34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”
11 Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.
What is the most you have had to give up because you believe in Jesus? Has anyone ever asked you that before. Take a moment to really ponder that. What have I given up? A better question might be, what in my life would I refuse to give up? If I am being truly honest with myself, when Jesus says “You’ve got to give that up for Me” would I tell Him “no.” That is a terrifying question to ask. It is even more terrifying if we answer it honestly. Every one of us has the potential to be the rich, young ruler with the thing we think we are rich in. It might be money, but it could be anything. But as we see in the passage here, Jesus demands everything we have. Not that we will always definitely be forced to give everything up, but that we have to be ready and willing to when He says.
Take up Your Cross (34-39)
One of the challenges of the pastor is to transport people separated by two thousand years into the world of the Bible. So many things are so different than now that it is very easy to get confused. We might understand one thing a certain way in 2021 AD while in 28 AD they understand it a totally different way. Their way of life is strange and alien to us. Far, far too often a person will read the Bible and assume it can be directly applied to our situation without first understanding the context it was in. Our passage today is a prime example.
I have actually heard people argue that the destruction of the family that our culture has been rapidly undertaking, the attacks on marriage, of delaying child-bearing or not having children altogether, the promotion of sexual licentiousness, etc. etc. there are Christian teachers who actually say that these things are okay because “‘Jesus said I came to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother,’ so the family being destroyed by our culture is okay because family is an idol.” Such teaching is monstrous and abominable. There is really no other word for it.
Jesus is not saying that family, the thing that God created in the very beginning, is now all of a sudden idolatrous. He is saying that His invasion of Israel is going to tear it apart at that nation’s most fundamental level: the family. He is not saying this because the destruction of the family is a good thing, He is saying it because it is a judgment and a condemnation upon Israel. A faithful nation would have families that honor Christ’s disciples, not one in which those disciples parents and children and cousins and uncles deliver them up to death.
Furthermore, Jesus is illustrating something about discipleship. And this is one of the challenges of walking through this passage with modern people. We value family. People say that all the time. “Love my wife and kids.” “My family is my whole world.” Etc. I think most people are very sincere when they say this stuff. But what we see as “family” is something quite a bit different than a First Century Jew would understand it (and, truth be told, how most people throughout the history of the world before about the 20th Century would understand “family.”). Modernity, especially the world that was formed after the Second World War is a radically different social environment than what existed in the time of the New Testament, and really for most of human history. What we see as family is the nuclear family. A house in the suburbs with mom and dad and kids, and grandma and grandpa and other relatives visiting every now and again. And this nuclear family has no rootedness, it can pick up and leave clear to the other side of the continent as quickly as you can pack a U-Haul. For most of human history, this simply was not so. A household might be several generations. And it was almost always fixed to a particular geographical point. When you talk to guys who have been in Afghanistan and they talk about the villages there, these are people who have never left the Himalayan valley they herd goats in in thousands of years. Everybody they grew up playing with is the great, great, great, great grandchild of who your great, great, great grandpa grew up playing with. The tightly wound interconnectedness of such a place like an Afghan village is far more typical of the world than the post-war, suburban, rootless nuclear family. In a small town like ours, we get this a little bit better than most, but even still well-over half of the people I graduated with live either in the metro or all over the country. We don’t understand how tightly knit communities used to be. So when we read a passage like this, we should read it thinking like a person who grew up in an environment surrounded by dozens of siblings and cousins every single day. Their entire life is socially and economically, their entire identity as a person, all of it, is wrapped up in being part of their family. That bond is incredibly strong. And Jesus says, these are the people who are going to deliver you up to death. And this is not some accident. I have come expressly for this purpose. Israel is under judgment. Israel is going to be ripped apart by Me. And if you are worthy of me, you will be willing to give up the thing you cherish most in all of life, even more than life itself. You must be willing to not only be disowned and kicked out of your family, but to actually have that family, everyone and everything you knew and loved to utterly hate you. You have to be willing to face that.
Could you do that? Be willing to lose everything you have for Jesus Christ?
Jesus says He wants us to pick up His cross. We forget constantly that a cross is not a fashion accessory or a decoration. It is an instrument of death. It is a barbaric thing, brutal men would nail a human being to like an animal to suffocate himself in agony. It was not just an instrument of execution but of total humiliation, too. You are hung up there, naked and exposed for all to see, everyone who hated you mocking you as you struggle through excruciating pain to draw each breath. And Jesus says, if you are worthy of me, you will gladly pick that up to go to your death. That is what being a disciple of Jesus Christ means. Losing your life is the only way to save it.
Even A Cup of Cold Water (40-11:1)
Jesus continues on, pointing out that those who receive His disciples will be rewarded. Why will they be rewarded, because we have to understand the mission of Jesus and His apostles in terms of war. He is at war. And His apostles after Him are at war. They are invading Israel like it is the land of Canaan. What’s more, it is an insurgency. And everyone has to pick a side. And if you take Jesus’s side that comes at a cost. Remember, the sword that Jesus brings to Israel is so violent that people are sending their children to death for following Him. So it might seem strange that Jesus says that even a cup of cold water would get you a reward. “But Jesus, didn’t you just say that the cost of following you is picking up your cross!? And these guys get rewarded just for giving a cup of water!” What is not understood is that even the most minor action taking on behalf of the side of Jesus is incredibly costly. If following Jesus means even the people who love you the most will hate you enough to kill you, handing out a cup of water might cost you your life. That is how radical following Jesus is. That is how costly it is. And it is black and white. You are either on His side or not. You either are loyal to Him or not. So much so that even the most trivial sign of loyalty—a cup of water—will be rewarded.
So what does this all mean for us? Are the people who say family is an idol and we should hate father and mother right? Of course not. Loving mother and father and having a family in today’s world is quite often a revolution act of faithfulness to Jesus. Our world is so viciously demented, that it is not only at war with God’s people, but with the created order that God made. They hate God so much they cannot abide things like male and female, or marriage, or loving and raising children. So, loving the world that God made and the order that God made is a very good thing. And understanding on top of that, that we are entering a time where faithfulness to Jesus Christ will be increasingly costly. You will lose financially. You will suffer socially. There will be family members who will hate you. There might even be jail time in your future. Or worse.
But if you are all in on Jesus. If His kingdom is the very most important thing in your entire life. None of that matters. You get one life to spend. And it goes very fast. Why would you spend it on anything other than following Jesus. So take up your cross. And follow Him.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.