Over the past few weeks, you have heard how the Lord Jesus sent His Apostles to make disciples of all nations, beginning from Jerusalem and Judea, and proceeding, through the ages, to the ends of the earth. He sent them to preach repentance and forgiveness in His Name, to catechize and baptize with His Word, and to bear His Holy Cross as those who follow Him are also called to do. To be a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ is to hear and heed His Word, to learn from His teaching and example, to live by faith in His promises, and to live in love according to His Commandments.
He is certainly not unaware of the challenges and difficulties confronting His servants on earth, His ministers and His disciples. Nor is it simply that He has known and warned you ahead of time. But He Himself has borne the Cross and suffered hardship, grief, and pain on your behalf.
It is simply a fact that, if you are a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, then you will have tribulation in the world, and you will bear His Cross: Not peace on earth, but a sword that severs and divides.
It is a hard Word that Jesus speaks, by way of example, concerning your household and family; that Christ and His Word must take priority over your nearest and dearest kin. Not that you are called to forsake or neglect your parents, spouse, or children; but as I said last week, you are to love them according to the Word of Christ, in deference to Him. That can be painful at times, as you navigate prickly feelings; as you admonish adult children to repent and to be faithful; and as you deal with the anxiety of relatives who belong to different churches, or with the anguish of loved ones who have abandoned the church altogether. Then there are those thorny issues, such as living together outside of marriage (fornication), various re-definitions of “marriage” altogether, contrary to the Word of God, and political debates over abortion (the murder of the unborn).
It is so tempting and so easy to compromise, to capitulate or to keep silent, instead of standing up and speaking up for what is good and right and true. It is hard to fear, love, and trust in God above all things; to love your neighbors as yourself; and to forgive those who sin against you, especially when you are at odds over these matters of faith and life with the members of your own family.
But it gets worse. While the Cross that is laid upon your family and your relationships is difficult and often painful, there is an even deeper and more demanding challenge that confronts you. For the Word of Christ is a sharp two-edged Sword, which cuts you to the quick within yourself, even between your bones and your marrow. It divides you from your fallen flesh, from the lusts of your heart, and from all the false beliefs of your mind, soul, and spirit. It is really more like a surgeon’s scalpel than a barbarian’s broadsword. For Jesus does not just hack away at you; He goes for the jugular, and He addresses the heart of the matter. His Word is piercing, cutting you to the core.
So what the Lord Jesus is doing in this Gospel is preaching the first and greatest Commandment, the number one Law, namely, that you are to have no other gods before Him. None whatsoever.
It is a most exalted claim that Christ Jesus thus makes concerning Himself, indicating His true divinity and His eternal relationship with the Father. And it is all the more pointed and poignant in view of His Incarnation, His Humiliation, His Holy Cross and Passion. For all of your fear, love, and trust, your total allegiance, your faith and worship and obedience, and your entire life, all belong to this Crucified God. You are called to follow Him, to be and to live like Him, and to find yourself in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood like your own.
This Commandment brings the entire Law into focus, and it thus exposes your sin, condemns it for the idolatry it is, and rubs it in to makes it that much worse. It makes your sin utterly sinful. For it brings to light, not only your lack of faith in Christ, but also your covetous lust, greed, and selfishness for all manner of false gods and idols, by which you are trying to find your life on earth.
The Commandment of the Lord thus puts you to death; and to be clear, it cannot bring you to life. Not because it is bad. Far from it! The Law of God is good and wise, holy and just. But it cannot give you life, because it confronts and crucifies your sinful flesh, your sinful heart, your sinful body, soul, and spirit. It condemns and puts you to death for your idolatry, which is the worst sort of adultery. For you have joined yourself to other gods, although your true and rightful Spouse, your heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord who is a faithful Husband to you, is the only true God.
By your idolatry and unbelief, by your neglect of what you are called and commanded to do, and by your disobedience and outright rebellion, you have forsaken your marriage to the Lord Jesus, and you have married yourself to sin and death. And for all of this, the Law condemn you to die.
It is at that painful point that you begin to realize the purpose for that Sword which Jesus brings. For in cutting you to the quick and putting you to death, He cuts you off and separates you from all of your adulterous idols, beginning with your self. In this way He engages an “intervention” of the highest magnitude, whereby you lose your life and everything else in this perishing world.
But of course that is not yet the end of the story. Your true and heavenly Bridegroom is not after vengeance; He seeks reconciliation. He is not out to rob you of life, but to grant you the true, divine, eternal life that none of your other lovers could ever give, because it is found only in Him.
He is zealous for you, because He loves you, and He desires that you have life in Him. To that end, He suffers the mighty Sword of the Law to be turned upon Himself, in order to put sin and death to death within Himself, within His Body of flesh and blood.
Ironically, His suffering of this judgment and condemnation of the Law against your sins is also His fulfillment and perfection of the entire Law. That is to say, He suffers and dies with perfect faith in His God and Father, and in wholehearted love for His Father, for you, and for all of His neighbors from the beginning to the end of the world. His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is not the suicidal despair of a heartbroken Romeo, but the heroic Love of the one true God, who bears your sins to atone for you by His blood; who dies your death to set you free from death.
The Law is thus wholly satisfied and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus. And to be sure, His faith and love are not for nothing. His faith is not disappointed, and His love is not wasted. For the One who laid down His life in love for you, receives it back again in His Resurrection from the dead.
And having gone to the uttermost of your sin and death, in order to redeem you from the bondage of your idolatry and unbelief, He brings you back, in and with Himself, into newness of life.
So the Life of Christ is truly yours, now and forever. Even now, in the midst of death, it is yours.
To be sure, He does not bring or promise peace on earth, not as the world understands peace and tries to find it via compromise. The Lord’s bumper sticker is not “coexist” or “live and let live.” But what He has done, at the cost of His own Body and Life, with His own flesh and blood, is to reconcile you and all the world to His God and Father. Which is to say that God is at peace with you for Christ Jesus’ sake. And you have peace with God in the same Lord, Jesus Christ, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, which is the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.
It is that peace with God — which the world neither knows nor could it ever give — it is that peace with God in Christ which enables you to be at peace with all your neighbors, and even with your enemies. Not by way of compromise, but with the courage of Christ and His forgiveness of sins. Not in the fear of man, but in the fear of God, with which you also love and trust in Him.
The fact is, there will always be those who hate you in this body and life on earth. Actually, most of the world will hate you for Christ Jesus’ sake, and it will do its best in countless ways to hurt you, even to kill you. If it can manage nothing else, it will shame you and discredit you. If that is not the case, then examine yourself and your life, and ask yourself whether you are living as a Christian, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, or whether anyone would even be able to guess.
Repent of your unfaithfulness. Be strong and courageous, and confess your Lord Jesus with your words and with your life, with your choices and decisions, with your priorities and activities.
Are you worried that, if you take your faith and confession of Christ seriously and allow His Word to shape your life, then the world will think poorly of you, and your neighbors will respond with animosity or ridicule? Well, don’t worry. They surely will. You have the Lord’s Word on it!
But no one in the world can rob you of your life in Christ. The world cannot destroy your peace with God. Nor can the world take away the new household and family to which you now belong as a child of God. For you are His beloved little one, and He shall preserve you and save you in Christ Jesus. Has He not given you His Name in the waters of your Holy Baptism? Yes, He has.
It is in His Name that He sends to you His Prophets and Apostles, His pastors and teachers, His preachers of His Word. And if that Word is a Sword that divides you from yourself, from your sin, from your idols, and from the whole world, it also gives you the Spirit and Life of Christ Jesus.
In the hearing of His Word, in the receiving of His sent ones, you hear and receive Christ Jesus Himself. And in Him you hear and receive His own God and Father as your own. And in His Name, His Gospel grants you His Righteousness; which is really to say that His Resurrection is also now yours, along with His Life Everlasting in body and soul.
It may seem strange to you (and to others) that your faith and life as a Christian disciple begins, not with your doing, but with the receiving of those whom He sends to you, and with the hearing of what they preach to you in His Name. But so it does. That is where your life in Christ begins. And so does it continue to depend upon the hearing and receiving of the Gospel in His Name.
And from there, as you have received, so also give. As you have heard, so also confess. As you are a child of God in Christ Jesus, so live to the glory of His Name as a member of His family.
In particular, consider what this means for your relationships with all those many others who bear the same Name as you do, by God’s grace, as Christian disciples of Jesus.
Look around you at the congregation that surrounds you. This is the household and family of your God and Father. This is the house and home of your heavenly Bridegroom. These people around you, who are catechized and baptized in the Name of the same Lord, they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. They are children of the same Father. Some of them are your fathers and mothers in the faith; others are your sons and daughters in Christ. Together, they are your family, not for this life only, but for the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting, forever and ever, amen.
Therefore, beloved of Christ, love one another. Care for one another. Forgive each other. And serve one another with whatever means the Lord provides. If you have but a cup of cold water, by all means, share it with the one who is thirsty. And if you have more, do more with it.
Let neither any sin of yours nor any sin against you divide this household and family of Christ Jesus. For His Word does not divide His Church but unites her with Himself, as one Body and Bride in Him, in that Peace which surpasses human understanding, which the world cannot give, but which is yours by His forgiveness of sins. For He was divided in His sacrificial death, His blood from His flesh, His soul from His body, that you should be made whole in His Resurrection.
Here then, by His grace within His Church, whatever has been broken is repaired. Enmity and animosity are healed by His reconciling love. Whatever has been wrong is made right in His Resurrection. He speaks and bestows His peace upon you; not as the world attempts to fabricate, but perfect Peace with God in heaven, true Peace with Himself in the newness of the Holy Spirit, and authentic peace with each other through His free and full forgiveness of all your trespasses.
And for you, His beloved disciple, He pours out His Cup of Salvation, the New Testament in His Blood; so that you do not lose His Reward, but by His Cross you enter into heaven with Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.