Let us pray: Dear Savior, today as we came to church various thoughts crossed our minds: we thought of other things we could be doing, we thought about the high price of gas spent in travel, we thought of family commitments we were putting off. And yet, we came because we need Your strength and help each day to meet those commitments. We came because we need You to help us get through life. We came because we need Your love which never fails. Today give us such love and all the benefits of it. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR FIRST LOVE
TEXT: Matthew 10: 34-42
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Being a new Christian has its own set of challenges and rewards. New Christians are excited, interested in everything about God, and generally want to become very active at church in order to give something back to God for giving them their life back. Because of this, new Christians can often “burn out” over time when frustration sets in. Such frustration takes on various forms: they still get sick, they still have family problems, they still have to put up with obnoxious people at work, they sometimes get frustrated at how slow things move along in God’s church, too. The trick is: they must learn that blessings come over time and that patience is truly a gift from the Spirit to be cultivated. Fruit appears slowly and disease, bugs, and bad weather must be endured before harvest comes.
Long-time Christians face many of the same challenges, but they face other ones, too. Perhaps the greatest challenge such long-term believers face is: taking their faith for granted. They hear the lessons often with tired ears. They sing the hymns often with tired voices. They pray with a tired spirit. The familiar becomes something they take for granted. And when that occurs, they drift in their faith. Merely “going-through-the-motions” really doesn’t honor God or uplift and energize His believers.
So, it fortuitous that on this Sunday of high summer, this little lesson from Matthew is laid before all of us. And today let’s examine it by pondering this question:
HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FIRST LOVE?
The disciples found themselves in the “high summer” of Jesus’ ministry. They had been with Him for a couple of years. They had seen almost everything and heard almost everything.—Or so they thought. They were chaffing at the bit to go out and do for Him. They wanted to show their commitment. So, as Christ prepares to send them on a missionary journey, He first gives them a reminder about genuine commitment to Him, to their first love. It is a bit jarring to our ears. And yet, it’s also a reminder to them and to us of the meaning behind total commitment to God. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Now comes the heart-wrenching consequences of what happens when God’s people face opposition as they seek to share the message of salvation, total commitment to God, with those they love. “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Considering the discord His ministry brought into His own family, and their opposition to Him—recall in Mark 3 when they wanted to commit Jesus to an insane asylum because He was doing miracles and embarrassing them—well, with that in mind these words become very poignant. His own family thought He had lost His love for them. How can it be any different for His disciples, or for us? The Gospel brings peace of soul and peace of conscience. That’s what it is designed by God to do. But because of human pride and selfishness, often self-absorbed people, loved ones, turn it around and it becomes a source of strife.
Real love is self-giving love. Real love is giving your all to another with no strings attached. Christ, the Son of God, has such love for us. He’s given such love, His entire life, for us. Because of that, the bible correctly says: “We love Him, because He first loved us.”
Your commitment to God, born of His commitment to you, is just that: your commitment to God! You cannot believe for another. You cannot save another. Christ has done that with His death on the cross. Obviously you love those closest to you. Obviously you want to share the message of eternal life with them. Obviously you want to see them in heaven. But, none of us dare let our human emotions totally take over so that we put our human love above God’s love. We dare not down-play their sins. They need to confront them just as we have been and are in Christ. We dare not succumb to vague generalities about our faith with them, either. Always, always we need to “speak the truth, the whole truth, to them in love.” For to do otherwise downplays the depth of God’s love for us, and them, in Christ!
To better prepare the disciples for the cross-current of emotions they will face, Jesus now adds these words: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up 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 cross Jesus refers to is the cross of faith. It is the natural opposition to total self-surrender to Him. It is the natural opposition we all face inwardly, outwardly, and even from our loved ones. What Christian hasn’t heard: “O, you think you’re so special! What do you have? A corner on the truth market?” And because of such words the depth of Christ’s love is often turned into pious platitudes which never really address the heart of the person’s problem. When we lapse into such behavior, we need to ask ourselves: “Have I lost my first love?”
When we speak to others about Christ, we must always remember that He is using our mouths but the words are His, not ours. When we do, literally anything for another out of faith and concern for their soul, it’s not “our” doing, but it is Christ acting in and through us. And that’s why such speaking and doing is so wonderful and so rewarding. We’re changing lives eternally because He is using us for the most positive purpose on earth.
This is meaning behind the final words of our lesson. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
Christ’s earthly reward for total love was death. But it didn’t matter, because thereby He earned us eternal life in heaven. And He also earned us the reward of His clear conscience. You and I are no different. We’ll face opposition from people who are ingrates, too. But, our conscience will know: I did the right thing. I loved them in spite of themselves. And I did it because my first love, Jesus Christ, also did it for me. Amen