“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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.’ “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; and anyone 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. “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.”
A man was on his way home from work. He was a half hour late for the third time that week and he knew his wife wouldn’t be happy. He wasn’t happy either. It seemed like every time they had a few moments together a fight would break out about how much time he was spending at work and how little time he was spending with his family. He reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed the flowers he had picked up for his wife and the bag with four stuffed animals—one for each child. He hoped the flowers and presents would help avoid another fight—perhaps even buy him enough good will to last to the family vacation that was just around the corner. He knew that was the real problem. It had just been too long since their last break. They were so busy they didn’t have time for each other. The flowers and stuffed animals would help, but the vacation—that would make all the difference in the world. Things were going to get better.
A young lady was on her way to her ninth job interview in the last three weeks. She had finally earned her degree. She completed a fantastic internship opportunity and had strong recommendations. This would be the one. After all, she was smart, motivated and driven—nothing like all her deadbeat friends. The interviewing panel was going to pick up on that this time and offer her the job right there on the spot. Things were going to get better.
It’s Tuesday morning and the papers and envelopes on the desk keep piling up. Retirement is close enough to dream about but still a few years away. And yet for some reason, on that particular Tuesday morning, you can’t think about anything but retirement. The more the pile rises, the deeper you sink into that day-dream. You’ve got it all figured out. You’re going to sell the house, buy an RV and hit the road. There won’t be any more piles on your desk. No more headaches at home. Just you, your spouse and the open road! It’s going to be amazing! Things are going to get better.
It’s the story of our lives, isn’t it? “Things are going to get better. Just wait until this happens—wait until I get that new tablet or phone. It’s going to make life so much easier. Just wait until I move into the new house and get things settled. After I take care of this headache at work THEN I can make things better at home. Just wait until I retire and finally I’ll be able to live life the way I want to live it. Just a little more time and things are going to get better!” We grind, we work harder, we push through often motivated by the better times we think we see over the horizon. We’re often so focused on getting through today—through tomorrow—through this week—maybe even month or year! We’re chasing this “life” that we want but don’t have!
That’s what America is all about, isn’t it? Just read the Declaration of Independence! “Life! Liberty! And the pursuit of happiness!” Grind, work harder, push through—this country provides us with hope! In this great country it really doesn’t matter if you’re born rich or poor, you’ll have the opportunity to pursue happiness. That’s a blessing. Many human beings around the world don’t have the kind of opportunities we have. But if we’re not careful, abuse of these freedoms and opportunities can lead us to go directly against what Jesus says to his disciples in our text.
You see, Jesus was warning his disciples about idolatry, but you might not catch that at first, because it looks so different from the kind of idolatry we saw in our Old Testament lesson. (Exodus 32:15-29) “I mean, what were those Israelites thinking when they fell down and worshiped hunks of gold? That’s idol worship, going against the very first commandment that God gave to them! The first commandment should be the easiest one to keep! Just don’t bow down to wood or stone! How hard could that be!? Did they really think these hunks of gold could do anything for them? It’s ridiculous!
Blatant idol worship, as we often see in the OT, may seem absurd to us—and rightfully so—but it’s not the only kind of idolatry—definitely not the only way to break the 1st Commandment. For example, Jesus’ summary of the law in Mathew 22. “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” That means that I should love my spouse, my children, my parents, everyone. But realize, to love anyone more than God—even the closest of relatives—is blatant idolatry.
That’s tough for us to hear because there are so many people, places, things and ideas that we love about this world. We want to enjoy them! We want to experience them like we once did or hope to in the future. If only this would happen or that would happen—things would get better—I might actually find my life!
Let’s cut to the chase. We’re idol worshipers. Every one of us! Whenever God slips to priority number 2—or lower—that person—that place—that thing—that idea that now sits on the top of the list has become our golden calf. We’ve broken “the first and greatest commandment.”
“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; Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it...” Whether you consider yourself relatively happy with life right now or not, we all crave something better. We all want to find something better! Today, Jesus wants to make sure you and I look in the right place. Because, if you find happiness in this life apart from him you’re living in the sin of idolatry and you will lose everything. You will be separated from your God forever! But! “...whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Even though we so often let our God drop to the bottom of our priority list, he didn’t let us drop to the bottom of his. We are our God’s number one priority! Your God proved it by being born one of us all so he could lose his life. All so he could give up his perfect life and offer it up as a sacrifice on behalf of every human being to ever live. This is what your God has done for you! He came!
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come...” Don’t miss the beautiful good news at the very beginning of this text! 3 times! “I have come! I have come! I have come!” Jesus came! He came for you! He came for me. He came to free us from the mess created by Adam and Eve’s sin. Not some temporary fix—not some momentary enjoyment—life with him in heaven—a perfect existence without end!! Like Jesus says in John chapter 10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full!” LIFE!! That is what Jesus came to bring. He came to give us the ultimate life! He came to bring us a life without all the things we try to escape in this world.
So, stop trying to find perfect happiness in this life. You’ll never find what you’re looking for! You’ll always want something more! For the sake of Jesus—and the life in heaven he’s won for you—give up the pursuit. Lose your life and you’ll find it! Thanks to Jesus, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt, things are going to get better!
God’s blessings as you enjoy another beautiful summer weekend! See you Sunday!