Passage: Matthew 10:34-39
Last Sunday was Father’s Day and it was good seeing loads of pictures and reading precious words from children on social media expressing their love and appreciation for their dads. The family is a fundamental building block in society and it should be supported and nurtured so that society flourishes. In a Gallup poll of Americans conducted in 2002, family topped the list of the most important thing in life (96), closely followed by health (90), and way ahead of the next three of work (73), friends (70) & money (67). As a result, it would be very easy to make ‘family’ the ultimate goal in life. After all, how could devotion to our families be anything but Christian? But it is the noble things in life, and family is surely right up there, that are the most likely to present the strongest competition to the very noblest thing in life, namely the kingdom of God. As Kim Hawtrey puts it in his excellent book ‘The True & Living God’- “The more reputable something is, the nearer it will seem in our minds to a legitimate substitute for knowing the true and living God.” And so, we come to these words of Jesus recorded by Matthew which are somewhat of a bombshell. They form part of an extended section in chapter 10 where Jesus is instructing the twelve disciples about what to do and what to expect as they head off on mission to make him known. Whilst our circumstances may differ, the principles laid down apply to us.
Jesus came to divide families not unite them (v34-35)
Some people misguidedly think that Jesus came to this earth on a ‘tranquility’ mission, to iron out our problems and give us a sense of peace and wellbeing. He’s referred to as the ‘Prince of Peace’ by Isaiah (9:6), but this describes his mission of reconciling God and man through the cross. Ultimately, he will bring peace upon this earth, but that is upon his second coming and enjoyed in the new heaven and new earth. In his first coming, Jesus didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. He came to separate those who’d believe in Him from those who’d reject him. And in quoting the prophet Micah (7:6), such divisions will occur within the family- “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 members of his own household.”” We’ve all heard stories of Muslims and those of other faiths, who’ve come to faith in Christ and been kicked out of their families or worse. But whenever a person becomes a follower of Jesus, whatever their religious background, they move from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and putting it bluntly, light and darkness don’t easily coexist. I’ll always remember my own mother’s lament after I’d become a Christian-“Oh where’s the old Keith gone.” Ok, I admit that it’s not exactly persecution, but in a very British way, it was a mark of a family now divided by Christ. We should not forget that the Lord Jesus himself initially felt the opposition of his family (Mark 3:21).
Love for Jesus must trump even family love (v37)
“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.” This is the slightly milder version than the Luke equivalent- “If anyone comes after me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes even his own life- he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) What a thing to say! What on earth does Jesus mean? Well one thing that Jesus definitely doesn’t mean is that as Christians we should treat our loved ones with contempt. That would fly in the face of what the rest of the bible teaches about family relationships, especially that of honoring parents. What Jesus is saying is this. As his followers, we should put God first and family second. God expects us to put him above our earthly loved ones. You see, a devotion to our family as ‘everything’ in life, whilst applauded by society and guaranteed ‘likes’ on Facebook, can actually keep us out of heaven, if it displaces God from first place in our lives. It’s so easy to neglect the very best thing, God, because we become preoccupied with a very good thing, family. Don’t get me wrong: family life is wonderful and is definitely one of God’s great blessings. But it is not God. Jesus is saying really clearly that our love for him must trump all other loves in our life, especially the love of family. I admit that this is far from easy, but it’s the right way.
Following Jesus will result in Opposition (v38-39)
Everyone faces suffering in general in life, but this isn’t what Jesus points his disciples to in v38. There is a suffering that Christians face because of Jesus, and that is persecution- “and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” To “take up his cross” is to die to self and live for Christ, a choice that flies in the face of our culture of self-gratification. This isn’t the popular course of action and will meet with opposition from others, even from those within our own families as we’ve seen. But what Jesus says next makes it all worthwhile. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (v39) To concentrate on this world and what it offers, whether that is focusing on the family, or work, possessions, pleasure or countless other good things, at the expense of our service of Christ, will probably avoid persecution, but it will also see the person lose out in the age to come. But to make my service of Christ supreme over and above all the things that this world offers, and my ties with God’s family taking precedence over my earthly family, will mean opposition now but will result in God’s blessings in the age to come. These are tough truths to fully take on board, and even the twelve struggled with them. But hear these words of Jesus by way of encouragement- “I tell you the truth, no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30) Hence, Family comes second!