Peace, Loyalty and Diplomacy

Title: Peace, Loyalty and Diplomacy

Text: Matthew 10:34-42

Date: June 28th, 2009

 

Continuing in The Gospel According to Matthew, this week we look at Jesus’ instructions to his disciples about having realistic expectations about the Christian life and Christian ministry. Today, we almost always hear about the benefits of Christianity or the positive effects of Christian faith upon one’s life. Most evangelists describe all the good things that will result when we place our faith in Jesus Chris and begin to live the Christian life. In fact, it’s become popular today for church pastors to present the Christian faith almost exclusively or solely in terms of positive benefits. “Come to Jesus and he’ll fix your marriage.” Put you faith in the Lord and he’ll give you success on the job or in your career.” “If you trust in God you’ll experience a happier life and a healthier body.” “By applying the principles of God’s Word, the Bible, to your life you can have more money and material resources.” But not only is the blessing of God available to individuals, but it’s also available to nations as well, we are told. We hear that if more people in the United States would only return to church, read their Bibles and pray, and obey God our nation would be blessed. Now the truth is, there is much truth to these statements. By trusting and obeying God we can experience personal blessings. By our nation turning back towards God in respect to laws and policy-making, through its citizens following more closely the moral and spiritual commands of God, we can prosper as a nation. But it is also a fact that the Christian life is not only an opportunity to experience positive blessings, it also comes with negative consequences as well. That’s something overly zealous evangelists and over-eager church leaders often times fail to mention to people. But it’s something that Jesus never omitting from mentioning to his disciples in preparing them for the Christian life and ministry in the real world. Jesus soberly reminds them that they will face opposition. Far from making the world a more peaceful place, the introduction of the Christian gospel might actually increase tensions in families and between friends, even in society, in communities or even within a nation, as individuals and groups decide whether or not to trust and obey the gospel. In addition, Jesus communicates that he demands 100% loyalty from his followers. They must place him in highest priority in their lives – above even family and friends. No one or no thing can take priority over loyalty to Christ – no career, no hobby, no interest, no earthly possession – nothing. Finally, in this section, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to function as his ambassadors, carrying his message and ministry to others. If they are received well, it is because people are receiving Christ; if they are rejected, it is because people are rejecting Christ. These are important truths for us as 21st century disciples of Jesus to remember, especially in a day and age that only likes to hear about only the positive benefits that come from trusting and obey the Lord. We must realize that even in the midst of the many blessings we receive from following Christ, we’ll also encounter negative consequences for our faith as well. We must be ready for this aspect of the Christian life also. With that as an introduction, let’s look at what Jesus teaches his disciples – all of his disciples – about what they will encounter.

 

First, Jesus doesn’t guarantee peace in every sense. Matthew 10:34-36, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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.’” In an increasingly secular world, Christianity is more and more seen as a problem rather than a solution to world peace. And in one sense, this is true. Critic’s say that Christianity isn’t flexible enough to help bring about peace in society. It has an exclusive message that Jesus is the only way to salvation. It talks and acts as if it alone has the truth and everyone else that contradicts it is false. Christian morality is absolute and thus causes division with others who don’t hold to it. And on and on the charges against Christianity go. Now there are defenses given by Christians in an attempt to explain that Christianity and the Christian church are very important in society and the world in securing world peace. For example, Jesus and his example of love provide a realistic pattern of forgiveness in a world filled with hate and un-forgiveness. But still, the overall opinion that our increasingly secular society is forming is that Christianity — and its followers, Christians – are a growing threat to world peace rather than a solution. Again, there is a sense in which this is true. Jesus said it best, “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth, I don’t come to bring peace, but a sword.” Or in other words, Jesus is saying that he comes to bring exclusive salvation and exclusive truth. This kind of exclusivity will cause divisions and disagreements. It will divide families and friendships. It did in the first century, especially in the Jewish community, because there were Jews who strongly embraced Christianity and there were Jews who strongly rejected it in favor of traditional Judaism. People died because of these differences and divisions. And it has been that way all through Christian history. At the time of the Reformation and afterwards, thousands of people died over battles for truth in Europe. Because the questions that Christianity addresses are matters of life and death, is it any wonder that it produces sharp divisions between those who accept it and those who reject it – or worse, between those who disagree as to what is the truth of Christianity? Today, we see the same division in the world over Christian truth. With the growth of Muslim populations in traditional Christian societies, there are growing divisions. Even in our own country, there is a growing “culture war” between those who hold to the teachings of the Bible and historic Christianity, and those who embrace secularism over the issues of abortion and homosexuality. At times it can get discouraging, especially when the truth appears to be losing the battle. But Jesus reminds us to keep going, keep holding to the truth with love in our hearts. These things need to happen, just as Jesus said they would. While Jesus guarantees us his internal, spiritual peace that comes from salvation, he doesn’t guarantee us external peace in our families, between friends, in our communities, nation or world. We need to remember that.

 

Second, Jesus requires our supreme loyalty above all persons, places or things. Matthew 10:37-39, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s a popular myth in our secular modern world today that in order to live a fulfilled life one must “find himself or herself” – meaning, one must pursue any and every path that leads to personal self-fulfillment in order to find meaning and purpose in life. Consequently, millions and millions of people selfishly pursue their own self-centered dreams in order to try to achieve happiness without considering the consequences of their actions upon others. This is particularly evident in the many failed marriages and broken families that result from one or both partners willing to divide the marriage or family in order to “find themselves.” But the paradox of happiness – as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 6 – blessedness is achieved in one’s life not as a result of pursuing it directly, but only as a result of pursuing first the kingdom of God. Happiness or blessedness is given as a reward or consequence of putting God first in life above everyone and everything else. That what Jesus is reminding his disciples again here in Matthew 10, “Anyone who loves father or mother or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” “Whoever finds his life” – that is, whoever pursues happiness or blessings directly, whether marriage or family or money or material possessions, or obtains all the things people say are necessary for happiness – will ultimately “lose it,” that is, the thing he pursues, blessings, happiness. “But whoever loses his life for my sake” – that is, puts God first, puts trust and obedience to Christ first before his own natural desires – “will find it,” that is, he will find that God blesses him ultimately in ways that he can’t obtain for himself, in a lasting and fulfilling way. That’s the blessing paradox or paradox of happiness. Again, if we try to directly pursue happiness, we’ll miss it. But if we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things shall be added unto us,” Matthew 6:33. Now why does Jesus teach this important truth in the midst of his warnings of persecution and troubles? Because we are all tempted to make life easy on ourselves and take the easy way out. Why cause trouble for ourselves by professing faith in Christ? Why not tone-down our Christian testimony? Why not back away from the exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone? Why not be more accommodating to the secular world? Why not be more tolerant of sin, of immorality, of alternative religions, alternative lifestyles like cohabitation and homosexuality, freedom of choice in abortion? By being “less Christian” we might be able to get along further and faster in the secular world and pursue happiness without as many hassles over our faith. That’s the big temptation among Christians today. But we must be willing to hold fast to Jesus even when it inconveniences us and causes us trouble. We must seek blessings from God not in pursuing them apart from God directly. We must remember that our faith will at times cause us trouble.

 

Third, Jesus calls us to be his ambassadors. Matthew 10:40-42, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” Jesus wants his disciples to think of themselves as ambassadors or diplomats or representatives of God. The world is lost in sin and rebellion. God sends his messengers into the world to offer people terms of peace before he judges and destroy the world. By confessing their sins and trusting in Jesus alone to forgive and save them, a person can be at peace with God and receive eternal life. When we carry this message to the world there is no telling what might happen; we may be received with gladness by some, or we may be violently rejected by other; or we may be ignored entirely through passive indifference. Now notice only one of the three alternatives is positive; the other two are negative because they don’t result in bringing about peace between God and man. But it isn’t our job as ambassadors to actually bring about the peace between man and God; it’s our job to deliver the message of peace from God to people. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:18-20, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us: Be reconciled to God.” Now the thing about an ambassador is that one never knows how the host country is going to act in response to the message they receive. Sometimes during tense situations in the world of geo-politics it’s been known that after giving the message the ambassador is killed because his message wasn’t received well by the host country; so they kill him. It can be dangerous carrying a message that isn’t received well. But on the other hand, sometimes the ambassador is rewarded if the message is received well. But usually, it’s not either of those two extremes. It’s usually pretty normal and typical communications being sent. As ambassadors, we must be careful not to grow tired of our assignment simply because we don’t see very much happening spiritually in the people we talk to. It can be discouraging when people don’t positively respond to the gospel we try to share with them. But again, let’s be faithful and keep on witnessing, and let God work behind the scenes in the lives of people.

 

One of the things that we are not allowed to do in our role as ambassador for Christ is change the message of the gospel. There are more and more Christians who have grown discouraged by such a low level of response in their witness of the gospel to others that they have decided to change the gospel message into something more agreeable with modern people today. We see this sometimes happening on television and radio where popular pastors or preachers find that the old rugged cross message of repentance of sin and faith in Christ is not being received very well or isn’t very popular these days, so they begin to preach another message such as “how to succeed in life” or “how to keep a winning attitude in life” or “how to be blessed and prosperous in life.” Anyone heard of Joel Osteen? Instead of giving the biblical gospel message they turn to a popular and interesting message that is designed to attract and hold the attention of secular modern people. Who doesn’t want to succeed in life? Who doesn’t want a winning attitude? Who doesn’t want to prosper and be blessed? These are things everyone wants, but the problem is that these things don’t get to the real problem of sin and they don’t provide a cure for the real problem of sin. Often times, pastors and preachers who deal only with positive topics avoid the negative subjects such as sin, judgment, repentance and sacrifice. They make the Christian gospel appear to be something that doesn’t require any kind of internal change, but only a willingness to believe certain success ideas. They distort the message of the gospel. Well, if there is one thing an ambassador cannot do, it’s change the message he is sent to deliver. For example, imagine the United States sends an ambassador to North Korea – this country has been causing trouble for the United States and the rest of the world because it’s decided it wants to be a nuclear superpower. The ambassador is sent to deliver the message for North Korea to cease provoking hostilities with its nuclear arms expansion. But then imagine the diplomat or ambassador thinks to himself, “I can’t give this message, it’s negative, it might offend the North Koreans, they might even get mad a me and do me harm. I think I’ll change the message to something more friendly, more positive, less controversial.” Well, he may be thinking he’s helping things, but he’s really making matters worse. That’s what some preachers and some Christians are doing today. They are trying to make the gospel message sound more appealing to modern secular people but in so doing they are really making matters worse. No, we must be faithful ambassadors and deliver the gospel message as we are given it. And we must trust that God will use our efforts to work his will in the world, and take care of us at the same time.

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