34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever 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; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Imagine the underlined portion is the only set of Bible verses you know of what Jesus said.
How would you picture Jesus then? Certainly not the Jesus associated with Christmas cards with the angel saying, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men."
You would imagine a completely different Jesus -- coming with a sword, bringing a heap of trouble for everyone. The Christmas cards would look more like Halloween cards. Not a person you would run towards, but away, far far away.
Well, thank goodness that we are not encouraged to take verses out of context and thank goodness that there is more to Jesus than Matthew 10:34-39.
At the same time, however, we cannot simply dismiss Matthew 10:34-39 and sweep away what Jesus said in favor of a more "positive" message. Matthew 10:34-39, too, is part of Scripture. So how are we to make sense of this less than soft and gentle message?
We will have to do a "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" type of deal.
On the one hand, Jesus does come as the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) and the angel in announcing the birth of Jesus says, "... on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14) and Jesus himself says to his disciples, "Peace I leave with you" (John 14:27). Jesus came to bring peace indeed: between sinner and God; between fellow human beings.
On the other hand, Jesus brought conflict. Between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, between Christ and the antichrist, between the followers of Jesus and the followers of the devil. Even within households, family members will be conflicted because of allegiance to Jesus and rejection of Jesus. First among Jewish families and then later among Gentile families. Jesus is as much of a conflict-maker as he is a peacemaker.
So that we don't misunderstand: Jesus does not come with the intention to bring trouble and conflict as such. Rather, in the wake of his coming, conflict arises. The trouble and conflict are not ends in themselves. Trouble and conflict arise because something greater is being addressed by Jesus: the powers of sin and the devil. The sickness and distortion of the Fall are confronted. The despair and the absence of God are challenged. The lies and tyranny of despotic powers are faced down. Jesus steps into the world that has already become a "war zone" with casualties. Jesus comes with eyes burning and a sword ready at hand. Jesus means business. And he intends to finish it.
This is not the sweet, mild, huggable Jesus of Hallmark cards.
More like the Jesus from the Mosaic of Christ in Majesty from the National Shrine in Washington, DC:
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, we salute you and we are in awe of you. We confess that you came to bring life, abundant life, which meant overcoming powers and forces that diminish and destroy life. We thank you that the "war zone" we are living in will be transformed into a renewed and restored zone of the new creation. In the meantime, help us to call out to you to fight our battles, some battles within and some battles without. May we walk in your peace while being attentive to the spiritual battles that are taking place, over sin, despair, and the devil. Strengthen us for the road ahead. Strengthen us today. In your name, amen.