In this passage from Luke’s Gospel, we are at a turning point. Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem. His baptism will be His death, and it will be decision time for His people. They could accept His claims to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God, the one who fulfilled Isaiah 53 and become God’s ultimate sacrifice so that sin could be forgiven or join the religious leadership that declared Him a blasphemer. There was no middle ground. Their choice was to either join Jesus’ Kingdom or remain enslaved in Satan’s tyranny. There was no middle ground then and there is no middle ground today.
There were bad things going on, but the people wanted to ignore them and put on rose-coloured glasses. We also have bad things going on in our lives with crime, evil and a falling away from God. It’s easier for us to ignore it all, but God wants us to see the world as it really is and understand the seriousness of it all. We have to recognize that there is sin in our world.
The Jewish leaders refused to accept the fact that they were misleading God’s people, especially with the 613 rules about how people could worship God and what they could and could not do on the Jewish Sabbath. The leaders stuck to these rules and refused to ask God for forgiveness. They were warned that they would be punished one day. Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders, turned over to the Romans, and nailed to a cross. It wasn’t the anger of those who rejected Him that they needed to fear. It was the storms of divine judgment that would come upon all who choose not to turn from their sin and cast themselves upon God’s forgiveness in Christ. It was a fatal mistake to be playing the religious role and not discern that Jesus would sweep away all the pretending.
Jesus’ baptism of fire and crisis of decision can mean his own impeding trial and execution, or it can mean the turning point in our own lives when we are called to choose a path of discipleship that will bring with it some form of pain as well. This lesson points us toward the full fruition of God’s kingdom-the redemption and salvation Jesus came to accomplish-and calls us to live in hope and preparation for that time.
The tension that Jesus felt was a tension that was harnessed to the interest of others. He was on His way to the cross and the tension was not to be loosed until He pronounced the words, “It is finished.” The tension, however, did not leave Him frustrated and bad-tempered. It left Him calm and composed, with a prayer for the forgiveness of His enemies on His lips. It drove Him not to pieces but to peace-the peace of achievement and victory. This was so because the tension was harnessed to God’s perfect will-hence it was a constructive urge.
Rejecting Jesus causes division. To reject Jesus was to reject God and remove oneself from citizenship in God’s kingdom. The pressure is on to choose yes or no about Jesus because the end times are near.
When Jesus speaks of bringing division, even discord, he wasn’t talking about division for its own sake. Jesus was not merely a dangerous agitator, no matter what his enemies might have alleged. He knew that the people of his day had often grounded their identity and their hopes for a meaningful unity in the wrong things. He knew that the Gospel of the Kingdom would inevitably disrupt the familial ties, ethnic and national allegiances in which the people of God had sought security to the detriment of God’s purposes.
Even Jesus longed for His Father to end all evil and bring in the full expression of His kingdom-yet that was not God’s plan. Fire is the image of judgment, and baptism is the image of suffering; both must come as God planned from eternity past. Whatever discomfort or impatience a person feels can be put before the Father, who loves His children and controls all things.
Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” but the peace He brings in this world is internal, not external-and it is reserved for those who love Him. He brings division, however, to those who neither love nor want the truth. In this world, truth divides, and Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples for the rancor that would come from those who refused Christ.
We are not to settle for false peace. We are not to put up with situations where our spiritual lives are in danger. Jesus said that He came to start a fire on the earth. Fire destroys anything that is temporary and refines anything that is durable. We are often attached to things that are temporary. Jesus’ fire will make our identity and soul endure forever.
Jesus lamented that the people of His age had become adept at reading signs of the weather to interpret imminent weather patterns yet ignored the biblical signs of the Messiah’s coming. He called them hypocrites because they cared more for the ever-changing weather than they did about professed allegiance to the eternal God. When people see the coming of a storm they can make preparation for it. When people know that a natural disaster is coming, they do what they can to save themselves. The Scriptures speak clearly of the coming judgment of Christ being preceded by dissention and anguish-all things that are happening in the world today. But with all the knowledge, there are few who take heed of the spiritual wisdom that is in the word of God. There are many who might make a passing reference to Scripture, but there are few who really take the time to listen closely, to hear and to put into practice what it is saying.
God speaks to people throughout Scripture, but the people had to listen, just like we have to listen today. Hearing is not the same as listening. Listening involves thinking, but in many cases this does not happen. The people in Jesus’ time had this problem, and we still have this problem today. How often do we make up our minds about someone or something without really listening to the entire story?
Sin causes division. People don’t want to give up their sin, and that causes the division that Jesus talks about. In these situations people should be patient and wait, pray and listen. No one likes conflict or division. We want reconciliation, but we want reconciliation that is cheap and easy. Jesus tells us that reconciliation won’t be easy. Jesus paid with His life so that we could be reconciled to God.
There needs to be some division between right and wrong, but it has to be according to Jesus’ standards, not ours. Strong actions bring divisions because the call to follow Jesus demands a complete response from us. We can’t serve both God and man.
Jesus’ proclamation is appropriate when we consider the would situation today. We only have to look at the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump to see that this is true. The world is full of hatred and division. Jesus’ work is meant to upset the oppressive systems and powerful people who cause division. He wants the change in our lives to affect the world.
The reality of God’s judgment comes when we least expect it-like a thief in the night. The reality of judgment does not wait until Jesus comes again-it becomes real for us at the moment of death. There is no chance after death to make our peace with God. Are we ready? How do we know?
Following Jesus means more than merely adopting new beliefs. It also means adopting a new way of living. Being a follower of one who accepted and honoured disreputable people means that we have to do the same, rejecting the easy temptation of judging others and instead inviting them into our lives. To be a follower of the one who preached love and forgiveness is to practice the same, particularly when it comes to those who differ from us even (and maybe especially) in terms of what they believe. Faith is an invitation to live differently now, to see those around us neither as souls to be saved or threats to be deterred, but rather to see them as God’s children to be loved, honoured and cared for.
Jesus invites us to enter patterns of behaviour and belief that will require change, movement and motion from us. That movement will cut households and families to the core. Christ didn’t come to bring a false peace. He came to free us from sin’s tyranny. We can’t save ourselves. The cleansing fire Jesus refers to is our need for God.
Jesus predicts the impact His message of love will have on our self-centered human nature. He has come to turn the world’s value system upside-down. He knows the process won’t always be pretty. Those who benefit from the status quo will fight to oppose anyone who tries to change things, just like people opposed Jesus. They will keep their blinders firmly in place to avoid having to see the reality of the situation in the world today. Jesus insists that they take their blinders off so they can see that things are not the way God intended.
Jesus’ words in this passage are God’s invitation for us to be committed to Christ, the church and the mission of the church. That mission is to be the love of Christ in all situations of life. The mission of the church is to evangelize other people so that they would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. The mission of the church is to work for social justice and social compassion for all people on the globe.
It’s time to ask ourselves some questions. Have we ever had to suffer because of our faith in Jesus? Have we ever experienced conflicts in our relationships with coworkers or even family members? Have our beliefs gotten us rejection, isolation, alienation, or just smirks? Was it because we took a stance on behalf of the poor, immigrants, newcomers, people of other faiths and races? Has criticism of our society made us outsiders to the mainstream attitudes of those around us? Or, have we just avoided conflict by not speaking up and acting when we should? There can be no peace as long as there is injustice in the world.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1413)
- Mark Kay Eichelman, “Seeing Clearly.” Retrieved from www.sermonsuite.com
- Pastor Ken Klaus, “Peace at all Cost?” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; p. 215)
- Dave Wyrtzen, “Before It Rains.” Retrieved from www.TruthEncounter.com
- Dave Wyrtzen, “Jesus the Divider.” Retrieved from www.TruthEncounter.com
- Selwyn Hughes, “How Jesus Handled Tension.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Kevin & Amber Marten Bergeson, “Luke 12:49-56.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Volume 2; Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time -C- August 14, 2016.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- “Bible Study, Proper 15 ( C )- August 14, 2016.” Retrieved from www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 20th Sunday-C-August 14, 2016.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Erick J. Thompson, “Commentary on Luke 12:49-56.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2951
- The Rev. Alan Brehm, “Blinders.” Retrieved form http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2013/08/blinders.html
- David F. Sellers, “Jesus Christ: Troublemaker.” Retrieved from https://us6.campaign-archive.com/?u-dbffd2070718c7bb6alb9b7e0did=c7e5eegddc
- The Rev. Edward Markquart, “Christ Brings Division.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_c_christ_brings_division.htm
- Christopher Jacobsen, “Luke 12:49-56.” Retrieved from email@example.com.