At Restoration Church we walk through the books of the Bible we are studying one passage at a time, and this week's passage challenges us to consider Jesus' identity. If you ask most people whether Jesus came to bring peace or to bring division, most would say he came to bring peace. Are they right or wrong? The answer is in how we understand this statement from Jesus in Luke 12:49-53:
"I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, 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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Jesus' first two statements are full of imagery. Fire and baptism. Allow me to share briefly what I think these statements mean. First, Jesus says he came to cast fire on the earth, a fire he wishes were already started. Now that doesn't seem very pleasant, does it? Jesus is using the image of fire to communicate the impact of the work He will complete. The fact is we can look back on 2000 years of history and see the ministry of this Carpenter from Nazareth did have an effect similar to a fire. The influence of Jesus on human history is unmistakable which is why we should be compelled to understand what it is He stood for. Jesus wishes this fire had already been kindled because at this point in Luke, Jesus is still looking ahead to laying down His life on the cross for all humankind. Which leads us to His next statement.
Next, Jesus says He has a baptism to be baptized with and that He is in distress until it is finished. The normal usage of the word baptism is to immerse in water. Jesus has already been baptized in water by John the Baptist (Luke 3:21-22), and a second baptism of Jesus into water is not recorded. So, if Jesus isn't going to be immersed in water again, what is He going to be immersed in? Given His distress about this imminent "baptism," His crucifixion is most likely in view. On the cross, Jesus is taking on the judgment each of us deserve for our sin. There is some precedent for this interpretation in the Old Testament where water is seen as a means of judgment. The clearest example is Noah & the Flood. Noah endures the judgment of a flood that destroys the rest of humankind by building a wooden ship. Jesus is looking forward to His baptism on the wooden cross. His baptism is the taking on of judgment the world deserves. Jesus is anticipating the physical, emotional and spiritual pain He is about to endure and is distressed about it.
So, what is divisive about the expansion of Jesus' influence in the world and His taking on the sins of the world at the cross? The divisiveness comes as a result of a decision each person must make in regard to Jesus identity. When someone makes a statement, there will be people who agree and people who disagree. As a result you have division. Jesus during His time on earth asserted many things about His identity and we can either accept them or reject them. Throughout our study of Luke we have seen this to be true. One example is found in Luke 5:17-26 where Jesus heals a paralytic. Before doing so He says to the man, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." The truth Jesus asserts about Himself in this statement is that He has the authority to forgive sins. It is clear what some of the religious leaders think about this because they say in response, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Do you believe that Jesus can forgive your sins? That is His claim. This statement will be accepted by some and rejected by others. Thus, Jesus brings division. The division according to our passage will even occur among family members. Some family members will accept this truth others will reject it.
I accept this claim that Jesus makes to forgive sins. I know that I am a sinner. The number of times I have sinned is overwhelming; the times I have been enticed by my own desires (James 1:14-15) is immeasurable. My only hope is to find forgiveness in Jesus. While accepting the claims Jesus asserts will certainly create division between me and those who reject him. Jesus has become my peace. As Ephesians 2:13-14 says, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace…" My deepest need in life is to be restored to God. I cannot do that through my own efforts because my sin is too great. If I gave the rest of my life to doing good in order to overcome my sin, I would not make a dent. In spite of my sin, I am restored to God through Jesus' work on the cross. I am at peace.
Thank you for reading my blog, we will be talking about this text at Restoration Church in our Sunday night service at 5 p.m. on Feb 17. We meet every Sunday night at The Sage Events Venue. We also have a weekly Bible study on Wednesday nights. If you would like more information, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.