Read the passage here.
Our passage today is fairly lengthy and there’s a lot going on in it. But, speaking in quite broad strokes, there’s a consistent theme going on in this passage, and that is one of opposition. And, if we’ve been paying attention, this makes sense given what we’ve seen in the narrative portion of this section of Matthew. Jesus has been engaged in his ministry for some time now, leading and teaching his disciples. And what we’ve seen is that Jesus has been announcing the kingdom, demonstrating his messiahship, but that this kingdom is a different kind of kingdom, that He is a different kind of Messiah, than people were expecting. And now He sends out his disciples to similarly proclaim that the kingdom of God is near.
And Jesus tells them that, as they go out proclaiming the kingdom, they will face opposition. He tells them:
10:21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.Matthew 10:21-22
Now I don’t want to get too deeply into this – in part because it’s something that we’ve talked about before. But it’s worth noting that the opposition that Jesus is talking about here is coming from within the nation and people of Israel. When Jesus sent out the disciples, we saw in verse 5 that Jesus sent them only to Israel:
10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.Matthew 10:5-6
This, of course, doesn’t preclude God’s greater purpose and plan for the redemption of all peoples, Gentiles and Samaritans included, as we see at the end of Matthew (the Great Commission) and worked out in the book of Acts. However, Jesus’ commission here is to the nation of Israel.
Thus, when we read in verse 16-18:
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.Matthew 10:16-18
Who is it that’s doing the handing over? Who is it that is bringing the disciples before governors and kings? Well presumably, it’s the Israelites who are so offended, so threatened by the message of the kingdom (and this is precisely what happens to Jesus, isn’t it?).
At any rate, the opposition that the disciples are told they will encounter appears to be coming from their own people – the opposition is coming from their own (so to speak) religious establishment. And, as we’ve discussed, the opposition is coming because the kingdom that Jesus and his disciples are proclaiming is not the kingdom that the religious people actually want.
Now obviously that should give us pause, as part of the church. And I want to be clear here. I’m not suggesting that Christians are bad. I’m not in any way suggesting that only we have the real truth and everyone else is mistaken. I’m certainly not suggesting that certain denominations or certain congregations are more right or more wrong than others.
What I’m suggesting is that there is a way to do church, a way to do Christianity, that (sometimes) is more concerned about doing church, more concerned about drawing lines around Christianity, rather than being concerned about Jesus and Jesus’ kingdom. And that way is woven in and through all of us. Because we are all still sinners. Because are all still on the way.
But what we are trying to do is to be serious about Jesus. What we are trying to do is understand that the kingdom of our God is not the kingdoms of this world. And if we are serious about Jesus and his kingdom, we will face opposition.
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!Matthew 10:24-25
What we have seen is that throughout Jesus’ ministry, people consistently misunderstood who He was and what He was doing. They thought He might be the Messiah because of His ministry, particularly the signs and wonders. But they consistently misunderstood what His ministry was about and what the Messiah was supposed to be doing.
Jesus didn’t affirm the doctrines or practices of the Pharisees and the scribes – the teachers of the law. He didn’t ratify the religious structures that had been so carefully put in place. He flat out rejected and condemned what had happened to the temple system. So when the religious leaders looked at Jesus, what they ultimately saw was someone who didn’t live up to their expectations.
In Jesus’ kingdom, power, position, and knowledge didn’t mean what people wanted it to mean. In Jesus’ kingdom, success didn’t mean defeating one’s opponents – standing on top of the pile. In Jesus’ kingdom, victory meant walking obediently to the cross. So when the religious leaders looked at Jesus, they saw someone who was a disappointment, and also even a danger to their very way of life.
And so, Jesus’ disciples – inasmuch as they were seeking to be disciples of Jesus – were bound, and are still bound today, to face opposition in the same way Jesus did. Because Jesus’ ministry – His proclamation of the kingdom – is inherently counter-cultural. The proclamation of the kingdom of God is fundamentally (and necessarily) a rejection of the kingdoms of this world. So when Jesus says:
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 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—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’Matthew 10:32-36
… I think what’s going on is that it is precisely by being counter-cultural that the disciples, we included, put themselves at odds with the world – because, in being kingdom-people, we refuse to submit to the kingdoms of the world: the expectations, the definitions, the ways and means of figuring out life that pay no attention to the author and redeemer of life.
So the main thing that I’m saying is that the kingdom of God is necessarily set in contrast to the kingdoms of the world. And by choosing the way of Jesus, we necessarily reject the ways of the world. And if we, as people of God, reject the ways of the world, we can expect to face opposition – we can expect difficulty inasmuch as we seek to live according to values and truths that don’t fit into the world’s.
Now I don’t want to go too far off text here, but it seems to me that this opposition – this conflict – is occurring in each of us all the time. The context in which we find ourselves, the conditions of our life, is such that the values of the world are constantly in our faces, and the values of the Kingdom can often seem insignificant in the face of that. It’s the same reason that the religious establishment opposed Jesus and His disciples – not because they didn’t believe in God, not because they didn’t think of themselves as people of God, but because how they were actually living was more informed by things such as worldly ideas of success, power, position. We’re constantly told, both as individual Christians and as churches, that what’s important is our income, our influence, and our reputation. We’re more concerned about losing our rights than we are with doing what is right. We’re more concerned with who loves us than with who we love.
But this is not the way of Jesus. Jesus didn’t heal people because He wanted people to give him likes or re-tweets. He healed people because the world was broken and He wanted to bring restoration. Jesus didn’t eat with tax-collectors and sinners because he wanted to have the biggest following, the most impressive congregation. He did it because everyone is made in the image of God, and everyone is precious to God.
So if we’re going to be Jesus people, we have to be willing to leave those things behind. We need to be willing to abandon those things that the world tells us is so important to life, but is really only not-life.
And I think that this is what Jesus is getting at when he says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Because in Christ, all that is wrong will be made right, and all that is broken will be made whole. Because the Kingdom of heaven has come near. Indeed, it is now in our midst. The old has gone and the new has come.