Peace or Sword

There they were. Sitting around the table. Thirteen of them. One was the leader. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The other twelve were hand picked by Jesus to share his message with the world. They were gathered to observe the Passover meal. And as he broke the bread, Jesus said it was given in remembrance of his body. They drank the wine together, for it was the last time Jesus would partake of it with them.

Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.” He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:17-19

After the meal, Jesus raised another toast and proclaimed the cup was the new covenant between God and his people. He confirmed that his blood would be spilled as a sacrifice for all people. Yet the disciples didn’t understand the veiled truth that Jesus was speaking. Oh. He often spoke in parables. Later he would offer explanations of the parables to his chosen twelve. But on this night. On this occasion, Jesus was preparing them for the suffering that lay ahead for him when he walked out the door.

Not everyone is ready for truth when it is spoken, so it is unclear. Truth, at times, is unclear because of unbelief, fear or misunderstanding.

Jesus went on to tell them that one of them sitting at the table would turn against him. This man would turn Jesus over to the authorities. And this act of betrayal would propel Jesus down a path of no return. Oh. He knew it would happen. He was, after all, God Incarnate. He was God in human form come to die a brutal death for the sins of all mankind. And this was the moment. And yet. As he sat there with the twelve, knowing that one would betray him, he offered the cup of wine to everyone. He didn’t share it with only the eleven who would remain faithful until death. He also offered it to the one who had already made arrangements to sell him out. Yet he didn’t speak the man’s name. And the remaining group was unaware of their friend’s impending betrayal. Nor the cost of it for all seated at that table. They had no idea what lay ahead for them even that very night.

But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing. Luke 22:21-23

As plans were being put in motion to celebrate the Passover meal, Jesus could have uninvited this one man. He could have offered the man a reason to excuse himself from the dinner. But he didn’t. This man. One of the twelve, chosen specifically by Jesus, would betray him with a kiss in front of the others. His fellow disciples. No one knew he was planning to abdicate his position. Imagine how the eleven felt seeing their brother betray the man they followed and believed. Yet here he was. Kissing Jesus on the cheek to show the authorities and soldiers who had come to make an arrest. He was a traitor and his closest group of friends suddenly saw him in a new light. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.

Sure. It’s obvious that Satan had planted the seed of betrayal in Judas’s heart. There’s no other way to explain it. Judas was the treasurer of the group. So he held all the money. Perhaps he had delved into the funds on different occasions to make his life easier. After all. They didn’t get a paycheck from Jesus. Their loyalty was on them. And a group of donors helped fund their travels. This was not a paying gig. In spite of the fact that Jesus knew in advance that he would be betrayed, he ate the last supper with his traitor. And he loved him still. He was willing to give his life for even back stabbers. Because some backstabbers do repent.

But this traitor. He was hiding in plain sight of the Savior of the world. Oh. Jesus hadn’t been crucified and risen from the dead yet. But Judas traveled with Jesus and the other eleven. He was a follower of the Way. He believed Jesus was the Messiah. But yet. His humanity was evident in the way he conducted business. He was known to pilfer money from the group’s funds. He helped himself to cash when he ran short. Oh. It must not have bothered him. And there’s no evidence that any of the group were aware of his theft. So no one ever confronted him on it.

We’ve all heard the saying. Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer. But that only applies if we recognize the enemy. What if we don’t realize the enemy is in such close quarters? It isn’t even a fair fight. But not all fights are fair.


Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34


So why should we expect any different in our circle of friends?  Why should we expect those closest to us to stand with us when we stand for truth?  Why should we expect allegiance and support when we don’t know the other person’s heart?  We see what they want us to see.  And the reverse is also true. How can we support someone close to us when we disagree with them?  How do we maintain that close relationship when it’s been fractured by disappointment and disbelief?  When trust has been shattered, how do we move forward in the relationship? 

Who sits at the table of fellowship with us?  There may be ones at the table who have turned their allegiance to another.  They may no longer be in a position of agreement on key issues.  They may offer betrayal when least suspected.  Are there any red flags?  Or are we too blind to even consider we’re close to being betrayed?  And then once the traitor has been exposed, what comes of the relationship? 

As believers, we can expect to be fired upon by Satan. We need to know that he will use all his evil ways to lure us away from faith in Christ. When he successfully uses these same tricks on our loved ones, the fallout can be enormous. He will use his wiles against everything we stand for. And everything we hold dear. Even at the expense of relationships and close ties to others. Sometimes the relationships that are severed are the ones we thought would stand the test of time. And then when testing comes, cracks in the relationship appear. At times, there are permanent consequences. Are we ready for that? Do we know who is sitting at the table with us? Of course. It’s impossible for humans to know the full extent of someone else’s intents and purposes. So we must always be careful listeners and godly examples. We must always be fully dressed in the armor of God. We must be peacemakers even when being obedient to the Word of God causes division.

Oh.  Jesus was God come to earth as man.  So he knew the hearts of the men celebrating the Passover meal with him.  He knew one would betray him.  He knew another would deny knowing him, not once, but three times before the rooster crowed.  And he knew that every man sitting there at the table would desert him that very night.  Yet he chose to eat with them.  He broke the bread and drank the wine with this group of disciples.  Knowing all the while that in a few hours he would be standing alone. It’s easy to walk away from friends when they’ve hurt us. But Jesus knew his group of rugged disciples would turn away before they even committed the acts. And he still sat and served them. Knowing the hurt and aloneness he would face in his final hours. Would we do the same for those who will turn against us in our greatest moment of need?

Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against. ‘Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ Luke 12:51-53

Division

He was a killer. He was a tyrant. A bully. A fighter. Oh. I’m not sure that he actually killed anyone out right. But he approved of Stephen’s killing. He stood by while an innocent man was stoned to death. And then he moved on. Looking for more victims. You see. He was looking for believers. Men and women. He would drag them from their homes and families and put them into prison.

He was a man who thought he was working for God, but instead he was working against God. He looked to bring down anyone in opposition of what he stood for. He was trying to destroy the church. He frightened anyone who came near him. His reputation preceded him. Those who had heard of him would do anything to stay out of his path.

Why was he being such a brute? His victims were believers of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He believed in God, but he didn’t believe in the risen Christ. He stood against everything they stood for. And he was determined to take down that group of believers. Oh. The devil had his soul, all right. And he didn’t care.

Who was this man?

Saul was a Pharisee. He had studied the Hebrew and Greek Bible. In his day, he would have memorized many Scriptures. He knew the law inside and out and obeyed it religiously. He once said that he was the best Jew one could find. He was a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. His heritage could not be denied. So, why was he against this group of believers?


Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 1 John 3:18


There was another man. He was Stephen. He was a man of God. A follower of the Way. He was a member of a group who believed that Jesus Christ, the Messiah had been born and then died on a cross. He was among a group of seven chosen to distribute food to the widows. And with this responsibility came boldness. He boldly preached the new message of salvation.  He even performed miracles. He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.

So it was widely known that Stephen was a believer of the message of the Messiah, just as Saul was well known for hunting those believers. They were on a collision course. One fateful day, their paths met and it changed the course of history. Stephen’s physical life ended and he entered heaven’s gates. Saul continued on his path of destruction.

At some point, Saul took his beliefs too far. That’s when he started persecuting Christians. He was out for blood. He was a zealot for revenge. What was he trying to prove? He was trying to protect the traditions of his ancestors instead of seeking salvation from the Savior.

History shows that Saul disagreed with the message Stephen was preaching. They stood on opposite sides of an argument that no human could settle. One group of Jews believed in the Messiah and others didn’t. They had never met, but they couldn’t agree to disagree.

Saul belonged to the group who didn’t believe in the Messiah. Stephen believed in the Messiah, the risen Savior.

So there stood Saul. Standing guard over the coats. Some might say he was minding his own business.  But really. He was an eyewitness to a murder. He could have stopped it. Or he could have gone for help. He could have spoken up. But no. He watched Stephen die. The man was stoned to death. I wonder if Saul even flinched when he saw the stones made contact.

Saul stood up for his beliefs and others paid with their lives. Stephen stood up for his beliefs and he paid with his life. It didn’t have to be that way.

You can read the full story of Saul and Stephen in Acts 6-8.

As in the day of Saul and Stephen, today’s church isn’t a perfect place. It’s filled with people who have differing opinions and beliefs. Many today have opposing thoughts and convictions about so many topics. There will always be rumblings of discontent. In the church and outside the church walls. Some believe one way. Others believe another way.

The question is. Do the beliefs point back to Scripture? Are the opinions and rumblings based on Biblical teaching or personal preference? Are we holding on to the traditions of our ancestors when they only followed rigorous laws and rules? Or are we following the teachings of the Messiah and seeking redemption for our sins?

I wonder. When we can’t agree to disagree, are we holding onto an idol of our own making? Are we more concerned with having our way instead of building up the church? If believers can’t agree, what message does that send to those who are questioning their own faith?

As believers, we really do need each other. We need to build up one another. Support and encourage each other. We must pray for each other. Times are tough. They may be tough for a long time. We’re not guaranteed an easy life. So, during these times of uncertainty and uneasiness, let’s pull together and support one another.

And if we disagree, let’s agree that we disagree.

The heart of the gospel should be the gospel of the heart.