Text: Luke 12:49-53
Date: September 7 & 8, 2019
Event: The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
49“I came to throw fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already ignited. 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is finished! 51Do you think that I came to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52Yes, from now on there will be five divided in one household: three against two, and two against three. 53They 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 her mother-in-law.”
Sometimes Peace Means Conflict
Peace is generally seen as a good thing. We’d rather have peace with our neighbor than be the midst of a feud over the fence. We’d rather have peace with a coworker rather than dealing with passive-aggressive animosity. We’d rather have peace with our classmate, rather than having him bully us. Peace, a lack of conflict, is better than the alternative.
Even among the world, Jesus has been known as the great Peacemaker. The secular world will praise his selflessness and humility even in the face of hatred and violence. They will adore his non-confrontational tactics to defuse tense situations and his teachings of calmness and love rather than rebellion and violence.
But, the secular world isn’t really our concern, is it? What does God himself say about Jesus? Well, when the angels announced his birth to the shepherds, they rejoiced and proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward mankind!” (Luke 2:14). Or when Jesus was presented in the temple after his birth, Simeon proclaimed, “Lord, you now dismiss your servant in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). From his very birth, Jesus is associated with peace.
And yet, Jesus seems to put a wet blanket on our joy and aspirations for peace, doesn’t he? He said in our lesson for this morning, “I came to throw fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already ignited. 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is finished! 51Do you think that I came to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” So, were the angels wrong? Did Simeon have a false comfort? Is Jesus set on bringing peace or not?
To better understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to recognize that there are different kinds of peace and that sometimes, peace in one area leads to a lack of peace in others. For example, suppose you have a tree growing in your backyard that is in the way of a new garden your spouse wants to plant and it’s starting to mess up the foundation of your home. But, that tree also provides shade for your neighbor’s home during the heat of the day, so he does not want you to take the tree down. If you leave the tree standing to have peace with your neighbor, you will have conflict with your spouse. And if you take the tree down, you will have peace at home but conflict with your neighbor. Peace in one situation means conflict in the other.
Peace is most often thought of in human terms, peace between people or on a larger scale peace between nations or groups of nations, the endings of wars and violence between peoples. But there’s an even bigger peace out there, a larger war with much more damaging results than any earthly conflict. You and I, by nature, are at war with God in our sin. We fight a battle we could never hope to win. And the disaster our results of losing this war mean an eternity in hell for us.
That was something that God could not stomach. He created us to be his people, to live in perfect harmony with him, as those made in his own image. But in our sin we abandoned the image of God and exchanged it for the image of death and hell. Our sin is pure conflict with our Creator, and so he sought to change that.
Do you see the passion in Jesus’ words? He longs to accomplish what he came to do. He longs to complete the mission his Father gave to him. He has to be “baptized” by the wrath of God in our place—and he’s distressed, anxious, on pins and needles, until it is completed. And it will be completed. Jesus will continue to live his life of perfection in our place. Despite pleading with the Father for an alternative answer, he will find the only option to save us is to take our place in the punishment for our sins. So he’ll be baptized, so to speak, at the cross, where he is punished instead of you and instead of me. He will endure hell—separation from God—that you and I deserved, but he’ll do it for us. Because of Jesus and his self-sacrifice, we will never pay the debt our sins accrued. Our accounts have been credited with the blood of Jesus, and thus are paid in full.
What a blessing that message is! What joy there is in knowing sins are forgiven in Jesus! What relief and comfort there is in having our conflict with God ended and peace to take its place! And this gospel message is the fire that Jesus wished was already ignited as he spoke the words of our lesson. How he longed to have completed his eternal goal of rescuing us from our sins and bringing us to eternal life! How he longed for others to know that this work was finished, was completed, was paid in full! How he longed for his disciples to no longer cower in fear but to be bold proclaimers of his forgiveness!
That fire burns brightly here today. It burns in your hearts, it burns among us. And while fire is often a destroyer, it is also a purifier. Jesus’ death and resurrection have purified us from sin and now we get to share that purifying fire with others. We saw it burn in Madison’s heart this morning as God adopted her into his family. And we will see it purify others as we share this roaring gospel flame with those around us, that others may be purified of their sin and brought to eternal life with their Savior.
But remember Jesus’ words, for as wonderful and positive and blessing-filled as this message is, having peace with God will often mean conflict with the world. This message is not loved by the world. It is despised and rejected. It is loathsome to those who do not believe—at best foolishness and at worst dangerous. It is seen as weak and simple- or close-minded. The very acknowledgement of a supreme being is often seen as a ridiculous fairy tale, to say nothing of having conflict or peace with him.
And so what is the temptation? The temptation is to set aside the peace with God and embrace peace with others. We don’t want to stand out like that, we don’t want to be called out like that, we don’t want to lose friends or have family relationships become strained or broken. So maybe we let God take second or eighty-ninth place in our hearts. Maybe we attribute our faith to mere “tradition” or “something we grew up with” rather than the real eternal-peace-bringing that it is. Slowly but surely we let peace with the world, with those around us, crowd out and overcome peace with God. This peace, too, brings conflict, conflict with God. Peace with the world means embracing sin and rejecting God’s forgiveness. Peace with the world means eternity in hell.
My brothers and sisters, may this never be! May we never exchange peace with God in order to have peace here. The gospel message of sins forgiven truly brings division. It’s a fire that burns bright and hot, even dividing families and ruining friendships. It will bring problems in almost every area of your life where you interact with unbelievers. People won’t like your faith, will mock your faith, will dismiss your faith.
But the truth of that division and conflict does not mean that it is not worth it. In fact, it is worth it, eternally worth it. Jesus wants us to have a realistic picture of what being his follower in this world will be like. It will not be easy. It will not be a walk in the park. As far as our relationship with the world around us is concerned, it will be terribly, disastrously difficult.
But when it come to peace with God, any conflict elsewhere it may produce is absolutely worth it. You are a dearly loved child of your heavenly Father. You have been purified from sin by the fire that Jesus ignited at the cross. You are his, now and forever. Embrace and rejoice in that peace, even if it brings conflict. Amen.