Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles
St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles
Text: Matt. 10:34-42
The grace of God in Jesus Christ is free, but being a disciple of Jesus Christ is costly. You’ve heard me say this many times as your pastor, and I’m probably not the first pastor you’ve heard it from, and hopefully every other Lutheran pastor you run into will tell you the same thing. Grace is God’s free gift to you in Jesus Christ. You don’t have to work for it. You can’t earn it. It has nothing to do with your own merits or good works. The very definition of grace is God’s underserved favor, His unmerited love. And you are saved by grace alone through faith alone without works, so salvation itself is free. But that doesn’t mean it won’t cost you to be a disciple in this earthly life. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to be a disciple of the Savior. And Jesus has warned you ahead of time. That has been our theme for the past couple of weeks and this week, as Jesus warns His disciples, His twelve apostles in particular, and through them, the whole Church, that discipleship is not easy. You will be rejected. You will be hated by all for His Name’s sake (Matt. 10:22). You may even have to suffer the loss of all earthly possessions, prison, death, betrayal by friends and family. It is enough for you that you are like your Teacher, your Master, Jesus, who likewise suffered all these things for you. Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul (v. 28). Even the hairs of your head are all numbered (v. 30). God will preserve you in the time of persecution. But there will be persecution. Grace is free, but discipleship comes at a cost. So it is that Jesus says this morning, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (v. 39; ESV).
Jesus exhorts us this morning to take up our cross and follow Him (v. 38). That’s what disciples do… they follow their teacher and they do the things that their teacher does. A disciple is one who follows his teacher or master wherever he goes. Jesus goes the way of the cross, so the disciple must also go that way. Jesus takes up His cross, so the disciples should likewise take up theirs. If Jesus suffers, the disciples should expect to suffer. If Jesus is persecuted, the disciples should expect to be persecuted. If Jesus bears a cross, so also the disciples should expect to bear crosses of their own. Jesus bears the cross for the forgiveness and life of His disciples, winning for them the free grace of God. Disciples bear the cross, not for their own salvation, but because God is allowing them to undergo trials and afflictions for the purpose of forming the disciples, molding them into the image of Jesus, their Master, by crucifying the old sinful flesh that the new man might arise, bringing us to despair over our own ability to deliver ourselves so that we cling to God by faith in His Son Jesus Christ for deliverance from sin, death, and the devil.
So if you want to be a disciple of Jesus, and you are such a disciple if you believe in Him, then you must expect to suffer. You must expect Him to call upon you to take up your cross and follow Him. Jesus identifies a particular cross in our text this morning, that of division in the family on account of His Name. It is hard to imagine a more painful cross to bear, than when those closest to us, those we love so dearly, reject us or even betray us on account of Jesus Christ. This division can take many forms. Maybe there is someone in your family who is scandalized by Jesus, and hates it when you talk about your faith in Him. Even more, that person hates it when you continually urge him or her to go to church and receive the gifts of forgiveness and life that Christ so longs to give. Or perhaps you have a family member who is living in some manifest sin, and if you mention anything about it, if you urge that family member to repent and mend his ways, you know that he will reject you. But of course, to remain silent is to sacrifice perhaps that loved one’s very salvation for the sake of temporary, earthly peace, which, by the way, is not real love. And that’s the hard part: Love, real love, Christian love, demands that you make your good confession of Christ even when you know it will cause strife between you and a family member or friend. And so it is in this sense that Jesus speaks His very hard Word: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (v. 34).
Of course, Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). When Jesus was born, the angel and the host of heaven sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Jesus does bring peace, but it’s not a temporal, earthly peace. Jesus brings peace with God, and along with that peace of conscience and heart, because all sin and its guilt is wiped out by Jesus’ sacrificial death. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). And there is even a sense in which this peace is true of relationships: that is to say, relationships between Christians. Those who have been forgiven of all sin and given peace with God freely on account of Christ will not withhold that forgiveness from others, and so when two Christians have a conflict, the peace of Christ should reign and that conflict should be resolved with mutual forgiveness, patience, and love. St. Paul urges Christians to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3). But in terms of relationships with non-Christians, there you cannot expect peace. You should extend that hand of peace, of course. But when you confess Christ and speak the truth in love, you can expect rejection and hatred, even from family members: a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (Matt. 10:35). You should expect it because Jesus Himself suffered it. His own family forsook Him during His earthly ministry. Not even Jesus’ brothers believed in Him until after the resurrection (John7:5). His family was embarrassed by Him. So if you have suffered division in the family on account of Jesus, you have not suffered anything Jesus has not suffered Himself.
Now this division that happens within the family is very particular. It is that division caused by the Name of Christ. Remember that. We’re not talking about a daughter-in-law who just doesn’t see eye to eye with her mother-in-law in terms of raising her family or keeping her house, in the fashion of Everybody Loves Raymond. We’re not talking about a son who just doesn’t get along with his father, seeing his father’s rules as too burdensome, unreasonable, and believing that his father just “doesn’t get him.” Such divisions are sinful. If you are divided from a family member for any earthly reason, you will not find solace in our text. Repent and be reconciled. Receive the forgiveness of Jesus and the forgiveness of that family member. But if a family member shuns you because of your confession of Christ, because you’ve urged that family member to believe in Christ and come to church, because you’ve confronted that family member over a particular sin, then that is your cross to bear. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37-38). Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Lose your life here on earth. Crucify the flesh. Do not give in to the temptation to pursue earthly, temporal peace at all costs, including the denial of Jesus. Rather, accept the cost of being Jesus’ disciple. Because Jesus is your life. Whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it abundant and eternal in His Savior.
In the meantime, you will not be without family, even if all your blood relations forsake you. Even if you are the only Christian among all your relatives, and all forsake you because of Christ, you have a family here in the Church. Whoever receives a Christian receives a Christian’s reward. Jesus said to His apostles, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (v. 40). The promise to the apostles was that whoever heard their Word and received them into their homes were in actuality doing these things for Jesus, and so received the Father who sent Him and the Spirit whom Father and Son impart. And the same is true of all Christians. Whoever receives a Christian because he is a Christian receives the reward of a Christian. Because the whole Church is a family, with one Father, one Savior, united in one Spirit. And of course, your Brother, Jesus Christ, is with you always, even to the very end of the age. He is with you to forgive you for all those times you have forsaken Him in the interests of earthly peace with family members. He is with you to forgive you for all those times you have refused His free grace on account of the cost of discipleship. He is with you to forgive you all your sins, wash them away, and strengthen you with His Word and His Sacraments to take up your cross daily and follow Him all the way to Golgotha and beyond. In Him you have life. He is your life. In Him, you will by no means lose your reward. He has already given you salvation freely, by His blood. Now any costs you accrue as a result of that salvation, as a result of your discipleship, will be rewarded not only in this earthly life, but in heaven and in the resurrection.
This Sunday is also the commemoration of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. These two great apostles lost their lives for Jesus’ sake, and so found them in Christ. Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded, both in Rome, during the persecution of emperor Nero. And certainly during their earthly lives, Peter and Paul gave up all for the sake of Christ. They gave up their earthly possessions, they suffered imprisonment, and undoubtedly, many of their loved ones forsook them on account of their good confession. Ultimately, they suffered martyr’s deaths. Let them be examples to us. But even more, let us believe their message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for which they died. True peace is peace with God. It is eternal peace, the peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord, who suffered all for us, died for us on the cross, for our forgiveness, and was raised again for our justification. Whatever we suffer now is nothing in comparison with the glory to be revealed in us, and the marvelous gifts of life and salvation that flow to us freely in His blood. So fight the good fight. Do not give up. Your reward is in heaven. Jesus is your peace, your life, your salvation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.