must tear down, before He builds up. He must wound before He heals. Christ must cut into your relationships, so He can get into the thick of it all. For Christ must get between a person and the members of his household, so that each will deal with the other, and receive the other, in and through Christ Himself. Without Christ every relationship is in danger of becoming idolatrous.
Jesus says, “Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” To love anyone over Christ is to make them into an idol. And no one can be God and Lord for us but the One who hung on the cross, who was broken by our death, and in His dying and rising brought us life.
Think about your dear loved ones that God has given to you for a time here on earth. They are certainly wonderful gifts from God, among His very best gifts, but do they make a good god? Are they going to save you?
Can your Dad defy death for himself, much less you? Jesus can and Jesus has. It is on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection that you now shall rise from the dead, fully forgiven of every sin, including your idolatry.
Can your Mom truly comfort you as you face the harsh realities and consequences of your sin? Can anyone? Then why do they go away? How dare they die and leave you to face life alone! Jesus does not and will not leave you to face life alone. Risen from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven so that He may fill all things—so that there is no place you can ever go where Jesus is not with you.
Can your spouse completely fulfill you? Does he or she know you, your innermost thoughts, and darkest secrets yet still love you perfectly and unconditionally? Jesus is your High Priest, who is able to sympathize with you in your weaknesses, One who in every respect has been tempted as you are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He is the Bridegroom who loves you and gave Himself up for you, that He might sanctify you, having cleansed you by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present you to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Can your child be the source of your eternal joy? Your hope for the future? Your shot at immortality? Only God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can! According to His great mercy, He has caused you to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Though you have not seen Christ, you love Him. Though you do not know see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3 ff.).
Has anyone in your family ever treated you selfishly? Has anyone ever put himself or herself first, rather than keeping you first and foremost in all things? Jesus has never done that, and He never will! Everything Jesus does from His incarnation and perfect life to His atoning death, resurrection, and ascension, even His harsh-sounding words to you—everything Jesus does is for you!
“Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” With these words, Jesus is keeping your perspective clear. Love your family, yes! Cherish them as precious gifts of God. Hold them and care for them and pour your life into them. You have nothing better to do than to devote yourself to those whom God has lovingly placed into your life. But don’t turn them into your idols!
With one and only one exception, every human relationship will eventually loosen and end. Death will see to it. One and only one connection remains eternal. God the Son has made you His brother in Baptism. In that water with the Word, God the Father has adopted you to be His child and heir forever. God the Holy Spirit has created for you an everlasting family, which extends far beyond the walls of your house and is now as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore. You shall live and remain in this house with this dear family forever.
There, with Christ—Your Brother, Lord, and King—you will find perfect peace, eternal peace. Peace with your fellow man. Peace with God the Father. Peace which declares He no longer holds your transgressions against you. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.