The Great Divide
Did Jesus come to bring peace on earth, as the angels sang at the first Christmas (Luke 2:14)? Or did He come to bring division, as He Himself announces here?
Let us first acknowledge the apparent contradiction. The way Jesus answers His own question here—“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No…”—seems mutually incompatible with both the angels’ declaration and with Jesus’ instruction to His followers to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Indeed, it seems that Jesus is refuting the emphasis of His whole earthly ministry by associating Himself with division and discord. How, then, are we to reconcile Jesus’ claims that He would bring both peace and division?
What Jesus meant when He spoke about bringing division is directly tied to the work that He accomplished in effecting peace. In other words, when we come to understand the good news—that “for our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)—we can never be the same again. It is too magnificent a work to result in apathy.
When we are renewed at our core, everything about us changes—our values, our focus, our purpose, our dreams. We are now at peace with our Creator, and we are able to live at peace with ourselves. But sooner or later, this transformation will prove divisive. In sharing, speaking about, and living out the miracle of our reconciliation with God, we will be met with disdain, hostility, and judgment, sometimes even from those within our own homes, as Jesus went on to warn (Luke 12:52-53).
Jesus’ coming to bring peace laid bare the division and conflict between the Creator and His image-bearing creatures that had existed since Adam and Eve first rebelled. Your words and actions, directed as they are by the commands of heaven and not by the ways of this world, will lay bare that same division. For many of us, the division caused as a result of trusting in Christ is a trying and painful reality of life.
Yet there is a great hope for all of us: Jesus’ ultimate objective is not division but harmony. The Bible is absolutely clear that the Prince of Peace will one day reign eternally. In the meantime, do not be under any illusions: following Jesus has a cost—a cost that you can, by the power of His Spirit, joyfully pay as you risk division in order to hold out the divine offer of peace.
Paul and Silas in Thessalonica
1Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews1 were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
Paul and Silas in Berea
10The brothers2 immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
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