When we only emphasise certain aspects of Jesus’ teaching, we often find something he said that does not agree with the conclusions we have reached. We often tell people about the peace that Jesus came to bring – in fact, was it not announced at his birth? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” the angels proclaimed to the shepherds (Luke 2:14 NET). Jesus came to bring peace and he wants his people to be characterised by peace (James 3:13-18). But then we find something that doesn’t sound quite right.
“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, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his 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. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39)
We can almost hear people saying, “But I thought Jesus came to bring peace – but what does this mean?”
That Jesus came to bring peace is found through the scriptures – peace between God and people and, as a result, peace between people because their lives are centred on God and his Spirit lives in them. These are the people with whom he is pleased, as the angels announced when Jesus was born.
But we also realise that following Jesus does not always bring peace. When we choose to live differently from those who are around us, that may bring conflict. People see a refusal to be involved in what they are doing as a judgement and condemnation on them. No one likes to feel judged by others!
This can be seen in families – and I’m sure many of us have either experienced this or seen it happen. A man or woman becomes a Christian and begins to follow Jesus. Not only does this involve a change in lifestyle but possibly there is a change in where we worship. Parents might see this as a rejection of them and of what they believe. This can quickly escalate to the point of families treating them like their enemy.
How do we deal with these situations? There are basically two options: we can seek peace with our friends and family at any cost or we can remain faithful to Jesus and what he taught and be as loving as possible to our families.
Many choose the first, not wanting to be at odds with those we love. But choosing this option has a price. The chances are we will never be able to lead these people to have a faith in Jesus because they will see that our faith really doesn’t mean much to us. But it has a more devastating consequence for us. “Do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy” (James 4:4).
But what if we choose to be faithful even though it might create tension in our families? My experience is that although it may initially bring hostility from those we care about, over time they will see your changed life and want to know more about Jesus.
We do have ‘crosses’ to bear in our life. But if we place anyone or anything before Jesus we are not worthy of him.
Image by James Chan from pixabay.com
Readings for next week: Matthew 7-12