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Sermon: The Gospel that Divides

Is religion relevant? Many people apparently do not think so. They don't believe religion is necessary because they are convinced that all anyone really needs in life can be obtained through science and technology. For them, any attention given to spiritual matters is a waste of time.

Such people sometimes reluctantly concede that religion might be useful as long as it focuses on humanitarian help at the individual level and universal unity and harmony at the societal level. In their minds, under no circumstances should religion ever be allowed to polarize or divide society. Instead it should relentlessly seek the utopian goal of "world peace."

Did Jesus Christ come to this earth to usher in world peace? Hardly. Hear the biblical rebuttal to this erroneous notion in Jesus' own words:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came 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 man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it."

With salty language, Jesus plainly said He did not come to bring peace to this world. Instead, He came to bring a dividing sword. The writer of Hebrews referred to that sword when he said: "The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

The sword Jesus brought to this world is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The razor-sharp edge of that sword is the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:16), and the Gospel of Jesus does not unify this world—it divides it.

The Gospel Divides Universally
Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth." Not long before Jesus made this statement, He had sent out His disciples, declaring them to be apostles to preach, heal and cast out demons. He also warned them about the price they would pay for serving Him—being arrested, imprisoned and even killed. Some of them would be betrayed and delivered to hostile authorities by their own families.

Jesus went on to say, "Nevertheless, do not fear any man. Men only have the power to kill your body. Instead, fear God because He alone has the power to destroy not only your physical body, but also your soul in hell."

It was in this context of demanding discipleship that Jesus said, "I did not come to bring peace on this earth." Jesus' words were troubling then, and they are still troubling today. He came to divide, not bring peace.

The erroneous idea that Jesus came to bring peace to this world sometimes is based on the King James translation of Luke 2:14. It says the angels celebrated Jesus' birth by singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men." That rendering is misleading. It obscures the actual meaning of the text. A better translation comes from the New American Standard Bible: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased." God is pleased with those who have been born again in Christ.
Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth to just anyone regardless of whether he or she had been saved or still were lost. Instead, Jesus came to bring individuals the peace that comes exclusively through salvation. That's what Paul was speaking of in Romans 5:1 when he said, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." You will have true peace only when you repent of your sin, put your complete faith and trust in Jesus, and call on His name to save you.

Jesus does not unite humanity. He divides it right down the middle. This division isn't ethnic or regional. It has nothing to do with being white or black. It isn't about being a Democrat, Republican, Tea Partier or an Independent. Jesus does not divide the world based on political ideologies such as capitalism or communism. The universal division created by the Gospel is that people either are saved or lost.

The Gospel Divides Intentionally
Was this division that Jesus came to bring a random accident? Hardly. It was God's intentional plan all along. Jesus frequently illustrated this when He taught among the multitudes. For instance, Jesus spoke about the fact that everyone must enter one of two gates: the small or the wide gate. Each of those gates puts you on one of two roads: the narrow or the broad road. Those roads take you to one of two destinations. The small gate puts you on the narrow road that leads to life (heaven). The wide gate puts you on the broad road that leads to destruction (hell).

Jesus also compared people to two kinds of trees: good or bad. He said if you are a good tree, you'll bear good fruit; if you're a bad tree, you'll bear bad fruit. We can know what kind of person someone is by analyzing the fruit of his or her actions.

Jesus also spoke about two foundations—the solid foundation of rock and the sinking foundation of sand. If your life is built on the solid rock of hearing and obeying God's Word (the gospel), then you will withstand the winds, rain and storms of life. However, if you build your life on the unstable sand of rejecting the Gospel of Jesus, then you will experience destruction. Jesus used these and other similar illustrations to divide the world by the Gospel.

Wherever Jesus went, He divided groups of people. In John 9:16 we read, "Some of the Pharisees were saying, 'This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.' Others were saying, 'How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?' So there was a division among them."

Likewise, when Jesus' disciples preached, they also divided the crowds. We know that when Paul preached about Jesus, some believed and were saved while others rejected his message. At the end of the Acts 28:1-31 when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, as he proclaimed the Gospel, some believed; but others mocked, rejected the Gospel and turned away. That's the way God designed the Gospel. It divides us intentionally.
 
The Gospel Divides Domestically
Jesus went on to say His Gospel sometimes would sever relationships within people's families. "For I came 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 man's enemies will be the members of his own household. He who loves his father or his mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."

Some may recoil when they think about Jesus dividing families, but that is exactly what Jesus meant. A lost son will be against his saved father, and a lost father will be against his Christian son. The gospel would cause a daughter to be at odds with her mother, and a daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Jesus was talking about the most intimate of all human relationships.

This means that our love for Jesus must transcend and supersede every other human relationship, even family relationships. That's what Jesus meant when He said, "I came to divide." In Mark 10, Peter said to Jesus, "Behold, we've left everything, and we followed You." Jesus didn't say they shouldn't have done that. Instead He said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will not receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life."

In other words, "If you leave family to follow Me, I'll give you the whole body of Christ. Then look at all the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters you'll have; look at all the houses you have; look at all the lands you'll have!" We are all one body.

On another occasion, someone said to Jesus, "Blessed is the woman who bore You and nursed you." At that time, Mary and Jesus' brothers were not following Him. Instead, they thought He'd lost His mind (Mark 3:21). Jesus responded to that person by saying, "No, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and do it." Jesus was saying we should love Him so supremely that it supersedes every domestic relationship.

The New Living Translation is helpful in understanding Luke 14:26: "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple."

Some Christians say, "God is number one in my life." God shouldn't merely be at the top of a long list of our priorities. Rather, God is in a category all by Himself! He will have no other gods before Him, around Him or even near Him! That includes not making an idol or a god out of your family. Jesus said, "Your love for Me should be so sincere, so genuine and so deep in commitment that compared to every other relationship, even a domestic relationship, the contrast will look like the difference between love and hate." There is no way around these words. Our love for Jesus Christ is to be superior to all other loves.

I know of a pastor who is Jewish by heritage, but became a Christian, thus a Messianic Jew (sometimes called Completed Jew). When he came to Christ, his Jewish parents were so angry with him that they actually held a funeral on his behalf and told him, "You don't exist to us anymore." The Gospel divided domestically.

I saw a man become saved, who suddenly didn't want to drink, party and go to questionable places anymore. His wife didn't want to become a Christian and became upset with him. I've also seen a wife become saved and want to take the children to church, but her husband who wasn't saved became angry with her because he wanted to continue living his sinful lifestyle. I've even seen children become saved in Vacation Bible School and youth ministry and want to live for Jesus; but their parents made fun of them for coming to church. The Gospel often divides families!

The Gospel Divides Demandingly
Jesus said, "He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." Jesus demands those of us who receive His Gospel to die to our selfish desires. It reminds me of a hymn we sang when I was younger: "Take up thy cross and follow Me, I heard my Master say. I gave My life to ransom thee, surrender your all today." The response was given in the chorus: "Wherever He leads I'll go. I'll follow my Christ who loves me so. Wherever He leads I'll go." That's easier to sing than to do. The Gospel demands that we die to self, but there is no painless way to die.

Paul emphasized the demands of the Gospel when he said, "I die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31). He also said, "For through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:19-20)."

Paul was dead to the things of the world. He said in Galatians 6:14, "May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Paul no longer cared about worldly things. He said they had died to him and he had died to them. Paul went to the cross every day and died in a sense because Jesus' Gospel demanded it.

The Gospel Divides Permanently
Last of all, the Gospel of Jesus divides the whole world permanently for all eternity. That's what Jesus meant when He said, "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." He was saying that those who think they have found their lives in this world actually have lost their lives and are on their way to hell. Those who have lost their lives in this world, by rejecting the world and receiving Christ actually have found eternal life and are on their way to heaven.

The prophet Daniel saw this eternal division coming. He said in Daniel 12:2, "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt." That's an Old Testament reference to heaven and hell!

Jesus spoke about hell and heaven (in that order) in one breath when He said: "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). Jesus knew there was a hell to shun and a heaven to gain.

Jesus also spoke about two men who died. One was a rich man who went to hell. The other was a poor man named Lazarus who went to heaven. Jesus said, "Now the poor man was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom (heaven/paradise); the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades (hell) he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom" (Luke 16:22-31).

The rich man desperately desired for Lazarus to put some water on his tongue because he was in such torment in the flames. Abraham said, "Lazarus cannot come. There is a deep chasm separating us so that no one can cross from here to there or there to here." They were permanently divided. The rich man was in hell forever, and Lazarus was in heaven forever.

Jesus spoke often about this eternal division between believers and non-believers. For instance, He said, "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear God's voice and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to the resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29).

Likewise, Paul said, "God will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance and doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath, and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God" (Romans 2:6-11).

The Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory and the Hindu concept of reincarnation are unbiblical. When a person dies, he or she stands before God in judgment and is then assigned to heaven or hell for all eternity. Where someone spends eternity depends on what he or she does with Jesus during this life.

Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher in the late 1800s. He preached to approximately 6,000 people every Sunday morning in London for almost 40 years. In 1886, while preaching at the massive Agricultural Hall in London, Spurgeon shouted this toward the end of his message:

"To each one of you I say with deepest earnestness, let a division be made by your conscience. Let your understanding separate between him that feareth God and him that feareth Him not. Let each man question himself this morning: 'Am I on the Lord's side? Am I for Christ or for His enemies? Do I gather with Him, or do I scatter abroad?' 'Divide! Divide!' they say in the House of Commons. Let us say the same in this great congregation this day. Political divisions are but trifles compared with the all-important distinction or division which I would have you consider.

"Divide as you will be divided, to the right or to the left, in the great day when Christ shall judge the world in righteousness. Divide as you will be divided when the bliss of heaven or the woes of hell shall be your everlasting portion. ‘Choose you this day whom you will serve; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.' ‘Who is on the Lord's side?' says Moses. ‘Come and follow Me.' ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God,' said Elijah, ‘follow Him and serve Him; but if not, if Baal is God, follow him. But choose you this day.'"

Spurgeon understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ divides mankind!

Can you hear Jesus' call to divide today? It's the message of every genuine Christian preacher and teacher—"Accept or reject Jesus. Be divided into one of two categories—saved or lost. There are only two eternal destinies—heaven or hell!"

Sinner, can you hear the divisive call of the Gospel? Which side are you on? What will you do with Jesus who is called the Christ?

No, the Gospel of Jesus does not unite this world—it divides it universally, intentionally, domestically, demandingly; ultimately, it divides the world permanently.

That is exactly what Jesus meant when He said: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword!"

You cannot be neutral about Jesus. You're either for Him or against Him. You either follow Him or you oppose Him. He will not allow you to be indecisive.

In the words of Spurgeon, "Divide, divide!"

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