4th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 8 – A)
July 2, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
I don’t know if you noticed that the sermon hymn is an Advent hymn. Hark the Glad Sound is about the joy and excitement about the coming of Jesus. It’s about how He’ll free Satan’s prisoners, heal the brokenhearted, and reveal Himself as the Prince of Peace. It’s a wonderful hymn, but if you compare it to what Jesus has to say in the Gospel, you’ll find that it’s not the same at all. The hymn promises the Prince of Peace, Jesus promises a sword. The hymn promises the song of Heaven which proclaims the name of Jesus, Jesus promises that those who are unworthy of Him will be lost. I’m not surprised if you find these contradictions confusing, they are.
Right off the bat Jesus says to His disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”. What happened to the God of Love? What happened to the Prince of Peace? It’s a little unnerving to think that our loving Savior will wield a sword. This doesn’t fit at all. The Jesus we know came to bring forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and all the good stuff that goes along with being a Christian. He’s not supposed to bring chaos and disorder into the world. But that’s what it sounds like He’s going to do. You don’t use a sword to mend, you use it destroy.
An easy answer to this is that He’s bringing the sword to deal with all those who reject Him. That seems fair, right? Those who have rejected Him certainly deserve His wrath. If you look closely, though, He doesn’t differentiate between believers and unbelievers. Does this mean that when Jesus comes back He’ll be swinging the sword at believers and unbelievers alike? That doesn’t make any sense at all! Christ came and died for the sins of all mankind, so if He condemns all of us, it goes against the very reason for His coming. His Word says He saves us but, in here it sounds like He doesn’t.
And it gets even stranger as He continues teaching His disciples. The God who specifically said in the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother” now says, “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”. Now, some daughter-in-laws don’t get along with their mother-in-laws, but Jesus isn’t talking about the effects that Sin has on relationships, He’s telling us that He’s the one who will be turning families inside out and against each other. What possible reason could our Lord have for tearing families apart? Anyone who has ever grown up in a broken home knows the pain of fractured relationships. If this is true, and as the Word of God it is, what Jesus said about family members being turned against one another doesn’t make sense. How can families reflect God’s love for one another when they’re enemies?
He even says, “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. And whoever does not take His cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Where’s the love? It almost sounds like Jesus is saying, “If you don’t love me more than anything and if you don’t carry your cross, you’re damned.” This doesn’t bode too well for us, does it? Every one of us has, at some point, loved someone or something more than Christ. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve put family members or possessions or our own selfish desires ahead of Him, each of them has the same result, they render us unworthy of Christ. I like the loving God, the Prince of Peace, this one’s a little frightening.
But just when you think you’ve heard enough, Jesus goes a step further when He tells us that we must pick up our crosses. We must be willing to suffer any sort of discomfort that comes our way because of our confession of Christ, including death. Many churches teach that Christians will always have peace in their lives, but Jesus tells us that it doesn’t work that way. By telling us that we must take up our crosses and follow Him, Jesus is telling us that we’re going to have problems because of our faith. And if we avoid those problems by denying our faith, we are again unworthy of Christ. In no uncertain terms Jesus says, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” So not only are we not worthy of Christ, but He’s going to tell the Father that we’re not worthy of Him, and I think we all know what the result of that conversation will mean for us – hell and damnation.
So what do you think? Is this the Prince you want to hear about? Or are you hoping to hear about the loving Jesus, the Prince of Peace? This Jesus sounds like the evil twin brother of the real Jesus we’re used to hearing about on Sunday mornings. I have to admit; this Jesus scares me a little and I think we’d all like to get back to the Jesus we know and love.
So, thank God, the Jesus we’re used to hearing about it is in our Gospel reading for this morning. You may have missed it the first time, so here it is again. Jesus says, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”. Did you hear that glorious Gospel message? Jesus tells us to follow Him! He’s telling us that He’s going first and that He’s the one who will be leading us and walking with us. Jesus picked up His cross first and He carried it to His death on Calvary so that we would be forgiven and enabled to pick ours up and follow Him. Do you see how the Jesus of our Gospel reading is the same Jesus we like to hear about, the one who bore the punishment of hell for all of us pathetic sinners? The suffering Jesus was beaten and battered, but despite appearances He was the conquering Savior! This is the Jesus we who brings peace, peace between us and God.
It is even the same Jesus who talks about bearing a sword and turning families against each other. When Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind, He died for every single person who will ever live. Unfortunately, there will always be some who reject His offer of salvation. Throughout our world, and especially in Islamic areas, it isn’t uncommon to see families turn against a person who had become a Christian. Even in modern America, there’s conflict in families because one person has accepted Christ and another hasn’t. This is what Jesus is talking about when He refers to bringing a sword. But we can’t be deceived here, those who reject Christ’s message will feel the crushing blows of His sword. But the good news is that while Jesus does come bearing a sword He also comes with the “Word of God that is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword”. The Word of God which proclaims judgment on the unbeliever has, at the same time, proclaimed that you will not feel the wrath of a vengeful God but the love of your saving God.
Through Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven, each and every one of them. You’re even forgiven for the times that you choose to love something more than Christ. You need this forgiveness, because without it, there is no way that you could make yourself worthy in the eyes of God. But by His death and resurrection Christ himself has made you worthy. It was all His doing! You are worthy because, in His death, He took your unworthiness upon himself, and now when God looks at you, He sees men and women who are worthy of nothing less than eternal life in His Kingdom.
As we go through life, it’s because of His forgiveness and the promise of salvation that we’re able pick up our crosses, that we’re able to love Christ more than anything else and that we’re willingly to lose everything for His sake. His death not only made us worthy, but enables us to follow Him wherever the path may lead. The crosses may be heavy and the path rough at times, but they’re only temporary, and we endure them out of love for our Savior for all that He has done. It’s He alone who has made us worthy and it’s He alone who gives us all that we have. It is He alone who brings the gifts that we sang about in the sermon hymn; He frees Satan’s prisoners and heals the brokenhearted. But most of all, it’s He alone who has come to us, bearing not just a sword, but also an eternal love.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen