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. (Matt 10:34-39, ESV)
Jesus never shied away from bold, provoking statements during His ministry, did He? Earlier in His first set of teachings in Matthew (the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus tells us that our enemies are the people we are to be loving. And now here, He is telling us to expect that loving Him may cost us our relationships with our families.
In our modern society of broken homes, I’m not sure that this resonates with us to the extent that it probably did to His listeners at the time. This was a highly family-oriented culture. Often several generations would live within the same household—when a son got married, he simply added on to his father’s house and brought his bride there with him.
(Aside: In John 14, Jesus famously says that His father’s house has many rooms, and he is preparing a place for us .That is a clear allusion to this relationship. Jesus is presenting Himself as our groom, God the Father as the homeowner, and we as the bride. Jesus is telling us that we are betrothed, and He is returning to heaven to prepare a place in His father’s house for us to live forever—just as the Jewish groom would return to his father’s house and prepare it for his new bride before bringing her to live with him there.)
So here we see that Jesus warns His followers that their adoption into His family may well destroy their relationship to their own families. He says that His Gospel will not bring peace to the earth—and indeed, I think we can all agree that it has not yet done so. Nor do I see any reason to believe it will ever do so: for as long as man is sinful and rebellious, peace will escape us. But note that Jesus never said, “I did not come to bring peace”; He said, “I did not come to bring peace to the earth”. The peace that He is preparing is in heaven, and is eternal rather than temporary.
Do not forget that the majority of Jesus’ followers were Jews—and indeed, the majority of the persecution of the early Christians were by their fellow Jews. So He is absolutely right in His prophesy here: many of His followers would find that their conversions would cost them their family ties and sometimes even their lives—at the hands of their brethren.
Jesus’ primary point here comes in the three sentences: if you love your family on earth more than Jesus, then you are not worthy of Him. He must come first. Only then can you follow Him. Only when you are willing to lose your life will you find it; only when you are willing to lose earthly family can you gain a heavenly one.
I wish, dear brothers and sisters, that I had some words of wisdom here. I don’t. This remains probably the toughest passage of Scripture for me to read. For I love my family. I have a great family. I have a blessed life. It would be very easy to see how I could be the person to whom He is talking—one who loves my life and family more than Jesus. All I can say is that I pray that is not the case. I wish I could say more.