Matthew 10:34 does not make for easy reading. In fact, this verse seems counter-intuitive and appears to challenge the very characteristics that I love to associate with Jesus – the Gracious and Gentle Shepherd, the Loving Saviour, the Forgiving Son of God. After all, He is the Prince of Peace and Wonderful Counselor. It is, therefore, almost jarring to my senses to read Jesus’s own proclamation – “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Truth be told, this is a verse that I have read over many times, but it has been far more comfortable for me to retain these words as mere head knowledge, instead of letting them sink into my heart. Writing this devotional passage has, however, compelled me to reflect deeper into these words, and to reconcile them with the Jesus that I know.
Jesus’s love is freely given but demanding all at once
There is no membership fee to be paid to join the Christian faith. Indeed, Jesus paid it once, and He paid it all for all, regardless of whether we choose to follow Him and receive His love. But if we should choose to follow Him, the cost of following Him and the expectations of membership are high and extremely demanding. That is the reality of His membership model.
What do I prioritise over my love of God?
I am a peace-loving person. I have been blessed with a relatively peaceful relationship with my wife and family. I love the idea of living a life of peace and tranquillity and I am, frankly, easily enticed by the notion that the Christian life affords harmony and serenity. It is therefore very easy for me to think that a peaceful life is what God wants for me. Jesus’s words, however, remind me that the ultimate purpose for laying down His life was to make peace between God and humanity, even if at the expense of peace on earth in this life. Peace with God was His mission, not peace on earth.
Indeed, so long as this sinful world exists, we can expect that the Gospel will bring division, and proponents of the Gospel will face much opposition and strife. No one likes to be called a sinner. The truth exposed by the Gospel is, however, that everyone is sinful and fundamentally lame. This is not a palatable message that is easily embraced, especially in an ever-increasingly politically-correct, feel-good, self-loving world. Quite the contrary, Jesus foreshadows the inevitable deep conflict that will exist between His followers and those who oppose Him or do not yet know Him. The reality of the Gospel is that it pierces the conscience of man. Jesus demands that we love God more than everything else that we hold dear – whether it be our jobs, our relationships with friends and family, and even ourselves.
The Gospel is a sword – am I prepared to carry its piercing message that will scar the hearts of men? Do I love Him sufficiently to daily carry His cross? Because such is the love that Jesus demands. Yet, when I consider the magnitude of Jesus’s love for me – that He, the King of Kings, should submit Himself to death on the cross for me – is it unreasonable that He demands that I place Him first in my heart?
May we all be willing to bear the cross daily for Jesus. And may we all resolve to do so out of love for Him.
By Shem Khoo, Deacon (YCKC Bulletin 17 November 2019)