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"Jesus' Controversial Call: Decision, Division, Distribution"

Relief & Development Sunday - Oct.19, 2014 Mt.10:32-42


Ding-dong; someone's at the door. "Oh, hello, so surprised to see you! Won't you come on in? But wait, first leave your left arm and right leg outside. And I don't really care for your nose either, could you please remove it and leave it outside there for when you come back out?"

Who would answer the door like that?! If you're going to welcome the person, you invite them in, not just parts of them. But when it comes to Jesus Christ knocking at the door of our life - are there parts we'd rather He left outside? Myron Augsburger notes, "When God confronts us in the person of Christ, it is not by a law or philosophy from which we can select parts which we accept, and reject others.When confronted with a Person, we must either accept or reject Him."

On Tuesday, the youth at catechism were challenged to make lists of things that can risk becoming "lords" in our lives. In response the young people filled sheets of paper with things that compete with Christ's lordship, such as popularity, clothes, appearance, job, money, sex, food, vehicles, social media, TV, and video games. We noted that some of these things were not necessarily bad in themselves, but could sneakily start to take over our lives in unhealthy proportions. What would be competing "lords" for you? What are your "non-negotiables"?

Video games, for example, may seem harmless, but when a person starts to become obsessed with them, they can start dominating your life. Relationships and other good pursuits suffer. One youth shared that he dropped out of the school band so he could finish his homework on his lunch hour so that when he got home, all his time could be used to play video games. And there is much debate about some of the negative messages various games convey as they are played.

A news item reports that this past Wednesday, Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at a university in Utah about the portrayal of women in video games. Monday night that university received a threat of a "Montreal-style" massacre by a person claiming to have rifles, pistols and pipe bombs and vowing to kill feminists on campus. Tuesday night Ms.Sarkeesian pulled out because the university refused to screen for concealed weapons, because Utah apparently is the only state that has a law prohibiting universities from not allowing concealed weapons at events. Amongst the gaming community, there is resistance (amongst those on Twitter represented by the hashtag GamerGate) to journalists critiquing misogynist aspects of video gaming. So we can see various "lords" at work here: some gamers that are defensive of the current way women are portrayed as damsels-in-distress or background decoration; one terrorist prepared to make a deadly threat so an event wouldn't go ahead; the university, unwilling to take unusual measures to protect its students; and a state, uniquely defending the right of its citizens to carry concealed weapons if they have a permit. Conflict arises because stakeholders refuse to relinquish their "lords", their non-negotiables.

What might be creeping into YOUR life as a would-be "lord", a competitor to Jesus in terms of controlling your life?


We're continuing our look at Jesus' second large teaching block of five as Matthew records them. To review, in chapter 10 verses 5-15 we have the mission on which He's sending His disciples expressed POSITIVELY: v7 preach "the Kingdom of Heaven is near". We're to proclaim God's control. V8 we are to PROVE it by actions that RESTORE - heal the sick (restore health), raise the dead (restore life), cleanse lepers (restore soundness or wholeness), drive out demons (restore proper control to those we'd otherwise call "possessed") - reclaim territory. PRO-claim and RE-claim. Vv12-13 we are also to be PEACE-ing/Shalom-ing - confer greeting and blessing in a saving way.

Next Jesus speaks about the PERIL and PROTECTION - He cautions the messengers they will be persecuted. Yet there's the promise of a Heavenly Father's care, who even knows and governs the fate of sparrows. Then vv32-42, our current text, might be called "the check-up before the sign-up" - occasion for sober second thought before jumping on the discipleship bandwagon. As if to say, "Are you REALLY ready for this? Think again about exactly what you're signing up for!" These verses test our motives, double-check our allegiance.

Vv32f, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven." The verb "acknowledges" means to profess, declare openly, speak out freely. The Greek translates an Aramaic idiom "confess in me" - a "sense of UNITY with Christ and of Christ with the [person] who takes the open stand for Him." (Robertson) If we own up to being Christ's, if we dare to "wear" His colours, be identified with Him - He promises solemnly to likewise acknowledge / claim us as His very own before God in heaven.

But if we "disown" Him - NRSV "deny", reject Him - He will likewise deny we are His when it comes down to the [eternal] punch. There will be a complete breach in the relationship: the only place left for those who reject Christ is away from God the source of life and light - in hell, the outer darkness.

What about it - will you preach the Kingdom of heaven is near, OR will you make like the dominant worldview of our day, naturalism - 'nature is all there is' - is true? "We are called to live for two worlds, for the eternal overlaps the world of time." (Augsburger) I have news for you: "Welcome aboard the Titanic!" This ship is going down. You won't live forever in your current body. Augsburger points out: "When the Titanic sank in 1912, in the office of the Cunard Line in New York City there was a board listing names of passengers in only 2 columns, and they were headed 'saved' and 'lost'."

So, as Jesus sees it, humanity likewise falls into just 2 categories: those who profess Him, and those who deny Him. Your decision determines your destiny.


Part of our mandate on mission for Jesus, according to vv12-13, is to be greeting homes and letting our peace "rest on it" if it is deserving. People should be able to smell something of the air of God's salvation about us, we bring Jesus' Shalom with us wherever we go, reflecting His reconciliation. But even in that context, Jesus warns us not every home will prove deserving: some towns will refuse to the disciples' words, in which case they are to shake the dust off their when they leave that home or town (v14).

God is love, but He is also a jealous God, seeking our wholehearted devotion. When we give Him our total allegiance and affection, that alienates us from lesser "gods" and "lords" of this world who resent our attachment to the one true God. They object to the peace we experience in Christ. So in vv 34-37 Jesus prepares us for rejection by those who do not understand our being sold-out to Him: "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.'" 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..." (Mt 10:34-37)

The verb for "bring peace" or "bring a sword" is more forceful in the Greek, more like "sudden hurling, throw, cast" a sword. Some might think, "How audacious of Him to hurl a sword! What's loving about that?" But He has the total right, for He created us, and we owe Him our very being; He is SOVEREIGN - those who refuse are making a grave error. The sword Jesus 'hurls' is not unjust, because it is in response to our stubborn prideful rejection of His merciful all-giving sacrifice. So the division arises, not because of His initiative, but because of our wilful rebellion.

This proclamation turns even members of families against each other - parents and children. The verb "to turn" is literally to "cut in 2 parts" (from the same word we get the word 'dichotomy'). This echoes v21 earlier in this same passage: "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death." Grim stuff! The division boils down to the question: "Do we love Jesus more than even our closest, most intimate, natural bonds?"

A centuries-old proverb says, "Blood's thicker than water" - meaning family bonds trump relationships formed outside the family. But Jesus here counters that the bond of His blood prevails over even family ties. Is Jesus more precious to us than even our parent, our son or daughter? Do we really love Him and belong to Him that tightly? To the point that, if our earthly family doesn't understand our new birth as a Christian - if they reject us and disown us - will we still feel we have the better deal by having Jesus?

This was portrayed very emotionally in the movie God's Not Dead when the Muslim father at first beats and then puts out of the home his college-age daughter who has believed in Jesus. It's a heart-rending scene, resulting in both the daughter and father slumped on opposite sides of the door, engulfed in tears. Likewise if you recall the Chinese male student who tries to explain about his interest in Christianity to his businessman father, but the father refuses to listen - "We will talk no more of this." A decision FOR Jesus may result in division FROM your closest family members. Is He that real to you, that dear to you?

Vv38-39 push this beyond the family level to the general principle. Clinging to Christ, we may find ourselves deprived not just of family connection, but even life itself - shunned by society in general to the point of persecution that is fatal. Jesus declares, "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." (Mt 10:38f)

This is the first mention of the cross in Matthew's gospel; it becomes one of Jesus' most challenging and proverbial sayings, repeated later for emphasis. The cross was not a new concept to the disciples or Jewish culture. The Persians started using it as an instrument of deadly torture around 500 BC. Around 168 BC the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes had crucified those Jews who refused Hellenization. About 87 BC the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus savagely crucified 800 Jewish opponents (Pharisees - "good guys" if you will) in Jerusalem.

Jesus is saying we need to find Him so "worthy" - so valued, so precious to us, dearer than life itself - so worthy as to be willing to be impaled upon a brutish instrument of torture rather than deny Him. And that's exactly what happened to some of His closest disciples - "St.Andrew's cross" on the Scottish flag; St.Peter being crucified upside down, for example. For me, this is one of the strongest evidences for Christianity, that those who knew Jesus best, who were eyewitnesses to the circumstances around His life, His death, and His resurrection, proclaimed to their dying breaths that these things were true.

Does Jesus MATTER that much to you - more than life itself? "Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." In allowing your life to be poured out and spent for Him, you discover true life, eternal life, not just life that starts after you die, but a supernatural existence that starts right now and continues in parallel with your earthly life, outlasting it. The Holy Spirit inside you, helping you - God's Kingdom-reality.

On Wednesday, some youth attended a concert by the Russian-born band Everfound in Listowel. The lead singer told of his great uncle back in Russia who chose to serve 20 years in prison rather than give up his precious Bible. 20 years! Would you choose that imprisonment over renouncing Jesus?


Our passage closes with Jesus reminding this new faith-community to be welcoming toward the ambassadors of the Kingdom, whether they be prophets, experienced righteous people, or just a beginner - an early learner of a disciple. Vv40-42: "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."

NRSV translates "receives" more suitably likely as "welcomes". Jesus' promise is that, if we welcome one of these messengers (prophet or righteous person), we ourselves get "upgraded" as it were to be eligible to have a "prophet's reward" or a "righteous person's reward" conferred upon us...Not bad!! In welcoming them, you become privileged to have their status conferred on you, in recognition of your hospitality.

Also, that in welcoming our fellow believer, we welcome Jesus Himself; and in welcoming Jesus, we welcome or are receptive to God our Heavenly Father. Yes God Almighty really does want to walk in the front door of your life and be welcomed, received by you. Christ comes to us not just by the Holy Spirit but also in the shoes of our Christian brother or sister who greets us. When we help them even by such a simple act as a "cup of cold water" (v42), God takes note and credits it to our account as worthy of reward.

To sum up: Do we "own" Jesus - acknowledge Him - dare to be identified with Him? That's a big DECISION. It may well result in DIVISION that separates us from unbelieving family members or friends who don't understand His priority in our life. But it introduces us into a new community where God is welcomed through receiving other believers, and together DISTRIBUTING His grace to continue the Kingdom's reclaiming and restoring work.

This being Relief & Developent Sunday, we'll end with a short slide/audio presentation highlighting various R&D projects our denomination is contributing to in Haiti, India, and South Africa. As you watch, ponder how the Lord may be leading you to share "a cup of cold water" in His name... (website)