Matthew 10:34-42 – The Trouble with Jesus

Jesus teaching the disciples, from the Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome

Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (New International Version)

Jesus is the sort of guy that gets up in our grill and confronts us with this: All of life centers in him. That may sound incredibly narcissistic. For Christians, it isn’t, because we discern and confess along with the Apostle Paul:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV)

The Christian’s confession of centrality in Christ means that we believe Jesus is the most important person there is. That confession often makes us troublemakers, as we follow in the footsteps of the Lord who was himself a troublemaker.

That may also sound like something that happens when a narcissist is in control. Again, for Christians, it isn’t, because we realize that trouble is central to Christian mission; the way of the resurrection comes through the cross; the way to succeed is to fail; and whoever loses their life will find it.

We Should Expect Opposition

We should not be obstinate, pigheaded, short-sighted, legalistic, or use the Bible as a brick to throw at people who disagree with us. That will certainly bring opposition and trouble. But this is not the kind of opposition we’re talking about. Being a jerk is antithetical to the gospel. Don’t be a jerk.

The opposition Jesus experienced came through being humble, meek, just, merciful, pure, and peace-loving. According to Christ’s Beatitudes, embracing these values will smack against their opposites. Pride, criticism, judgmentalism, and selfishness are ensconced everywhere throughout this fallen world.

The virtues of Jesus are counter-cultural; they’re different than how the world typically operates. 

As people who must live in this world, we need to avoid the extremes of simple assimilation into the culture, or an outright rejection of the culture. Blending into culture, and separating from it, are both ways of avoiding opposition and trouble. 

Instead, there is a third way that encompasses both shrewdness and innocence. And it is faithful to the way of Jesus. We need to interact with and engage the culture as salt and light. 

Assimilation means that we lose our saltiness. Isolation means that we hide our light.

But interaction means that we are discerning and seek to apply understanding and truth in the concrete situations of life in the world.

It means that we learn critical thinking skills. It involves listening to others and discovering their values. It requires speaking into another’s life with grace and truth. It is a matter of following the words and ways of Jesus, the center of all things.

Any fool can stand against something and complain about it – shouting from afar about what they don’t like. It’s also foolish to accept everything without question. As followers of Jesus, opposition and trouble is going to come when you rub shoulders with the world. If we never experience opposition, it’s probably because we have either succumbed to the culture or have removed ourselves from it.

We Will Inevitably Upset Our Family

Trouble will likely come from family. In many countries of this world, a family member who becomes a Christian has brought shame upon the entire family and, so, is in jeopardy of being shunned, rejected, or worse. That sort of trouble may be foreign to many, but family separations certainly occur in our own culture because of faith commitments to Jesus. 

Jesus stated that anyone who takes the easy way of loving family more than him is not worthy of him. Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow Jesus, even if it means trouble, is not worthy of following him. 

Each one must die to self. Let… it… go….

Die to the old life; take up a new life – a life dedicated wholeheartedly to Christ.

The old life involves holding onto a spirit of unforgiveness and bitterness; avoiding certain people; refusing to make things right with others. The new life entails keeping steadfast love, caring for others, embracing humility, being self-less, thinking the best of others, forgiving others, taking pleasure in truth, remaining patient, and always trusting God, no matter what.

We Are Going to Feel Afraid

Fear has to do with the unknown. If we expect opposition and trouble, then we won’t live in dread of what might happen. The early Christians even rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus. (Acts 5:41)

God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. (Philippians 1:29, CEB)

We will receive special help in times of trouble and fear. We have the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our Helper for such a time as this. God is with us.

When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2, NLT)

God sees everything and isn’t taken by surprise by your hardship; the Lord will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this world.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

It is a privilege to follow Jesus into trouble. This is “upside-down” theology. In giving my life away to Jesus, I find it. In getting into trouble, I find peace. In taking up my cross, I find purpose and joy. 

The flooding of thousands of square kilometers of rain forest in Brazil has given birth to an unusual industry – the extraction of underwater wood. Millions of tree trunks, below the waters of a lake formed by the 1980 construction of a hydro-electric dam, captured the entrepreneurial vision of Juarez Cristiano Gomes.

He invented an electric saw that works underwater and set up a company to extract this wood. Lumberjacks equipped with air tanks go down as far as 164 feet but are never in danger of being smashed by trees they cut since they “fall” upward to the surface.

The kingdom of God is upside-down. Facing trouble and opposition doesn’t make us fall; it actually lifts us up.

So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will certainly not lose your reward from God.

1 Samuel 8:1-22 – Be Careful What You Ask For: You Might Get It

Now when Samuel got old, he appointed his sons to serve as Israel’s judges. The name of his oldest son was Joel; the name of the second was Abijah. They served as judges in Beersheba. But Samuel’s sons didn’t follow in his footsteps. They tried to turn a profit, they accepted bribes, and they perverted justice.

So, all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So, appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed awfully bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So, comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:

“He will take your sons and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Samuel listened to everything the people said and repeated it directly to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Comply with their request. Give them a king.”

Samuel then told the Israelite people, “Go back, each of you, to your own hometown.” (Common English Bible)

“No one but a fool would measure their satisfaction by what the world thinks of it.”

Oliver Goldsmith

In the days of the prophet Samuel, the people asked for a king. They had never had one before. Samuel, and others before him, served as Judges, leading the people in special times and acting as intercessors between the people and God. 

Samuel was quite displeased that the people asked for a king. Ever the wise and discerning leader, Samuel understood there were two realities behind such a request:

  1. Israel wanted to be just like all the other nations in having a king.
  2. Israel was rejecting God as their rightful king.

The ancient Israelites wanted from an earthly king what God was really supposed to do for them. Whereas an earthly mortal king can only rule partially and temporarily, the eternal sovereign God reigns supreme over everyone and everything. 

It is impossible for an earthly king to provide the totality of everyone’s needs within a geographical realm. Yet, even in this present day and age, all kinds of people still look to earthly politicians, pundits, presidents, prognosticators, pastors, and/or people in charge to meet their every need. That’s likely why so many people get upset and have strong visceral reactions to politics and the church – far too many of them expect a human authority figure to do for them what God is supposed to do. 

No other human being can fight your battles for you. No other person can do your relational and spiritual work for you. We must all take charge of our own lives and be responsible to develop and cultivate spiritual and relational practices which connect us with the God who is in charge of the universe. 

We can then ask God for what we need and want according to divine purposes, and not ask for what everyone else has that we don’t. God ended up giving Israel a king, even when it was not the best of ideas on their part. 

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

All-wise God, I look to you for the discernment to even know what I ought to be asking for in prayer. Guide me into truth and grace so that in everything I will make wise decisions that reflect your sovereignty over the church and the world. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

**Above art comes from the Morgan Picture Bible, c.1250. The aging Samuel is approached by four elders representing the people of Israel who ask him to anoint a King so that Israel will be powerful like other nations. Samuel warns them of the dangers a king would pose to the liberties of the Israelite people.

1 Corinthians 7:32-40 – Relational Worries

 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (NIV)

Everyone experiences worry and anxiety. It is part of our human condition in this broken world. You may have even woken up this morning with deep furrows of anxiety about the state of your life – and maybe God was lost somewhere in your worry. The Bible addresses worry many times, and the Apostle Paul brings it out here in our New Testament lesson for today.

Throughout the letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul dealt with several issues effecting the life and health of the church. One of the topics of discussion was the prospect of marriage for unmarried persons (sounds like Paul spoke at a lot of college campuses). Paul went back and forth with the people as if he had a daisy in his hand giving a pre-marital counseling illustration of “she loves me, she loves me not” as he pulled petals off the flower.

“We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.”

thomas merton

Paul vacillated between whether to get married or not because of his larger concern about individual and congregational anxiety. The Apostle wanted everyone in the church to be free from worry. This, then, becomes a sage grid from which to make an important life decision: Does being unmarried create worry and anxiety within you, to the point that you cannot think about pleasing God? 

If that is the case, then drop the long engagement and get married, or put yourself out there to connect in a relationship. If being unmarried does not cause one to worry, then Paul would say to stay in your current state and be unconcerned for pursuing a marriage relationship. Instead, use your station in life to serve God freely, liberated from the worry of caring for a spouse.

Pleasing and serving the Lord is Paul’s highest good. If we are in life circumstances which make it difficult for us to serve God, then we ought to work to change the situation so that we can focus better on Christ. This is one of the most simple and wise ways of making decisions for the Christian devoted to Jesus, and discerning God’s will.

Having said that, it is important not to overthink this – because it only adds to the anxiety and really goes nowhere in making sound decisions. When it comes to issues about marriage and relationships, some folks get paralyzed wanting to make the “right” decision, and so, get too scared to even talk about their worry with others. Throw into the mix a possible underlying anxiety about being rejected, and decision-making can get quickly stymied. If we are too nervous to voice our concerns, we will likely miss out on the opportunity to potentially get reassurance and help.

Whenever we experience decision-making anxiety, there are some ways to address it…

  • Breathe. Take some deep breaths and feel your feet on the ground. When you have an internal conflict, it creates inner drama, and we easily get stuck. Take a deep breath to take the edge off.
  • Be curious. When we are conflicted on the inside, be curious about what you want or need. Explore your true intentions without judgment. It is when our inner-critic chimes in with the harsh rhetoric of judgment that we often become anxious and worried. It is okay to identify and express what we really need and want.
  • Write it out. The act of writing not only helps clarify our thought process; it also calms our brains and our spirits – which allows us to calmly ask ourselves: “What is the best move at this point?”

May you blessed because you care. Although relational anxiety can vex our spirits, it is a sign that we want what is best for ourselves and others.

Gracious God, you in every way want me to be healthy and content. Help me not to be overcome by anxiety, and in all I do direct me to fulfilling of your purposes; through Jesus Christ, my Lord, along with you and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.