As a history nerd, I’ve always found the American Civil War fascinating. For me, one of the most intriguing aspects is the many personal relationships between the Union and Confederate armies. There are many stories of father-in-law fighting against son-in-law. Men who stood in each other’s weddings, standing as enemies on the battlefield. Former classmates or colleagues turned foes.
Even brother against brother. One set, James and Alex Campbell, fought on opposing sides at the Battle of Secessionville. After the battle, James wrote to Alex: “I hope you and I will never again meet [as] enemies on the battlefield. But if such should be the case, you have but to discharge your duty for your cause, for I can assure you I will strive to discharge my duty to my country and my cause.”
No matter how much these brothers loved each other, while at war, their causes would always make them “a house divided.” How conflicted they must have felt to fight on opposing sides against their own family!
Maybe that’s hard for you to imagine. But maybe it’s not. Make no mistake, we’re at war too. Not a war of North vs. South, but a spiritual war of God vs. evil. And like the Civil War, we sometimes find ourselves opposed by our own family or friends.
Today, Jesus warns about one of the difficulties Christians will face for following him: Our faith sometimes make us part of A House Divided.
Jesus’ warning, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” probably surprises us, and makes us shift uncomfortably in our pews. Not peace, but division?
But wait, how can that be? Didn’t the angels who announced Jesus’ birth say “and on earth peace to men”? Didn’t Isaiah prophesy that Jesus would be the “Prince of Peace”? How can the Prince of Peace say he came to bring division, not peace?
Don’t worry, Isaiah wasn’t lying. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Peace in the spiritual sense, because God sent Jesus to destroy the sin that divided people from God. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed.”
The wickedness and unbelief of this world deserved a heavy dose of righteous, fiery judgment from a holy God. Jesus came to bring that fire. But not to distribute it. He came to face that judgment himself. The baptism Jesus had to undergo, which was so distressing to think about, was the suffering and death he would endure as the world’s perfect substitute. Note this: the same Greek word Jesus speaks here for “until it is completed,” is the same word Jesus spoke on the cross, when he cried out, “It is finished.” Here, Jesus feels distress until that “baptism” was finished. On the cross, as Jesus died, the payment to win peace between God and man was completed.
So the Prince of Peace brought spiritual peace to the people of earth. However, that doesn’t mean Jesus came to bring peace on earth. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. There is no guarantee of earthly peace, not even in the family. What’s the deal? Does Jesus hate families? “Watch out for Jesus! He’s coming for your family with a hacksaw!”
Not at all. Families are blessings from God! Rather, Jesus warns us that because we live in a sinful world where Satan prowls, even families will be divided over Christ.
What’s so divisive about Jesus? It’s what he claims about himself! John records Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to Father except through me.” He doesn’t call himself “a way” or “one option among many truths.” He’s THE way, THE truth, THE life. Our relativistic world ironically wants “everyone gets to determine their own truth” to be the only absolute truth. So Jesus’ claiming “I’m the only source of eternal life and truth” will cause division.
Really, Jesus is drawing a spiritual line in the sand. You either believe that he is the Savior, or you don’t have faith. There’s no blurry middle ground, only two sides: those who believe Jesus is the Savior, or those who believe Jesus is a liar. The two sides can’t be united, because Jesus can’t be both.
And in the spiritual war between God and Satan, even family and friends get caught in the carnage. Jesus says, “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
We can probably envision some of our own relationships. A parent, or spouse who always stays home while the rest go to church; grandparents who scoff at Jesus’ name; siblings who accuse, “You just think you’re better than me!” when you invite them to church; sons or daughters-in-law, who stomp away when you beg them to baptize your grandchild; boyfriends or girlfriends who threatens to dump you if you won’t have sex; classmates or co-workers who leave you off their guest list, because they don’t want “the Christian” ruining their party.
As Christians, we all carry this cross. No one avoids these hurtful divisions completely. Jesus warns us not as some uninformed man behind the curtain. He personally knew the pain of a house divided!
Mark tells us that during Jesus’ ministry, his family “went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” John tells us, “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.” Luke records how Jesus proclaimed he was the Savior in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The people he grew up with—his neighbors, friends, classmates, and teachers– were so enraged that they drove him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff. Jesus warns about these divisions because he knows how hard they are to face.
It’s heartbreaking to think of fractured families and relationships isn’t it? We love our family so much. They impact our lives in so many ways. If we’re honest, we’re willing to do just about anything to keep the sting of division out of our families. And that’s exactly why Jesus needs to warn us. Because Satan thrives on using things we love to pull us away from God! Family not excluded. If Satan knows you’ll do anything to avoid division in your relationships, he’ll use your family and friends to attack your faith as much as possible.
We need to ask ourselves: “Is my desire to keep my family and friends united dividing me from God? Is our obsession with avoiding confrontation tempting us to compromise our faith?”
Do you hide your Christianity on campus or at work? Do you try to straddle the line and live some sort of ambiguous middle-ground life so you can just blend in, until your faith becomes hidden from you too? Do you turn a blind eye to your children’s sins because you don’t want to upset them, until you’ve convinced yourself that God is wrong about this one? Do you devote every weekend to family time, at the expense of time with God’s family?
Brothers and sisters, this is hard, but it’s a struggle we need to wrestle with! If you’re at a fork in the road, with Jesus calling you in one direction, and your family calling in the other, who will you follow? Let go of Jesus to hold on to your family? Or face “a house divided” to stay latched to Jesus? We know what Satan wants. If he can get you to let go of Jesus, even for family, then he’s claimed another casualty of war. Family and friends are blessings from God. But keep in mind, they aren’t THE blessing from God.
This is a tough subject, a hard saying of Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus knows it’s difficult. In love he wants to prepare us to face it, so Satan can’t leverage our love of family to destroy our faith.
It’s much easier to face something difficult if you’re prepared for it in advance, right? If I asked you to run a race with me, you’d be better prepared if I warned you that that race is the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, than if the first time I said, “By the way, there are going to be angry bulls chasing us” was right before they released the bulls! Likewise, we’re better prepared to face the divisions that Satan will use as a faith trap, when we hear Jesus’ warning, and are prepared to react when they come!
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” How can we be prepared? We need to suit up!
As you read that list of God’s armor, note that there is defensive armor to protect yourself from Satan’s attacks. But there are also offensive weapons that allow us to fight back against the enemy!
Yes, it’s the sad reality of a sinful world, that we will face division over Jesus even in our families. But that doesn’t mean we sit idly by and let Satan pick us off. We can fight for our family! With the Sword of the Spirit—God’s Word, we can confront our loved ones with their sins, and remind them of God’s promises! When we hold the Sword of the Spirit we can be bold to share our faith with others. The Holy Spirit goes to work through the Word, to unite our divided loved ones through faith in Jesus! When that happens, Satan loses another soldier, and your family grows more united. Never give up fighting for your family and friends, and never stop preparing them.
No matter how much your family loves you, Jesus loves you more. No matter how much you love your family, Jesus loves them more. When you’re faced with that fork in the road to follow Jesus or follow family, there’s another option. Wrap both arms around Jesus, and let the Prince of Peace bring your family along. In love, he’s made us a family united. May he watch over our families, and may he use us as his instruments to draw our divided loved ones to unity with him.