'Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.’ Luke 12:51
Matthew’s version of this scripture says ‘I did not come to bring peace but a sword.’(Matt. 10:34) Wow! Jesus is saying he would bring separation, division, or a sword that cuts and divides! Those are extreme words. But what do they mean?
These few words of Jesus seem to contradict other scriptures that indicate he would bring peace. For example, the angels declared ‘’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’ (Luke 2:14). Jesus said to His 12 apostles, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.’ (John 14:27). Paul’s opening greeting in each of his letters included the greeting of ‘grace and peace’. Jesus spoke these words to reveal gospel and a kingdom so extremely different from the culture and kingdom of the earth, that the very peace we have with the Father would bring division with those who do not know it.
Receiving the peace of God is a choice. We have peace with the Father upon being born again. As far as our Father is concerned He is at peace with us and He offers that continual peace in our relationship with Him. But we must continually choose that peace…....an extreme choice that brings a deep inner sense of ‘it’s going to be OK’. It’s the kind of peace in our hearts that settles and calms the soul conquering circumstances that scream for emotional reaction. It’s a kind of peace that others see as either attractive or unattractive, i.e. out of the mainstream, not ‘normal’. It’s the kind of peace that separates living in the kingdom of God from living in the kingdom of this world. It’s an extreme peace found only in an extreme kingdom, but………..it may bring division or expose division that is hidden within.
Hebrews 4:12 says ‘The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ Jesus desires an inner peace for you that comes from the unity of living only in His kingdom. Trying to live in two worlds or two kingdoms brings inner division…….inner contradictions….inner turmoil that is divisive and lacking in peace. Living in two worlds may bring a superficial, momentary peace with the world around you but will not bring the inner peace of living only in the kingdom of God. The Spirit of God will always draw you toward the unifying peace of His kingdom, an extreme peace that reflects your extreme relationship with the Father. This kind of living opens you to the peace that passes understanding in your inner man. This is extreme living! The outer world may not like it. However, you won’t care! You will have the peace that overcomes whatever the world can throw at you. Embrace His extreme peace on the inside and overcome division on the outside.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head”. (Luke 9:57, 58)
In this scripture Jesus tests the man’s resolve to follow Him. He laid before him the unknown reality of following the Messiah……not knowing where he would lay his head that night. Following Him meant a life of extreme faith, not having the predictable, palpable, and comfortable attributes of life securely in his grasp.
So what does it mean to be ‘extreme’ in following Jesus and living in His kingdom? The definition of ‘extreme’ is ‘outermost or farthest; being in or attaining the greatest or highest degree; very intense; extending far beyond the norm’. Notice that extreme is not defined as weird or deviant, but as greater than……beyond normal…..outermost…….highest degree.
Jesus declared to this man, to you, and to me that following Him would not be a ‘normal’ life. Following Him would be living at the outermost edges of culture. Following Him would be very intense. And following Him would position us to attain the highest degree of the abundant life He promised (John 10:10).
Jesus always had a place to lay His head. He always had financial provision. He always had food and drink (except when fasting by choice). He always had the assurance and security of His Father’s love. He always had eternal life.
Following Jesus today is an extreme choice; a choice to follow an invisible savior in an invisible kingdom, expecting an invisible heaven, and exerting invisible authority. Yet in so doing we live a very visible life far outside the norm of culture attaining the greatest degree of security, safety, sanctity and freedom. We live a life trusting in the unseen King and Kingdom rather than in the tangible things we have acquired for ourselves.
The extreme nature of the Kingdom of God becomes visible as the church lives the life of Christ on earth. We bring heaven to earth. The church reveals the diverse wisdom and nature of God (Eph. 3:10, 11). The church carries the keys of the invisible kingdom. We can offer a foggy, opaque view of God’s kingdom or we can present a clear, transparent window into His Kingdom. If we live like the mainstream no one will take notice. We can live a life that is normal or far beyond normal. We can display a level of trust that is extreme or mainstream.
The more extreme we are in our faith and trust in Jesus, the more clearly we display His kingdom to those around us. We may be labeled as ‘extreme’. Well…..get used to it! In America evangelical Christians are already labeled as extremists. We already have the label…why not live the label?
The church in America (and in some other nations) is facing a choice of blandly blending in to the culture or offering vibrant clarity beyond the cultural norm. Those that are seeking and desiring truth and authenticity will take notice! When we say we will ‘follow Jesus wherever he may go’, we assume a risk…..a risk to live outside the norm; a risk to be far from mainstream; a risk to live at the highest degree of the abundant life Jesus promised to those who would follow Him. Take the risk………live an extreme life in Christ!
‘He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters (Luke 11:23).
Jesus’ words etched an image of stark contrast for those who had ears to hear. Jesus never played down or softened the distinction between His kingdom and that of the world. He never nuanced His words to make everyone ‘feel good’. He used extreme language to draw extreme contrasts to illicit clear choices for, or against, Him and His kingdom. Jesus was and is extreme!
Note that Jesus said if we are not gathering we are scattering. There is no middle ground. If we are not gathering on behalf of His kingdom…..a kingdom of the heart ruled by Jesus, a kingdom where his principles and His word manifest in our ministry; a kingdom where the Truth of His Word and the freedom of His Spirit bring forth a transformed people. If we are not doing this, then we are scattering…..we are opposing him…..we are working against him.
Jesus words in Luke 11:23 offer leaders a ministry model to cast the clarion call to gather for His kingdom. It is time to gather the remnant who will hear; a remnant who will desire sending capacity before seating capacity. Leaders of churches and ministries are being drawn toward a line in the sand. We must speak the Truth of Jesus’ word and exhibit the power of His grace. God is summoning us to gather a passionate, purposeful, and powerful people to advance His kingdom.
So who is this that is ‘gathering’? We know there were only a handful gathered at the cross. There were only 120 gathered in the upper room. There were only 12 to whom he initially entrusted the great commission. He speaks of gathering those who will hear and live by the Spirit and the Truth. He speaks of gathering the extreme few who will do and will go on behalf of the Kingdom.
Leaders may soften the message of Jesus. Some may nuance the Word and offer vanilla flavored gospel to gather more people to meetings. However, if it is not advancing the kingdom of God it is scattering the remnant; ‘everyone whose heart God has moved’ (Ezra 1:5). A softened message and a nuanced gospel is a gospel without power. Such works will scatter the passionate, purposeful remnant who are saying in their hearts, ‘here am I send me!’.
As time moves forward and the return of Jesus draws nearer, I sense a heightened intensity to advance the Kingdom of God on earth. Leaders of governments, businesses, and ministries will be forced to choose to gather or scatter regarding Jesus and His kingdom.
Leaders, let us gather the remnant hearts in these days. Let us cry forth the clarion call of the Word and the Spirit that will gather them to do His will on earth as it is done in heaven.