No Peace, But Division
by Eric Peterman
These are unusual words to come out of the mouth of Jesus Christ, the one whom Isaiah prophesied would be the Prince of Peace. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus himself proclaimed, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Certainly, he came so that there would be peace between God and man. So, what does Jesus mean here when he says that he has not come to bring peace? Matthew quotes him even more starkly as saying “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
It’s common for me and probably many American Christians to think of Jesus in a meek and mild form, but we must remember that Jesus is our mighty champion in a cosmic battle. Even as he interacted with common folk from the Roman province of Palestine, Jesus battled the forces of sin and Hell.
He offers the same choice to us now that he offered to his listeners then. Do we follow him into everlasting life, trusting that he has the power to forgive sins? Or do we follow the way of sin into destruction? Jesus’ message is inherently divisive. You follow him or you don’t. You see him as the only way to God or you find another way.
This is what Jesus means when he says that he comes to bring division. The radical message of Christ splits families and communities apart as he stakes his claim on our lives. In Matthew, Jesus even says that “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” Following Christ requires great sacrifice.
In this passage, Jesus foretells his own great sacrifice. The baptism he’ll be baptized with (which, in his humanity, he is in great distress over) is the suffering he’ll experience on the cross. Yes, God will one day fully judge sin and destroy all injustice. But he strikes the opening blow by directing this baptismal judgment on himself, the one who knew no sin, thus pouring out God’s forgiveness on any who might trust him in faith.
It’s through Christ’s sacrifice, his resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit that we become his disciples and experience the cleansing fires of sanctification. Though being a disciple may bring sorrow over our sins and painful divisions here on Earth, Jesus also promises us a new family when he says that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” We may lose our natural bonds through following Christ, but we will gain a new supernatural family that transcends geography, race, and class. Through this family, we embody Christ on earth by offering acts of service and preaching the Gospel towards those who are on the other side of the divide. We hope and pray that they may join us in the peace of Christ that is to come.
Father, you sent Jesus to forgive us of our sins. He will come again to judge the world and rid it of all unrighteousness. We thank you for your grace shown to sinners like us. We pray that we would take up our cross daily and love you even more than our friends and family. Help us to show your grace to those who have yet to know you, so that all may enter into your everlasting peace when you come again to fully establish your Kingdom. Amen.
Eric Peterman has been attending the Falls Church Anglican for three and a half years. He first joined the church through the Fellows Program and now works for the Philanthropy Roundtable. He leads a small group of Freshman boys and lives in Falls Church.