At the start of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the twelve apostles He’s sending with His Word–and He tells us: “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) These are jarring words.
But Jesus goes on to be even more jarring, claiming words from the prophet Micah for himself: “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.’” (Matthew 10:35-36)
These words seem strange to us in two ways, I think.
First, we remember that the angels sang on the night of Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) Didn’t Jesus, God the Son, come into our world to make peace between God and we sinful human beings?
Second, didn’t God make families fundamental to human life, giving the family first billing in the second table of the ten commandments: “Honor your father and your mother”?
The answer to both of those questions is Yes.
But not everyone wants God’s peace.
As Christians, we know and cherish what Paul talks about in our second lesson, from Romans 7: that by the grace of God given to us in Christ under which we were washed at Holy Baptism, we “died to the [condemnation of the] law [for our sin]” and belong to Jesus, Who will one day raise us up to live with God forever. (Romans 7:4)
God has already done this for us as a gift that we are simply called to receive in faith.
And even the power to believe–to have faith–in Christ is a gift from God, given in His Word. The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
But sometimes, even members of our own families will resist the Gospel Word about Christ. They will refuse to trust in Christ.
When I was a teenager, already an atheist myself, I watched my aunt break down in tears as one of my cousins told her he didn’t need God. He had heard the Word about Christ many times. He had seen the peace that the adults and even friends in his life had through faith in Jesus. But he wasn’t buying it.
For many people, the Gospel doesn’t make sense.
Some see the hatred, prejudice, injustice, suffering, and death in this world and can’t imagine that there is a loving and omnipotent God Who, they imagine, does nothing to change things. They don’t realize that God has already done everything necessary to change things, to give us life and peace, one person at a time. He’s done this through Jesus, Who says: “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life…” (John 6:40) This isn’t a call to wait for the sweet by-and-by. It’s a declaration from God that as you trust in Christ, you are set free to live life to the full without fear of condemnation, setbacks, or even death! You can even fight things like hatred, prejudices, injustice, suffering, and death without fear of the world because you know you belong to Jesus Christ for all eternity!
Others can make no sense of the Gospel–the good news of new and everlasting life with God through Christ–because they’ve been schooled in the ways of a hard world. They’ve been taught that anything worth having must be bought, earned, stolen, or swindled. They think the project of their lives is to keep themselves–and maybe their kids–as comfortable as possible until they die. That’s it. There is no room or desire for Jesus in such a worldview.
Still others can’t imagine that any of their sins–from gossip to sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage, from petty dishonesty in personal business dealings to using God’s name as a punchline–could possibly concern a holy God they’ve never seen.
For people like these, Jesus’ will sound like nonsense when He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. [literally, the eternal reign of God is here now in Me and the Gospel Word about Me].” (Matthew 4:17)
They’ll find it hard to believe that Christ is as close as His Word or as close as the water of Holy Baptism or the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.
His emissaries–parents, pastors, friends, family–will tell these folks, “The kingdom of heaven has come near [in Jesus]” and they’ll resist. (Matthew 10:7)
Or turn a deaf ear.
Or maybe lash out.
Or maybe even betray you!
Of course, no Christian filled with Jesus’ compassionate Spirit will be satisfied knowing that we have everlasting life with God and not want to share it with others. We won’t want to let others’ negative reactions to Christ’s Gospel keep us from sharing it!
So, Christians will want to see their children and grandchildren, all the children in their families, baptized. In Baptism, children are covered with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Their spirits are crucified and raised and the Holy Spirit is unleashed in children’s lives that they may come to the point where they confess Jesus as their Lord. “Baptism…” the apostle Peter says, “saves you…It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21)
Christians will want to let family members see that Christ is their hope and their life. Peter also told Christian women that their disbelieving husbands “may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives…” (1 Peter 3:2)
And Christians will also want to be able to share the hope of Christ’s Gospel with family members when they have the chance. Peter also writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells Christians, “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.” (Matthew 10:41)
Considering just the prophets for a moment: If you’ve ever read the Old Testament, you know that God’s prophets weren’t always rewarded in enjoyable ways. (Neither have those been made righteous by God’s grace in Christ, by the way.)
When we, like the prophets, speak God’s Word, we must first speak His Law that all people are sinners, deserving of eternal punishment and separation from God, before we speak God’s Word of promise, His Gospel, that our sins are forgiven and we have everlasting life with God through Jesus.
These words call us, and all people, to repent–to turn from sin–and to believe in Jesus as our only God and Savior.
The prophets were often slighted, hunted down, condemned, killed.
That was how the world rewarded them for their faithfulness.
It’s how the world today, even the worlds of our families, often reward Christians. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat that truth and neither should we.
But God has another reward for our faithfulness to Christ.
It’s the reward of which the prophet Isaiah spoke seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, pointing to Jesus, God the Son, Himself, Isaiah wrote: “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:10-11)
Jesus promises us, “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)
In Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven, friends. That’s your reward from God.
And in Jesus Christ, you know, intimately and personally, the God of all Creation Who saves you to be His forever. That too is your reward from God.
And in Jesus, you know that God is with you always. He will never abandon you. That also is God’s reward to you.
In the end, Jesus is your reward, friends!
And He is all the reward you and I could ever want or will ever need.
[I'm grateful for the scholarship of Drs. John Hoyum and Steve Paulson and others in the development of today's message.]