The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 4, 2022
Jesus Warned Us!
“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! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but 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.”(NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When we look around in our world today and see the multiple wars that are taking place and the countless people who are suffering because of those wars, we shouldn’t be surprised! Why? Because Jesus warned us that this would happen!
When we see— and experience— the pandemics that are raging all across the world, we shouldn’t be surprised! Why? Because Jesus warned us that this would happen!
When we hear about famines and floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, we shouldn’t be surprised! Why? Because Jesus warned us that this would happen!
When we see wickedness openly promoted and defended in schools, on television, in movies and even by our government, we shouldn’t be surprised! Why? Because Jesus warned us that this would happen!
When we see preachers and churches tailoring the message they are proclaiming in an effort not to offend anyone, we shouldn’t be surprised! Why? Because Jesus warned us that this would happen!
A quick cursory reading of our sermon text for today could leave us somewhat confused. Since Jesus’ words here in our text could be confusing, since Jesus’ words here in our text could appear to contradict what some people— and even some churches!— teach about Jesus, my goal this morning is to help us see and understand that Jesus is using these words to prepare His disciples. He wanted to prepare them for what they would encounter in their lives as they strive to remain faithful to Jesus as this world’s only Savior from sin. With that goal in mind let’s study this text with this truth in mind: Jesus Warned Us!
I see three warnings contained in this text. The first warning is found in Jesus’ words, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” What is the “fire” that Jesus is talking about here? When we look at the larger context in which we find these words, it seems clear that Jesus is warning us about the “painful trials” that Jesus’ disciples will suffer as they faithfully proclaim God’s holy Word to an unholy world. This ties in very well with what the Lord God reminded Jeremiah in our Old Testament lesson for today (Jeremiah 23:23-29), “’Is not my word like fire,’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’”
How is God’s Word like “fire”? The answer to that question becomes clear when we stop to realize that fire has the power to do two things. As we all know from living here in California fire has the ability to destroy. It can destroy just about anything in its path. What is the “fire” contained in the Word of God? In one word: Law. God’s Law has the power to destroy our pride and our ego. God’s Law has the power to destroy our reliance on ourselves and our own good works. Ultimately, God’s Law has the power to condemn unrepentant sinners to the eternal fires of hell!
Fire also has the ability to purify, doesn’t it. If you want to purify gold or silver you put it into a furnace to “burn off” the dross. This ties in very well with the fact that God’s Word also contains the powerful purifying message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! John the Baptist proclaimed concerning Jesus, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”( Luke 3:16). On the first New Testament day of Pentecost “tongues of fire” rested on the heads of Jesus’ disciples. (Acts 2:3) In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism God the Holy Spirit uses the powerful purifying message of the Gospel to wash us clean of all of our sins and give us a beautiful white robe of perfect righteousness. In the Sacrament of Holy Communion God the Holy Spirit uses the powerful purifying message of the Gospel to “clean” our robes of any “spots” we may have gotten on them. In His holy Word God the Holy Spirit uses the powerful purifying message of the Gospel to assure us that “the blood of Jesus his Son has purified us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” How do those words of our Savior serve as a warning to us? Look at it this way: When we are faithfully sharing God’s Word with others— both Law and Gospel— the reaction we receive may not be the reaction we were hoping for. When we use the “fire” of God’s Law to reveal someone’s sin and this results in ridicule and maybe even rejection, we will be sad, but we should not be surprised. Why? Because Jesus warned us that this could happen! Do we stop sharing God’s Law so that we do not run the risk of being ridiculed or rejected? Not at all! We may want to remember, however, what Jesus tells us in Luke 10:16, “He who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
Jesus’ second warning is found in His words, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how stressed I am until it is completed!” Since Jesus had already been baptized by His cousin John in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13-17) what “baptism” is He talking about here? The picture becomes clear when we remember the request of James and John. They came to Jesus and asked, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Jesus responded by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” When James and John assured Jesus that they could do this, He revealed to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.” (See Mark 10:35-40)
The ”baptism” that Jesus is talking about here in our text is the suffering and the death that He was willing to endure in order to secure our eternal salvation. In a very real way we can say that Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River publicly set Him on the path that led Him to the cross on Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross) That truth became even more clear to me when I realized that the verb that is translated here in our text as “it is completed” comes from the very same family of words that is translated in John 19:31 as “It is finished!”
What is the warning that Jesus is giving us here? It is the very same warning that Jesus gave to James and to John. Being a faithful follower of Jesus means that we need to be ready to suffer— for Him! James was “put to death with the sword” (Acts 12:2). John was exiled to the island of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). While we don’t know what suffering the Lord may ask us to endure as we strive to remain faithful to Him and to His Word, we need to remember that the only way to enter into the glory of Jesus’ eternal kingdom is through suffering. As the apostle Paul tell us, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Standing up for Jesus, standing up for the Truth as it is revealed to us in God’s holy Word, refusing to change what the Bible says in order to “fit in” or “go along” with what the world is willing to “tolerate,” refusing to “fall in line” with what other churches are teaching— even though some of their teachings clearly contradict Scripture!— all of this and so much more can easily lead us to “experience suffering.” Whenever that happens to us, my friends, we should not be surprised. Why? Because Jesus warned us that this would happen!
The third warning that our Savior gives to us here in our text is the most powerful as well as the most personal. He says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but 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.”
At first glance these words may sound rather shocking. We rejoice with God’s people of old every time we hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim that the Promised Messiah will be “the Prince of Peace“ (Isaiah 9:6). We rejoice with the shepherds living out in the fields nearby as they hear the great company of heavenly host proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). We rejoice with the disciples when their risen Lord and Savior appeared to them on Easter Sunday and proclaimed to them, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19). Our hearts are so accustomed to equating Jesus with peace that it can be difficult to hear our Savior say, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
All of our confusion, all of our shock is dissipated like the morning fog when we stop to remember that the cross of Jesus Christ divides all people. (Pointing to the cross) For everyone who believes and trusts in Jesus as their only Savior from sin— there is peace! Unparalleled peace! Priceless peace! It is the peace that comes from knowing that through faith in what Jesus has done for us, we are at peace with the one and only living God because all of the sins that once separated us from God have been completely forgiven! This glorious truth sets us apart from everyone who does not believe and trust in Jesus. This glorious truth divides the entire human race into two groups— believers and unbelievers, sheep and goats.
This division is obvious when we look around at what is happening in our country today. Far worse than the political divisions that only seem to be growing worse are the moral divisions— the divisions that as Christians we view from the perspective of Scripture. The debate over abortion has devolved from a disagreement over what abortion literally is— the killing of an unborn child— to a disagreement over a person’s “right” to do whatever they choose to do with their own body. We are being told that if a person/child who was born male now “identifies” as being female, or a person/child who was born female now “identifies” as being male we must recognize and accept their “new identity.” We can even face consequence if we address them using the “wrong” pronoun. In schools and in workplaces all across this county rules are being put into place to promote and defend moral teachings which we as Christians know are openly opposed to what God says in His Word. Violate any of these rules— even question any of these rules— and you will quickly experience the moral “division” that exists in our society today.
Sadly, as many Christians have experienced in the past and as many Christians experience right down to this very day, these divisions even exist in some families. I know families where the cross of Jesus Christ (Pointing to the cross), where faith in Jesus as the Son of God and this world’s only Savior from sin has put a spotlight on this division, especially at certain times— like baptizing a child, celebrating Christmas and Easter or dealing with the death of a loved one. If you do not experience this division among your own family and friends— thank and praise God every single day! If you do experience this division within your own circle of family and friends— don’t be surprised. Jesus warned us that this can happen.
Jesus has indeed warned us, my friends. He has warned us that His powerful Word is like “fire”— the Law to destroy, the Gospel to purify. He warned us that just as He willingly underwent a “baptism” (Pointing to the cross) that overwhelmed Him with suffering so that He could secure the glory of our salvation, so also we need to willingly endure whatever “baptism” of suffering we might encounter as we journey through this world so that we can enter into the glory of His heavenly Kingdom. And, Jesus warned us that while faithfulness to Him and faithfulness to His Word can cause “divisions,” faithfulness also guarantees to us unity with God, a unity that will last into eternity!
To God be the glory!