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Not Peace, But Division


This morning’s passage feels a bit out of place on what is in many ways a particularly happy Sunday after our students and volunteers return from camp and yet here Jesus says, “I have come not to bring peace but division.” All the more, I personally find the scripture and the timing a bit unsetting as Callie and I head west tomorrow to visit our own families and in-laws and here Jesus says, “I have come to divide mother in law against daughter in law.” Almost makes one rethink their travel plans now, doesn’t it?

It’s undoubtedly a strange passage, provocative and sobering, divisive in its very nature, and yet I think surprisingly encouraging as well. And in a moment, I want to share a couple brief reflections with you from this passage, but first, let’s briefly set the stage for how we got here.

Because consider this juxtaposition. It was only some eight months ago as we were celebrating Advent that we heard the angels singing the following about the arrival of this baby Jesus. Singing:

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Even more, there’s the famous Christmas carol to go with it: Hark! The herald angels sing "Glory to the new-born king, Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled"

We heard and rejoiced about a God in human form, Jesus, who had come to bring peace.

And yet now as years later as an adult we seem to be told just the opposite. Where Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

Doesn’t really feel like song writing material anymore now, does it? And so, how do we make sense of this seeming contradiction? How can both be true? And how did we get from there to here?

Personally, I think it’s helpful to think of the Christian life in terms of the two planes of the cross – there’s both vertical and horizontal dimensions. There’s a vertical relationship – our personal relationship between us and Jesus. And yet it also runs horizontally as well – between us and one another.

When the angels sing about Jesus bringing peace on earth, they’re singing about the vertical dimension of our faith – how Jesus’s love and forgiveness bring true inner peace upon all those on whom his favor rests, upon those who respond to his good news in faith and repentance.

And yet, when Jesus declares that he has brought not peace, but division – he’s speaking not to the vertical dimension of our faith between us and him but rather the horizontal dimension between you and me. A division that exists not only between stranger and stranger, but even with our own families – between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters.

And this division exists because of the radical claims that Jesus has been making. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has either been outright saying or implicitly communicating that he is Lord, that he is God in the flesh, the divine in human form. That claim alone is incredibly divisive. Whether it be AD 22 or the year 2022, some people when asked to respond whether Jesus is Lord, some will wholeheartedly say, “Yes and Amen,” while others will say, “Oh no he is not.”

And how a person responds to that central truth claim will radically alter a person’s life, the trajectory their life takes, how they see the world, the decisions they make, the values they hold. Add in other divisive statements that Jesus has been making such as “Love you enemies” and “Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me” and the result is both inner peace between Christians and Jesus himself and yet division between Christians and those who are not, even divisions within the family unit itself.

Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

All that said, here are two reflections and I hope hopeful reflections that I have for us this morning, each with their own pressing application. Here’s the first:

Jesus names a reality we already feel within our own nuclear and biological families.

As hard as this passage is to hear, I actually feel a bit of comfort upon hearing Jesus’s words here. Because here Jesus names a reality that we already feel.

I’m certainly not breaking news here or telling you something you don’t already know when I say that divisions exist within our own families, whether it be within the walls of our own home or with our extended family members and in laws.

Right? Like, do you ever feel like an outsider within your own family? Do you ever feel like an alien within your own home? Now, I realize you can’t answer that as you sit next to your family members at this very moment, but oh my goodness, we feel this division so very acutely.

You’ve got spouses that think very differently as to how strongly they should prioritize the life and rhythms and their involvement in the local church. You’ve got children, who you are desperate to see know and love Jesus, and yet grow up and leave your house with no interest in Jesus at all. You get married and are welcomed into a new family, now sharing the holidays with in laws you never really feel like you fit in with.

This division is not theoretical, It is so very real. And we feel it all too acutely. Of course, sometimes the division exists due to personality differences or simply being unable to find common interests. But yet often times, the division exists because of different beliefs regarding Jesus himself.

Jesus names a reality we already feel within our own nuclear and biological families. And so, in light of this, we must winsomely, patiently and gently show and tell them about the love of Christ through both word and deed, all while praying that the division that we feel between those who don’t know Jesus, whether they be a family member or a stranger, would be a temporary division, rather than an eternal one.

Jesus names a reality we already feel within our own nuclear and biological families.

All of which now brings us to our second main reflection, and that is, while we pray and love and evangelize those whom we are divided with, Jesus gives real hope and lasting encouragement by welcoming us into a new family altogether – the church.

It should never be lost on any of us that the apostle Paul describes the local church as the family of God. As followers of Jesus, we are welcomed into a new family. In fact, Paul also compares the reality of becoming a Christian as a spiritual adoption of sorts. Whereas we come to know God as our Father (there’s the vertical dimension again), we are also invited into a spiritual family filled with brothers and sisters in Christ (the horizontal).

Like them or not sometimes, the Christian life is a package deal, it’s a two for one special, not only a relationship with Jesus, but being welcomed into a new family as well. All of which provides tremendous hope.

And so, are you widowed, are you single, have to come to church all alone? Here we find a spiritual family, not related by blood per se, but rather by the blood of Jesus. Or is your family as tight as it’s ever been? Never forget that Jesus has invited you into a family that extends far beyond your living room.

A couple weeks ago in our weekly email we shared an article written by author Rebecca McLaughlin, titled, “Why I don’t sit with my husband at church.” That’ll grab your attention now, won’t it?

The reason being not because she’s tired of her husband and desperately needs a break from him, but rather to physically and practically embody this reality that beyond the realities of our immediate family, there’s a greater family still. And so they divide and conquer if you will, so that they can reach out to and sit with first time guests and people who are new to their church, hoping and praying and loving that those who were once strangers on the outside, will become family on the inside someday themselves.

And Rebecca’s hope and prayer is that perhaps one day, those that know her at her church will approach her with concern and ask, “Are you and your husband okay? I noticed you were sitting together in church.”

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