Instructions for Apostles - V

32"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37"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; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

40"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

11:1After Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

Jesus continues the instructions to His disciples. He had been telling them about the persecution that they would face as they preached the Good News. Here, He speaks in general about the effects that the Gospel would have on the world. Essentially, the Gospel divides the world into two camps: those who follow Christ, and those who do not. Jesus summarizes this fact: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (vss. 32–33). Jesus makes it clear here that He does not want any secret agents. Our faith in Christ should be known by those around us: by our fellow-workers, by our friends, by our neighbors, by our relatives. "Can a non-confessing faith save? To live and die without confessing Christ before men is to run an awful risk" [Spurgeon, 129].

The division of the world into two camps as a result of the Gospel would have its ramifications. Jesus describes these ramifications: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (vs. 34). This statement by Jesus may seem surprising. Did not the angels herald at His birth: "Peace on earth, good will toward men"? (See Luke 2:14). Is not Jesus "the Prince of Peace"? (See Isa. 9:6). So, how can He say, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword"?

The resolution of this difficulty lies in the fact that there are different sorts of "peace", as well as a pre-ordained time (which was not to be immediate) for total peace to come. Jesus was immediately to bring spiritual peace, to make accessible peace between God and man. Jesus, in His first coming, was not to bring world peace between men, for not all men were to accept the spiritual peace that He was bringing. And in fact, in many ways, as Jesus is here pointing out, the spiritual peace He was bringing would actually be a cause of strife between men. "There is, of course, a most important sense in which he came to bring peace. But the peace he came to bring is not simply the absence of strife; it is a peace that means the overcoming of sin and the bringing in of the salvation of God. And that means war with evil and accordingly hostility against those who support the ways of wrong" [Morris, 266]. There would have been total peace "if all the world were to subscribe with one accord to the teaching of the Gospel. But as the majority is not only opposed, but actually in bitter conflict, we are not able to profess Christ without strife and the hatred of many" [Calvin, 310]. And as it is, "the gospel does tend to bring men into peace with each other, but only in proportion as they are brought into peace with God" [Broadus, 232].

Indeed, it is sadly ironic, that the Gospel, which is Good News for absolutely everyone, does not bring peace, but brings a "sword". "When Christianity divides families and produces wars, this is not the fault of Christianity, but of human nature" [Broadus, 234]. The "sword" is a result of people rejecting God’s Good News, and turning upon the bearers of His Good News. "Truth provokes opposition, purity excites enmity, and righteousness arouses all the forces of wrong" [Spurgeon, 129]. The cause of the strife is not the Gospel itself, but the rejection of the Gospel. Men reject the truth of the Gospel because they desire to continue in their ways of sin. As Jesus summarized elsewhere: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).

The extent of the divisions that Christianity would cause is illustrated by Jesus through the divisions that would develop, in many cases, within the same family: "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’" (vss. 35–36). In many circumstances, our faith in Jesus Christ will adversely affect even our dearest family ties. "Wherever the gospel is received by some, it is sure to be rejected by others, even of one’s own household" [Ryle, 147]. Our spouses, parents, brothers or sisters will urge us to give up that "Christian nonsense." Jesus makes it clear as to how we should react to such urgings: "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" (vss. 37). "Even if our house becomes a den of lions to us, we must stand up for our Lord. The peace-at-any-price people have no portion in this kingdom" [Spurgeon, 130]. Our love for Christ must be greater than our love for anything on this earth. "So let the husband love his wife, the father his child, and in turn the child the father, as long as human love does not overwhelm the attention that is owed to Christ" [Calvin, 312].

This claim that Jesus makes on our affections is, if you think about it, astounding. Such a claim is an outright claim of divinity by Jesus. Who but God could demand that we love Him more than our own mother? "When Jesus here demands of His followers a love beyond all that is found in the tenderest relations of life, and pronounces all who withhold this to be unworthy of Him, He makes a claim which, on the part of any mere creature, would be wicked and intolerable, and in Him who honoured the Father as no other on earth ever did, is not to be imagined, if He had not been ‘the Fellow of the Lord of Hosts’" [JFB, 65]. Given that Jesus is God, to love any person more than Jesus is akin to making an idol of them. Beware of this. The irony, though, in all this, and the great blessing, is that the more we love Christ, the more effectively and genuinely we love others.

Given the division and strife that Christianity brings, to follow Christ requires that a price be paid: "[A]nyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (vss. 38–39). The first statement here is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice. The apostles must certainly have wondered what Jesus meant when Jesus spoke of the unworthiness of someone who does not "take his cross and follow" Jesus. They could not have understood the full import of this statement until Jesus gave His life on the cross. And indeed, many of us do not understand the meaning of taking one’s cross and following Jesus. I have heard often people speak of some relatively minor annoyance (such as a hangnail, or some such thing) as a cross that they bear in life. To say such a thing is a gross trivialization of what Jesus is saying here. "‘Taking one’s cross’ does not mean putting up with some awkward or tragic situation in one’s life but painfully dying to self" [Carson, 257]. Jesus means nothing short of giving one’s whole life for Him, as He explains in the next statement: "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (vs. 39). This statement sounds like philosophical double-talk, but the truth of this statement can be testified to by all those who have lost their lives for Christ’s sake. All I can say to expand upon it is that, if you have not experienced the truth of this statement, pray that Holy Spirit would bring you to a place where this statement rings true. Pray to lose your life for Christ’s sake, so that you may be able to find true life, in this world and the next.

Jesus concludes His remarks to the apostles concerning their first missionary journey with a blessing on those who show hospitality toward them: "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (vss. 40–42). These blessings show us how much our Lord values the work of His apostles, those who are sent out to preach the Gospel, "in allowing all the services accorded them to be imputed to Himself" [Calvin, 315]. These blessings, of course, are meant to be heeded not so much by the apostles, as by us, who would be in the position to aid those whom Jesus sends out. Any and all help we give the apostles of Jesus will have its reward. "Notice that Jesus is speaking of the smallest conceivable gift to the most insignificant of people [sent in His name]. The gift is that of no more than a cup of cold water; no smaller gift can easily be conceived. Even the smallest gift, given with the right motive, does not go unnoticed. And the gift is made to one of these little ones; to one only, and that one from the class of little ones" [Morris, 271]. While we cannot all be evangelists who are sent out into a hostile world to preach the Gospel, we can all help those who are sent out, through hospitality, through prayer, through gifts of aid, etc. "Much loyalty to the King may be expressed by little kindnesses to His servants, and perhaps more by kindness to the little ones among them than by friendship with the greater sort" [Spurgeon, 132].

By the way, some would condemn doing any good work with an eye on a reward. However, our Lord often, as here, specifically refers to rewards in order to spur us on to good works. So, it is wrong "to condemn all reference to our own future safety and blessedness as a motive of action. For what have we here,… but an encouragement to entertain His servants, and welcome His people, and do offices of kindness, however small, to the humblest of His disciples, by the emphatic assurance that not the lowest of such offices shall go unrewarded?" [JFB, 65]. Rather than pretend that there are no rewards for service, we should praise the Lord that our God is a loving God who does reward us for good works.

Jesus did not send the apostles out in order to take a rest Himself. On the contrary: "After Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee" (vs. 11:1). So, He gave them instructions, and then immediately followed up their evangelism with His own. This is symbolic of the greatest wish any minister of the Gospel could have: "We are to do our best for men, and then to hope that our Lord will deign to certify and confirm our teaching by His own coming to men’s hearts" [Spurgeon, 132].

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