I have a book called Hard Sayings of Jesus, which has been a great source over the years concerning--as the title indicates--statements by our Savior which are troublesome. Not surprisingly, today’s passage is listed.
I mean, the Bible tells us pretty plainly that God invented the family. As you might've noticed, he created marriage (and by extension the family) before he created government or the church. It’s the pillar of society, and no society can survive along with its dissolution. The Lord considered honoring one’s parents important enough to include in his Top Ten Commands. In fact, it’s the first commandment among the Ten that deals with our relationship with other people, before murder or theft or adultery. So why does it seem like Jesus is in favor of breaking them up?
I think we need to distinguish between intent and effect. It’s not his intent in the least to break up families. He loves them. He created them. They are (or are supposed to be) a great source of strength, comfort, and encouragement in this harsh world. No matter how badly the world outside treats us, the family should be our refuge from all that mess. And it is (or should be) the primary source of teaching we have about God and his word.
Regrettably, that’s not the effect of his coming. What he's referring to is the result of some people in a family—but not all—coming to a saving knowledge of Christ. A child gets saved, and watches in agony as his parents reject not only his Savior but their own son. A wife receives Christ and is constantly burdened with the knowledge that if nothing else changes, her beloved husband will be separated from her into eternal darkness.
But what’s the alternative? Without God’s intervention, all of us would be lost. If he just left us to our own devices, we would be all united. Just like the builders of the Tower of Babel, we’d be perfectly united in rebellion against our Creator, all of us under his righteous anger. Unity is a neutral term. Unity in a good cause is a good thing. But there’s such a thing as being united in a bad cause as well, and in that case dissent is necessary. At one time Germany was very united under its Fuehrer. According to Revelation, one day pretty much all of humanity will be united in serving the Anti-Christ.
But didn't the angels pronounce "peace on earth" when Jesus was born? Well, sort of. The NIV translates what they proclaimed as "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." The peace that Jesus offers is only in effect when we're submitting to him. In the family, church, etc., where he has final authority, where he's the undisputed King, there is perfect peace. But the only time he's going to bring real peace on the whole earth is when he returns in power and glory and completely crushes all rebellion and rebels. When every knee bows before him (whether willingly or no), there will be perfect universal peace. But not till then.
So that’s the result of Jesus’ first coming. And it’s very regrettable that families are divided over this. By the way, if you think it’s bad here, you’ve seen nothing unless you’ve stepped outside America’s borders. In most of the world, family ties are considered so much more important than any silly ideas you have in your head about truth or questioning what you’ve been told. The prospect of being cut off from your family is one of the biggest hurdles many face before becoming a follower of Jesus. Family is everything. Ostracism is the nicest thing that happens to you, but what commonly happens is that your former family attempts to kill you. So when Jesus warns us that in some situations “a man's enemies will be the members of his own household,” he isn’t just talking about not being invited to the family reunions.
So what can we learn from this? Well, let me speak for myself first of all. I was raised in a Christian home. My parents, however imperfectly, tried to model Christ in front of me and see that I was taught God’s word. I was in church every Sunday morning (and most evenings), along with Monday night visitation, Wednesday night fellowship, choir, etc. And this was because of the encouragement of my parents. If this describes you, if you were raised in a Christian home, then you need to stop right now and thank God for that incredible blessing. You can’t imagine the heartbreak that the Lord has spared you.
If, however, today’s passage applies to you, then please take heart. Your Savior knows very well what it’s like to have family members misunderstand and reject you. His own brothers didn’t believe in him. The people in the town he grew up in? They tried to throw him off a cliff. So he knows. He’s watching. He’s taking account of your faithfulness, and will someday dry every tear from your eyes. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, some of the division in your family will end. Maybe some of your physical relatives will become your siblings in Christ. Don’t stop praying, and don’t give up.
Father God, I thank you so much that no matter what type of “bio” family we have, you are our Father and we have millions of siblings all over the world. It is soooo good to be adopted into your family.