Matthew 12:1-14

A Lion prowled about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many times he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. One day the oxen began to quarrel among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

This is one of Aesop’s fables and the phrase “United we stand, divided we fall” has been attributed to it.,_divided_we_fall

It’s a phrase that can be applied to our country. When we were united, we stood strong against the British and we became a country. When we were divided our country erupted in civil war.

When a marriage is not united, there is arguing, emotional distance, little or no intimacy, and many times it ends in divorce.

If a sports team is divided, the team wants to run plays that are different from the coach’s. There is no teamwork and the team is defeated by their opponent.

If a crew divides from the captain, there will be a mutiny.

If an army divides from a government, there will be a coup.

If employees divide from management, there will be a strike.

If citizens divide from the laws, there is civil disobedience, but at its worse there is anarchy.

If children divide from their parents there is disobedience. If parents divide from their children, children have no guidance and the family unit is jeopardized.

If countries divide from one another, a cold war can begin or even war itself.

If a church is divided, people leave and there may be a split.

If people separate from God and go their own way, they are lost in their sins and on a road to a destructive life and an eternity without God.

The most religious people of Jesus’ day had separated themselves from God in many ways. However, they were blind to it.

They believed their ways were synonymous with God’s ways and presented them as such.

Because of this, Jesus knew his words were not going to be well received. He knew when he opposed these religious leaders it would be divisive.

It’s not healthy to just go along with others in order to have harmony. We can all be in one accord and all be wrong.

So, Jesus pitted himself against these religious leaders because they were wrong: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” Matthew 10:34-36 (NIV).

Just after I have appealed that we should all come together and be on the same page, along comes Jesus and says, “I’m a divider.”

Jesus doesn’t divide for the sake of dividing. Jesus divides for the sake of uniting. He wants us to unite around the things that are of God and not things that are of our own making.

Jesus is the Great Divider. When you meet Jesus, your standards should change. What you do with your time, money, speech, thoughts, actions, should be different.

Jesus knew that his words and actions were going to be divisive because he was taking a stand against the most powerful religious and political bodies of his day, the Pharisees and the Herodians.

For example, Jesus’ idea of Sabbath and God’s law for man contradicted the traditional interpretation given by the Pharisees.

Knowing this, it’s likely that these religious leaders made sure that a man with a shriveled hand was present in the synagogue to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath. To them this would be considered work and any kind of work was forbidden on the Sabbath.

They were watching Jesus to see if he did anything against their tradition they could accuse him of.

Jesus could have avoided any controversy, but instead he asked them if a person was expected to do good or evil on the Sabbath. Afraid Jesus would turn their answer against them, they remained quiet. He told the man to stretch out his hand and He healed him.

It was this healing act that Mark says divided Jesus from the religious leaders permanently. From that point on, their minds were made up that they were going to kill Jesus.

Sometimes division isn’t a bad thing. If people separate themselves from us because of the stand we take for Jesus and the gospel, we should not consider it a bad thing. That doesn’t mean it’s not still painful. However, if we are honoring God, we should have faith that God will take care of us.

Now, notice the great irony here. While the great religious leaders began their plans to kill Jesus, the common people embraced Jesus. The scripture says that there was “a great multitude,” so many that Jesus had to ask his disciples to help him with an escape plan to keep the crowds from crushing him.

It’s interesting that while complete strangers embraced and affirmed Jesus, the religious people rejected him and his own family also thought he was crazy at the early part of his ministry.

His family couldn’t figure out what all the fuss over Jesus was about. He was just Jesus, the son, the brother who had grown up in Nazareth. They didn’t know this rock star Jesus, so they showed up to take him home.

Perhaps they thought they were rescuing him from all the people and from something that was bigger than he could handle.

Some of the scribes from Jerusalem had an interesting idea. They just figured Jesus was full of the devil because he did not agree with their interpretation of the Law.

That’s what we do sometimes to people. If we can’t explain other people, sometimes we just try to demonize them. If we don’t agree with them, then we treat them like they came from the devil himself. We will even do that to church people.

Jesus defended himself well. He said, “Does it make sense to send a devil to catch a devil, to use Satan to get rid of Satan? A constantly squabbling family disintegrates. If Satan were fighting Satan, there soon wouldn’t be any Satan left.”

Jesus is saying “I am not divided in my Spirit. Only God gets rid of the devil. That’s what I am doing. I am tying up the demon. I am disabling him by the healing I am doing.”

Whenever you and I engage in divisive arguments, especially over issues that have nothing to do with matters of salvation, we might as well picture ourselves untying the devil and letting him loose. Or we might as well picture the devil binding us up, destroying our effectiveness as a church.

Jesus said that a house that is divided against itself cannot stand.

The Lord wants us to unify around the right things.

However, Jesus had no problem being a divider when the people were unifying around things that were not of God.

Jesus was controversial because he was willing to say things that went against the established thinkers of the synagogue. He said things that threatened their power and their traditions and it eventually got him killed, but he also said enough that the world came to believe He was the Son of God. Ironic isn’t it, that the non-church people recognized him and the church folk couldn’t because they were so interested in protecting their turf?

Jesus said enough that even though his follows scattered when He was nailed to the cross, they came back together when He was raised from the dead. They came back together and under the banner of love, forgiveness, kindness, and grace, they changed the world.

A few weeks ago Tina and I stopped in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to watch our first-ever regatta. As the sculls raced down the river toward the finish line, we listened as the coxswains called out words of instructions to the crews.

The coxswain, or cox, as he or she is sometimes referred to, sits in the stern of the boat facing the crew and in most four-crew sculls the cox sits in the bow of the boat facing upriver. As the crew pulls the oars, they are unable to see where they are going so the cox has to be their eyes.

In addition, it is the job of the cox to control the rudder and steer the scull during the race. Knowing the current of the river and keeping the scull on line is the important job of the cox.

The cox has a microphone with amplification so he or she can provide motivation and encouragement for the crew. The cox makes tactical decisions, diagnoses and solves problems. Essentially, the cox is the coach aboard the scull.

Jesus is Christian’s coxswain. Jesus sees what we cannot see. He knows what is up ahead and gives us the motivation and encouragement we need. He is our inspiration.

Jesus works in tandem with us, providing the direction we need for our lives. The Psalmist reminds us of this through the words of Psalm 23:2. “He makes me lie down in green pastures and he leads me beside still waters.”

Picture Jesus as the Great Coxswain with His hand on the rudder of our lives. He knows the current and He helps keep our lives on course. He directs us and guides us where we need to go. However, He expects us to row. He expects us to row together, to get along, to have a vision, and to stay on course. It’s not all Jesus.

If all you had was the coxswain calling out encouragement, but you had no rowing taking place, the scull would be dead still in the water.

Paul told the people in the church of Thessalonica, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Yeah, Jesus once made can lots of food from a few loaves and a few fish, but such daily miracles would only cause us to stop working. Yes, Jesus once healed a man with a withered hand, but He still expects us to train doctors and nurses.

Imagine the frustration of those on a crew if just one member ceases to pull the oar. How can the team be expected to win?

Imagine the frustration of a church, when people don’t agree on a vision, when people will not pull the oars of prayer, or tithing, or volunteering, or inviting, or even being enthusiastic about all that’s taking place on the campus? How can the church succeed?

The finish line is ahead. When we cross it, there will be no more time to work, no more opportunities to make a difference. Our time will be done. We must work while we can. As the old hymn says, “We’ll work till Jesus comes.” Make no mistake, Jesus is coming.

When He comes, will He be pleased with the part you have played?

Let’s trust Him. Let’s listen to Him. Let’s all do our part and pull together and row in the same direction. When we don’t, we are prone to wander and people are prone to leave the God they love.

But when we row in unison and listen to the coxswain, we will cross the finish line and we will be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).