As Jesus wraps up His instructions to His disciples before sending them on their mission to bring in the harvest, He moves into some disturbing territory. Remember that He has just told them of the opposition they will face, and given them some comfort using the lowly sparrow as an example; now He sums up the point He has made:
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (10:32-33)
I have a suspicion that these words were ringing in Peter’s head on that fateful night when He denied knowing Jesus not once, but three times, as they might ring in our minds from time to time. The disciples are being sent out to preach the Kingdom and Jesus; there will be pressure to keep quiet, and perhaps even to renounce Him.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a powerful thing, for it brings with it the power to unite people together to do God’s will on the earth, but even as it unites some, it also brings about a different sort of response in others. The response of those others, is not always entirely rational, even though it may appear rational at first, for the Kingdom of Heaven coming to the earth is the worst nightmare of the Enemy who seeks to usurp God’s Creation for himself. The result is an earthly manifestation of a spiritual war that few can even begin to comprehend, let alone acknowledge:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘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. (10:34-36)
This is the part of the “Christmas Story” that you probably will not hear about on Christmas Eve as we talk about “Peace on earth” and “Goodwill toward men” leaving out the rest of the verse “in whom his favor rests”. To put it in military terms, when Jesus came to the earth, God was mounting an invasion of enemy held territory, and the enemy has been returning fire the entire time; this is what Jesus is referring to in these verses.
I remember when I blogged through Revelation, I received an email from a very dear brother who expressed some level of frustration with the study; there was so much in it that deals with spiritual warfare. His thought was along the lines of: “OK, I get it, there is persecution and some will get hurt, why go over this so many times?” The obvious answer is that John went over it so many times, but the real and important reason is that we really don’t get it yet. Spiritual warfare isn’t a metaphor or an academic concept and it certainly is not a child’s ghost story; it is as real as the morning news, and it is going on all around us whether we want to admit it or not.
Jesus put it in very personal terms for His disciples in this passage, as He quoted from Micah 7:6. He went on to say:
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. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (10:37-39)
His last remark about losing and finding life is the key: The everyday lives we lead here in this world are not life at all, if they are apart from Him, for they will soon come to an end, one way or another. The life we should concern ourselves with is that life which is eternal; part of the eternal purpose of God.
The final three verses of the discourse take a more pleasant tone:
“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (10:40-42)
No human who hears the message of the Kingdom needs to perish, but all who hear it must decide what to do with it. Some will accept, and some will reject, and the battle lines will be drawn. For those who accept, eternity is secure; for those who reject… they will also reap their reward.
The problem with going through entire books of the Bible is that we don’t get to pick out the fun parts and move past the hard parts; this is a hard part. It isn’t hard because it’s difficult to understand, it just isn’t “pleasant” as most of us would like. Yet it reveals much about our lives today, about what is going on in our world, and how we should respond to it. It also helps us to look forward to the day when pain, suffering and tears are but distant memories, and all evil is gone from the earth.