Do you remember first reading these verses when you were a babe in Christ? I daresay they were disconcerting to say the least, right? Here is the Prince of Peace averring He came to bring a sword.
Our teachers then probably explained these verses to us so satisfactorily that they never gave us problems again. But could you successfully explain then to a seeker of truth or anyone questioning the gospel’s doctrine? Because if you look at it through the eyes of an unbeliever, it is more than condemnatory; even atheists and those of different religious names love their families. Christ told us, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Mathew 7:9)
When my step-father was dying, he asked me about these verses. He had heard of them somewhere, certainly not from reading them as he had always been a dedicated secular humanist. I replied it was true. We were sitting by ourselves at the kitchen table. His ALS had reached a stage where his once vibrant body had the haggard, emaciated look of a Dachau inmate. My biological father died at St. Lo in WWII; this man who sat before me was the only father I had ever known. I loved this man.
When I replied yes, that is what Christ said, he began to blasphemously and obscenely curse, yelling to the ceiling, shaking his fist, and railing against such a God. Looking back, I realized dad always had a problem with authority ever since he was a child. That had not prevented him from becoming a success in his life. He had had it all, now only to have it elude his grasp by getting Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dad played semi-pro ball. He had always been a huge baseball fan. He had become a secular humanist after delving into the study of the Holocaust. Thus the awful irony: he, a baseball aficionado, contracts Lou Gehrig’s disease and ends looking like one of the inmates of Belsen.
I could understand his rage. But I knew my efforts to teach him God’s word needed careful explanation.
“Dad, as a humanist, you would agree that the whole of humanity is more important than just the individual, right?”
“We’ve studied how unless you treat others well you fail as a seeker of God?”
Again the silent nod.
“Then imagine a humanist renouncing the rest of humanity when he knowingly contracts a deadly contagious disease and says to himself, ‘Nuts! I’m doomed anyway; I’m going to live it up while I can!’ Should a person like that be labeled with the term humanist?”
“No”, he answered.
“Neither would a Christian deserve the name if they let themselves, their loved ones, come between their mission of serving God and subsequently serving mankind.”
He sat there for a while. Then he said, “I’ll have to think about that.”
He never came to Christ. The Lord knows how my family and I miss him. But brothers and sisters, we can’t, we dare not, let anyone come between us and our mission. Undoubtedly we all have some of our families outside Christ. The sword Christ speaks of in verse 35 wasn’t the goal of the Savior; it was the inevitable effect.
Home, sweet home. Don’t misunderstand me—families will rally round each other in times of crises, but not for religion. The only real solace we have is in Christ. Christ never forbade us to love our relations. What we need to keep in mind is to love Him more.
In verse 38 the cross is our symbol. In the world it means many things to many people. Here it represents self-denial. And that’s the real crux, isn’t it? We want what we want when we want it. “It’s a free country!” As Christian individuals we cannot take this route. As a society we are now seeing the whirlwind we are reaping. Bankruptcy was a word only used for businesses in the middle of the last century. Divorce was spoken of surreptitiously by adults and not in the presence of children. Even advertisements on the air speak of things which were unspeakable in mixed company not so very long ago. Even 10 years ago, what would you have thought the term transgendered meant?
So our missions are more difficult. We are swimming against the tide, but that doesn’t mean we throw our limbs loose and let it bear us away. We must be vigilant, patient, and long-suffering.
The carnal sword is still falling. Quite literally, people who call Christ Lord have recently been decapitated. However, Christ’s sword is the sword of our living faith, an active faith. Our cross (es) consists of our own lusts and desires. We must subvert our wills to the will of God first. Only then can we be said to be on the path to righteousness.
All self-seeking is self-losing.