When I first decided to read the Bible to try to figure out this "whole mess of religion" as I used to think of it, I started in the New Testament, with the book of Matthew because it is the beginning of the NT. Now, I went to church regularly all during my childhood, up until highschool, and I had fond memories of learning Bible stories in children's Sunday School. The Jesus I learned of as a child was a baby in manger, a good Samaritan helping a wounded man (I think I mixed that parable up a little), a man who walked on water and healed many people, who was unfairly accused and cruelly put to death.... but that turned out okay because he was such a good man that he got to come back to life.
But when I actually read the Bible myself, instead of hearing stories told by others, the Jesus I discovered in Matthew was not like anything in my childhood perceptions. I started to encounter some words of Jesus that were not gentle and kind, but were actually really scary:
Matt 3:7 "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?"
Matt 5:21,22 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment...anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Matt 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Matt 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
Matt 8:22 Another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead."
Matt 10:34 was another difficult saying of Jesus, especially when you put it in context with the following verses:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn "a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household." Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who 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.
What had happened to the peaceful, benevolent Jesus of those Sunday School stories? I was so disturbed by the time I got to Matt 12 and heard Jesus calling more people "vipers" that I stopped reading.
I only stopped reading for a while, because when I discover an apparent contradiction it will continue to bug me until I find an explanation. Fortunately, this apparent contradiction of a Jesus born to bring peace (Luke 2:14, Eph 2:14, Romans 14:17,19) who also claims not to bring peace, but a sword, eventually led to me to saving faith in the same Jesus who loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal 2:20). (Here's a link to my full story of coming to know God if you're interested... but then if you read it you have to leave a link so I can read your story too!)
It is not possible to put your faith, the very destiny of your soul, into the hands of a man who is merely good and kind and compassionate.
Jesus was man, but also God. It IS possible to put the destiny of soul in the hands of one who has authority to judge, who can see what is evil even when it is buried inside man's heart and covered up by good works. To say the difficult, and often contradictory things Jesus said - he would either have to be completely deranged, or God. Only a God could demand seemingly impossible things of us like Matt 5:39-41: If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
As a believer in Jesus, I know that he does bring peace. Phil 4:7 "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." And he also says this about swords: Matthew 26:52 "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."
So what is Jesus saying in Matt 10:34? Jesus does not bring peace to everyone on earth; only to believers who trust in Him. And the sword he brings is not a physical sword to cause war and death, but this one: Eph 6:17 "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." And Hebrews 4:12: "For 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."
This Tuesday's quote was chosen by the contributers to In Other Words. This week's host site has a post about this quote and anyone wanting to participate can ponder on the quote and write about about it on their blog, then link your post to the host blog.