The Christian Loves God Most of All
(Matthew 10:34-42 / Pentecost 6 / July 12, 2020)
One of the truths of life that I’ve grown to appreciate over the years is how much our assumptions color the way we see the world. For example, see if you’ve ever heard these false assumptions or have thought them yourself:
1. Just ignore it and the problem will go away.
2. I have enough time to study before the exam, I will start studying tomorrow.
3. When I grow up life will be a lot easier.
4. I won’t make the same mistakes my parents did because I’m smarter than that.
5. When I grow up, I will have lots of money.
Of course, when you are young you are understandably naïve, and so we give young people a pass. The problem, however, happens when you arrive at adulthood, and your expectations of life are not accurate. On the extreme side, look at what happened to millions of lives because of communism's false assumptions. People in power are not inherently good and don’t always have your best interest in mind. On a much lighter side there is a saying that women get married with the assumption that their husbands will change, and they don’t. Men get married assuming their wives will never change, and they do!
Indeed, one of the comments that I’ve found to be most helpful in life is what one of my professors would constantly say to us. He’d say, “What did you expect?” So, the pastor complains because there is sin in his congregation. Well, what was he expecting to happen?
That is basically what Jesus is saying in Matthew, chapter 10. He’s telling his disciples what they can expect as vocal believers in a sinful and adulterous generation. And he doesn’t sugar-coat any of it. In fact, he says, “It’s not just that strangers, acquaintances, or even friends won’t like your Christianity, but for some it will be even members of their own household. Which means that you’ll be tempted to hide your faith when you’re around them. Which means that you’ll be tempted to dilute it because of them. Which means that in order to smooth over the division there is a real danger that you end up loving them more than me. And then you lose your life.”
I can’t tell you how much these words must have surprised the disciples, for they were expecting the Messiah to bring peace on earth. That was a very common assumption among the Jews in the Old Testament—that the Messiah was going to usher in a total utopia in the land of Israel. And by the way, this notion that if you are a serious follower of Jesus, that life is only going to get better for you on earth, is still rampant in our churches today. In fact, it’s the American gospel. Theologians call it the “prosperity gospel”. It’s the notion that if you really believe, you will always succeed.
Well, what about the early Christians in Rome who really believed and lost their life for it? Or what about the many religious prisoners who are persecuted because they refuse to deny Jesus. And what about the Christian parents that say to their children, “It’s not right for you to live with your girlfriend or boyfriend as if you were married, because you’re not married!”? Do you think such a statement is going to induce a utopian state within that family? Not if the parents make known their displeasure and repeatedly make known their displeasure.
Today Jesus says, “Don’t be surprised when these things happen for I’m telling you that they are going to happen. To the degree that you take me seriously in life, that is the degree that you will experience division on account of me.” Now, let me explain.
In verse 34 Jesus tells the apostles, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” So, he’s telling them. “Get your expectations aligned with reality. The result of my coming to this sinful generation is that there will be division and not unity. The result will be a sword, not world peace.”
It’s not that Jesus wants there to be division. It’s that because he is the only way to heaven, there will inevitably be some who believe in him and some who don’t. And therefore, the two groups are divided. They are not necessarily divided according to personality, political beliefs, shared likes, or family units. But in the most important sense (in the most permanent sense) they are divided in that one will go to heaven and the other won’t.
And what Jesus is saying is that this division will play itself out while people are still alive in this world. It will manifest itself even within the sacred confines of the nuclear family. It won’t happen to every family, but it will happen to some families. We like to think that sin has no consequences, at least not when it comes to us, but sin plays no favorites. It is very egalitarian in nature. And so, sometimes mothers believe and fathers don’t. Or children believe and their parents don’t. Or two siblings believe while growing up, but then later one falls away.
Now, this is a hard saying of Jesus to embrace. But it is a basic principle of life. And so, the less we expect everyone to love Jesus the same way we do, the less disappointed we will be when it becomes obvious that they don’t. And the less tempted we will be to capitulate. You ask, “How does that happen?” Well, one way is that the believing member of the family stays home from worship to appease the non-believing members of the family.
You see, family ties are very strong. They are supposed to be strong. But Jesus says that our ties with him are to be the strongest of all. He continues, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (vv. 37,38).
So, on the one hand there is the danger that the natural affection between family members tugs us away from loving Christ most of all. On the other hand, there is the horrendous pain that comes from cross bearing that repels us from loving Christ more than ourselves. That word “cross” often becomes sanitized in today’s world. Don’t do it. The Roman cross was meant to cause pain, and Jesus says, “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Not that we are to suffer for our own sins, but rather we are to publicly identify with the One who did suffer for our sins. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven” (v. 32). So the cross is dear to the believer, even when it causes pain. Will I deny my Lord to escape tension and division? No, I will confess my Lord so that I will never be divided from Him!
Even when it causes pain? Again, these are hard words to embrace. It’s easy to preach them; it's much harder to live by them. So why do it? Why risk the possible ramifications of taking Jesus seriously?
Because some will listen to what you have to say and take Jesus seriously as well. Jesus says, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (v. 40). Some will believe in Jesus as their Savior! And you see, when that happens you are truly united! If we really want to be united with the people we love, we need to go to heaven with them. Otherwise the false unity that people like to assume exists will eventually be betrayed by death. And death is the ultimate divider. So, the reason we take Jesus seriously and love him most of all is because only he has the words of eternal life. Listen to what Jesus says in verse 39 (and with this I close): “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Now, this is my favorite verse in this text, and when I finally understood it, I genuinely became excited. Because “life” in the Greek language and Hebrew mind is not just the sum of our bodily functions. All bodily functions will eventually stop. “Life”, rather, comprises both the body and the “ego”, that is your Self, your soul, if you will. It is your core and essence as a person. It is what makes you uniquely you.
And every day we live, we’re trying to find it. And so, humans run after all sorts of things: pleasures, endeavors, and adventures, all in the name of trying to find themselves. To finally be happy. To finally be whole. To finally be authentic and complete. And they never do.
Now, to the Christian this makes perfect sense. Because only Jesus is life—life in its fullest sense, life in its originally intended sense. Life in relationship with our Heavenly Father. And so, only he can give it. But what we often fail to realize is that this life starts the moment one finds Jesus, the moment you believe. It will be brought to fruition in heaven, but the one who finds Jesus finds himself now. And I tell you, the more you spend your life with Jesus in this present world, the more you will become your true Self, the Self that God created you to be. That true Self is like a plant that is growing toward maturity in this world. Just wait until you get to know yourself in heaven! The whole you! The complete you! The you whom God knit together in your mother’s womb.
Only in Jesus will we ever truly start living. We were dead in your transgressions and sins but have now been made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2). All that I am, all that I have, all that I will be (none of which I deserve) is because of, and found in, Jesus.
So, when we publicly receive and welcome a fellow believer, we are welcoming Jesus himself. More than that, Jesus says we are welcoming the Father in heaven. The person may not even speak the same language as you. The person may set off a bunch of fireworks and keep you up late into the night. But he’s going to heaven with you. And so even when we give a cup of cold water to the least of the least in society—when you do something kind because Jesus died for that person too, Jesus says, “I realize you are doing it for me. Because you love me. As a Christian you love me most of all!”
May God grant that he says this about each and every one of us. Amen.