5th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 8) LSB #’s 656, 856, 662
Text – Matthew 10:34
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
WAR & PEACE
It’s a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. Even if you haven’t read the book, you may have heard his name. War & Peace was published 154 years ago, yet, it remains one of the internationally praised classics of world literature. Opening in the city of St. Petersburg, it covers the years from 1805 to 1820. By 1812, Napolean has invaded & war has come to Russia.
Tolstoy revolves a major portion of the novel around the war with the characters of five leading families coming & going between the war & the home front. After the final battle the characters move on with rebuilding Moscow & their lives. Across a wide spectrum, War & Peace chronicles the struggles of life, & how human beings respond to those challenges.
Not surprisingly, Jesus is able to do the same thing, & He covers vastly more than a 15 year span of Russian history. The 1st two chapters of the Bible cover the perfection & harmony of all that Yahweh created. By the 3rd chapter, Satan has invaded & war has come to earth.
The Holy Spirit revolves major portions of Holy Scripture around the war that Satan is waging against God’s creation. God’s Word also informs of us of leading families who come & go throughout the battles between good & evil. Adam, Noah, Abraham & David all play important roles. The Bible chronicles the struggles of life & how human beings respond.
It only takes one word to describe the results of all human struggle – failure! Sure, human beings do have temporary successes, but none of it lasts for long, & all of it is the result of the heavenly Father’s blessing in the 1st place. As the hymn verse says, “All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” (LSB 781:1) All that we have apart from the Lord is brokenness & failure corrupted by sin. In the book of Ecclesiastes King Solomon speaks emphatically of that:
“Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content… We don’t remember what happened in the past, & in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now… The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.” (1:8, 11, 18a NLT)
Knowing the hopeless & helpless nature of our condition, Jesus comes to earth for the purpose of saving us from hell. Yet, that looks completely different than people expect it to look. Jesus says that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. Instead of peace, He brings war.
Sadly, many people who believe they are on the side of Jesus would rather surrender to sin than engage in the battle. They prefer to redefine evil as good with the claim that this redefinition will make everything good again. Many sins are being redefined. We’ll look at one.
In places like San Francisco, drug addiction is destroying the lives of many people. The government there wants to eliminate the stigma of drug addiction by redefining it as something that is not evil. They believe they can limit the damage to the community by openly supporting the addicts in their habit. Rather than engage in the battle against sin, they have surrendered.
Things are not improving in the “City by the Bay.” People & businesses are leaving because of it. But more importantly, human beings, created by God, are physically & spiritually dying because of it. Granted, even before the government took this approach people were dying.
The question is, “Should the government, should the church, should individual people, engage in the battle against sin, or should they just surrender?” The battle is never easy, & people die either way. The drug addiction problem in San Francisco is an accurate illustration of the sin problem all across God’s creation. That battle also is never easy & either way people die spiritually. Should we just redefine evil as good, look the other way & then hope for the best? Or, do we engage in the battle against sin & endure the scars that come because of it? Many Christians are tempted while considering the scars in the hands, side & feet of Jesus, to conclude that, “Yes, we must follow the example of Jesus & engage in the battle against sin!”
The danger with that conclusion is at least twofold. One, human beings often believe the battle is very straightforward. In the 1990’s, our federal government decided to just lock ’em up. Put all the drug dealers in jail & everything will be good. Another danger is to conclude that if we just love people enough, & follow Jesus’ example, then we can save the drug addicts.
In essence, the 1st attempt, locking up all the drug addicts, is waging war by killing all the enemy soldiers. The 2nd attempt, just loving people enough, that also leaves Jesus out of the equation. At John 16:33, Jesus gave us the answer, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
What that tells us is also twofold. We can never kill all the enemy soldiers, & we can never love people enough to save sinners. God came into the world so that He could save sinners. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is effectively expanding upon His statement that in this world we will have tribulation. This is something of what that tribulation can look like:
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, & a daughter against her mother, & a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, & whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34b, 35, 37 ESV)
That tribulation is full-blown warfare. It has crushed the hearts & souls of human beings throughout history, beginning with Adam & Eve as their firstborn son murdered their second born. Raising children should make it very clear that the battle against sin is seldom straight forward. Even serving God in His church makes that clear, whether you are volunteering on the altar guild or the school board or as an elder. You & I do not have the wisdom to fight that battle, nevertheless, Jesus calls us to it: “…whoever does not take his cross & follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38 ESV)
In that light, what are you & I supposed to do with these words of Jesus, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”? (Matthew 10:34b ESV) First of all, know that Jesus did bring “peace on earth.” (Luke 2:14) That peace is for you & for all mankind, & our response to it should always be one of repentance & thanksgiving. With them we should begin every day.
The problem is that so many of the world’s people do not respond to God’s peace with repentance & thanksgiving. Rather, they respond at best with indifference & self-centeredness. At worst, they respond with outright hatred that anyone would dare to suggest that they need to be saved from themselves.
As a result, when Jesus comes with God’s peace, warfare breaks out. Some people follow Satan’s lead & seek to kill Jesus. They are often completely clueless to what they are doing, but war is still the result instead of peace, because they refuse to accept that gift from God. Repentance & thankfulness are the last things on their mind.
For us, who know people in those shoes, repentance & thankfulness are exactly where we are to begin each new day as we seek to take up our cross & follow Jesus. In divided families, any believer will sooner or later face this challenge from unbelieving loved ones: “Choose me & my ways rather than your Jesus & His ways.” That is tribulation in spades.
When the warfare reaches that point, it is well to remember two things. The first is from Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh & blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (ESV) Your unbelieving loved ones are the not the enemy, although they are certainly being used by the enemy. Even in the warfare they are conducting, we are to love them in the battle. The 2nd thing to remember is 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV), “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
And what is renewing that inner self, it is the certain promise of our heavenly Father, in Jesus Christ our Lord, that our sins have been paid for & that Jesus did bring peace on earth between God & all mankind. As the book War & Peace chronicles the struggles of life, & how human beings respond to those challenges, so does the Word of God.
As Ecclesiastes honestly describes the condition of mankind without God, the Gospel reading describes the condition of mankind with God, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (10:39 ESV) Eternal life is gift that cannot be earned, but it can be lost. If we cave to family pressure to reject the teachings of Jesus, we then lose the only real life there is.
Paradoxically, when a child of God accepts the warfare, carries the cross, suffers the loss of relationships, status & reputation, perhaps even bodily life – because of clinging to Jesus in faith – that believer will discover real life that neither moth nor rust nor warfare can destroy. Then they will know the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding. (Philippians 4:7)
As you & I struggle to respond to the challenges of life, the sorrow & the bitterness, God’s Holy Spirit responds by comforting us with His love, power & wisdom. The warfare of following Jesus is real & at times it is brutal. Even our family members may be the source of it.
Losing our life for Christ’s sake is something we never become good at. Our sinful nature is too strong, yet we take heart because Jesus has overcome not just the world, but our sinful nature as well. Whether you volunteer on the altar guild, the school board or as an elder, whether you serve God through being a parent or child or sibling, all along the way your Savior is forgiving your sins & making your service pleasing to the heavenly Father. You may never build an ark like Noah, or reign as king like David, yet God is still working through you in the battle between good & evil. He is using you to accomplish good as the Holy Bible defines it. He never promises that life will be painless, but Jesus does know what all our pain is like.
He willingly endured that for the joy of eternal life set before Him. With His resurrection from the dead, Jesus set that joy before us & it will never end. When we refuse to confess Christ out of fear of opposition & rejection, there is a remedy – repentance & thankfulness for the life that Jesus gives to us – now & forever. That is God’s promise to you. Amen.
O Christ, who called the Twelve to rise & follow You, forsaking old, familiar ways for ventures bold & new: Grant us to hear Your call to risk security &, bound in heart & will to You, find perfect liberty. O Christ, who led the Twelve among the desolate & broke as bread of life for all Your love compassionate: Lead us along the ways where hope has nearly died & help us climb the lonely hills where love is crucified. O Christ, the apostles’ Lord, the martyr’s strength & song, the crucified & risen King to whom the saints belong: though generations pass, our tribute still we bring, our hymns a sacrifice of praise, our lives an offering. Amen. LSB 856:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet