Gospel: Matthew 10:34-42
Epistle: Romans 7:1-13
Lesson: Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm: Psalm 119:153-160
CLB Commentary – Rev. Kenneth Narvesen
The declarations of Jesus in this text are rather jarring, to say the least. They are words we are not so sure we like. We hear them somewhat like a little child whose father is going on a business trip. The child is not so interested in the sort of things Dad hopes to accomplish on that business trip. But he really does look forward to a present when Dad comes home. Like little kids when Dad goes on a business trip, that is our question to God. Rather than being interested in kingdom issues, we ask, “What are you going to bring me?” We may not like the answer.
Jesus begins the answer to that question with, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Since this text is for the Sunday before Independence Day, perhaps a good approach would be to compare and contrast the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the nature of the American dream with the promises of Jesus for those who would be a part of his kingdom. Are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” our inalienable right, or is the sword what kingdom life is all about? And what’s up with the sword? How is it that the Prince of Peace, whose birth in Bethlehem was heralded by angels as a sign of “peace on earth, goodwill to men,” would emphasize that he came not to bring peace but a sword? How should a person who loves his family deeply hear and understand, “35 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. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household”? Gasp! Does that mean grandkids too? Such are the sort of questions one must grapple with as one prepares to speak on this text.
In the search for answers to these troubling questions we come face to face with the sword of which Jesus speaks. This sword that Jesus brings is the Word of God. The sword of the Word is double-edged surgical steel – the Law and the Gospel. The Law is that which kills. We hear the law and try to wiggle out from under it, but Jesus listened to the Law in its fullness and hearing it clearly took all our sin to the cross, destroying it in his death. The Gospel is the good news that raises to life and heals in the life of Christ. Only in the destruction of the sin and death daily at the cross will we come into possession of the whole peace of God. Do not fear this sword or flee from it, for Christ whose hand wields this sword is the same Christ who gave His life into death for you on His cross. He knows the killing edge of that sword, he has experienced its killing wound in His own body on your behalf. And He wields this sword not as a destructive instrument of war, but as a skilled surgeon of your souls, cutting away the sin and the death, killing the cancer of idolatry in our hearts, and reviving and restoring us with His breath and His blood. So we see that at the heart of the Christian life is not the pursuit of happiness but the daily dying to self at the cross. That is why we cling to a theology of the cross, not a theology of glory.
This text is one that devastates all theologies of glory in this life. Instead of peace we are promised a sword. All of our cherished relationships are redefined by that sword. The sword of God’s Law and Gospel slices through all that is of this life and sets it aside that Christ might indeed be Lord. Even our own understanding of all that is good and pleasurable and important is dissected by that sword in order that Christ might be all and in all. And that is a terrible struggle for our old nature, one we will never understand until glory. In the meantime, all that we thought was glory, is shown to be rubble by that powerful sword. It is indeed a cross we are called to take up. But Jesus promises the believer that in taking up that cross, allowing the sword to slice into all our earthly preferences, we will find life itself. This text is one that calls us away from our theologies of glory into the heart of a theology of the cross. Reread the Heidelberg Confession; meditate on these words of Jesus, and tackle these difficult words of our Lord.