Jesus and Division

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Matthew 10:32-42 (Not peace but a sword)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Mission and Conflict, we are looking at how these two themes of mission and conflict play out in Matthew 10-12. So far, we have seen that as believers we are all called on mission from God, and that when we go forth on mission, we can expect conflict. Last week we looked at the conflict of opposition. Today we want to look at a different type of conflict, the conflict of division. When you stand up for Christ, you can expect not only opposition, you can also expect division. (Read Matthew 10:34-36 and pray.)

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There are all sorts of dividing lines in life, things that cause people to fall on one side or another. Take two sports fans of opposing teams, put them in a room together while the game is going on, and that particular dividing line will make itself very clear, very quickly. But there are other dividing lines in life, too. Politics, music, clothing styles – there all sorts of things that can cause division in our daily lives.

Jesus sent his twelve disciples out on mission, and he gave them instructions for that mission. He told them to expect opposition, but he also told them to expect division. And that division would take place around him.

As we will see from today’s passage, how you respond to Jesus affects everything else in your life. It will affect your relationships with other people. It will affect how you respond to other believers. Most importantly it will decide your eternal destiny.

Jesus is the dividing line in life. He is the dividing line in heaven. He is the dividing line on earth. He is the supreme object of affection. And he is the ultimate measure of your actions. We will look at all four of these points this morning from today’s passage.

I. Jesus is the dividing line in heaven (32-33)

First, Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Look at verses 32-33 where Jesus says: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) Here Jesus speaks of two groups of people, those who acknowledge him and those who deny him. He speaks of two different groups with two different results and no exceptions.

   A. Acknowledge Jesus on earth, Jesus acknowledges you in heaven
      – Romans 1:16, 10:9

The first group of people are those who acknowledge Jesus before other people on earth. Jesus says if you acknowledge him before other people here on earth, then Jesus will also acknowledge you before his Father in heaven.

To acknowledge Jesus before other people means to openly and publicly declare your faith in Christ and your loyalty to him. It is to publicly declare to other people, “I am with Jesus.” And when you do that, Jesus acknowledges you before the Father and says, “I am with him,” or “I am with her.”

The apostle Paul said in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) The gospel is the good news about Jesus, and so when Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel, he is also saying he is not ashamed of Jesus. Paul is saying, “I am not ashamed to publicly declare that Jesus is Lord and Savior and that salvation comes only through him.”

It is one thing to believe in Jesus in your heart. But the Bible says we should also publicly acknowledge him with our mouths. Romans 10:9 says: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) You can’t be saved without believing, but true faith will also result in speaking out. There is no such thing as a secret Christian. If you acknowledge Jesus before others on earth, Jesus will acknowledge you before his Father in heaven.

By the way being baptized is one of the very best ways to acknowledge Jesus before others here on earth. When you are baptized, you are making your primary public confession of faith in Christ, but then you should also daily acknowledge Jesus before others as well.

   B. Disown Jesus on earth, Jesus disowns you in heaven
      – Matthew 25:31-33

Now it works the other way, too. If you disown Jesus before others on earth, Jesus will also disown you before his Father in heaven. To disown Jesus is to reject him as Lord and Savior. It is not to acknowledge him publicly before others.

For Jesus to disown those who disown him is not being mean or petty. He is just confirming in heaven what you have already said on earth. When you reject Jesus here on earth, you are basically saying, “I am not with Jesus.” And when you do that, Jesus disowns you before the Father, saying, “I am not with him or with her.”

So, are you with Jesus or not? Jesus says if you are truly with him you will speak up about it. To disown Jesus is a very serious matter. Imagine being married and refusing to acknowledge your husband or wife! Now imagine being a Christian and not acknowledging Jesus. You can’t do it. You can’t be a Christian and not acknowledge Christ.

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. We read in Matthew 25: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33) What an amazing picture – Jesus on his throne with all of humanity before him and each person separated out either to his right or to his left. Which side will you be on in that day? Which side are you on now?

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Those who follow Jesus here will be there. Those who don’t, won’t. Your eternal destiny in heaven depends completely on your relationship with Jesus while you are here on earth.

Why is that? Because Jesus is the Son of God. Notice that whereas before Jesus spoke of “your Father,” speaking to Christians, now he speaks of “my Father.” When you put your faith in Jesus, you are adopted into God’s family, and God becomes your heavenly Father. But Jesus is the eternal Son of God who stands in a unique relationship with God as God’s one and only Son. Jesus is the dividing line in heaven.

II. Jesus is the dividing line on earth (34-36)

Jesus is not only the dividing line in heaven. He is also the dividing line on earth. Jesus tells us he did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword that divides. And he warns us that he will even become a dividing line among families.

   A. Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword
      – Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 2:4, 12:51

Look at Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) Now the sword here does not refer to violence but to division. This becomes clear when you look at the parallel saying in Luke 12:51 where Jesus says: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51) Why does Jesus use the image of a sword? Because a sword divides. It cuts things in two. And so, Jesus says here in Matthew: “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”

Now the Jewish people expected that when the Messiah came, he would bring peace. For example, one of the great Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament is Isaiah 9:6 which says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) That’s why in Luke 2 we read that the night Jesus was born the angels appeared to the shepherds and proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

So, which is it? Did Jesus come to bring peace or not? And the answer is yes, Jesus will bring peace, but not right away. There is a battle going on which Jesus wins in the end, and when the battle is over there will be perfect peace and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. But in the meantime, in the present, in the midst of the conflict, there will be division. You are called to be on mission for God, and the mission brings division before it brings peace. Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword.

   B. Jesus will become a dividing line even among families
      – Micah 7:6

And then Jesus goes on to say that he will become a dividing line even among families. Look at Matthew 10:35-36: “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 – 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” (Matthew 10:35-36)

The word translated “turn” in verse 35 is a word that literally means “to cut into two parts or to divide.” Jesus is saying that he has come to divide a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and so on.

Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament book of Micah where we read this: “For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.” (Micah 7:6) Micah prophesied about the divisions that would come between those who follow God and those who do not. Jesus applies that word of prophecy to his own coming and says that he will become a dividing line even among families.

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven, and Jesus is the dividing line on earth. Being neutral towards Jesus is not an option. You are either for him or against him. You might be able to sit on a fence, but you cannot sit on a sword. You are going to have to choose one side or the other.

III. Jesus is the supreme object of affection (37-39)

Jesus is the dividing line in heaven. Jesus is the dividing line on earth. And then, thirdly, Jesus is the supreme object of affection. We must love Jesus more than family, more than self, more than life.

   A. We must love Jesus more than family

First, we must love Jesus more than family. Jesus says in verse 37: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)

Do you love your family? I hope so. You’re supposed to. That’s the whole reason Jesus even brings it up. Out of all your earthly relations, your family has the highest claim. And yet as important as family is to God and the Bible, Jesus comes first. Jesus isn’t saying you should love your family less. He is saying you should love him more.

Charles Thomas Studd, better known as C.T. Studd, was a missionary to China in the late 1800’s. When he was engaged to be married, he was worried that he and his fiancée, Priscilla, might become too preoccupied with each other and that they would lose sight of Jesus in the process. So, he wrote a little poem for Priscilla and asked her to recite it every day:

“Jesus, I love Thee, Thou art to me,
Dearer than Charlie ever could be.”

Jesus is the supreme object of affection, and we must love Jesus more than father, mother, husband, wife, son or daughter. We must love Jesus more than family.

   B. We must love Jesus more than self
      – Matthew 16:24

Secondly, we must love Jesus more than self. Jesus says in verse 38: “And anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) Jesus will return to this idea of taking up the cross in Matthew 16 where he says: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

To take up your cross means you put Jesus before yourself. It literally means you are willing to die for Jesus. Which means you are willing to die to a thousand little choices every day. When you have a choice between doing what Jesus wants and doing what you want, the way of the cross chooses Jesus.

Notice that taking up your cross is a choice. It is not something that just happens to you. It is an act of the will. It is something you choose to do out of love for Christ. You choose to deny yourself for Jesus’ sake.

The sword of division cuts deep. It not only runs through families, it runs through your very self – where Jesus becomes more important to you than your own desires, your own comforts and concerns.

   C. We must love Jesus more than life

We must love Jesus more than family. We must love Jesus more than self. And thirdly, we must love Jesus more than life. Jesus says in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

There is a paradox here where Jesus plays with these words “lose” and “find.” The person who finds his life is the person who clings to their own desires, their own rights, their own goals in life. They put other things before God and try to craft their own life in their own way without God’s interference. Even if they succeed, the paradox here is that they end up losing their life in the process. Why? Because there is no true fulfillment in life apart from God who gives you life.

On the other hand, when you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, you will find it. When you give your life to Jesus and you let him lead and guide you, when you sacrifice yourself for God and other people, when you choose to give rather than receive, to serve rather than be served, you find life more fulfilling than ever. Jesus came not only to give you life. He came to bring you abundant life. But you only find that life when you lose your life for Jesus’ sake.

We need to remember that finding your life and losing your life also has eternal consequences. If you seek to find your own life here apart from Jesus, you will lose out on eternal life with God. If you lose your life for Jesus here on earth, you will live with God forever.

Notice Jesus sets the example for us in this. Jesus already sacrificed his life for us. Jesus gave his life first. He doesn’t ask us to do anything that he has not already done.

These are such bold words of Jesus. “You must love me more than family, more than self, more than life.” Can you imagine anyone else saying these things and getting away with it? Nobody can say things like this and get away with it – no one except God.

This is one of the reasons why Jesus cannot be just a man or a good teacher. A good teacher would not say things like this. Over and over Jesus says things that only make sense if he is God. And as God, he is the supreme object of affection.

III. Jesus is the ultimate measure of your actions (40-42)

Jesus is the supreme object of affection, and then, finally, Jesus is the ultimate measure of your actions. In these final verses he tells us that he will reward those who receive his followers, and he will reward those who serve his followers.

   A. Jesus will reward those who receive his followers

First, Jesus will reward those who receive his followers. Look at Matthew 10:40-41: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.” (Matthew 10:40-41)

Here is another series of astonishing statements. To receive someone Christ sent is to receive Christ himself. And to receive Christ is to receive God who sent him. Notice the word “sent” in this verse. Remember all these instructions are being given in the context of mission. Jesus was sending the twelve disciples out on their very first mission. He gave them instructions for their mission, and then he was also giving us instructions for our mission.

Jesus talks about receiving a prophet because he is a prophet and receiving a righteous man because he is a righteous man. To receive a prophet is to receive one who speaks God’s words. To receive a righteous man is to receive one who follows in God’s ways. Jesus when you receive a prophet because he is a prophet, you will receive a prophet’s reward. When you receive a righteous person because they are a righteous person, you will receive a righteous person’s reward.

Jesus will reward those who receive his followers. In the original context here, those who received his followers were those who welcomed them and their message. They were those who provided hospitality and support. We can apply Jesus’ words today also to missionary support. Not everyone is called to go as a missionary to another country. Some are called to go. Other are called to give and support. All of us are called to pray.

We sometimes think what an amazing reward awaits those who go to another country as a missionary. And we’re right! There is a great reward waiting for our missionaries. But the giving is just as important as the going. There is no going without the giving. And what Jesus is saying here is that when you support a missionary because they are a missionary, you will get the same reward as the missionary! We are all in this together. Some go; some support those who go; all receive the same reward.

   B. Jesus will reward those who serve his followers
      – Matthew 25:40

Jesus will reward those who receive his followers, and Jesus will reward those who serve his followers. Look at verse 42 now in closing where Jesus says: “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

What is Jesus saying? Even the smallest gesture to the least significant of Jesus’ followers will not be overlooked or forgotten. When you do anything for one of Jesus’ followers because they are one of Jesus’ followers, you will certainly not lose your reward.

And that’s because whatever you do for one of Jesus’ followers, you are also doing for Jesus. Jesus will say later on in Matthew 25:40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Jesus will reward those who receive his followers. And Jesus will reward those who serve his followers. Why? Because Jesus is the ultimate measure of your actions, and when you do these things because of Jesus, you will certainly not lose your reward.

CONCLUSION: Jesus is the dividing line in heaven and on earth. He is the supreme object of affection, and he is the ultimate measure of your actions.

You need to count the cost of following Jesus. When you speak up for Jesus, you can expect opposition and division. But you also need to count the cost of not following Jesus. Jesus said whoever disowns him before men on earth, he will also disown before his Father in heaven.

Earlier I shared with you a poem that C.T. Studd wrote for his fiancée. In closing I would like to share another poem C.T. Studd wrote. This is the one that he is most famous for:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Very simple, yet very profound, and absolutely true. Jesus is the supreme object of affection, and he is the ultimate measure of everything you do in life. He is the dividing line in heaven and on earth.

© Ray Fowler

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