Sermon on Matthew 10:34-42, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost 2020 (A), "Divided; United"
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. There’s a hard lesson about division and judgment in today’s Gospel: Jesus talks about how He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Divisions in the world, the family, and ultimately divisions from ourselves. Divisions are a tragic symptom of our sinful condition. Selfishness, rivalry, divided loyalties, and much more come from our sinful refusal to put God and His ways first. By contrast, God’s peace comes to those who trust and follow Jesus, even while they are divided from those who won’t follow Jesus. Ultimately Jesus must divide from sin, error and unbelief. There must be a parting of ways between God’s way and the world’s way—between the devil’s lies and God’s truth. Thank Jesus for rescuing us from lies and bringing us into truth. So where does Jesus divide and where does He unite?
Jesus must divide us from lies and unify us with the truth. Lies are incompatible with the truth. Space for lies always sacrifices the truth. Lies are often clever imposters of the truth, so you have to be wise and discerning to identify the truth and reject imposters. Lies need distortion and cover-ups and silence to survive, but truth survives in openness and honesty and in the light. Jesus is the Truth, and so He and His disciples will always be dividing lies from truth.
To be united to the Truth is to know Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the True God and Eternal Life. His Word opens our eyes to see clearly. Sometimes the Truth is painful or uncomfortable. Lies can lull us into a false sense of security, but like bait with a hook inside, there’s always a painful catch and realization of being trapped. The Truth sets us free from sin, but freedom needs protection, because we easily throw it away and the devil will gladly snatch our freedom away through sin, whenever he can tempt us.
Jesus must divide us from sin and unify us with righteousness. Sin is incompatible with righteousness. To hide and protect our sin, rather than bringing it to the light to be exposed and confessed, is to sacrifice righteousness. Sin takes root in our thoughts and motives, it grows in hiding, and then like a weed it flourishes in our words and actions, if it isn’t uprooted. Uprooting our sin is a constant, daily effort, just like weeding your garden. And the more mature and deep the roots of the weed are, the harder it is to pull out. Same with sin. When we confess our sins, Jesus unites us with His righteousness forgives us. United with His righteousness we begin to walk in His ways and follow in His path of obedience. He leads us out of sin and into obedience and life.
Jesus must divide us from unbelief and unify us to faith. Unbelief is to doubt or reject God. To trust our will and ways more than God. Unbelief calls God a liar, and calls us true. Therefore, unbelief is incompatible with faith in Jesus. By unifying us with faith, Jesus continually drives unbelief away. That includes our doubts, worries, and uncertainties. For those who have not yet believed, Jesus always calls us to faith—His Word goes out to all the world. To believe in Him is to have forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus then unite those who gather to Him in faith as Lord and Savior.
Beginning with these divisions, seeing how Jesus divides us from lies, sin, and unbelief, we can begin to see how deep the dividing sword must cut. Jesus said that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. His truth divides from our sinful rebellion. But how deep does the sword cut? Jesus says, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This sword cuts right through our own life. Sin, which clings so closely, must be cut away. In Hebrews 4:12, God’s Word is described as a sword that pierces and divides us: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” That sword cuts to our heart and soul, exposing sin and removing it like a surgeon’s knife cutting away a cancerous tumor. But this tumor of sin is wrapped around our soul and spirit, our thoughts and intentions. Jesus is the master Healer of body and soul, who can exactly apply that sword to bring healing instead of death. But it requires division from ourselves. Death of the our sinful nature, so we can live in the new life of the Spirit. Losing our life, taking up our cross and following Jesus. So we’re not “safe” from this dividing sword—it cuts through us and our life too.
Jesus divides us from our sinful life but unites us to a new and better life. Losing our life for His sake, we find it in Him. New life in Jesus is not enslaved to sinful pleasures but the joy of serving Christ and our neighbor. New life in Jesus is the joy of doing what is God-pleasing and helps our neighbor. New life is the joy of knowing that not even death can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. New life is the peace that’s deeper than anything the world can give.
But the new life is not without pain. The disciple of Jesus might be divided from their own family members. Parents, children or spouse, anyone in our own household might be divided against us because of Christ. Sometimes they may dwell with us in peace, but in many situations, people face an ultimatum— “Choose Jesus or me.” The old sinful nature can be so strong that family may reject or ostracize their believing family member. Two well-known Christian authors who originally were atheists, Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace, got so angry at their wives’ conversions to Christianity, that they tried to “debunk” Jesus to get them out. Fortunately, both failed, and were convinced and converted by the evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But not every family division turns out so well. Jesus’ warning is serious—that we can’t choose family above Him. God is always first, and no other can take His place.
But the good news, as before, is that when we do face division from our family for Jesus’ sake, we are united by faith and fellowship to a new Christian family. Fellow disciples of Christ become our new family. If we lose family because of the sword of Christ, in our new life in Him, we find new family. If blood is thicker than water—then faith is thicker than blood, as a deeper binding tie. And for many Christians their closest family is the church. Praying for each other, caring for each other, and bearing one another’s crosses, we build deep and lasting family bonds—a spiritual family, not biological. So divided from family we are united to the Church, the body of Christ. We have a place, a home, a family of belonging in Him. So many today long for a place to belong.
And finally, we are simply divided from the world to be united to Jesus. As J. Warner Wallace’s son puts it, “Standing up for any set of ideals is by its very nature divisive.” It’s a sobering reality that Jesus tells His disciples “Do not think that have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This is the parting of ways that comes from following Jesus. Leave sin, lies, and unbelief behind to join Jesus in righteousness, truth, and faith. Leave our sinful flesh behind to join His new life and be filled with His Spirit. Leave our earthly family to be united with our church family. And that’s not to forget that, Lord-willing, our earthly family joins us in a deeper unity as part of the body of Christ. The kingdom of Christ is open, Christ is still calling for disciples to follow Him. But we cannot minimize the cost of separation from the sinful world. But the new unity we find in Him is so much better.
Yes, there are some painful and necessary divisions. Jesus has to set Himself and us apart from the sinful world and the lies that enslave. But it’s a separation from death, so that we can join Him in life. A separation from lies to join Him in truth. Jesus brings the sword, but He fights for us and He fights for life and truth, even when it slices away our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. But whatever we lose in this life, we gain in greater measure in Him. His peace is forever yours, in Jesus’ Name, Amen!