Sermon on Luke 12:49-53
Text: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
In order to have a fire, you need to have three basic components. You need to have oxygen, a fuel source, and heat. If any of these three things are missing, you cannot have a fire. The reason that water, in most cases, will put out a fire is that it takes away two of the three components. It coats the fuel source, taking away the oxygen that it needs. In addition, water requires a lot of heat in order to vaporize (turn to steam). Thus it removes heat from the fire as it vaporizes, cooling it. For these reasons, it may seem difficult to understand what Jesus is talking about when he talks about A BAPTISM THAT KINDLED A FIRE. First of all, we are going to look at 1. The Baptism and then look at 2. The Resulting Fire.
In verse 50, Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” When we read these words, we might think that Jesus is referring to a normal type of baptism. He cannot wait to be baptized. However, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River at least two years earlier. So, if this is not the baptism that Jesus is referring to, what is it? We get a glimpse of the answer in Jesus’ dialogue with his disciples, James and John. They had asked if, when Jesus entered his kingdom, they could have the two places of honor. Jesus asked them, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” After they answered that they could, Jesus said, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” (Mark 10:38-40) Then, he continued by speaking of the fact that he had come to be the Servant, who had come to give his life as a ransom for many. In other words, Jesus is talking about his impending suffering and death, when he is speaking about this baptism.
By these words, Jesus is showing his determination to complete the task that his Father had set before him. He wanted to continue on this path that lay ahead of him and reach the goal of the cross. This is not to say that Jesus was some sort of masochist. He knew the pain and suffering that would be involved. This did not only include the physical pain that he would endure at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Roman soldiers. He knew that this path would also lead him to suffering the torments of hell. During Holy Week, Jesus said to his disciples, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) Even as Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Yes, the sufferings were frightening, but Jesus had no idea of running away from them. He knew that this was the reason he had come to the earth, and he wanted to bring it to fulfillment.
The reason that he felt the need to continue on this mission was our lost condition. He knew that, if he did not continue on this path, even with its suffering and eventual death, we would be lost forever. We are born as lost and condemned creatures. We sin against God by putting other things ahead of him. We put the pleasures of this life ahead of our relationship with God. We put our relationships with others ahead of God. If Jesus had not come and so single-mindedly carried out his mission, we would have spent our eternity in hell. This is the only way that we could be saved. It was the Father’s will to punish his Son in our place. It was his wholehearted love for both his Father and for us that made Jesus want to go on. Jesus shows us that he came to the earth for one purpose and that was to rescue the world by his perfect life, by his innocent suffering and death, and his subsequent resurrection on the third day.
Because of this, we are at peace. We are at peace with God, because our sins are forgiven. Paul says in Romans 5:1, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our consciences can be at peace, because we know that our Savior has taken away our sins. We know that we will be in eternal peace when we reach heaven. Jesus’ baptism of suffering and death has brought us peace. We are at peace.
Since this is true, we might be shocked to hear Jesus say, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” This does not sound very peaceful. The fire that Jesus is referring to is the suffering that Christians will endure while they are here on this earth. Jesus elaborates on one of the aspects of this fire, when he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” One of the hardest sufferings Christians will endure is division. In a moment, we will talk about one of the divisions that Christians will face. However, I would like to just talk about Jesus’ words, “how I wish it were already kindled.” It is not that Jesus is eager for his people to suffer these divisions. However, as a result of his completion of the salvation of the world and the proclamation of his gospel to the four corners of the world, there will be these divisions. This phrase underscores Jesus’ resolution to carry on to its completion the salvation of the world.
Wherever Jesus’ name and salvation are proclaimed, there will be divisions. Some will reject the saving Gospel message, while others will be brought to faith in Jesus as their Savior. In these verses, Jesus is telling us that, in our relations with other people, we may not expect earthly peace and friendship. This is due to the fact that we have a different way of looking at things. Believers have very strong convictions about sin, grace, and holiness. They are compelled to speak about them. Unbelievers also have their strong convictions. They will tell you about how good they are or, at least, they are better than others. They have their convictions about how they can earn their way into heaven. They will say that they do not have to abide by any antiquated laws about how they should live. ‘What right do you have to tell me how to live my life?’ Recently, I saw this posting, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently from you.”
We are called upon to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). So, if someone says, don’t judge me because I sin differently from you, I will have to say, there are certain things that are right and there are certain things that are wrong. I will have to call something a sin that is a sin, whether it makes me unpopular or not. I will have to tell the people who think that they are able to earn their way into heaven that there is no way that they can. Try as they might, they will not be able to reach the standard of perfection that God requires. I will have to tell the person who continues to compare himself to others and says that they are not too bad that they still are sinners. This will not make us popular. This will cause divisions. It will be uncomfortable for us.
Jesus speaks of one place where divisions will occur. He says, “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” We are reminded in these verses that we cannot believe for others. How often don’t we hear people say, ‘My wife and my children go to church regularly’ or ‘My mother never missed a Sunday,’ as if the religion of the rest of the family takes care of them, too? Every person must have their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Where this is lacking, there will be divisions.
How wonderful it is when all the members of a family are believers. It is for this reason that we encourage young people to marry Christians. It gives them a solid foundation on which to build their marriage. When there are unbelievers in the marriage or in the family, it is bound to cause divisions. As I noted earlier, there is a different way of looking at life. When we insist that we do things God’s way or we tell them that what they are doing is not godly, it will cause friction. Instead of the quiet family life, there will be division. Jesus tells us to expect it. There will be the temptation to keep quiet or give up on our faith, because we want to get away from the situation. However, we cannot. There is too much to lose. If we lose our faith, we have lost everything. We have traded a few moments of earthly tranquility for an eternity of unrest.
Unfortunately, we must admit that there have been times when we have failed to do what we should do in this regard. Whether the family member is a believer or not, we do not speak up and say what they are doing is wrong. We won’t tell them that an attitude they have is not God-pleasing, because we want to preserve our peace and tranquility. When we do this, we are saying to God that this person and my personal comfort level are more important to us that he is. May God help us to see the times when we have sinned in this way. We come to him, confessing this sin, and trust that, for Jesus’ sake this has been forgiven. Then, may he give us the strength and the willingness to make a clear confession of our faith before others. May God help us to speak the truth to those around us. We want to speak the truth in love. We are not just out to bash the other person and make them feel bad. We speak the truth in love, in the hope that they will be brought to faith in Jesus. We speak the truth in love, so that those we love repent of their sins and receive the assurance of sins forgiven. No, it will not be comfortable. Sometimes, when we speak, there will be divisions. Yet, we do so, because we want to glorify God. May God help us to this end.
At first glance, it might seem as though baptism and fire have nothing to do with each other. However, as we have seen, they have everything to do with each other. Jesus had to undergo his baptism of suffering and death, so that we might be saved. As a result of Jesus’ actions, there will be sufferings for his disciples, including that of divisions in the family. We thank Jesus for his single-mindedness of purpose and pray that we might have the same resolution to stand up for him. Amen.
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