He Came Not To Bring Peace, But A Sword

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is often believed in America that a healthy relationship is one that has all sorts of happiness, warmth, and smiles.  It is also taught that a healthy church is one that has the sound of joy, an ethos of cheerfulness, the feeling of friendliness, and an abundance of love pouring out of the pews into the city streets.  Yes, it is believed that churches that ‘get along’ with the community and churches that have internal peace and harmony are those that are the real deal. Otherwise stated, it is taught by some that the highest ideal in society and the church is visible love that yields the attitude of tolerance and harmony. 

According to this way of thinking, if one wants to preserve a true and vigorous church that is filled with happy clich├ęs and warm sentiments, then it must mean that peace should be upheld and protected at all costs.  Yes, agreeing to this way of thinking means that anything which threatens the church’s warmth, anything which intimidates the church’s happiness, and anything which may impede the ability for people to get along with each other in the church and with the culture is to be deemed as a threat to love, tolerance, and harmony.  This results in branding everything that bullies peace as an enemy that should most certainly be disregarded or possibly eliminated.  

The problem with this line of thinking though is that Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading from today usurp this ideology.  Loosely stated, the bridegroom of the church, Jesus Christ, said that He did not come to make life cozy. As the Messiah, He revealed that He did not come to somehow please everyone and make everyone happy, so that everyone could get along together forever with warm fuzzy feelings.  Rather, as we heard in our Gospel reading, Jesus came to cut—make a sharp knife cut—between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law, and so forth.  Yes, His coming cuts through warm domestic arrangements and disrupts the wisdom of the world, which results in slander, pain, ridicule, rejection, persecution, unsettledness, and even death of Christians.  The reason why this is the case is that God ripped open the heavens and sent Jesus into this world.  The sending of Jesus results in the invasion of the Kingdom of God into this sinful world.  Indeed, Jesus—the righteous prophet, priest, and king—was born in a manger and journeyed towards the cross.  This foreign invasion was and continues to be an invasion of a message of truth and redemption that stands at odds with the message of the world and stands at odds to the evil one and our sinful nature. 

My friends, contrary to what well-intentioned Christians sometimes say in our day and age, our lives (that are connected to Christ) are not marked by a good life without pain or struggle, as your future gets brighter and brighter, due to being promoted to new levels of glory where your wildest dreams will come true and every single obstacles in your path topples, but rather lives that are marked by the cross.  A cross, that yields experiences of hostility, tension, loss, and persecution from those who are opposed to the message of Christ.  Indeed, "...as soon as [God’s] Word is proclaimed, men will divide into two camps: some will receive it with joy, others will be offended by it and will begin to hate and persecute those who receive." [1] 

“But Pastor!” you may say, “Isn’t Jesus the prince of peace?  Does He not bring and leave us peace?  Didn’t Jesus greet the individuals in the New Testament by saying, ‘Peace to you?’  Were not the disciples bearers of peace?”   Yes, Jesus is the prince of peace and He does deliver us peace.  However, the peace that He accomplishes and delivers is peace with God the Father.  More specifically, the wrath of God has been satisfied by Jesus resulting in complete and total peace for you and me.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus; there is indeed peace with the Father.  The stirring truth of Christianity though, is that the disciple shall be as his teacher.  Thus, being at peace with the Lord puts you at odds not only with your own sinful nature, but puts you at odds with the evil one and the world around you as it should.  My friends, the story of and message of Jesus caused offense “when it was first preached in places like Nazareth; we should not be surprised that it continues to offend [today]. In fact [we Christians] ought to be troubled when our handling of the Bible never offends.”[2]

It should not come as any surprise, then, that the message of Christ conflicts with the message of the world for this is indeed what Jesus means by the sword that He brings to the earth. But what about the church, should we expect the sword of Jesus as well?  What about the church, should we expect division?  Should there be division, for we are people of the Word, are we not?  We are indeed people of the Word; however, our sinful natures are alive and well in each and every one of us.  We acknowledge this reality each and every Sunday in this church as we confess our sins at the beginning of each Divine Service.  Therefore, because this is the case, when the Word of God is rightly taught in the church it should bring about tension in you and me.  Yes, we can learn to expect that the Word of God will continually come to you and me confronting, exposing, and killing our sinful natures.  Keep in mind that our nature is weak, our view of truth is tainted, and our reason is warped, because of our sinful conditions.  Thus, we need Jesus’ words, words of Scripture, not to be merely spoken and delivered to us to elicit noble feelings, but rather spoken and delivered to us to reform and form us as hearers, to grant us faith.[3]  Simply put the Word of God needs to invade the world of sinners, you and me, and continually function as our only source of wisdom and truth.  Jesus’ words must invade, for apart from the Word the church is left in her sins, blinded, and lost.

Practically speaking, when the Word of God is properly divided and taught we should expect a certain amount of tension not only between the church and world, but within the church as well, whether we want it or not.  This means that an absence of this tension in the church can be seen not as healthy, but rather unhealthy, because quite possibly the Word may have been lost.  Yes, if a church does not have an ounce of tension over the scriptures but only love, happiness, and tranquility, I believe this may be a cause not for celebration but for alarm.  Permit me to explain, “Our heavenly Father wielded the righteous sword of His wrath against His own Son so that you would never have to experience such a brutal eternal death.  He slayed His own Son; poured out His holy and precious blood, for you, so that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.  And this once-slain, but now resurrected and victorious Christ continues this amazing, loving work of the Father on us, His blessed creations, as He endeavors to kill the sin within us that constantly seeks to destroy us, confronting and slaying that sin with the sword of His Law, all so that He can make you alive anew in the life-giving joy of His Gospel; making you alive with His Gospel gifts of His own victorious body and blood.  I know that may not be exactly what you want to hear, but it’s true.  Because you still wear sinful flesh; because you still “occasionally” give in to sin and sinfully stand in opposition to Christ, He loves you enough to wield His sword of righteous love against that sin so that that sin within you can be put to death, and you can have and enjoy the life and peace that He purchased for you with His own body and blood.”[4]

Jesus said that He came not to bring peace to earth but He came to bring the sword.  This is the way that it is. Therefore, we do not seek out tension, nor do we manufacture conflicts and fights in the church and community, but rather we strive for peace, but hold to truth at all costs.  We rejoice when harmony, warmth and tranquility fill the church and overflow to our neighbors, but not at the expense of disregarding and eliminating Jesus and His Word.  For we know that a part from Jesus we do not have eternal peace.   

Baptized Saints, “just like your Lord said to His disciples in last week’s Gospel lesson: Have no fear.  Trust in Him above all things.  God knows what He’s doing, even if it doesn’t make sense to you; even if He didn’t run it by you first for your approval; even if it offends you and [puts you at unease].  God knows what He’s doing.  Be not afraid to let God work, whether it’s wielding the sword or waving the palm branch, dividing and slaying or resurrecting and rejoicing.  Be not afraid.  It is finished.  You have nothing to fear, and you have every reason to rejoice and be at peace.”[5]

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1928), 265-267.

[2] William Willimon, Shaped by the Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991), 85.

[3] Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2008), 144.

[4] Jason Zirbel, “Christ’s Surgical Love,” http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=3810 (27 June 2014)

[5] Ibid.

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