August 14, 2022 | Reality Check| Luke 12:49-52
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Why did Jesus come to Earth?
Big question, isn't it?
How you answer that question says a lot about what you think of Jesus. How a church answers that says a lot about their understanding of scripture and their faith foundation. It is an important question, one that we ultimately each have to answer if we are going to understand and follow Jesus as our Lord.
Now, most of us, who have grown up in and around the church, would probably answer with the following verses. (bold emphasis mine)
Luke 19:9-10 (ESV) 9 And Jesus said to him (Zacchaeus), “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
John 18:37 (ESV) 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Mark 1:36-38 (ESV) 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
Mark 10:42-45 (ESV) 42 And Jesus called them (disciples) to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
John 10:10 (ESV) (to the Pharisees) 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
These are familiar to us, they comfort us, encourage us, they fit with the image of Jesus we have in our minds, but Jesus didn’t always state his purpose in such a positive light. Sometimes he said things like “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”, or like in our text today, “I have come to cast fire on the earth!”
If you read the gospels, these statements pop up from time to time and challenge our picture of Jesus.
This picture of Jesus doesn’t necessarily fit with our common pictures of Jesus. I call it the Sunday school Jesus.
A fair-skinned Caucasian Jesus with great sun-kissed hair, long flowing robes, seated with a lamb at his feet and a child on his leg, smiling peacefully at all people.
These are even more surprising if you didn’t grow up in church and your picture of Jesus has been shaped by what the culture thinks about Jesus. This doesn’t sound like the peaceful, loving, hippie Jesus the world thinks of when they think of Jesus at all.
In the first portion of our scripture this morning, Jesus pulls back the curtain a little bit with his disciples and shares his great desire and his great distress, the translators rightly adding exclamation marks to both of these statements. Jesus is passionate about why he came and what he had to do. One commentator called it a pre-cross reality check for the disciples. When we understand what Jesus does here, I think that becomes a pretty apt description, so let’s look at it under that heading.
All in all, not the Jesus most of us tend to picture, which is both a bad thing and a good thing. A bad thing because any picture of Jesus that isn’t fully informed by scripture is at best, incomplete, and at worst, actual idolatry, because we have created a Jesus according to our image and not His revealed truth. A good thing, because it gives us an opportunity to grow in our understanding of who Jesus is. Because Jesus is God and wholly beyond our complete understanding, there is always room to grow in our knowledge of who he is.
If we spend much time in scripture, this happens from time to time. We come to a description, or teaching, or scripture that challenges our thought process. When this happens, we need to be willing, no, eager to let it change us.
My hope this morning is that we can take this picture of Jesus and let it inform us and change our understanding of how Jesus would fully answer that great question of why he came?
Open your Bibles to Luke chapter 12 at verse 49, where Jesus has been teaching his disciples, do not fear, not not be anxious…
Luke 12:49-53 (ESV) 49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, 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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Three surprising statements compromise this reality check.
Statement #1- Jesus announces his purpose- vs 49
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
Cast- to throw, pour out, scatter
Would that it were already kindled- How i wish it were already lit!
Jesus is telling his disciple what his burning desire is, that what he came to accomplish, his desire is that it would hurry up and begin. This is Jesus, expressing a great anticipatory desire. I know why I have come and how I wish the fruit would already begin to be visible! The great flame would already be lit.
This language, although maybe foreign to us, certainly isn’t foreign to scripture.
This coming ministry of fire was announced by John the Baptist in his ministry of preparing the way.
Matthew 3:11 (ESV) 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Long before that, God, through the prophet Malachi, said this in response to His people’s grumblings.
Malachi 3:1-3 (ESV) 1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.
God describes this fire of the coming Messiah as a cleansing fire, like a refiner that puts impure ore in a smelting pot to purify it, to burn off everything that is not precious, so only that which is valuable is left. Or a strong lye soap that removes impurities from fabrics by removing dirt and residue leaving the garment clean from outside influences.
John describes it in terms of baptisms. He says that his ministry was immersing those who responded in faith in water to signify their repentance, but when Jesus comes he will immerse in the Holy Spirit and fire. One represented a change and one would produce it!
God describes this fire of the coming Messiah as a cleansing fire, like a refiner that puts impure ore in a smelting pot to purify it, to burn off everything that is not precious, so only that which is valuable is left.
Concerning this coming ministry, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, how I wish it had already started! His great desire is that his disciples would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, starting the fire that will culminate in the final judgment where everyone’s works will be both refined by fire and those who rejected the baptism of Jesus will face eternal damnation of fire.
You see, what happened at Pentecost, when God poured out his spirit and kindled the fire of salvation that spread throughout the world will culminate when everything that is imperfect and tainted by sin will be wiped away and God’s perfect kingdom will be all that remains. This is why Jesus came, his purpose will be ultimately fulfilled in the fullness of time.
Why did Jesus come?
Not to give you your best life now, not to be an addition to your life, but to burn away everything in you and your life that separates you from God and refine you into pure worshippers of the Almighty God. This is the fire of judgment, (Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) Fire is “the spiritual power exercised by the Lord through His Word and Spirit—to the undoing of those who reject Him and to the refining of those who believe in Him.”
This changes everything, doesn’t it? The question shifts from ‘do I believe the right things about Jesus’, ‘do I attend church’, ‘do I know the answers', to ‘does God’s fire burn within me?’ ‘Am I progressively being sanctified, becoming more and more like Jesus?’ If not, you may have been water baptized, but you need to seriously consider whether or not you have been immersed in the holy and perfect fire of the Holy Spirit.
The one thing fire doesn’t do is leave what it burns the same! It either refines it or it consumes it.
We must stand against any picture of Jesus that doesn’t understand that he is a consuming/refining fire in the lives of his followers. This, he says, is why he came. To present to himself a pure bride. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says concerning Christ and his church.
Ephesians 5:25-27 (ESV) 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
This is Jesus' great desire expressed here, that he wishes the sanctification process would have already started.
But he knows that for it to start, he has to accomplish his immediate task, as Ephesians says, he has to give himself up for his bride.
Statement #2-Jesus declares his plan- vs 50
50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
What would kindle this fire? What would usher in this refining ministry of Jesus?
His baptism. Our understanding of what he means by baptism is pivotal here. He can’t be referring to his water baptism in the Jordan river by John the Baptist, because that has already happened. It seems to be something in the immediate future. So what is he referring to?
It can only refer to his impending work on the cross, where he would be immersed in the wrath of God on behalf of the sins of the world. Where he would, the spotless lamb, bear the iniquities of man. This is not the only place he uses this imagery to predict his suffering on the cross.
In Mark 10:35-40 (ESV) 35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
The plan from the beginning was for Jesus to die for the sins of the world. As we saw in Luke 9, where Luke notes he set his face towards Jerusalem, he has been moving ever towards Calvary, singularly focused and increasingly divinely anxious to accomplish his mission.
What an encouragement to us! We know that he was headed to pay the price for our sins and not only was he willing, he would not rest until it was done!
That is an amazing thought, but we also recognize, the closer it got the more distressed he became. We see here, the frailty of his humanity as it faces the horrible reality of the weight of the cross.
Our Lord says ‘how great is my distress until it is accomplished.’
Distress- to compress, constrained, ‘to press on every side, like a besieged city’, metaphorically- to be held by, occupied with any business
(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) I. Howard Marshall offers the following paraphrase of Luke 12:50: “How I am totally governed by this until it be finally accomplished.”
Consider his words on the night in which he was betrayed.
Matthew 26:36-39 (ESV) 36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
The other cue we have to understand that he is referring to his death for our sins is in the word accomplished.
This is the same word that he declares as his last words on the cross- It is finished!
The same word- accomplished, completed. He had done what he came to do.
At this point, the disciples didn’t fully understand what he was sharing with them, but surely they remembered on the other side of Calvary, his great distress as he headed towards Calvary. He knew the plan and yet he marched steadily towards Jerusalem.
Greatly distressed but determined, overwhelmed but obedient.
After sharing his great desire and his great distress, he takes the opportunity to instruct his disciples on what the results of his ministry will be, and it is as surprising as his declaration that he came to cast fire on the Earth.
Statement #3-Jesus clarifies the results of his purpose and plan vs 51
51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
Jesus words this as a rhetorical question concerning his mission, and immediately answers it in the negative.
Imagine if he had let them answer, ‘do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?’ ‘Of course Jesus!’
Just taking the gospel of Luke, the evidence that Jesus’ ministry involved peace is overwhelming.
Zechariah’s (John the Baptist’s Father) prophecy
Luke 1:76-79 (ESV) 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
When the Angels announced the birth of Jesus
Luke 2:13-14 (ESV) 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Jesus himself after healing two different women
Luke 7:50 (ESV) 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 8:48 (ESV) 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
When he sent out the twelve on their first mission
Luke 10:5-6 (ESV) 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.
So, we have to stop there and ask the question: what peace is he talking about?
Internal peace? No, Jesus says he would give us his peace.
Peace with God? No, we are told that in Christ we now have peace with God.
Peace with one another? No, we are told that in Christ we have unity as one body.
Where does this division happen in the life of the follower of Jesus?
Let’s turn to what Jesus says.
52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, 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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Jesus wants his disciples to understand that on the other side of the cross, there will be division, even among those in the closest relationships. He uses a family of five to illustrate, a father, mother, daughter, son, and daughter-in-law.
Blood relatives, covenant marriages, and the closest relationships there are will be divided by Christ.
Jesus doesn’t clearly tell them here why there will be division, only that there will be. Later, during his final moments with his disciples, he clearly states why.
John 15:18-20 (ESV) 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
He finishes that section with these words
John 16:33 (ESV) 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Here is the truth Jesus sets before his disciples, between the coming baptism of the Spirit and the final baptism of the fire of judgment, there will be a dividing of people.
You may say, wait a minute, isn’t Christianity all about unity? In a sense, yes, Christianity inherently unites (family of God, local church, universal church- ex. Me and someone completely opposite me)
The other side of that coin is that it also divides. Those who believe and those who don’t.
Being a Christian has the potential to divide every relationship you have, with family, neighbors, co-workers, team members. Jesus, says here that not even familial relationships are a greater uniter than Christianity is a divider.
Jesus, says here that not even familial relationships are a greater uniter than Christianity is a divider.
Talk about a reality check for the followers of Jesus.