Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household. (Matthew 10:34-36)
This is one of those “hard sayings” of Jesus — one of those “say what?” moments as we read through the Scripture. And our understanding of it has to be tempered with knowledge of the whole Scripture, because yes, Jesus the Messiah DID come to bring peace.
It’s important to establish that, right out of the gate. Despite Jesus’s deliberately hyperbolic statement in this passage, peace was and is one of the central goals of the messianic mission:
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit …
None will harm or destroy another
on My entire holy mountain,
for the land will be as full
of the knowledge of the Lord
as the sea is filled with water.
(Isaiah 11:1, 9)
He will settle disputes among many peoples
and provide arbitration for strong nations
that are far away.
They will beat their swords into plows,
and their spears into pruning knives.
Nation will not take up the sword against nation,
and they will never again train for war.
Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favors!
When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:17)
In fact, peace is such a central part of the kingdom message that Ephesians 6:15 calls the news of Jesus “the gospel of peace.”
So Why All the Strife?
This expectation that the Messiah would bring peace and unite God’s people is exactly why the persecution and rejection of Christ was so potentially confusing to his disciples.
If Jesus was really from God, wouldn’t people recognize it? If he came to bring peace, why were so much strife, division, and opposition breaking out in his wake?
Even today, if we see strife and division following a ministry or minister around, we tend to see it as bad fruit. And there is real validity to that. Paul was quick to denounce false teachers who brought disunity and strife into the church.
But here, earlier in the kingdom-of-God story, we get Jesus going around, proclaiming the gospel, and causing an enormous rift within the chosen people of God.
At times, it seemed like nobody recognized him as being from God. He was opposed and denounced by the Pharisees, who were the fundamentalists of their day (or maybe the “conservative evangelicals”). He was equally opposed and denounced by the Sadducees — the priests and Levites, the religious establishment. Political leaders didn’t like him. His own family tried to make him stop preaching. Heck, even John the Baptist wasn’t always entirely sure Jesus was legitimate.
So if Jesus was supposed to be the peacemaker, what gives?
All Things in Their Time, and In Their Proper Order
A preacher friend once said that when God turns your world right-side up, initially all you will feel is disorientation. God has actually put everything right, but you are so used to it being wrong that you won’t like how it feels!
The truth is that disruption is part of any change. The middle stage of anything is messy. And part of Jesus’s way of bringing true peace was to expose false peace — to shed light on falsehood, deception, self-aggrandizement, idolatry, and everything standing in the way of real of real reconciliation between people and with God.
Because Jesus did that, everything got worse before it got better. Hearts were exposed, and a lot of what was in people’s hearts was bad.
So Jesus did come to bring peace … but all things in their time, and in their proper order. The human condition being what it was, strife would have to come before restoration.
A Man Against His Father, a Daughter Against Her Mother
Jesus followed the shocking pronouncement that he had come to bring division and a sword rather than peace with a quote from the book of Micah, chapter 7 verse 6.
He quoted the Old Testament for a reason. Remember, it was important that Jesus communicate to his disciples the legitimacy of his mission.
If all this strife and discord, to the point of splitting entire families down the middle, was not bad fruit, and if it was a work of God, Jesus had to be able to demonstrate that from Scripture.
So he did, by invoking an important judgment passage from the Old Testament. Recall that in New Testament times, Jewish people in general were familiar with the Old Testament, even if they weren’t personally literate. They heard it read in the synagogue, and discussion of the Scriptures was a significant part of their daily culture.
Recall as well that, in their culture as in oral cultures today, quoting part of a familiar passage was meant to invoke its context as well. It wasn’t just about the specific words being quoted but about the entire message surrounding those words.
In the case of Micah 7, the passage being quoted is a lament over the state of Israel’s relationships with one another and with God. God and the prophet together lament the rampant disloyalty, unfaithfulness, and betrayal among the people — the cheating, backstabbing, adultery, and oppression common in their dealings with each other, as well as their idolatrous practices toward God.
I want to highlight this: the Old Testament prophets, speaking for Yahweh, were dismayed at Israel’s unfaithfulness and disloyalty toward God, yes — but also by the way people treated each other.
People in Micah’s day betrayed each other, lied to one another, used each other to get ahead. They stepped on the weak and stabbed each other in the back. They lied in court to cause justice to be miscarried, used false weights to cheat people out of their money, and took advantage of immigrants, widows, and orphans.
And God wasn’t okay with any of it, not even a little bit.
In fact, if you were to sum up the sins most strongly denounced by every prophet in the Old Testament in a single word, I think that word would be “treachery.”
Jesus, in other words, didn’t cause the strife and betrayal and lies that followed in his wake. He just exposed them.
Relying on the Love of a Faithful God
The persecution and trouble Jesus and his followers encountered wasn’t new in redemptive history. All through the Old Testament era, God had sent prophets to his people with a message of hope and forgiveness if they would repent of their sins, and a message of judgment if they wouldn’t.
In almost all cases, the response of the people was to reject the message and persecute the prophets.
And frankly — you don’t have to be a prophet to experience human treachery. The greatest suffering we experience as human beings comes from the betrayal, lies, deception, abuse, insincerity, and uncaring of other human beings.
This suffering is not unusual. It’s a common part of human experience.
And God still doesn’t like it — not one little bit.
In fact, if we can fast-forward to the end for a moment, it’s just this kind of strife, this kind of discord, this kind of deception he came to end with his peace.
As God remakes the world and reconciles us to him, as he transforms our hearts into the image of his glory and love, as he teaches us to love each other as we love ourselves, peace replaces the old Adamic ways forever. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
But all things in order, and in their proper time.
In the meantime, all the prophets found themselves in the same position Jesus’s followers were in — betrayed and rejected by their own people and desperate for a safe place, someone to rely on.
They found that someone in God himself. Immediately after the “man against his son and daughter against her mother” passage quoted by Jesus, the prophet Micah said, “But I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.”
The chapter ends by extolling God’s faithfulness, love, and loyalty, which stand in contrast to the treachery of the people and extend even to those who are guilty of unfaithfulness:
Who is a God like You,
removing iniquity and passing over rebellion
for the remnant of His inheritance?
He does not hold on to His anger forever,
because He delights in faithful love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will vanquish our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show loyalty to Jacob
and faithful love to Abraham,
as You swore to our fathers
from days long ago. (Micah 7:18-20)
In the Company of Prophets
Jeremiah went through a similar experience of rejection followed by a heightened awareness of God’s faithfulness. In chapter 9:4-6 he and God complain together:
Everyone has to be on guard against his friend.
Don’t trust any brother,
for every brother will certainly deceive,
and every friend spread slander.
Each one betrays his friend;
no one tells the truth.
They have taught their tongues to speak lies;
they wear themselves out doing wrong.
You live in a world of deception.
In their deception they refuse to know Me.
Jeremiah, as one of the Old Testament’s most harshly treated prophets, was the subject of slander, wrongful imprisonment, and several assassination attempts. In his writings, he vacillates at times between expressing trust in God and expressing its opposite. But invariably, trust wins out.
Between laments, complaints over injustice and oppression, and pleas for help, he always comes back to the faithfulness of God:
LORD, my strength and my stronghold,
my refuge in a time of distress …
You are my refuge in the day of disaster.
(Jeremiah 16:19; 17:17)
And the LORD continually affirms his faithfulness to Jeremiah:
I will certainly set you free and care for you.
I will certainly intercede for you in a time of trouble,
in your time of distress with the enemy.
In his own experience, and in that of his followers, Jesus summed up the experience of all the Hebrew prophets before him, including Micah, Jeremiah, and notably David. In every way, he “fulfilled” the Law and the Prophets just as he said he would.
In quoting Micah, he invoked that common experience of rejection and suffering to demonstrate that his ministry bore the classic earmarks of being from God. It was not a work of the devil or of human ambition.
He also invoked the ultimate promise of peace and restoration through forgiveness and transformation, and of the faithfulness of God that stands in stark contrast to the gross failures of human beings.
Earlier in the book of Micah, we read this simple encapsulation of God’s call:
Mankind, He has told you what is good
And what it is the LORD requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
God’s desire is to raise up a people with faithfulness and justice in their DNA. His plan is to reconcile and restore us, to himself and to one another — to create a people remarkable for their unity and their love.
He will do it, and is doing it, through bringing us into communal covenant relationship with him and sharing his own divine nature.
After all, as Micah reminds us at the very end of his prophetic book, the Lord “delights in faithful love.”
You will show loyalty to Jacob,
and faithful love to Abraham,
as you swore to our fathers
from days long ago.
This is Part 152 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
I am deeply grateful to everyone who has taken time to write to me over the past several years. Unfortunately, due to life constraints, I am no longer able to read or respond to email from readers. I thank you for your thoughts and please know that I am praying for you. Comments on the blog, however, are welcome.
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The post Peace, Betrayal, and the Faithful Love of a Loyal God appeared first on RachelStarrThomson.com.
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