THE WARFARE OF THE KING’S MESSENGER
“Do not think that I came to send peace on earth: I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I came to set a man at variance against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies shall be the members of his own household. He that loves father or mother more than he loves me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me: He who finds his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.”
Nowhere is the sheer honesty of Jesus more vividly displayed than it is here. Here he sets the Christian demand at its most demanding and at its most uncompromising. He tells his men exactly what they may expect, if they accept the commission to be messengers of the King. Here in this passage Jesus offers four things.
(i) He offers a warfare; and in that warfare it will often be true that a man’s foes will be those of his own household.
It so happens that Jesus was using language which was perfectly familiar to the Jew. The Jews believed that one of the features of the Day of the Lord, the day when God would break into history, would be the division of families. The Rabbis said: “In the period when the Son of David shall come, a daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” “The son despises his father, the daughter rebels against the mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and the man’s enemies are they of his own household.” It is as if Jesus said, “The end you have always been waiting for has come; and the intervention of God in history is splitting homes and groups and families into two.”
When some great cause emerges, it is bound to divide people; there are bound to be those who answer, and those who refuse, the challenge. To be confronted with Jesus is necessarily to be confronted with the choice whether to accept him or to reject him; and the world is always divided into those who have accepted Christ and those who have not.
The bitterest thing about this warfare was that a man’s foes would be those of his own household. It can happen that a man loves his wife and his family so much that he may refuse some great adventure, some avenue of service, some call to sacrifice, either because he does not wish to leave them, or because to accept it would involve them in danger.
- R. Glover quotes a letter from Oliver Cromwell to Lord Wharton. The date is 1st January, 1649, and Cromwell had in the back of his mind that Wharton might be so attached to his home and to his wife that he might refuse to hear the call to adventure and to battle, and might choose to stay at home: “My service to the dear little lady; I wish you make her not a greater temptation than she is. Take heed of all relations. Mercies should not be temptations; yet we too often make them so.
It has happened that a man has refused God’s call to some adventurous bit of service, because he allowed personal attachments to immobilize him. Lovelace, the cavalier poet, writes to his Lucasta, Going to the Wars:
“Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind, That from the nunnery Of thy chaste breast, and quiet mind, To war and arms I fly. True; a new mistress now I chase, The first foe in the field; And with a stronger faith embrace A sword, a horse, a shield. Yet this inconstancy is such, As you too shall adore. I could not love thee (Dear) so much, Loved I not honour more.”
It is very seldom that any man is confronted with this choice; he may well go through life and never face it; but the fact remains that it is possible for a man’s loved ones to become in effect his enemies, if the thought of them keeps him from doing what he knows God wants him to do.
(ii) He offers a choice; and a man has to choose sometimes between the closest ties of earth and loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Bunyan knew all about that choice. The thing which troubled him most about his imprisonment was the effect it would have upon his wife and children. What was to happen to them, bereft of his support? “The parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place, as the pulling the flesh from my bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was like to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides. O the thought of the hardship I thought my blind one might go under, would break up my heart to pieces…. But yet, recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you; O I saw in this condition, I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children; yet thought I, I must do it, I must do it.”
Once again, this terrible choice will come very seldom; in God’s mercy to many of us it may never come; but the fact remains that all loyalties must give place to loyalty to god.
THE COST OF BEING A MESSENGER OF THE KING
Matt. 10:34-39 (continued)
(iii) Jesus offers a cross. People in Galilee well knew what a cross was. When the Roman general, Varus, had broken the revolt of Judas of Galilee, he crucified two thousand Jews, and placed the crosses by the wayside along the roads to Galilee. In the ancient days the criminal did actually carry the crossbeam of his cross to the place of crucifixion, and the men to whom Jesus spoke had seen people staggering under the weight of their crosses and dying in agony upon them.
The great men, whose names are on the honour roll of faith, well knew what they were doing. After his trial in Scarborough Castle, George Fox wrote, “And the officers would often be threatening me, that I should be hanged over the wall … they talked much then of hanging me. But I told them, `If that was it they desired, and it was permitted them, I was ready.'” When Bunyan was brought before the magistrate, he said, “Sir, ;he law (the law of Christ) hath provided two ways of obeying: The one to do that which I in my conscience do believe that I am bound to do, actively; and where I cannot obey it actively, there I am willing to lie down and to suffer what they shall do unto me.”
The Christian may have to sacrifice his personal ambitions, the ease and the comfort that he might have enjoyed, the career that he might have achieved; he may have to lay aside his dreams, to realize that shining things of which he has caught a glimpse are not for him. He will certainly have to sacrifice his will, for no Christian can ever again do what he likes; he must do what Christ likes. In Christianity there is always some cross, for it is the religion of the Cross.
(iv) He offers adventure. He told them that the man who found his life would lose it; and the man who lost his life would find it.
Again and again that has been proved true in the most literal way. It has always been true that many a man might easily have saved his life; but, if he had saved it, he would have lost it, for no one would ever have heard of him, and the place he holds in history would have been lost to him.
Epictetus says of Socrates: “Dying, he was saved, because he did not flee.” Socrates could easily have saved his life, but, if he had done so, the real Socrates would have died, and no man would ever have heard of him.
When Bunyan was charged with refusing to come to public worship and with running forbidden meetings of his own, he thought seriously whether it was his duty to flee to safety, or to stand by what he believed to be true. As all the world knows, he chose to take his stand. T. R. Glover closes his essay on Bunyan thus: “And supposing he had been talked round and had agreed no longer `devilishly and perniciously to abstain from coming to Church to hear divine service,’ and to be no longer `an upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of the kingdom contrary to the laws of our sovereign lord the king’? Bedford might have kept a tinker the more–and possibly none of the best at that, for there is nothing to show that renegades make good tinkers–and what would England have lost?”
There is no place for a policy of safety first in the Christian life. The man who seeks first ease and comfort and security and the fulfillment of personal ambition may well get all these things–but he will not be a happy man; for he was sent into this world to serve God and his fellow-men. A mall can hoard life, if he wishes to do so. But that way he will lose all that makes life valuable to others and worth living for himself. The way to serve others, the way to fulfil God’s purpose for us, the way to true happiness is to spend life selflessly, for only thus will we find life, here and hereafter.
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