From the editor:
Here's a sermon Michael Quicke preached at Wheaton College that tenders the meek and mild Jesus with the mean and wild Jesus. Few passages are more startling than Matthew 10, but Quicke effectively brings out the fire of Jesus' words without overwhelming the grace that is just as present as the hard truth.
I want you to do a video replay about coming to chapel this morning. You come out of your dorm room. You're nearly out of time. Is it going to rain? Have you got something to read in case it's boring? You have all sorts of questions while you're on your way to chapel! As you turn the corner, you notice somebody ahead of you: a student, carrying something, and it's strange. It's long and shiny. It's like a sword or a light saber. It's odd. But then, as you move further towards Edmond Chapel, you see more and more people are carrying swordsunlikely sorts of people. The faculty members are carrying swords! What is going on here? You come up the steps into Edmond Chapel, and you realize a lot of people have got these light sabers, shining and brilliant. You realize it's going to be different today, because only people with swords are going into chapel.
Then you hear these words, and they're loud and they're stern, and yet there's also kindness in the voice: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. And whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I've come to the earth to bring peace. I did not come to bring peace, but the swordto 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 in his own household. And anyone who loves his mother and father more than me is not worthy of me. And anybody who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Jesus, uncensored and shocking
That cannot be right. That is not the Jesus we know and lovethe Jesus who speaks of family and of peace. This sounds wrong. How can such stern and horrid things come out of the mouth of Jesus? I remember hearing about Semitic idiomoverstatements where "if your eye offends you, gouge it out," or "if your hand offends you, cut it off." It must be that kind of exaggerated language! Surely nobody should take swords and division and this kind of tension that seriously. If Jesus says this sort of thing, it means going to chapel is profoundly uncomfortable, and that's not right. Surely it's not right that Jesus should say these things! But of course he does, because Jesus has the right to shock disciples with teaching we don't like to hear, because he is Lord.
These words come in a challenge to disciples in Matthew 10. It's tough stuff. Read it through; we often don't. Jesus speaks about going to the lost sheep of Israel: As you go, preach about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is near. When you go to a place, if it finds your favor, then let your peace rest on the house. But if it doesn't, then shake the dust off your feet, because it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town. And what's going to happen? They will flog you in the synagogues, and father will betray child and brother will betray brother, and all people will hate you because of me.
This is Jesus uncensored. This is Jesus telling us how it is for those who will take him seriously. Of course, if we don't take him seriously, then we can walk away from these words; but if it's true that Jesus is Lord and Savior, then we need to listen very carefully indeed.
I think it's possible that we can construct a Christian faith that has become so comfortable, that it's a very long time since we've heard anything Jesus say that we disagreed with. We've not allowed him to do so! We've built things around the way in which we see life, and we want life to be lived around our strong personalities rather than around his. But Jesus has the right to shock disciples with teaching they don't like to hear, because he is Lord.
The shock of peace
There are lots of shocks here. There's the shock of peace. Jesus does not want, with this talk of swords, for you and me to be involved in creating conflict. In fact, consider some of the hard words from Jesus, which we struggle with the rest of our lives. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, "Somebody strikes you on the right cheek, then you turn to them the other." What does that mean? When Simon Peter draws out his sword and cuts off the servant's ear in Matthew 26:52, Jesus says, "Put the sword away. Those who draw the sword will die by the sword."
Jesus isn't into sword swords, but he brings his peace into a hostile world. On the Cross, the Prince of Peace claims victory that the world hates. Whenever a great cause enters the world, people are divided for and against it. The greatest cause in the world is the Cross, and ever since that point where people understood that God calls them to account and provides a way for them in judgment in Christ, the world has been divided and has wanted to shut up that messageto shut it up and shut it down and shut it out! Crowd it out, they say, for it spoils life! It ruins all that I've set my heart to do. When Jesus calls people to seriously be disciples, he wants usin the words of the apostleto wear a helmet of salvation and wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We are called not to shut up and shut down and shut out, but to be a people who speak and stand for him.
David Murrow caused a stir with his book Why Men Hate Going To Church. He wrote: "Men are treated to Sunday school classes and sermons which are so safe and so nurturing, and they don't want that. Churches are taming men instead of giving them adventure." I don't think boredom is a gender issue. From evidence I've gathered over the years, I think women can be just as bored as men. We're all often bored because the stuff we've heard so many times before misses the adventure right in front of us.
Just before we left London, my wife and I went to a party. It was a 25th wedding anniversary. I didn't know the couple, but my wife knew the woman. The invitation said you ought to dress in 50s clothes. The first mistake I made was in not taking the invitation seriously, because everybody else came dressed in the most extraordinary 1950s clothingpeople in purple suits and tapered pants and hoops skirts and all this stuff. Another problem I faced was that people were being friendly. It's never easy to be friendly when you don't know anybody. My wife finds this much easier than me, and off she went to find people to talk to, leaving me there by myself. I talked to a woman for a few moments, and then up bounced this flamboyant guy. I said, "How do you know the couple?" "Oh," he said, "I keep the streets of London clean and safe for you. I'm with our host. We're both criminal prosecution lawyers. What do you do?" I said, "I'm a principle of a theological seminary." He blasphemed. "You train pastors?" "Yes," I said. He blasphemed again. "Are you a pastor?" he asked. "Yes, I am," I said. He blasphemed again. "What kind?" he said. "Baptist," I said. He blasphemed even more loudly. "You sound very defensive," he said to me. I said, "I'm not defensive!" In that very moment, he turned and walked away to where the party was brighter and funand not where I was.
I saw a parable of a world that is blaspheming and partying away. Somebody said it's easier to be a Christian in a prison cell than at a party. In that very moment, I'd missed an opportunity of adventure for Jesus. Why couldn't I have said something like, "I'm helping to keep London safe and clean by helping pastors in Jesus' name?" Why couldn't I have said something like that? In a world that puts us on the defensive and would quiet us and shut us up and shut us out, Jesus calls for men and women to boldly take the sword. Jesus has the right to shock disciples with teaching they don't like to hear, because he is Lord.
The shock of family
Jesus offers the shock of family, too. When he speaks about division, of course, it's not that he will ever allow us to neglect our family. It's clear that "honor your father and mother" is a very significant commandment for Jesus. While on the cross, Jesus cares about his mother. In Mark 7:913, Jesus condemns religious people who get out of caring for their parents. First Timothy 5:18 has a strong word about such matters: "If anyone fails to provide for their immediate family, then they're worse than an unbeliever. They've denied the faith." Jesus doesn't support the neglect of family, but he does speak out against people who have allowed the family to become so important that it has obscured who he is and what his kingdom is about. Jesus does not want to be pushed to the side.
The sharpest experience I had of this was with Phillip. Phillip was in his late 20s when he was baptized in my church in Cambridge. At a baptismal service, we always ask those who are baptized to speak about their faith journey. Phillip told us how he'd been brought up in a home of love but hadn't heard about Jesus. While moving through his career, he'd recognized his need for a Savior and he'd met Jesus.
Two hours after this wonderful service, I received a telephone call from a very angry woman. She said, "I'm disgusted with you. I'm Phillip's mother, and what you did this morning was just so disgusting. You made him stand up there and be baptized, and he talked about sin. I'm consulting my lawyer, because I'm going to sue you."
If she had connected with the lawyer of my previous story, I think he would have done a good job for her, but nothing came of that. She slammed the phone down before I could say anything.
I wanted to see Phillip. I wanted to see how he was and where things were going. But he avoided me. In fact, I only did see him once more, his head down in the distance. He decided that his mother was right after allthat he'd gone over-the-top with this Jesus thing and he'd become exaggerated and over-emotional talking about "death to self," "life with Jesus," and "taking up the cross" to live a new life.
Jesus is real, and other people don't seem to treat him as real, having other agendas and other suggestions and other priorities. But Jesus has the right to shock disciples with teaching they don't like to hear, because he is Lord.
The great shock of acknowledgment from the Lord
The shock of peace and the shock of family are both set in the context of a great shock about the end. I may have used, in the picture of bringing swords in, a poor picture to push the spiritual reality of things we can't see. But when it comes to the end of the endwhen it comes to speaking of heavenwe do find that language runs out. I pray for you that the end is a long way offthat there's a great deal of living and racing to be done for Jesus. But there will come a moment when all that we think is important will stop, and all the stuff about me that I really value will be as nothing.
This relationship we have with Christ for eternity is impossible to describe. It's a place of greater reality than we've ever known before, when we shall feel better than we've ever felt before, when we shall know and be known so that there's an intuition connecting with saints in glory when those who've gone before and the friends are reunited in beauty and light and sound. Everything about that will be so extraordinary, so glorious.
It will turn out to be what it's all been about. It will be something like this: In that intensity of holiness and glory, where you don't have to explain yourself anymore, somebody knows you through and through, and they love you in spite of that, because Jesus is Lord.
Jesus will speak: Father, this is Michael. Michael acknowledged me before people. Father, I know him, and I love him. There is nothing else in all my life that is more important than that relationship and that acknowledgement.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see "Plagiarism, Schmagiarism" and "Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize")
Michael Quicke is professor of preaching at Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and author of 360-Degree Preaching (Baker).