*Did Jesus really come to bring peace on the earth?
*What does it mean to count the cost?
*Why is it important to keep one’s eyes on Christ?
*What is the true bread of life?
*What really defiles a man?

The common idea in religious circles today is that Jesus came to bring peace and tranquility to mankind. At Christmas time we frequently hear the phrase, “Peace on Earth, good will to men,” associated with Christ’s birth. This phrase, however, found in Luke 2:14, should be translated, “Peace on earth to men of good will.” The idea that Jesus came to bring peace is not true. Notice what Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36). The prophecy made concerning Jesus, in Luke 2:34, foretold that He would upset the status quo and become the bane of society. Upheaval, antagonism, and hatred would result from the truth He would preach.

What often takes place when one member of a family is called and converted? The answer: Persecution from other family members. This is why Jesus continued in Matthew 10:37, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” One called to God’s truth is required to put God first in his life. After all, who gives fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, life itself, the food we eat, the sunshine and rain, the air we breathe, all the blessings of goodness and joy? God does, of course! So, why should we not love Him more than anything else in the world? This is why Jesus said that those who fail to love Him above all else are not worthy of Him. This does not mean neglecting parents or family members. It simply means there must be an order of priorities established in the life of the Christian so that obedience to God is not hindered in any way.

Jesus went on to say that true obedience to Him may cost some their lives. “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:38-39). The cross represented a capital offense. Crucifixion was the method by which Jesus was put to death. Some Christians, also, Jesus said, would have to pay the price of martyrdom. This is why we must count the cost. Jesus illustrated:

And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not [love less by comparison] his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-33).

What Jesus is saying is that Christians must love Him above all else, to put Him first in their lives. This is one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus.

There is a lesson of faith illustrated by an incident that occurred in the middle of the night. This incident is recorded in Matthew 14:22-31.

. . . Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

What is the lesson here? When Peter kept his eyes on Christ all went well. But, what happened as soon as he was distracted? His faith waned and he began to sink. When we keep our eyes focused on Christ we too can exercise faith. We can be men and women of faith. But to focus our attention on other things can lead to disaster. In Peter’s case, Jesus saved him. This entire example serves as a vivid lesson of the necessity to always be focused on Christ!

An extremely important lesson to be learned is found in John 6:22-27. Just previous to the event related here Jesus had fed the five thousand. But on the next day look what happened.

The day following, when the people which stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was none other boat there, save that one whereinto his disciples were entered, and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone; (Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks:) When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus. And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? (John 6:22-25).

How did Jesus answer them? “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (v. 27). In effect, He told them their interest was in another free meal and that they were striving for the wrong thing. What did He, then, advise? “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (v. 28).

Those who strive for the physical amenities of this life will receive them only as long as this physical life lasts. But, there is something beyond that. This is eternal life, and should be the real goal in life. Jesus is the true bread-the bread of life. It is through Him alone that eternal life can be gained.

. . . Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. . . . I am that bread of life. . . . I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (John 6:35, 48, 51).

So, while we must have physical sustenance to support this physical life, the real life we should be seeking to attain is eternal life.

Jesus was often criticized by the Pharisees. Notice one example of this criticism. “Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault” (Mark 7:1-2). Their criticism was due to the fact that the disciples did not follow the ceremonial rituals of the day. These rituals had been placed on a level above the Law of God. What did Jesus say about this?

He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition (Mark 7:6-9).

How, then, did Jesus instruct His disciples about this ceremonial uncleanness?

And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man (Mark 7:14-23).

What really defiles a man? Not dirt on his hands, but rather, uncleanness of the heart and mind. What needs to be cleansed is the mind and heart, though, of course, being physically clean is advantageous to one’s health as well as to his social standing. The important thing to consider is spiritual defilement. The things, mentioned in verses twenty-one and twenty-two, if not overcome, can cost one eternal life. Being clean spiritually is the all-important thing.

While travelling with Jesus, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to take any bread. Then, Jesus said an unusual thing. “. . . Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). Jesus was not that concerned about bread. He could turn rocks into bread if He so chose. But, He wanted them to understand a lesson here. The disciples, of course, could not comprehend what He was saying.

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? (Matt. 16:7-10).

Jesus, then, amplified His thought and said, “How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (vv. 11-12). Both the Sadducees and Pharisees were entirely human-centered and self-centered. They could not really comprehend spiritual things. Worst of all, their concepts and approach could be contagious. This was exemplified in their teaching-the doctrine. So, Jesus is warning that those who are human-centered and self-centered are in danger of becoming contaminated spiritually. A corrupt system will produce corrupt people. Anything that does not come from God and is not inspired by God will be corrupt and contaminated. Therefore, leaven exists everywhere and should be avoided.