“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34
We live in a dangerous world. Terrorist threats, environmental disasters, fatal illnesses, financial ruin, hatred, violence, persecution, accusations, anger … one might be forgiven giving up hope with the headlines that scream at us from every quarter 24 hours a day.
Yet there is another danger living in our midst, a danger far deeper yet more profound: the danger of faith.
A Dangerous Man
Re-read the passage above. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” These words in Matthew 10 are from an extended conversation Jesus had with his twelve disciples, instructing them on the meaning of following him.
How can Jesus be the Prince of Peace prophesied in Isaiah 9 yet bring a sword?
Passages such as Isaiah 9:6, Luke 2:14, and John 14:27 all clearly teach that Jesus came in peace. So what did Jesus mean? Did he truly come to incite discord, to “set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother?” Was Jesus advocating violence as the way to build God’s Kingdom?
Consider Jesus’ response to the money changers – using whips to drive them from the temple. Or his endless taunting of the Pharisees and Sadducees, referring to them as snakes and calling them a “brood of vipers.” Or his cursing of the fig tree in Mark 11.
Hardly behavior of a peaceful man. Indeed, in the eyes of religious leaders and authorities of the day he was dangerous – so dangerous he had to be executed.
Still Dangerous Today
The Jesus of Scripture is complicated, often seemingly contradictory, and always compelling – but at a cost. Many of his immediate First Century followers discovered this in brutal ways: Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. Andrew was crucified at Patras in Greece. Thomas was murdered by Hindu priests near Chennai in India. Philip was arrested and crucified upside down at Hierapolis in Turkey under the persecution of Roman emperor Domitian. Matthew was said to have been stabbed to death in the city of Nabadar, Ethiopia. Bartholomew was flayed alive, crucified, and beheaded in Southern Arabia. James (son of Alpheus) was either stoned to death in Jerusalem or crucified in the Egyptian town of Ostrakine. Simon the Zealot was killed in Persia for refusing to offer sacrifices to their Sun god.
And of course Jesus himself was arrested, mocked, beaten, tried, and executed in a joint conspiracy of Jewish leaders and their Roman occupiers.
The Jesus we see as meek and mild, the Jesus we try so hard to clothe in the highly-sanitized and politically correct mores of the 21st Century, the authentic Jesus known to his contemporaries, remains very much the most dangerous man – or human – to ever live.
At the very center of this danger is a very simple, stark truth: Jesus holds a flawless and uncompromising mirror up to each of us.
When we stare into the face of Jesus we stare into the face of our own imperfections, our own shortcomings, our own sins.
We see the face of failings so profound only the grace and forgiveness of an omniscient Creator can make right.
When we stare into the face of Jesus we see a love so impossibly deep and unconditional it is unimaginable compared to our own pale imitations.
We see the reflection of how the Enemy has worked his deceit into the very fabric of our lives.
We see it every time we challenge God’s sovereignty over our lives. We see it any time we place Jesus anywhere except front and center.
When we allow our lives, our possessions, our positions, our wealth – when we allow anything to be more important to us than our love for Jesus, we step into the very center of the danger of Jesus’ anger at our hypocrisy. Conversely, when we place our love for Jesus above everything else we face the ridicule and hostility of a world bent on removing Jesus from all parts of our lives.
Jesus Calls Us Out and Sends Us
Jesus calls us out. He challenges us to confront the logs in our own eyes. And then he goes further. He sends us. He tells us in order to be his disciples we must brave the dangerous ridicule, scorn, and rejection of the world. He shows us God’s Kingdom is not some distant imaginary destination we will someday reach after our journey as human beings is complete, but is instead right here, right now, in the midst of us.
Jesus teaches us to live dangerously in his promise:
- To boldly pray for God’s hand to guide our lives and to be prepared when God answers.
- To forgive those who do us wrong – even when that wrong seems unforgivable. “Forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions,” Jesus tells us in Mark 11:25.
- To deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow him.
- To live fully in the knowledge that while we may “be hated by all” because of his name, those who endure to the end will be saved.
The Safest Place of All
Following Jesus – truly following him with every fiber of who we are – may not feel safe in a culture trying desperately to deny him. In truth, by the standards of the world it’s not “safe” at all. Following Jesus is dangerous, because Jesus himself, the very incarnation of God, is dangerous.
He is dangerous when angered by our actions or lack of actions, or when we fail to bear fruit but expect our secure place in the garden, or when we feign worship with empty hypocrisy. He’s dangerous when he puts the limitless power of prayer into our frail hands. He’s dangerous when he demands we forgive unconditionally, even should it cost us our lives.
Why would anyone want to follow someone so dangerous? Why should we entrust our love or desire that love be returned by such a dangerous man? How could we possibly be safe?
Because ultimately, through his death and resurrection Jesus overcomes the world. Through his willing sacrifice, Jesus defeats the Enemy. Because by knowing Jesus, loving him above all else, and trusting in his Truth, we actually find ourselves in the safest place we will ever be.