Epiphany 1 – January 7, 2007

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Matthew 10:32-39

Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. 34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;” 36 and “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” 37 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. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

These words today from our Lord, recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, teach us the distinction between faith and love. Faith here means the confession of Jesus Christ as Savior, as Son of God, as all that He is shown to be in the Holy Scripture. Love means first of all love of God, and how that love of God may impact our love for others.

These words of our Lord are words that are hard for us to hear and to apply in our lives. They are hard because they seem to go against other words that tell us to love others. So what does this mean for you, and for your families?

We begin with the confession of Christ versus the denial of Christ. As we heard on New Year’s Eve last week, it matters whether or not we confess Christ. It is not an option. To confess Christ means we believe in Him alone, and we speak our faith. To deny Christ means that we do not speak Him, and that we are too ashamed or afraid or weak or unbelieving to say about Jesus: “My Lord and my God.”

If you do not confess Christ, then, Jesus says, “I will deny you before My Father in heaven.” For Jesus to deny you means that He will say to you what the bridegroom told the five foolish virgins in the parable: “Depart from Me, for I do not know you” [Matt. 25:12]. And the door to heaven is closed and locked. That’s what it means if Jesus Christ denies you before His Father. It is a terrible result, one which should alarm us, and cause us to wake up from a slumbering faith, with intentions to learn more about how to confess Christ and what that means for our daily lives.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, found out early what it would mean for her to be the mother of the Jesus Christ. When she brought Jesus to the Temple, a man named Simeon told her: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” [Luke 2:34-35]. Simeon foretold that Jesus would be denied, “spoken against.” And that Mary would feel the sword that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew 10. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

To confess Christ is something that has eternal blessings. It means that you and I are bound to Him who died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins. It means that you and I are promised eternal life, an eternity of peace and joy, with all the wonders and joys and contentment of the mansions in heaven Jesus, the Son of God, has prepared for us.

But right now you and I are living in the “not yet” time of faith in Christ. What I mean by that is the full blessings of confessing Christ are not yet seen by us. We are forgiven, yet we still find sin within us. We have eternal life, but we know that physical death will come our way. We live by faith. We live in the “not yet” time when we trust God’s promises. We are like father Abraham who was promised a great nation with descendants more than the sand on the seashore, yet saw only his son Isaac. It was still “not yet” for Abraham. So it is with you and me.

In fact, we are in the time when confessing Jesus Christ as Savior will seem to cause more trouble than blessings. It will seem that it has brought war instead of peace. It will seem that Christ has forsaken us or forgotten us instead of confessing us as His brothers and sisters before His Father in heaven. All this will happen because the confession of Christ reveals hearts; it brings the sword instead of peace; and it may set us against the very ones closest to us, our families. This is what makes these words of Jesus hard.

Christ comes first in our lives. Faith in Christ is the most important thing for us, because we are saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. If we fail at this point, if we fail in faith, denying Christ, then it doesn’t matter if we are outwardly the most caring, considerate, compassionate, husband or wife, son or daughter. It won’t matter because without Christ, when our thoughts are revealed on the last day, we will see that it was all about us, it was an idolizing of ourselves. We had a god all along; it wasn’t Jesus, it was me, you. So it is essential for us to keep hearing God’s Word, receiving His holy Sacrament, being absolved, so that the power of the Holy Spirit working within us keeps us in the faith, keeps us confessing Christ first.

But this may have consequences for our lives within our families. There may come times when we have to choose between the truth of God’s Word and the actions of a family member. Some will tell us that love will mean tolerating, respecting, accepting, actions in our loved ones that go against the Word of God and that end up denying Christ. They will expect us, maybe even demand of us, the acceptance of their right to do as they choose, even when their choices are contrary to the clear Word of God. But what does the confession of Jesus Christ mean for us in such times? What does love really mean at that point?

What we need to learn to do is to keep first things first. First is Jesus Christ, faith in Him, confession of Him as our Savior from sin, death, and the devil. We accept the fact that the confession of the truth will bring consequences for us that may be more than uncomfortable; they may hurt, and leave us sorrowful. Our Lord Himself wept over the fate of Jerusalem because they would not believe in Him. “How often I would have gathered you like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not.” Jesus could not deny Himself. The people of Jerusalem would one day discover, to their horror, what it meant to deny Jesus, as their city was destroyed.

But even with that, we also learn to deal with others, especially others in our families, with the compassion and charity which our Lord has given us. We need the forgiveness which only God can give. And He gives it to us, generously. We then speak of the need for continued repentance, of the need for the admission of sin, not of tolerating it or accepting it. We speak in such ways not out of hatred, but out of a true love for the souls of the people involved. A doctor who must amputate the grossly infected foot of a patient, does not do so out of hatred, but out of a desire to do what is best to save that person’s life, even though there will be pain and suffering involved in that amputation. It means putting first things first.

This morning, let us look to our families with the prayer that our Lord would have mercy on us; that He would help us to confess our Savior with integrity, with courage, with a clear and steady mind, allowing nothing to move us from saving faith, faith which is a precious gift to us from God, our heavenly Father. May we also keep growing in our love for those around us, seeing what they, like us, truly need: lives of repentance and faith, trusting in the work of salvation done by Jesus, the Son of God. God grant us the strength to be faithful witnesses, the boldness to speak the truth, and the humility to do so knowing our own need for the grace of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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