We are just a few days out from the Fourth of July, the great annual celebration of our nation’s independence. The history of the United States of America is fascinating, complex, and at times almost mythical. There are great shames and atrocities in our past, to be sure, and some of them carry on even now. But there are also powerful and inspiring stories of courage, love, and unity that rise from the ashes to still inspire us, to still give us hope in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Something I truly enjoy is reading, or especially listening to, great speeches from our nation’s past. To me, a great speech is one which rises at a crucial moment in time, a moment where not only the speaker but the hearers of the speech seem to know the weight of the moment. Think of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” or Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream.” These are words which moved people, that could not simply be unheard or forgotten. They captured the weight of the moment and stirred men’s hearts into action.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day and he brought up General Eisenhower’s words to the troops as they prepared for Operation Overlord, or as we know it, D-Day. Here is what he said:
Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground.
Our Home Fronts have given us a superiority in weapons and munitions of war and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your devotion to duty and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
When you hear those words, you can easily imagine the scene, how the fate of the world’s power balance teetered on the edge of a knife. The offensive attack of D-Day would tilt the outcome of a world war in favor of the Allied forces. And they knew the casualties would be immense. In fact, the numbers reported seem unbelievable. But here in this speech was a battle cry, a call to rouse the troops to a greater good beyond their own life. It was to inspire the courage needed for the terrors which would unfold before them.
Now, the reason I bring this up is because it strikes me that this same sort of spirit, this same ethos flows through our Lord’s words to His disciples in Matthew 10. Jesus is sending them out, sending them into the battlefield where the enemy is strong and devious. And He does not pull His punches. He speaks with clarity and forcefulness to prepare His followers for the battle ahead. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” That assertion alone ought to cause us to pause, to take a step back, and reconsider this whole endeavor. What do you mean you did not come to bring peace? I thought peace was what this whole thing was about. After all, the prophet Isaiah foretold Jesus’ birth saying, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
So, yes, peace is what Jesus brings, peace with the Father and reconciliation with our Creator. But that very move, the restoration of fallen mankind to the love and grace of the Father will by its very nature cause strife and produce opposition among mankind. In fact, as Jesus sends out His disciples they are to act as ambassadors of peace, proclaiming a peace which flows from the Father through the Son into our lives here and now. But not all will receive that peace, not all will embrace the Good News, and when this happens, it becomes clear that what Christ has brought is not peace but a sword. The Word of God is specific, there is one name under Heaven by which men are saved and that specificity will cause division. It will cause wounds and hurts in some of the most intimate relationships we have. In Christ, you will have peace with God but not the world.
Now, when Jesus says He came to bring a sword, He is speaking about the dividing nature of His Word. As Scripture says, “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Therefore, the sword of Christ divides first within your hearts, within your own souls. It cuts and dissects, revealing your sin and shame, bringing humility and confession. This sword is no mere instrument of destruction, for just as it brings division and death, so it also brings life and healing. With one edge it cuts, but with the other it heals. As it exposes your sin, it proclaims the words of Christ for you. And as the Word of Christ brings death and life to you, so it brings division between you and those who reject the Word, those who refuse to receive His gifts.
So, like a battlefield general Jesus warns you and prepares you saying, “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take 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.” As you get caught-up in the storms of this life, as you find that you fail to be worthy of your Lord, as you fall short of His demands and flee from the cross you are to carry, you will scramble to find your life on your terms. But that Word, the piercing sword of Christ, it never stops. Again, it cuts and slices, revealing your sin, revealing how lost you are.
There is only one way to find peace, true peace, eternal peace. It is not to find yourself on your own terms, but to lose yourself in Christ, to lose yourself in His Word, to lose yourself in His works of death and new life. And that is not a bad place to be lost, for this General of yours does not watch from a distant command base as you set your face toward the war. No, He has gone ahead. He has entered the fray. He has already secured the victory for you. The battles you engage in, the division you experience, these conflicts are carried out with the certainty that the war is already won. This is how we manage to go forward. This is how we find the strength to press on. Christ has done His work. Christ has died and risen again for you.
Did you know Eisenhower had a second speech prepared? It was a short one. If you look it up it is usually called, “In Case of Failure.” In it Eisenhower takes full blame for the failure of the mission, if that had been how things turned out. But your Lord does not have a second letter. There is no failure in His love, no failure in His sacrifice, and no failure in His forgiveness for you.