“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)
Jesus wants these first apostles to have their priorities set ahead of time about Him. When Matthew writes this Gospel, the reality of persecution of early Christians was real. Like Daniel’s friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—the early followers of Jesus regularly had to decide if they were going to hold to their faith in God publicly or not. Would they burn incense to the Roman Emperor and confess Caesar as Lord or would they refrain from this and confess Jesus as Lord? They may not have been thrown into a fiery furnace, but many early Christians were thrown to the beasts in gladiatorial coliseums.
In a culture increasingly hostile toward Jesus and Christianity, what about us? Even as Christians may be mocked or ridiculed, are we willing still to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?
Jesus says those who acknowledge Him before others, He will acknowledge before God in the heavenly throne room. But whoever disowns Jesus publicly in our lives will be disowned by Jesus before the Father. These are such strong words here. What are we to do with them when we fail in our dedication?
Biblical scholar R. T. France offers Peter as a stark example of disowning Jesus under pressure. Peter felt the weight of his denial, but he also was rehabilitated by Jesus after his denial.
Peter’s denial was a failure along the line of his life which was lived under the lordship of Jesus. The overall direction of his life was about acknowledging Jesus as Lord. In fact, church tradition tells us that Peter was martyred for his faith. So, too, with us. The overall direction of our lives makes the difference here. We can ask ourselves: am I steadily walking with Jesus and acknowledging Him before others, or have I turned my back upon Him?
It’s not only in relation to the anonymous public and crowd that Jesus calls for priority, but also closer to Him in our family and friend relationships. While we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, there are times when we must make a decision, even between following Jesus and following our families.
When a young man in another part of the world where persecution of Christians is normal became a follower of Jesus, he knew it would come at the cost of his family rejecting him. This is exactly what they did, and he was cast out upon the streets to survive. God has been faithful, but his path of following Jesus has been arduous.
This text is so relevant for us today, even in the wake of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Although this may sound strange, the church of Jesus Christ is not just about building happy families. Of course, we hope that does happen, but, even more importantly, we exist to develop strong disciples in Jesus Christ. When everything is put under the lordship of Christ, then our family relationships, our friendships, and all other things find their right place and priority in relation to Jesus.
We may have moments when our family members will look down on us or not invite us to things because of our commitment to Christ. We may have friends who will turn away from us, labeling us as one of the problems in our society or seeing us as close-minded because of our commitment to the teaching of Christ. While we don’t want to unnecessarily put stumbling blocks in peoples’ way by being stubborn, self-righteous, or foolish, we will have moments when we encounter a strong conflict of priorities. And the question will arise, “Do we love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?”
All of this sets up one of the most memorable and significant statements of Jesus about following him as disciples. Let me read it again.
“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)
Our priority as disciples must be to live a cruciform life; a life that is conformed to the Cross of Christ. The cross was a symbol of humiliation and execution, but through Christ we realize that this Cross is also the symbol of life and love. Here we have the most amazing picture of what it looks like to be a disciple. We yield all our life to God, we let go of our own power and self-rule, and we die to ourselves. Simultaneously, the Cross is liberation from sin and the darkness of an upside-down world. It is the doorway into real life with God through the loving embrace of Christ. What is it worth to us to pursue Jesus?