Following Jesus Is a Battle

A sermon preached on Matthew 10:34-42 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on July 12, 2020.

Anyone else find some sort of dark humor in watching prescription drug commercials? They’re talking about how amazingly the drug will solve your problems in life and showing people happy and doing things they love. Then they run through possible side effects that are twice as long as any other part of the commercial! Here’s just some of the side effects for one commercial I saw this week: confusion, abnormal aggression, hallucinations, shortness of breath, swelling of the tongue (sometimes fatal), drowsiness, and increased risk of suicide…and this was just for a sleeping pill!

What about Christianity? Does Christianity come with a list of side effects? Well yes. Matthew chapter 10 starts off with Jesus sending the disciples off on a mission journey all on their own. But before they go, he makes sure they know some of the side effects of following Christ. Jesus and his Word will cause division, pain, and suffering. In other words: Following Jesus Is a Battle!

I’m sure the disciples were excited to go out on their missionary journey. But they also needed to know that not everyone would be as excited about the Savior as they were. In fact, the Good News about Jesus would even potentially bring division. Jesus says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Now wait a minute! Didn’t Jesus come to make peace? Is the Bible contradicting itself here? After all, when Jesus was born the angels declared he came to bring peace to earth. When he was a baby Simeon declared peace because he had seen the Savior. We call him the Prince of Peace. So did Jesus come to bring peace or not?

Yes, Jesus did come to make peace – peace between us and our Holy God. That’s why Jesus was at odds often with the Jewish leaders because he was not concerned with earthly things but our spiritual and eternal peace with God. That’s why he came here to live for you to die and suffer the punishment you deserved from God. As the Bible says of Jesus: “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). You have peace with God. You have the peace of knowing your sins are forgiven. You have the peace of knowing that God loves you.

And he keeps you in that peace by giving you the Bible that reminds you of his love and forgiveness with a promise like: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word is living and active and it is the Word that created faith in your heart. Yet, it is a double edged sword. That verse finishes: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Sword of the Spirit can, unfortunately, cut and divide as Jesus said: friend from friend, family member from family member, repentant from impenitent, believer from unbeliever.

You know, there’s a lot of talk about radicalization today. Have you ever thought of Christianity that way? Jesus really calls us to a radical kind of discipleship. He says: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” It’s radical because I am to live only as he would have me live. All of my life that way, not just the parts that are easy. As Christians we follow Jesus, even if that means that other people might be offended or put-off because of Christ. It reminds me of the first week the current unrest exploded a month or two ago. During the initial protests I saw someone on twitter saying “Dear Christians, don’t use these protests as a chance to point out that the real problem is sin, just let people mourn and fight for justice.” In other words, keep Jesus out of it. It’s only gotten more divided since then. Some of you know the strain following Christ has put on your family even.

So Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow him. We probably use that phrase enough now that it’s become a bit watered down. But that statement would have utterly rattled Jesus’ Jewish hearers. The cross was not the symbol of their salvation, it was a symbol of abandonment and failure. Crucifixion was the worst kind of death a person could possibly die. So in saying this, Jesus was warning them and us that following him sometimes means taking up the ridicule and hatred of the world. Something again that is coming into the current movement in our nation.

Jesus says “Come, follow me.” What kind of commitment do you have? What kind of commitment do we show when we struggle to get volunteers? What kind of commitment do we show that many Christians, including our own members, forgot Jesus is even a thing during the pandemic lockdowns? What kind of commitment do we show when we can’t make it to church because we have a soccer or baseball game Sunday morning?

Given a difficult choice to stand for Jesus, we take the path of least resistance. Maybe that shows itself in how we value our earthly relationships more than we value a pure relationship with Jesus. Do I turn a blind eye to trouble I see in my own family to preserve the “peace” rather than stir up conflict and confess Christ?

Perhaps one of the reasons today’s Gospel catches us off guard so much is we forget that every time Jesus preached the Word or did a miracle…he was at war. He was assaulting the very strongholds of sin, death, and the devil. But because that battle was waged 2,000 years ago, it can get all too easy to forget we are at war with Satan right now. That’s why we call the church on earth the Church Militant. The Bible puts it this way: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Following Jesus is a battle! But here’s the wonderful part. While my life is a constant battle of tug of war between my sinful nature and the Holy Spirit…the war is already won for you. The battle between light and darkness has already been won by the light. That’s why Jesus came. Where I often struggle to remain committed to God and follow him, Jesus never let anything get in his way of following his Father’s will. His devotion to the Father’s will was so radical that he willingly took on that sick and shameful death on a cross without hesitation. And because of Jesus’ life, death, and his resurrection; when Satan tries to hold you in bondage by convincing you, you are beyond redemption or you can somehow save yourself…Jesus comes and shines his forgiving light and assures you and me he has done it all. You are forgiven. He has won the war.

And Christ shares that victory with you. The Bible says: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). Through your baptism you are joined to Jesus and his death and the forgiveness it won and therefore to his resurrection. Every time you open his Word and see the forgiveness he won for you, he fends off sin, death, and the devil again. He gives you the amazing gift of his Supper that we’ll receive in a few minutes. Through it he strengthens and preserves you in the one true faith and lifts you up in forgiveness.

Yes, every day will still be a battle – a tug of war between the new spiritual self he creates in us to love and follow him and our old sinful nature. Yes, the world will daily oppose the Word. I will even suffer wounds from time to time in this spiritual battle. But take heart, the war has already been won.

So you and I don’t need to worry about what side effects might come with following Jesus. The result is assured. In Jesus your sins are forgiven. You are loved. And one day you will receive his wonderful invitation for the victory Jesus won for you: “Well done, good and faithful servant…Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23). And that result will be forever in heaven and there will never again be any side effects. Amen.