Ephesians 2 tells that Jesus is our peace and that he has come proclaiming peace. But Jesus himself said that he did not come to bring peace but the sword (Matt. 10:34). How are we to resolve this apparent contradiction?
I believe that Jesus came to bring peace and the sword. The key is the order. The disciples didn’t anticipate that they would have to experience pain before experiencing peace. The gospel first wounds us. It humbles us and forces us to face our utter sinfulness and depravity. It calls us to turn from our previous way of life to follow Christ. The result is division – even among family members. This is unpleasant business. It is only then that one is able to receive the offer of peace from Jesus. Perhaps it is not unlike a doctor who remedies our ailment. They break out the scalpel before reaching for the stitches.
The pattern in the gospels is consistent. The gospel was an offense to proud and self-righteous people. But it was a soothing balm to the broken and desperate. Peace only came to those who first felt pain. Jesus provided a key in Luke 7:29-30. Only those who received the baptism of John were receptive toward Jesus. Only those who first felt the sting of repentance were prepared to receive the blessing of forgiveness.
There is a tendency for churches to soften the gospel and make it more palatable to unbelievers. Oftentimes this is driven by pragmatic concerns at attendance and money. But if we preach only a soothing gospel that doesn’t cause any pain, we are not really preaching the gospel of Jesus. We must speak to people about their sin before they will truly be able to receive grace. May God grant us the courage to speak the full gospel – both sword and peace!