The Risk and Reward of Discipleship

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:34-39 ESV

At this point in Jesus’ speech, the disciples must have been wondering whether they had made a huge mistake in accepting the call to follow Him. What began as an exciting announcement that they would be going out, equipped with the power to heal and cast out demons, had turned into a somber lecture on all the dangers they would encounter along the way. Their initial enthusiasm had been dampened by His pronouncements of persecution, rejection, trials, beatings, and even death.

What the disciples didn’t know was that much of what Jesus was saying to them had a prophetic tone to it. He was speaking of future events that would take place after His death, resurrection, and ascension. This entire speech is meant to prepare the disciples for their long-term mission, not just the brief assignment they were about to take on.

One of the things Jesus was trying to do was change the minds of His followers concerning their views of the Messiah and His Kingdom. As Jews, they had been raised on a steady diet of ambitious expectations when it came to the Messiah’s arrival. He would be a conquering king, much like David had been. This anointed one of God would enter the world as a warrior, sent to reestablish Israel as the dominant force in that region of the world. There were countless passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that spoke of the coming of this servant of God, and many of them were found in the writings of Isaiah the prophet.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

When John the Baptist and Jesus had called the people of Israel to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV), they were expressing the need for a change of mind among the people of Israel. That is what the Greek word for repentance actually means. And a major part of the revised thought process they would have to undergo had to do with their perceptions of the Messiah and the role He would play when He came. They wanted and fully expected a king. They desired to have their status as the whipping boy of the Romans reversed. And, ultimately, as the Isaiah passage appears to promise, they believed the Messiah would bring peace and prosperity to the nation of Israel.

But Jesus drops another bomb on his already shell-shocked disciples when He tells them, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34 ESV). And before they can misunderstand His words as describing warfare with the Romans, Jesus clarifies His meaning by stating that the adversary will be domestic, not foreign. Not only that, the enemy will be made up of family members.

I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  – Matthew 10:35-36 ESV

Is He describing a state of civil war? That thought must have crossed the muddled minds of the disciples as they tried to process this latest bit of bad news from the lips of their rabbi, teacher, and friend. How were they supposed to receive this disturbing news?

Once again, Jesus is exposing His disciples to key aspects of His coming kingdom to which they were blind. In their minds, the Romans were the enemy. And any salvation they needed would be from their subjugation to the tyrannical rule of this foreign power. But Jesus had come to deliver men from slavery to sin and death, not from the oppression brought on by Caesar and his occupying forces.

What the disciples did not yet understand was that Jesus had come to die for the sins of mankind. He was going to offer His life as a ransom for many. He would give His life as a substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of sinful men and women, satisfying the just demands of a holy God by offering Himself as the unblemished Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

But for anyone to benefit from Christ’s sacrificial death, they would have to acknowledge Him as the Son of God, admit their own sin, and place their faith in Him as their Savior. And that decision was going to end up splitting families right down the middle. Not everyone was going to accept the message of salvation with open arms. The majority of the people of Israel would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, let alone their Savior from slavery to sin. And those who did end up professing Him as their Savior would soon discover their own family members opposing and ostracizing them.

This whole message Jesus is delivering to His disciples is meant to be revelatory in nature. It contained new and radical information of which they were ignorant. When they had chosen to accept Jesus’ invitation and follow Him, they had no idea how costly their decision was going to be. Discipleship does not come cheap. Following Christ, while life-changing, is not free from challenges. And as the months passed, the disciples would discover the reality that their decision to follow Jesus was growing increasingly more difficult. They would eventually see Him arrested, tried, crucified, and placed in a borrowed tomb. And they would scatter. It would feel as if the whole world had turned against them.

Jesus refuses to sugarcoat the truth. He even alludes to His future crucifixion by stating, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38 ESV). Not only that, This reference would have had no context for the disciples. They most certainly knew what a cross was and would have been very familiar with the Roman method of capital punishment. But they had no idea that Jesus would face this gruesome fate.

So, His call to hate father, mother, son, and daughter, coupled with a demand that they take up their own personal cross, would have sounded like the words of a madman, a raving, radical revolutionary. The only one in the entire group of disciples who might have found this message the least bit attractive was Simon the Zealot. He was a member of a 1st-Century political movement known for their sometimes overzealous hatred for the Romans. The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that the Zealots “agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord” (Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6).

But again, Jesus was not announcing a plan to overthrow the Romans. He was informing His disciples about the nature of redemption as made possible through His death, burial, and resurrection. It would be a gift beyond measure but accompanied by great cost, including the price of His own death. But it would also require each person to die to self, sacrificing their autonomy and submitting their lives to the will of God.

But Jesus informs His disciples that the sacrifice will be well worth it.

“If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” – Matthew 10:39 NLT

When each of the disciples had made their decision to follow Jesus, they had done so because they felt they had something to gain. They believed they were joining a winning team and stood to benefit from their relationship with Jesus. But they had no idea what the price for following Him would be. And sometime later in His time with them, Jesus would elaborate on the true cost of discipleship.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? – Mark 8:34-37 NLT

  • Give up to gain.
  • Sacrifice in order to receive.
  • Die in order to live.
  • Lose your life to save it.

Discipleship doesn’t come without a cost, but the return on our investment is priceless.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19:29 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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