Is Christ a Contradiction? (July 12, 2020)
Is Christ a Contradiction?
I think some of my favorite words in Scripture are from the Christmas account in Luke 2. Words I’ve been reciting since I was very young during school Christmas programs.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Lk 2:8-14).
And yet… once Jesus grows up and enters his earthly ministry, it seems he has a very different message. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34). Something doesn’t quite add up here. Is Christ contradicting himself? I mean, Jesus, when you were born the angels rang out a message of peace. Your prophets proclaimed peace. You often preached about peace. How can you at the same time say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth” (Mt 10:34)?
Peace is a common theme in Scripture. People long for it. People work for it. God promises it. And yet, looking around there is often anything but peace. I see dissatisfaction with leaders and authorities. I see protesting and rioting. I see vehement disagreements and arguments between people. Where is this peace that God promised? Some think they will find it if they can just elect the perfect leader or have the right authorities in place. Some think they will finally have it when they convince the world to their perspective. Some are struggling and striving to achieve peace on earth but they will not find it in the things they turn to or the ways they are going about it. They are looking for a peace that only God can give. Really, they are looking for God. But looking for him in all the wrong things and in all the wrong ways. They are looking for the peace that only God can give, but don’t understand just how God gives such peace.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34). We should expect to see division instead of harmony and hatred instead of friendship because Jesus brought a sword upon the earth. The Word of God is the “Sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17). And because there will never be a general conversion of all people, that sword of God’s Word is going to divide people. “A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:35-36). Many believed that when the Messiah would come, he would bring an end to earthly wars and thus establish an earthly peace. But Jesus tells his disciples not to subscribe to the common belief. Do not think that he came to impose such a peace on earth. That’s not at all his number one priority. God’s number one priority is to save sinners. Unfortunately, many reject this gospel. Therefore, we should expect to see division instead of harmony, and hatred instead of friendship. Family against family as the sinful world turns against Christian.
Jesus asks a very hard thing in these next words. Can you do the hard thing and face the conflict that the sword of the Spirit brings? “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37-38). These are strong words. They convict us all. We must confess, “I am unworthy.” And if you don’t think so, take another look at the first reading from today.
The reading from Exodus 32 is a hard pill to swallow. In fact, for that reason I almost chose a different reading for this Sunday. We want God and Jesus and all of Scripture to look kind, loving, accepting, and welcoming. And here, it seems, you get anything but that! Who would want to be part of a group where some took swords, went back and forth through the camp and killed brother and friend and neighbor (Ex 32:27)? Who would want to follow a God that could possibly command such a thing? It’s striking and repulsive… until you spend some time reflecting on it and seeing the reason. See the reason why God could possibly command such a thing. Why Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Put simply: God doesn’t share. God will not share you with any other false god. And this is a good thing! I have an illustration of why this is a good thing from my recent trip. In our home, we have a little handheld fan that’s powered by a little crank. When you get it going, it puts out a pretty good breeze. But what makes it so special and valuable is not the reason you might think here in Texas. It’s so special and valuable to our family at meal time because rather than my wife and me blowing on three different plates to cool down hot food until we are lightheaded – parents will understand – we can simply crank this fan a few times to cool down the food with no lightheaded side effects!
Well, on our trip, one of my nephews saw the fan and thought it was pretty cool, so I shared. I let him play with it knowing full well that I might not get it back in the same condition. And… sure enough… after sharing, I received it back broken and in pieces.
That’s what happens when you try to force God to share you with other gods. For the Israelites it was blatant idolatry. Follow that path to its conclusion and it’s pretty easy to see where it would lead if God did not take such drastic measures to cut off the infestation of idols and preserve his true people – believers. They would no longer be a godly nation. The promise of the Messiah would not have been passed down from generation to generation. In fact, the true God probably would not have given the Promised Land to his people turned idolaters. They would have all perished in the wilderness. Every single one of them. So his drastic action, was actually a loving action for those who loved God above all things.
For some it’s lust. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Are you trying to force God to share that temple with more than one partner – someone who is not your spouse? For others it’s greed. Do you serve God or money? And still others it’s substance abuse. You cannot serve two masters. Follow those to their conclusions and it’s not a pretty picture. These are not paths that lead to God but away from him. These are not paths of peace and joy, but paths that lead to suffering and eternal condemnation. Even things as seemingly innocent soft-pedaling sin for the sake of appearing loving, or proclaiming peace with God even when there is no peace. When it comes to such choices how often do we, sinfully weak people, prefer the path of least resistance. Not loving God above all things. Forcing God to share us with all the things we have idolized. “Whoever finds their life” in such temporary treasures, “will lose it” eternally (Mt 10:39).
But, “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword. This Sword is God’s Word, the “Sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17). Wherever the Word of God is preached, there believers will be found, even breaking the curse of unbelieving generations and carving out believers from families that had previously lived in unbelief. “[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).
A true prophet of God knows this. A true prophet is not concerned with being welcomed and loved by the masses, but only proclaiming the truth of God’s Word and letting God achieve his purposes. It’s easy to be welcomed by the masses – to be friends of many. Just speak the message of the false prophets: “Peace, peace!” Peace with God and peace with one another! Just quiet the condemning conscience and soft-pedal sin. Just accept any belief so long as people are sincere. You will be welcomed and loved by many! But you will cut yourself off from God, and your peace will be short lived.
God’s spokesmen are to represent the Savior, not popular opinion. When God’s spokesmen speak God’s message, people who welcome them welcome Jesus. They are willing to listen to the Words of God spoken by his prophets and apostles, pastors and teachers. “Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophets reward…” (Mt 10:40-41). God makes special promises to the faithful hearers of God’s spokesman. They will share in the blessings of eternal life and all the rewards of grace God has prepared for those who love him. “They will certainly not lose their reward” (Mt 10:42).
The last hours are always the hardest. The last hours of a trip are always the hardest. Whether you are almost at your destination or you are almost back to the comfort of your home. This past Thursday was the last leg of our journey back home from visiting family. Crossing the Texas border was exciting! After a couple days of driving already and several hours driven already that morning we were really looking forward to getting back home and relaxing. Upon crossing the border, I checked the GPS expecting just a short hop home…. Still 3 hours to go… and there’s construction ahead in both Dallas and Waco. Those were some tough hours – squeezing between semis and construction barriers, sitting in Dallas traffic, and fighting boredom in the miles between. But we were almost there! Very soon, it would all be worth it! Very soon we could pull into the drive, unload, wash up, and relax!
Brothers and sisters, we are in the last hours. Very soon we will be at our final destination of heaven! But we aren’t there yet. We are in the last hours – and the last hours are always the hardest. In fact, Jesus promised just that. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (Jn 15:20). “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”… “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:34,36). But take heart, because if you lose your life for the sake of Christ – whether it’s physically losing your life, giving up health and wealth, or bearing whatever crosses you face on a daily basis – “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). Welcoming God’s prophets, welcoming a righteous person, welcoming the message of Christ our Savior, the Prince of true, lasting Peace, welcoming the Word of God that Sword of the Spirit, despite the divisions it may cause, “truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Mt 10:42).