Luke 12:49-53 "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."
Harold fell in love with his next-door-neighbor when she was a teenager. As their relationship progressed, he told her that he wouldn’t marry her unless she converted to being a Lutheran. That didn’t sit very well with her very Catholic parents. It caused a division within the family.
Maggie came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student to attend classes at an area Lutheran high school. As part of the curriculum, she had to take “Introduction to Christianity” and “Introduction to Lutheranism.” Her host family were also insistent that she attend worship with them every Sunday morning and also take their pastor’s adult confirmation classes. Maggie was eventually baptized and confirmed in her new Lutheran Christian faith. Her atheist family back in China were not pleased. They had sent her to the U.S. for an education, not a conversion.
Kim was a quiet young woman, raised in an “unchurched” family. When her friend invited her to visit his church, she accepted. She got hooked on the message that God loved her despite all the wrong things she had done. But then the trouble started. Kim began attending worship every Sunday to learn more about God’s love. Her parents felt left out. They felt God was taking their daughter away from them. Every Sunday morning when Kim left for church, her father called out after her, “See you later, hypocrite!” Her mother scheduled family picnics and events on Sunday mornings. When Kim chose to go to church instead, she heard from her mom, “You love these strangers more than your own family!”
Harold, Maggie, and Kim sound harsh, don’t they? They are dividing families. They are displeasing their parents. They are causing rifts and separation where there had once been peace and calm.
But what happened in the families of these three people are exactly what Jesus said would happen when He is involved. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Then Jesus goes on to describe that division: “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.”
Jesus sounds like a home-wrecker and a fourth-commandment breaker, doesn’t He?!
Just when you think that Christians are supposed to be focused on the family, Jesus comes along and says you have to hate your family in order to follow Him. This is definitely one of those Bible verses that atheist types love to parade around to show how crazy Christianity can be. On the one hand, you’re supposed to love your enemies. Then on the other hand, you have to hate your family. On the one hand, you are commanded in the Fourth Commandment to honor your father and mother. Then on the other hand, you are told you must hate your father and mother, along with the rest of your family.
So what is Jesus talking about here? He is saying that people become divided over Him and His teachings.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve had the discussions with your family and friends. Discussions that turned into disagreements. Disagreements that turned into divisions.
The hard thing to do is to speak out. That’s what Jesus wants you to do. Even if it causes division. You forsake earthly peace for the hope of eternal peace.
The easy thing to do is to look the other way and keep silent. That’s what the devil wants you to do. Because that way you keep peace in the family. An earthly peace that he hopes will lead to eternal torment.
The very real temptation is to be close-mouthed and open-minded. To shirk from our responsibility to speak out and shiver in fear when we must confront sin or false doctrine. To practice outward unity when there is no spiritual unity.
It is a very real temptation in our own lives, in our church, our Lutheran grade school, our Lutheran high school, and in our Lutheran church body.
You tried calling your sister to repentance after she moved in with her boyfriend. You told your son how disappointed you are that he left his confirmation vows to join a different Christian denomination. You’ve had the discussions in the lunchroom at work about infant baptism and close communion. You’ve made it clear that you won’t attend your cousin’s gay wedding.
And when you’ve spoken out you’ve been called “rude,” “stuck-up”, “unloving,” “ignorant,” “hateful,” “close-minded” and a whole host of unpleasant adjectives.
What is Jesus talking about here? Didn’t the Christmas angels announce that Jesus was born to bring “peace on earth”? Yes, they did! But Jesus has come to bring peace between a sinful humanity and a holy God. Jesus is the Prince of Peace – but by His standards, not the world’s. Human nature loves to unite around what promotes outward peace especially at the cost of the heavenly peace that Jesus brings. The world teaches that if you get rid of religion, there will be freedom of expression. But Christianity is the only religion that allows humanity to have real, lasting freedom from sin, Satan, and eternal death. The peace and freedom that the world promises are only a façade. To all such facades of peace, Jesus is a bull in the world’s self-inflated-ego-China-shop.
Jesus and His teachings are divisive. That’s because He proclaims absolute truth in a world begging Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” In fact, Jesus is the embodiment of absolute Truth – “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In a world filled with false ideas about “relative truth,” Jesus boldly states that we must either be for Him or against Him (Luke 11:23). Either He is our Lord, or He is not. Neutrality is impossible.
The Prince of Peace calls us to war. It is a war of words – His words over the world’s words. It is a war of gods – the true God of heaven and earth versus the gods of sex and money. It is a war of teachings – teachings that rebuke and correct and forgive against teachings that let everything go.
There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus. You either stand up for Jesus on one side or you stand against Him on the other side.
You’ve felt the fire. You’ve experienced the hate. You have lived this division. You have been in the trenches of this war. … And none of it is pleasant!
Please understand that the fire you have felt is only a small taste of the fire Jesus felt for you. He teaches, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”
John the Baptist had promised that Jesus would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). James and John were ready to call down the fire of judgment on the Samaritan village which would not welcome Jesus (9:54). The rebuke they received makes it plain that the time for fiery judgment had not yet come. But the day of fire will come. The Master will return. The wish that Jesus expresses that the fire “were already kindled” suggests that He would like to get it over with since it is so dreadful to contemplate.
Before Jesus brings a baptism of fiery judgment upon the earth, He must first undergo His own baptism as He receives God’s judgment upon sin on the cross. This baptism is God’s judgment for our sins. Jesus receives an infinity of fiery judgment during His finite time upon the cross. He was divided from His heavenly Father for a time so that we who believe in Him can spend an eternity united with our heavenly Father.
As Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem to undergo this baptism of fire, He makes it clear that others are not ready to accept His message of salvation. The Christmas angels sang of the peace that the Messiah would bring upon the earth. But when people reject that peace, then they will receive judgment in its place. Families were divided on Jesus two thousand years ago. That division of families continues to this day. What Simeon foretold, Jesus sees happening: “This child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34).
Are we ready to endure this fiery division Jesus brings? Even when it gets personal? Even when it shows itself not just on our TV or computer screens but within our own homes and families?
The question come quickly: Who do you love more – Jesus or your family? What do you cherish more – God’s teachings or peace in the family? What is your ultimate goal in life – to see your family and friends in heaven – or to keep the religious arguments to a minimum?
Harold was adamant that his future wife become Lutheran. She did. Those are my parents. Because my dad would not compromise, I’m here as your pastor.
Maggie is the Chinese foster daughter of Pastor and Judy Peters, who was baptized and confirmed here just a few months ago. My daughters teased me that I didn’t tear up at their baptisms, but I did at Maggie’s. But I told them that I knew they were going to be raised in a Christian home. When Maggie goes home to China, she doesn’t have that at all.
Kim’s abuse continued for months. Why would anyone, especially a meek young woman, put up with this? Why not skip worship to appease her parents? What could be worth the hurtful comments and long guilt trips?
God’s love for her! For the first time in Kim’s life, she had experienced a Father’s perfect love. Her heavenly Father knew her darkest secrets. She could hide nothing from Him. Yet He still loved her. He had been willing to sacrifice His own Son to make her His own daughter. No matter what she did, He would never stop loving her.
This amazing, unselfish, sacrificial love changed Kim’s heart and life. She could endure the division in her family on earth. It didn’t make her happy. She wished her parents understood. She tried to explain it to them. Whether they understood or not, Kim wasn’t going to lose her heavenly family. She knew the love of the Father, who created her, the Brother who died for her, and the Spirit who gave her peace despite the insults and guilt trips.
Her new family was worth the trouble with the old family. Kim only hoped that one day, her old family could be part of her new family, too.
Brothers and sisters, do you have the same willingness to join with our Brother in Christ and be divided from your physical brother and sister? Are you willing to be separated from your earthly parents all because you will not be separated from your heavenly Father?
These are very real questions because the Prince of Peace calls us to war. But during this war, the Prince of Peace gives His followers a peace that is beyond all understanding. A peace only He can provide. Amen.