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“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

IN RESPONSE TO JESUS, PEOPLE DID MANY DIFFERENT THINGS, BUT ONE THING NOBODY DID WAS REMAIN NEUTRAL. Jesus’ teaching authoritatively called for a decision, and those who did not make a decision for or against Jesus were making the worst decision of all. As Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).

Jesus is often referred to as the Prince of Peace, and that is certainly what He was. (The description comes from the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:6.) But the peace that Jesus brought into the world was rejected by many. Not everybody agreed with what He said, and those who accepted Him often found themselves estranged from friends and family who had rejected Him. It is not hard to imagine the bitter disputes that arose wherever Jesus went. “And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, ‘He is a good man,’ others were saying, ‘No, he is deceiving the crowd’” (John 7:12 NRSV).

If today it seems that not many are interested in Jesus’ teaching one way or the other, it is probably because Jesus’ followers have tamed His teaching and turned it into something far less disruptive than it used to be. The “gospel” has become so bland that not even the devil pays much attention to it anymore.

But if we go back to the Scriptures and grapple seriously with the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, we will be challenged just as people were back then. Our conscience will be pricked, and we will feel the same urge to declare ourselves — either as devoted disciples of the Son of God (Matthew 16:15,16) or the murderous friends of Beelzebub (Luke 11:15). When we hear Jesus honestly, a crisis is produced deep within our hearts. Is this teaching true? And if it is true, what are we going to do about it? The most tragic thing we can do is run away from this crisis. Painful though it may be, a decision must be made, either to follow Jesus or fight against Him.

“Wherever [Jesus] went he produced a crisis. He compelled individuals to decide, to make a choice. In fact, he struck me as the most crisis-producing individual I had ever encountered . . . Nearly everyone clashed with Jesus, whether they loved him or hated him” (Rebecca Manley Pippert).

Gary Henry — +

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