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This is certainly a more serious discussion of discipleship than most of us are wanting to hear.
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
"He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." Matthew 10:34-39 NKJV, condensed
The Sword of Jesus!
Dear Jesus, I realize life is complex and people have many dimensions to their personality. You, having been both human and divine, had more than the usual complexities. Still, You shock me into silence with this talk of a sword! Believers look up to heaven in high expectation of peace, and you fling down a sword! How am I to understand that? It makes no sense. You make it sound like it's one and not the other; I would prefer at least some of each.
Is Your sword like the one Simeon spoke of to Mary when you were an infant? A sword of suffering that would rip through her heart and pierce her very soul. Is it a sword that cuts through the facade to reveal the thoughts of our hearts and separate belief from unbelief.
Is it for cutting loose and breaking free from the protective and possessive elements of family life which hover like enemies within our own household? Is Your sword a weapon signifying the divisions which You cause? Is it a knife which severs relationships and causes pain within our families?
Is Your sword a cross, as in the hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers" marching to war with the cross of Jesus going on before? Is it an armament for fighting against the forces of evil without, such as greed, oppression and injustice, and within, against unbelief, fear and self-righteousness?
I am intrigued by verse 13 of this chapter. "If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace." When You bring a sword, Jesus, does that mean we are not worthy of peace?
O Prince of Peace, how can You carry a sword? I have grown accustomed to associating You with a cross. But not a sword. Surely it is not a sword for killing. Then what is its purpose? Are You cutting through my dishonesty and pretense? You tell me, rather You demand from me, that I love You more than all others, more than my children, more than my parents.
You know, Jesus, when You come on so strong, it's intimidating and I am not sure I even want to be "worthy" of You! Granted You did not say I should love my daughter and son less. You just said I must love You more, which of course, is the first commandment. But then You added, "Take up your cross." I thought You were the one with the cross. Why are you projecting Your cross onto me?
Why were You even talking about a cross at this point in Your ministry. You were still very much alive. It must have been at least a year before they nailed You to that tree and dropped it into the ground and left You hanging there to die a torturous death.
That's what made You worthy. You surrendered Your life so the likes of me could have the promise of eternal life. You gave Your life for my sake, and in return You ask me to lose my life for Your sake. And when I do, You vowed that I would live by dying and find my life by forgetting self. Carrying a cross was a death march, the last thing a criminal did before the execution; yet if I pick up my cross, You promise me life!
I did not understand these words when I started this prayer, but now maybe I do, at least a little. As You listened to me and cut through the veil of my heart, I got a glimpse of Yours, too.
One thing more. I do not believe that strife is the final word. Just as every morning when light overcomes the darkness, so in all conflicts we must hope and pray and believe in peace because, O Christ, You are much more than a sword. You are the rock of our salvation, the fountainhead of joy, our food and drink, the one true shepherd, each heart's desire, the herald of every new day, our comfort at night, and the mender of all that is broken.
And now, loving Jesus, I bow before You and ask that You use the sword to make us worthy to receive the Prince of Peace. Amen
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Where or with whom do you feel the most acceptance and support?
Paradoxes are interesting to debate. Can you love and hate someone at the same time? Can you save by spending? Win by losing? What are some other statements which sound contradictory but may in fact be true?
Did Jesus come to bring peace? A sword? Did he come to bring unity? Division? To bind up? To tear down? All of the above? None of the above? What do you think? How are we to explain these paradoxes? Could Jesus be called the Prince of Peace and still wield a sword?
Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before; Christ the royal Master Leads against the foe; Forward into battle, See His banners go. Do you like to sing this hymn? Who or what is the enemy that Christians are fighting?
The quotes in this passage are from Micah 7:6, wherein the Old Testament prophet claimed a man's enemies are of his own household. Interestingly, Jesus had personal experience with this subject; see Mark 3:21 and 3:31-35, about a time when his family came to take Jesus home because of reports he was out of his mind.
The ideal is peace, but sometimes strife is the reality, even in our homes. Are disagreements on matters of faith common or rare within the circle of your immediate and extended family? Describe one instance of dissension that involved you? Was there a peaceful resolution to that conflict? Why or why not?
I put my reflections on this passage in the form of a prayer because I didn't know how else to handle it. Which I suppose is one way to deal with any Scripture which is troublesome. I wrestled long and hard with the image of Jesus bearing a sword; it seems inconsistent with everything else in the Gospels. Emotionally I don't want to accept it. But Jesus stated it so very clearly, it can not be denied. So all I could do was pray my way through and bombard Jesus with my questions. It's a technique I recommend to anyone who is genuinely wanting to understand a difficult portion of the Bible.