Here is a fascinating scripture, especially at this time of the year when people have been celebrating Christmas. At Christmas we see people saying, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men.” One of the challenges we find in the Bible is that every now and then there are scriptures that seem to contradict each other. This requires a deeper study of the word to unravel the mystery hidden in the words, for God does not contradict himself, and nor does the scripture. When there seem to be contradictions, it generally means either we do not understand what the Lord is driving at, or there may be an issue with the translation of the text.
We are fortunate today there have been a great many texts of the New Testament uncovered, including some of great age going back to the time when the letters and gospels were first written. Thus the translators of the more modern Bibles have more ancient texts to work with, which helps overcome the confusion when there are only a few documents and they conflict. Most of the errors of the old documents are transcription errors for the letters and gospels were hand-written and then copied by hand to distribute them. With each copy, and subsequent generations of copies, errors could creep in. Thus the older the text the more likely it is to be accurate.
There is a difficulty in Luke 2:14 where some of the old manuscripts have been translated as, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (KJV) However since the King James bible was written in 1611, many more ancient manuscripts have been located making for better and more accurate translations. With the addition of more ancient manuscripts, the translators of the more modern bibles read (in some form or other) Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” The key here is that peace is towards those, “…with whom he is pleased.” This is the way this scripture is translated in the NIV, Amplified Bible, New Living Translation, ASV, RSV, The Message, ESV, Contemporary English Version, New Century Version and the Common English Bible. Indeed all of the more modern texts of the New Testament use a translation similar to this. The older translations, such as Young’s and Darby’s Bibles did not have the benefit of the more ancient manuscripts and are typically like the KJV for that same reason.
Now this is quite a different rendering of this popular Christmas quote. When we see that there is peace and good will to those, “…with whom he is pleased,” we see a quite different picture emerge. Among those with whom he is NOT pleased there is no peace or goodwill. Rather for those who choose to do evil and to do the opposite of what God requires there is judgement.
In this section when Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” we see there are two aspects to this statement. First, for those who choose to do evil and oppose what is good, there is the sword of judgement. They will be given every opportunity to repent and turn to God, but if they persist in their evil ways, they will suffer judgement and will not receive the eternal life and peace offered to those who please Him. Secondly, there is a polarising effect in following the word of God and Jesus. There is a sword of division that will divide all those who choose the path of righteousness in Jesus and separate them from those who do not.
Thus in a family, we will see divisions between family members where it is those who follow God separated from those who do not. And Jesus shows this saying he will set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and in-laws against each other and the basis of this separation is those who follow Christ will be separated from those who do not.
He also shows in verse 37 that this is a serious matter. Nothing and nobody must get between us and the love of Christ Jesus. Our walk with him is what will determine whether we receive the reward or not. In these verses he says, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” He is not saying we should not love and care for our family, but that we must keep things in perspective. Our first duty is to follow the Lord and then everything else comes after that. As mentioned above, there will be a sword of division in families, and those who are not of the Lord will put pressure on those who are following Christ. They will try to pull them away from Christ and put obstacles in the way of the followers of Jesus. So the point Jesus is making here is we must not allow their attempts to pull us away to succeed. We must make our faith and following the Lord the first priority and when a conflict arises, choose the Lord…always.
Will we suffer doing this? Yes! Jesus said also in verses 38-39, “…he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Using the analogy of taking up the cross Jesus is saying whoever is not prepared to suffer for the sake of their Christian walk and following Jesus will be considered unworthy. When he adds that, “…whoever finds his life will lose it,” he is saying that if we seek the life and living of this world we will lose our eternal life if we are not prepared to give up all for his sake. The converse applies too, in that if we lose everything in this life for the sake of the Lord, we will find our life into eternity with him.
The essence of this section is that we must put our walk with Christ above all other things. It’s that important. Everything else pales into insignificance compared to the worth of knowing Jesus and following his ways. For in him we have hope and the promise of a better life both here and now, and in the future a life into eternity with him.