“These 12 Jesus sent out, instructing them…” We come now to the third Sunday of our three Sunday tour through the 10th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel – Jesus’ ‘Missionary Discourse’ where He sends His 12 apostles out into the community to “proclaim as you go, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
And then to back up this amazing and shocking proclamation with some authority that should make people realize they’re not just talking out their hat, He gives them His power to, “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”
As He sends them out, He warns them that they are not to expect a warm welcome. He sends them out “like sheep in the midst of wolves…” He tells them, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake…” They’ll be like innocent refuges on the run. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next…”
So, conspicuously absent from Jesus’ instructions to “these 12” are words like, ‘safe,’ ‘fun,’ ‘enjoyable,’ ‘comfortable,’ ‘good time.’ And also as we DID NOT just hear, ‘peaceful.’
No, He says, “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” These are hard words to hear from our Lord – Whom Isaiah once called, “the Prince of Peace,” and the angels at His birth, sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace…” (Lk. 2:14). (How would you guys who were on the Missions Trip to Boston reacted if Nick told you he was sending you out into the community not to bring peace but a sword? Sorting rotten yams doesn’t sound so bad does it?)
“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” This is just the kind of verse that folks like to use against us. “See, your Jesus says right here that He advocates violence” – which of course is not at all what He means – as in, “Peter, put your sword in its place. For all who take the sword will die by the sword.” (Mat. 26:52) But it’s a ‘hostile world’ that Jesus enters into – and all who enter it in the name of Jesus are bound to face the same hostility.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” Let’s take a moment to explore this. The word for “peace” in the Greek of the New Testament is “eireyney,” which comes from the root word, “eirow,” which means, ‘to join’ as in ‘to join two things together into one.’ You are at ‘peace’ with something or someone when you are joined to it and are one with it and it/he/she becomes one with you.
“Swords” on the other hand, do just the opposite. The work of a sword is to separate – as in Peter swung his sword and separated the soldier’s ear from his head.
So Jesus instructs ‘these 12’ that He has not come to JOIN men and women to this world so that they may be at PEACE with it. That would be a ‘false peace’ because this is a sinful and fallen world that is dying and is destined for destruction. Rather, He has come to SEPARATE them from this world. The Greek word for ‘church’ is “ekleysia.” Which literally means, ‘those who have been CALLED OUT.’
At the end of this Pentecost season journey, Jesus will INSTRUCT THESE 12, saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then He will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will SEPARATE people one from another as a shepherd SEPARATES sheep from the goats…” (Matt.25:31-32) When He comes again in glory, He will come with a SWORD.
This ‘separation’ from the world that Jesus comes like a ‘sword’ to carry out is PAINFUL and GUT-WRENCHING and oftentimes, HEART-BREAKING. And that’s because the places where Jesus targets His sword are terribly CLOSE TO HOME. We’d be totally on-board if He pointed His sword to the drug dealers and human traffickers and porn merchants and cruel dictators and radical terrorists, and the like.
But He points His sword at those who are NEAREST AND DEAREST to us. “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. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
These are the ones to whom Jesus sends ‘these 12’ into the community to “proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come.” They are to be the ‘sword of Jesus’ as they proclaim His Word to their own families. And as they themselves hold to God’s Word for their own lives, there are times when it will cause a painful SEPARATION between themselves and family members.
There are times when they will have to ‘separate themselves’ from family members who want them to be at peace with their sin. There are times when they will have to be the sword of Jesus to their own family members to ‘separate’ them from the ‘false peace’ that they have made with this sinful world.
But this is the very nature of God’s Word. Listen to how the writer to the Hebrews puts it. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
And then Jesus directs ‘these 12’ to the toughest, most resistant people that they will encounter – and the ones who will oppose their message the most vehemently – themselves. “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
If “peace” is your BOTTOM LINE and if “peace” and “harmony” is ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS, it’s not such a hard thing to accomplish really. Just ‘join’ yourself to this world and make your ‘peace’ with it – even if it is a ‘false peace.’ And the temptation to settle for a ‘false peace’ is incredibly strong. Because really, which would you rather be, a ‘peace maker’ or a ‘sword swinger’? Didn’t Matthew record Jesus’ earlier as saying, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called ‘sons of God’”? (Matthew 5:9)
But, says Jesus, “do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth…” At least, not this kind of ‘peace’ that is a ‘fake-peace.’
This is the back-story to our Old Testament reading where we heard a bit of the exchange between God’s prophet, Jeremiah and the court-appointed prophet, Hananiah. The court-appointed prophets have been preaching that ‘everything is just fine’ and there is no real need for a ‘sword.’ No need for ‘repentance.’
But Jeremiah accuses them of preaching a ‘false peace.’ He repeats this refrain, “they have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.’” (Jer.6:14; 8:11).
“They have healed the wound of my people LIGHTLY.” They’ve just ‘glossed over’ the sin and called it, ‘ACCEPTABLE,’ for the sake of ‘PEACE’ – ‘false peace’ that it is. Jeremiah tells Hananiah that the true prophet will be the one who both prophesies REAL PEACE and through Whom it actually “comes to pass.” (Jer. 28:9).
When you hear the prophet who proclaims a ‘peace that this world cannot give,’ then you will have ‘His peace’ and you will know that THAT prophet is truly from the Lord – and you should listen to HIM.
This is the ‘REAL PEACE’ that Jesus Christ has come to give and has sent ‘these 12’ out into the world to announce. It’s the peace that begins with the sword.
First He separates you from THE SIN OF THE WORLD by the ‘sword’ of His Word that exposes the sin that is in you and all around you. His Word opens your eyes and your mind to see how ‘deadly’ sin is and despite all attempts to justify it and accept it. And we long to be ‘separated’ from it.
And then He ‘joins’ you to Himself, who is the very peace of God come down from above in Whom there is NO SIN. He is truly good and sinless and holy – and ‘JOINED’ to Him we become one with Him and at peace with Him – and at peace with God – a PEACE WHICH THIS WORLD CANNOT GIVE. And that THIS WORLD cannot TAKE AWAY from you.
The hard truth is, REAL PEACE never comes without a REAL SWORD. That’s what the cross of Christ is all about. Our Lord could have avoided the SWORD and the nails and the pain if He was only willing to settle for a FALSE PEACE with this sinful world. But then that’s all that you and I could have hoped for from Him – mere acceptance of and accommodation with the sin of the world – no forgiveness or separation from it.
But the PRINCE OF PEACE is no ‘sham prince.’ When He walked through the doors into the room where these 11 were huddled in fear and announced – “peace be with you…” – He showed them the holes and the wounds that He suffered that His word to them might be the REAL THING – the peace which this world cannot give – that they would know that the TRUE PROPHET has come to them.
The PRINCE OF PEACE BOTH ‘separates’ us from sin – AND – ‘joins’ Himself to you and you to Him – in ONE, INSEPERABLE ACTION that is called, HOLY BAPTISM. Today, Charlotte Kathleen Klipp was ‘separated’ from sin and ‘joined’ to Christ. She has become a member of the “ekleysia.”
She has the only REAL PEACE there is – a true ‘SHALOM’ – ‘peace’ even in this world that is so hostile to the PEACE OF GOD IN JESUS CHRIST. Eric and Kimberly, you’re going to have to keep swinging the sword of Jesus at her – especially as she gets older and grows up and wants to make peace with this sinful world.
And you’re also going to have to keep reminding her that in her baptism on July 2, 2017, she was joined to Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace – and that in Him, she has a REAL PEACE that this world cannot give.
And you’ll know you’ve done your job as parents well when one day, Charlotte swings the SWORD OF JESUS at you and reminds you – or reminds you that you too have been baptized and joined to the PEACE OF GOD that surpasses all human understanding.
And of course, the same applies to all of us. And whether we’re on the receiving end of the SWORD OF JESUS, or the receiving end of the PEACE OF JESUS, let us be thankful – thankful that Jesus sent “these 12” out with instructions, and His Word has come to us through them, all the way into our own day – that we may have REAL PEACE.
“The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The true prophet is here. “The PEACE OF THE LORD, be with you always.” Amen.