August 16, 2015
Read Lu 12:49-53 – Abe Lincoln told of a man who enlisted in the War of 1812. His girl said she’d embroider a belt: “Victory or Death.” He said, “That’s kinda strong. Suppose you put ‘Victory or Be Wounded!’” He wanted “half-in.” But a half-committed solider is a danger to everyone. Well, Jesus’ followers must be all in. To be half for Him and half for me is a modern, mostly American, invention. Jesus never taught it that way!
Here He’s urged preparation for His return by watching expectantly and working earnestly. Faithful followers are rewarded; unfaithful are condemned. Now Jesus explains why – why the line that separates true faith and mere professors is so defining! What He has to say is shocking. The death He will soon die forces a choice. It is eternal life or death. So: I. Jesus’ Surprising Strategy; II. Jesus’ Supreme Sacrifice; III. Jesus’ Severing Specter.
I. Jesus’ Surprising Strategy
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth!” Skip to v. 51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Wow! Where did that come from? The disciples were shocked at those words as are we. Isn’t Messiah the “Prince of Peace”? (Isa 9:6)? Didn’t Jesus pronounce blessing on peacemakers? Didn’t Zacharias prophesy that He came “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lu 1:79)? Didn’t the angels sing “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” at His birth (Lu 2:14)? Didn’t He often send people away by saying, “Go in peace” (Lu 7:50)? Doesn’t Paul say in Eph 2:14, “ For he himself is our peace”? Yes to all of those!
Jesus did come to bring peace – the only peace that really matters in the end – peace with God. The peace He came to enable is between hopelessly lost people and an infinitely holy God. But that peace comes at great price and it automatically means war with the world. They are two sides to the same coin. This is reflected in Jesus’ first statement: I came to cast fire on the earth.” If your conception is of a gentle Jesus meek and mild who would never harm a flea, that is a Jesus of your own making. That is not the Jesus of the Bible. That Jesus came to stir everything up, including you and me. That Jesus came to stake claims on lives. That Jesus came to cast fire on earth.
What does it mean to cast fire on earth? To the Jewish mind, steeped in OT, fire represented two things. First and foremost it represented judgment. Gen 19:24, “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.” Psa 11: 6) Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” “Isa 66: 15) “For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” The list goes on. Jesus is saying, “I came to cast judgment on the earth.” Make no mistake, what Jesus did in paying the penalty for sin set the stage for coming judgment.
But fire also meant purification. For believers. Mal 3:2: “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.” Cleansing agents to purify believers so they can offer acceptable sacrifices. But at the same time in v. 5 He also judges unbelievers. When Jesus talks about casting fire on earth, He means He will judge unbelievers and purify believers. His presence demands a reaction. He doesn’t draw a line in the sand, He IS a line in the sand. To follow Him is to experience the fire of purification; to reject Him is to experience the fire of judgment. Either way, He makes things hot. He’ll make them hot for you.
Remember how the French greeted the Allies as conquering heroes when they entered Paris in Dec. 1944? Cheers everywhere. But the Germans fled for their lives. Why? Same troops; same time; different reaction! Why? For the Germans the Allied invasion meant judgment – for the French, the same invasion meant liberation. Same troops – totally different reaction. Same with Jesus. He casts a fire on earth – a fire of judgment for some and purification for others. The difference? – some accept his Lordship; most do not.
The Fresno Bee gave this weather forecast one day: "Precipitation is likely to be lower than normal, higher than normal or roughly the same as normal." Talk about straddling the fence! That’s what many want to do with Christ. They want His blessings, but not His Lordship. They want Him at the funeral, but not in life. They want Him on Sunday, but not the rest of the week. He won’t go there, Beloved. He didn’t come to be patronized or used! He came to cast fire on you and me. The question is, is it a purifying one or a condemning one. That’s up to us. But God in the flesh won’t be ignored. He came to cast fire? Question is – which side of the fire are we on?
II. Jesus’ Supreme Sacrifice
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” The problem of sin and guilt is deeper and wider and higher than any human solution could ever address. Sin must be paid for. We know that. That’s why we have human court systems. But how to satisfy God’s requirement for justice? Payment must be made -- by each individual – or assumed by God Himself. Jesus came to assume that judgment, to cast fire on earth – but note that last phrase. It is heartrending. Here is the humanity of Jesus on full display -- would that it were already kindled!” The fire of judgment has not yet been kindled as He addresses this crowd. But Jesus is anxious to get on with it. The price is going to be so high, the penalty so painful, the cost so great. He wishes it done and over. Oh, would that it were already kindled!”
When I was a little boy, ice cream was a luxury we seldom got. We got more little brothers instead and with all those mouths to feed, ice cream was seldom on the menu. But one day, I knew there was some in the chest-style freezer on our back porch. And I decided I could help myself to a spoonful or two when no one was looking. The devil made me do it, folks! I got my little snack, put the carton back and closed the lid – only something didn’t fit and it broke the inside cover. I was in trouble. Mom found out; I confessed. But rather than discipline herself which she was very capable of doing – she left it for Dad. Let me tell you – that was a long day. The wrath of my father was always Godly. He told you why, and then, if the situation warranted, he spanked you. I could take that. It was the tears I couldn’t take. I always knew he wasn’t kidding – it hurt him more than it did me. I wanted the fire of my father’s wrath kindled so it could get over with and I could get on the other side. It was a long day. Now multiple that a million-billion times and you know what Jesus meant when he said, “and would that it were already kindled”. He longed to finish His mission and get on the other side of the cross.
Because it’s the cross we’re talking about, isn’t it? V. 50 confirms: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! “Distrssed” means to hem in, press. Ever see a thriller with a guy trapped in a closed tank with water rising and no way out? That’s the picture. Jesus is pressed. The cross has loomed over His whole life. Have you seen the pix in our stairway? Joseph is working at a carpenter bench, and Jesus, age 2 or 3 is kneeling down playing with some spikes. As He does, He casts a shadow – shaped like a cross. The cross has always been before Him. It loomed even before time began. I Pet 1:19-20 says we are ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world”. Death for sin has been on Jesus’ radar forever. And now, after eons of time, it is upon Him. The vice is tightening; the cross is never out of His mind. He tells His disciples, but no one gets it. He is alone in His distress. Gethsemane was the climactic battle. But His life was a perpetual Gethsemane. The cross always loomed.
“I have a baptism to be baptized with.” We entirely miss the intensity. To us baptism is a celebration, usually in heated water! But only because of what Jesus purchased in a much different kind of baptism. The word baptize means to plunge under water, to immerse. Jesus is overwhelmed at the thought of what awaits Him. So, is it the horror of physical torture that drives His distress? No. He’s not less than other men who have endured that with faith and calm. Something else overwhelms Jesus. It is the anticipation of in Paul’s words “becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). It is the horror of the devastating torrent of sin that He sees coming His way like the boulder in Indiana Jones that leaves His perfect self shaken – every lie, every genocide, every adultery, every murder, every child abuse, every evil thought and deed. “For our sake the Father was about to make him to be sin who knew no sin.” (II Cor 5:21). What crushed Jesus was the thought of becoming you and me, of absorbing God’s wrath against sin in His own person. No wonder He was overwhelmed.
So, why did He do it? Why didn’t He just say to the Father, “I cannot abide the thought of being separated from you. Our wills have been one for all eternity. Our love has been one for all eternity. The prospect of a breach is too much. Let me come home.” His prayer in Gethsemane wasn’t far short of that. Mrk 14:36, “And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Can you sense the agony of His plea? Why did He go thru with it?
Heb 12:2 tells us why: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Jesus looked ahead. Just as He urged others to take an eternal perspective, so does He. And as He looked into eternity future, what did He see? Rev 5:9, “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” He saw the redeemed of all the ages gathered around the throne. He saw you, Beloved. And He said, “I’ll go. I’ll go kindle that fire. I’ll be overwhelmed by the baptism of sin and wickedness and evil. I’ll fulfill Isaiah 53:4-5, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” He didn’t go for His own sake. He went for ours. Despite the distress He went “until it is accomplished.” The word “accomplished” is a form of Jesus’ next to last words on the cross, “Tetelesthai – It is finished.” What was finished? What did He complete? The payment of sin’s penalty. Redemption was finished.
Do you see now why it is so evil to reject Him? Would the Father have put Jesus thru all that and it wasn’t absolutely necessary? That would be unthinkable. But that means the cross draws a line in the sand, doesn’t it? To reject Him and insist that I can work my own way to heaven is the greatest insult one could ever offer God and the greatest sin in the world. I might as well be there pounding the nails myself. It’s no wonder hell is in the future of every person who rejects the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They have turned down the most costly gift in history and turned it into a fire of judgment.
My Grandmother used to tell me of the deathly fear they had of wild fires on the plains of NE. I read one time of a father and his daughter who were walking through a Canadian prairie when they saw a great fire in the distance., headed toward them, sure to engulf them. But the father had a plan. He quickly lit a fire and watched it burn away from them. Then they stood in the section that had already been burned. As the flames approached the little girl was terrified. But her father explained, “The flames can’t get us here. We are standing where the fire has already been.” That’s what the cross is all about, Beloved. When you give your life to Christ, you are standing where the wrath of God’s judgment has already been. It cannot touch you because Jesus has absorbed it all. He’s taken the fire of judgment for you if you trust Him.
III. Jesus’ Severing Specter
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.” “Why can’t we all just get along?” Remember Rodney King? And the answer spiritually is crystal clear. It is because peace with God means enmity with the world and vice versa. This never surprised Jesus in the least. He knew His presence was a lightning rod for antagonism for those who do not love God. He came to bring peace, but the peace He came to bring was peace with God thru forgiveness of sins made possible by His sacrificial death. But with that priceless gift comes enmity with the world. Jas 4:4: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” We have to pick our poison. Peace with God and war with the world; or peace with the world and war with God. The line was drawn at Calvary, and we must all choose our side.
And sometimes the division will cut right through families. Is that what He desires? Of course not? He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” That is His desire. But since many will not turn to Him, division is inevitable – sometimes within families. Some of you have been there. Jesus has a severing impact bc some will accept Him and others will not. He Himself draws the line in Lu 14:26, “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Of course, He’s not literally saying, “Hate your family.” But He’s saying, “If it comes down to them or Me, it has to be Me.” Our love for Jesus must far exceed any other. And sometimes that means a high price.
Conc -- Mack Stiles was preaching in Magadi, Kenya one morning to some Muslim students. No one moved at his invitation, and he closed the service, disappointed, feeling he had not connected with the kids. Outside a young man approached him, however. He introduced himself as Robert, and then, looking down at the dust said, “What you talked about in there – I would like to have it.” So Mack went thru his normal presentation of salvation – God’s holiness, our sin, Christ’s death in our place, the need for commitment and the cost that can come. Robert had clearly heard it all before, but when Mack asked if he would like to accept Christ now, Robert said, “Yes.” But before they prayed, Mack asked, almost as an afterthought. “Robert, you seem to know most of what it means to become a Xn. What has held you back from accepting Jesus in the past?” Robert looked down at the clay, making circles in the dust with his foot. Then he said, “My father has told me that if I become a Xn, he will beat me. Tonight . . . tonight I will bleed.”
We have no clue, do we? Let’s face it, we know very little about the cost of discipleship in America. That’s why Jesus’ statements seem extreme. But when you begin to understand just a little bit the awful price He paid to cover our sins, you begin to understand why there is no “half-in” with Him. There’s no “I’ll take some of Jesus, but a lot of me, too.” It’s all or nothing, Beloved. He bled for us; now the question is, are we willing to bleed for Him – whatever that means in our life. Let’s pray.