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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

The Characteristics of Christ Followers

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 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. And whoever 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.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Mt 10:34–39). (2016).

Boris the Russian arrived at the Pearly Gates and was welcomed by St. Peter. Showing him around, the saint said, "You can go anywhere you want with one exception. You cannot go on the pink clouds!"

"Why not?" asked Boris.

"Because," answered St. Peter, "the pink clouds are reserved for people who have done something great."

"But I have done something great," Boris said. "I made a speech at the Kremlin against the Russian officials. Then I urged the people to revolt."

"Just when did this happen?" asked St. Peter.

Boris looked at his watch. "About two minutes ago."

There is a price to pay when we stand up for our beliefs. Jesus knew how costly that price could be … for himself and his followers. He wanted his disciples to understand how their lives would be impacted if they followed him.

We tend to water down Jesus' message and focus only on "the gentle Jesus." What we forget is "the revolutionary Jesus," who said he came to bring the sword and divide family members one against the other. We're still looking for that politically correct Messiah … and creating a modern Jesus who fits that image.

You've probably seen bumper stickers that say, "Jesus for President!" Ideally … the best man for the job, but in reality, a most unlikely candidate.

Jesus wouldn't have made a very good politician by today's standards. He wasn't a good politician in the first century. A politician must say things people want to hear to survive in the political arena. Jesus had the habit of saying things that upset people. Many politicians try to win votes by making promises that often twist the truth and rally people around their own self-interests. Jesus tried to win souls by telling the truth and promising people a selfless, difficult path ahead.

The King Clarifies the expectation of His followers.

(v.34–36). The king wanted his followers fully prepared for the difficulty they would face because of their loyalty, so he addressed a possible misconception. In 5:9, Jesus pronounced the "peacemakers" blessed. But here he announced that his mission on earth would cause not peace but hostility (a sword)—even between the closest family members (10:21). He was not saying that he would intentionally divide families. But he was saying that loyalty to him would cause some of his followers to be hated by their families because of the disbelief of other family members. Jesus experienced those kinds of feelings at the deepest level when Judas betrayed him.

To further explain his prediction of hostility, Jesus quoted Micah 7:6 in 10:35–36.

for the son treats the father with contempt,

the daughter rises up against her mother,

the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

a man's enemies are the men of his own house.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;

I will wait for the God of my salvation;

my God will hear me. Micah 7:6

In Micah, this verse comes at the end of a lament about Israel's misery (Mic. 7:1–6) because of the Lord's judgment on them at the time of King Ahaz (Mic. 6). But the verse immediately following (Mic. 7:7) is a contrasting note of hope:

"But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,

I wait for God, my Savior;

my God will hear me." Micah. 7:7

The remainder of Micah (7:8–20) is prophecy and prayer about Israel's restoration. Those familiar with Jesus' quote in its original context would see the family hostility as a reference to God's judgment on unbelieving Israel and see the hopeful future beyond the devastating difficulties.

Courage in conviction

The Jesus portrayed in Matthew's gospel warns the disciples that they will experience persecution and rejection, but he encourages them to continue to be bold and to speak up and proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God to everyone who will hear. This kind of message was not likely to be popular with some.

Jesus preached a provocative message that caused people to question whether the institution of religion was the only way to experience God. His message was simple: God loves everyone, regardless of their political or religious status or the power or authority they have in social circles. Jesus showed that God moves in the lives of even the poorest people and that God loves even the most unlovable characters. This message was dangerous and ultimately led to Jesus' execution.

God can persist even through death, Jesus tells his disciples. Detractors may be able to hurt you, but they cannot take your spirit. Besides, God values everyone, and we can rest assured that God loves each of us as much as God values our enemies. We need not question our value before God, the final arbiter of all things.

10:37–39. Jesus now moved from warning about the divisions and hostility his followers would encounter to clarifying the standard for the follower worthy of him.

Three Characteristics of A Disciple

1. Acknowledging Jesus. A disciple openly declares their allegiance to Jesus.

The worthy follower will love Jesus more than anyone else—even one's parent or child (10:37).

Immediately following the quote of Micah 7:6, he issued this challenge: "If you find yourself faced with a choice between Loyalty to an unbelieving and hostile family member and loyalty to me, I have to take priority." He was not assuming that everyone would have to leave his or her family. Jesus' demands here amount to one more declaration of his deity. One of the highest duties in all Judaism was to love family members, especially parents. Every faithful Jew knew and understood that only God himself could demand a higher love (Deut. 6:4–5; 13:6–11).

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deut. 6:4–5

2. Accepting antagonism. A disciple willingly confesses to Jesus, even when this brings division in their home.

One of the most effective advertisements ever written appeared in a London newspaper early in the 20th century. It read: "Men wanted for a hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful."

Sir Ernest Shackleton, explorer of the South Pole, wrote the ad. Regarding the response this ad received, Shackleton said, "It seemed as though all the men in Great Britain were determined to accompany us."

Jesus may have written a similar ad when looking for his disciples: "Looking for trouble-seeking people. Good learners. Not afraid of heights such as standing on rooftops. Potential for physical harm. No strong attachments to any other living relative or friend. Total commitment is required. Volunteer position with no compensation."

That's really appealing. It makes you want to run right out and sign up! My friends, you already have!

Now Jesus did not purposely send his people out looking for trouble. But he knew that if they went out with the message he was sending … they would eventually find it.

We've all heard the phrase, "Don't burn your bridges behind you. "Yet we listen to words attributed to Jesus that burn bridges and destroy whole highways. Jesus doesn't just send out his disciples with a few matches to light fires; he sends them out with explosive words to demolish the old schools of thought and challenge people's thinking. Instead of a peaceful, complacent existence that we usually associate with church and Christianity, we are told to expect a combat zone with family, friends, and neighbors ready to go up against us.

Followers of Jesus are not called to retreat into the status quo of the society in which they live but to confront the world head-on with what is often an unwanted message. It takes work to stand up against popular opinion. It's not easy to always stand on the side of the gospel. Yet this is what we are called to do.

3. Preferring Jesus. A disciple puts Jesus before their own interests.

I shared this quote on Facebook last week: "If you don't have any enemies, chances are you haven't taken a stand on anything important."

In our day, it is good to be reminded that we need not ultimately fear that which can harm only the body. A God so caring that he knows of a single sparrow's fall or the number of hairs on each of our heads will not let the cruelty of persecution touch the soul. Persecution stops short at the walls of the flesh and cannot reach the soul.

We tend to cater to the body but neglect our care for the soul. A parent fears disease for his child more than racial prejudice. Food, clothes, and shelter are important, but we forget the spirit within.

Our real danger lies in betraying the truth. For that can kill both body and soul. Disloyalty to the gospel can deny souls their entry into God's kingdom. That's why we are sent into the world, armed with truth and love, to confront the world at the very places where the gospel is being eroded. To stand up to anyone who opposes or oppresses the message of Jesus Christ.

Some years ago, Nikita Khrushchev, then premier of the Soviet Union, spoke before the Supreme Soviet and was severely critical of the late Premier Stalin. While he was telling, someone from the audience sent up a note. It read: "What were you doing when Stalin committed all these atrocities?"

Khrushchev shouted, "Who sent up this note?" Not a person stirred. "I'll give him one minute to stand up!" The seconds ticked off. Still, no one moved.

"All right, I'll tell you what I was doing. I was doing exactly what the writer of this note was doing ― exactly nothing! I was afraid to be counted."

What happens when we are afraid to be counted?

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we stand divided. Cut off by those who will not hear his message. Divided from a world that is embarrassed by the gospel. Separated from those we love because they have not made him the Lord of their lives.

We stand divided. In the world, but not of the world.

We stand divided. But we do not stand alone.

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