Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Did you catch the irony? You just heard the reading from Luke’s Gospel and it was… interesting. Fire. Distress. No peace. Division. Father against son, daughter against mother. You hypocrites! And with those less-than-encouraging words, we closed our reading with the same words we always do. “This is the Gospel of the Lord.” The Gospel. Really? Was that the Gospel? What about that was good news? Because to me, it sounded a whole lot more like doom and gloom than it did hope and salvation. And for that matter, how do we even take Jesus’ words in the first place? This is not the Jesus we’re used to.
But before we dig into today’s reading, I think it’s good to remind you what we talked about just last week, because as we dig into today’s text, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Life isn’t about stuff. It’s not about food. It’s not about clothing. It’s about Jesus. If Jesus is the way the truth and the life, as He claims to be, then true life is found only in Him. He alone matters. And because He died and rose again for you, there is nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, nothing to be anxious about. Your Father knows what you need and will eternally provide.
With that truth fresh in our minds once more to Jesus’ words for us this morning. “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Jesus has come to bring fire and division to this earth. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling to hear Jesus speak so plainly what we know from experience to be true. We’ll start with the first thing: fire. Depending on what it comes in contact with, fire does one of two things: destroy or purify. Things like wood or fabric or flesh are all quickly consumed by fire. It eats these things away so that all that’s left is ash. Fire has an overall negative effect on some things. But for others, fire does not destroy, but it purifies. Things like metal and glass are refined by fire. The impurities that find their way into these things can be burned away while the metal remains unchanged. For these things, fire does them good.
Jesus says that He has come to cast fire on the earth. He has come to bring purification for some and destruction for others. It’s easy to see there’s a division that comes with the fire. Either you’re destroyed or you’re purified. Either you’re with Jesus or you’re against Him. There is no middle ground. His presence in human history brings a dividing line. As much as Jesus came to save, because He has come, some will be damned. We don’t have the option of just ignoring Jesus or pretending He doesn’t exist. You have to choose sides. This is a tough thing to wrap our minds around. We like our Jesus to be purely loving without any eternal judgment. We like our Jesus to be unconditionally accepting, even to those who reject Him. But today, He clearly says that that “jesus” isn’t Him. Jesus has come to offer life and salvation to all, but not all receive this gift. And before you know it, there’s a division between those who follow Him and those who don’t.
This division is not always antagonistic, but it is always present. In our country, people of differing faiths do tend to live peacefully side by side. While there can be some social stigmas associated with following Jesus, we don’t have the wholesale break that happens in Muslim households, for example. A Muslim who converts to Christianity can expect to be completely cut off from their family, no communication, no contact, no association. For them, the line is clear. You’re either on one side or the other. That dividing line may not always be so clear to us, and we don’t always know where that line is, but Jesus has come to bring division.
But lest you think that Jesus is leaving the short straw for us, He doesn’t. In fact, He’s the one with the tough job. “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” With the language of baptism, Jesus tells us of His coming death. Way back in Luke 9, Jesus, we’re told, “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He’s on His way to die. He knows what’s coming. He knows what lies ahead. And everything that he says or does along the way is driving him forward, compelling Him onward, sending Him to the cross. It will be painful. It will be agonizing. It will come with some of the greatest suffering known to mankind.
This baptism that Jesus will be baptized with isn’t with water. He’s already been baptized like that. He came to His cousin, John the Baptist, and was baptized by him in the Jordan River a few years before. No, this baptism to come would not be a baptism of water; it would be a baptism of blood. Instead of water and Word washing away the stain of sin, the blood of Lamb would baptize Jesus unto death. It’s this very blood that divides the earth. This blood brings peace to some and condemnation to others. This fiery wrath was poured out on the cross and paid in blood. For those of us in Christ Jesus, the wrath is spent. There may yet be division on earth, but we have peace with God because of Christ, because He was baptized in a way we will never be.
This is the Gospel of the Lord. While at first glance, this text said nothing about God’s grace or mercy or His unending love for sinners, it is there. It’s covered by a whole lot of law that makes us uncomfortable, but it’s Gospel nonetheless. Jesus has paid the price. His death and resurrection have covered your sin and mine. Yes, Jesus brings fire. Yes, there will be division on earth. But remember Jesus’ words from last week. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Christ was baptized in blood for you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell