The King brings a sword (Matthew 10:34-39)

            There are some who imagine that Jesus was merely a moral teacher, an innocuous Rabbi who taught His disciples some general principles for peaceful living. This mythological Messiah, however, exists nowhere in history and certainly does not exist in the pages of Scripture. On every page of the gospel record in the New Testament we see Jesus the Messiah as He really is, the incarnate Son of God and the conquering King who has come from heaven to begin bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. With the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the invasion has begun, and King Jesus is the one who is leading the charge.

            The gospel of Matthew is the story of Jesus’ life that most emphasizes His kingly rule. Matthew presents Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited King, the one who will reign as the great Son of David. In Matthew 10, Jesus begins to summon His troops, first by calling the Twelve Apostles, and then by describing the battle conditions for the rest of His disciples whom He will call during the gospel age. In the course of His charge to His troops, Jesus lays out for His would-be disciples the conflict they will encounter and the commitment that He demands.

  • “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (10:34).” There cannot be peace when a war is being waged. As long as Satan remains the god of this age and as long as evil and sin abound, there can be no real peace on earth. Jesus has come to begin the liberation of the captives and of the oppressed (Luke 4:18) and His disciples must understand that this war of liberation will involve conflict and casualties.
  • Enemies will be those of one’s own household (10:35-36). In this spiritual war for souls, the dividing line between Christ and His enemies may cut right through the natural family unit. Jesus is warning His disciples of this in advance so they will not be surprised when it occurs. Throughout the church age, and especially now in our own day as those from false religions come to Christ, Jesus’ words have proven painfully true. In many cases, the first and most painful persecution comes from a believer’s natural family.
  • Those who value any natural relationship more than they love Jesus “are not worthy” of Jesus (10:37). Jesus makes clear that His disciples must love Him above even the most precious natural relationships. (See Luke 14:26-27; 1 Peter 1:8; Matthew 22:36-38.) Jesus the King demands from His disciples’ supreme allegiance to Him, an allegiance that is founded on His goodness and righteousness and faithfulness. This supreme love for Jesus should be manifested in the lives of His disciples. For example, is it evident that you love Jesus more than son or daughter?
  • And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me (10:38).” The meaning of this demand from the King is daunting. During the Roman Empire, the cross was the common instrument of execution. Therefore, for someone to “take his cross” meant that the person was committed to a course of action, even though that course of action meant their death. In light of this, we can see that Jesus is calling His disciples to follow Him to their death. As the cross, once taken up, is not released until death, so the disciple, having committed to Christ, will follow Him until his death. (See Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21.) When the disciple “takes his cross,” he has effectively surrendered his life to Jesus and has made the commitment to follow Jesus no matter where that leads or what that involves. Our cross, then, is the commitment to accept all the rigors of the battle as the cost of following Jesus. And to not take His cross is to render a person not worthy of Jesus, which must mean that person is not saved by Jesus. Daunting words, indeed!
  • “. . . whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (10:39).” Jesus concludes this part of His martial call with a demand for commitment. If you would follow the King, then He demands that you commit your life to Him. There is a choice that every would-be disciple must make: will you lose your life to Jesus, so as to gain an eternal reward, or will you spend your life on anything else and so forfeit all of the Lord’s blessing forever? For those who will join the King in His gospel mission, “the Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).”

SDG                 rmb                 10/14/2020

To live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21ff)

            This blog will be a study of the remarkable passage in Philippians 1:21-26 in which Paul makes his astonishing statement of his commitment to Christ. Read these verses as preparation for this study.

INTRODUCTION

            It is one thing to make a claim of commitment to an ideal or an objective, but it is another thing to evidence that commitment in word and deed, especially as time goes on and as the initial excitement that sparked the commitment fades and tarnishes. Sadly, many marriages that began with a vow of lifelong commitment languish or even die when the initial excitement gradually morphs into monotonous work and those vows of commitment prove hollow.

REFLECTIONS

            In light of this human tendency, what do we see in Paul regarding his commitment to Jesus Christ? For as he writes the epistle to the Philippians, Paul is now twenty or twenty-five years older than he was as a fire-breathing Pharisee suddenly struck down in the dust of the Damascus road. What has become of his initial zeal for Christ and his powerful boldness? Have the years quenched the fire? Has the effort required dulled the edge of the commitment? It is evident that more than two decades after meeting the risen Lord Jesus Christ, Paul’s commitment to his Savior has only intensified and his focus on the goal has radically sharpened. In the years since the scales fell from his eyes and he professed his faith by baptism, Paul has gradually pared away the excess baggage and the hindrances to service (Hebrews 12:1) to the point where he can state his case: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

            Paul, however, does not merely voice these astonishing words, but he manifests the reality of his declaration in his every action and word and deed. Having been forgiven of his sins and having been guaranteed an eternity with the Lord Jesus, he can give himself with focused abandon to his service to Christ. Until the Lord releases him from this life, Paul will pour himself out in fruitful labor (1:22). So then, for the Apostle, existence was fairly simple: Spend all of your earthly energies and resources in joyful proclamation of the gospel and in service to Christ’s church, awaiting the moment when joyful service ends and glorious eternity with Christ begins.

            This is the ideal for all disciples of Christ: a life of faithful obedience and fruitful labor poured out in service of Christ, and then an eternity in heaven with our King.

            And the next verses of this passage (Philippians 1:22-26) confirm the reality of Paul’s manifesto. The significance of his continued physical life is that physical life gives him more time for “fruitful labor (1:22).” While many people want more time “in the flesh” to indulge in their earthly pleasures, and others long to live because they are terrified to die, Paul equates more heartbeats with more fruitful labor. As long as the Lord gives him breath, he will labor for the Kingdom. In other words, “to live is Christ.”

            Verses 1:22b-1:23a allude to a choice that Paul needs to make, but it is not clear from the passage what that specific choice is. What is clear is that one option could result in his death and the other option would result in his ongoing life, and Paul is “hard pressed” by the difficulty of this choice. Why is Paul hard pressed? The choice is difficult because personally, Paul would prefer to die and thus to be with Christ, rather than to continue living and laboring and striving against sin and suffering persecution. Paul prefers his reward (2 Timothy 4:8) to the demands of his assigned mission (2 Cor. 11:23-29). He desires to be home with Christ. (“. . . to die is gain.”) Despite his personal desire, Paul is convinced that he will remain and continue with (the Philippians) for their progress and joy in the faith (1:25).” We see, then, that Paul makes life decisions based on which choice has the greatest impact for the gospel, and not based on his personal preference or benefit. Or, again, “to live is Christ.”

APPLICATIONS

            There are several applications of this powerful text. First, there is the need for the disciple of Jesus Christ to clearly and irrevocably make a commitment to Him as unrivaled Lord. The Scriptures are crystal clear that anything less than an absolute bowing of the knee to the Lord is useless. The Third Commandment states, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain (Deut. 5:11).” Make sure that your surrender to the Lord is complete.

            Second, we as disciples need to get a vise grip on the truth that “to die is gain.” It has been well-said that a person is only able to fully live when they are ready to die. The gospel gives us the promise that we are guaranteed heaven because of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and through our faith in Him. Christ has risen victorious and death has lost its sting. Therefore, the believer can live without fear of the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55). No one can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:27-30).

            Third, we should strive to live such that our commitment to Jesus Christ is evident. For the apostle Paul, “to live is Christ,” and his entire existence was submitted to his passion for the Lord. As we grow in sanctification and in maturity in Christ, our passion for Jesus should steadily grow as well, and that passion should more and more manifest itself in our lives. John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease (John 3:30).” This should also be true of us.

SDG                 rmb                 5/26/2020