Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, 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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hold up your hand in front of you. Let your fingers illustrate your family, or the people you gather with regularly at work or morning coffee, or your household, or your neighborhood. That’s the kind of group that Jesus is talking about here. Five people, a typical Galilean family. Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, and Brother’s wife all are living under one roof. It’s a close gathering of people who spend time together, people who love one another or at least understand each other. Jesus says that because of him, because of the “fire” he has come to bring, groups just like that will be divided. Groups like that, which you are a part of, are divided because of Jesus. You all know the two topics that you should avoid if you want to have a pleasant conversation. What are they? Yep, religion and politics. Well, you can blame that in part on Jesus. That's because of the fire.” The old saying goes, put three Germans in a room and you’ll have four different opinions. It’s true for politics (but we won’t discuss politics today), and it true also for religion.
Really, talk about religion is talk about God. What is it that people don’t want to hear about when there is God talk? What is it about God that makes for uncomfortable conversation? Well, everyone wants to hear about a god who loves and forgives; a god who takes people for what they are. But no one wants to be held accountable to a god. No one wants to hear about a god that punishes because of sin. But, whenever we talk about the real God, the God that the Bible tells us about, the God that Jesus speaks about, we always come to the reality that we are sinful people. Whenever we talk about a perfectly holy God, people get uncomfortable. That’s the fire. God himself; who He is in comparison to us and what He expects of people. We call it the Law.
For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.(Exodus 20:1-6, ESV)
No one wants to be accountable for their actions against a God who promises to punish sin. In fact, people love a god that they can work their way out of sin. They love a god who just sweeps sin under the carpet and forgets that it exists. They love a god who is the picture of a forgetful old grandfather who overlooks what he doesn’t like. But, you see, that’s just not the God that Jesus tells us about. And although Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17, ESV) he did come to bring God’s fire, and that fire brings with it division. That’s because no one can understand the true nature of the forgiveness Jesus brings without experiencing the fire of the law of God. That fire of God’s Law tells us that because of sin we deserve nothing but punishment.
We don't do anyone any favors by bringing the law "lite". There is no lite version of the law that is easier to swallow like some lite beer. Many of you know exactly the division that the law brings. We do not want to tell our family members that belonging to a church that teaches and believes things that are not taught in the Bible is wrong. It's not necessarily better to go to any church the no church. And then it comes up when they want to commune at this altar. We have the responsibility of turning them away. Because God tells us that to commune at this altar is to say we believe, teach, and confess the same things. Membership in a church is saying that you believe what that church teaches. It is especially pronounced these days when so many churches are drinking the Kool-Aid of the current culture.
Others of you know this division when you have family members who are living outside of what God says is right. We don't want to be the one to tell them that their activity pushes them away from God and can lead them to hell. You don't want to tell them because were afraid of the division.
Others know the division because God's word cuts you right to the heart. God says you shall not commit adultery. But he doesn't just mean sleeping around. He means looking around and thinking about sleeping around. His law is firm. It is sinful and deserving of hell. It's never been easier to deserve God's wrath and punishment then so-called soft porn on the Internet. (Matthew 5:27ff)
And you feel the division when you speak about your neighbor and less than favorable terms. It is a breaking of the fifth commandment, you shall not kill. But of course you don't have to actually kill. Jesus says the words do well enough. When you talk about your neighbor in any way that reduces his reputation to anyone else you have killed him. Jesus says clearly that this kind of activity deserves nothing but hell. (Matt 5)
This is the bare edge of God's law. It's the wrath of God come down on sinful human beings. There is no way for you or me or your family members to work out our own escape. The law means punishment, death, and eternal separation from God. This is the division that Jesus comes to bring. It is the full force wrath of God against a sinful race. And so the reaction that you see in people is perfectly understandable.
“If that’s what God does we don’t what to have anything to do with him.”
“If that’s the kind of god you’re talking about we don’t want to talk about him at all…”
So sin and God's threat of punishment for that sin divides families. Jesus is responsible for that division.
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
There's something else to the fire that Jesus brings. Something unique about the one who brings the fire to earth. Jesus is not the picture of God tromping through the vineyard trampling the grapes with lightning coming out of his hands striking dead all those who sin against his law. And he talks about it when he says:
I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
Jesus isn't just speaking in hyperbole. He's talking about a real baptism. He's talking about a real fire and anger and God's wrath. Right away in the Gospel of St. Luke after the wonderful account of Jesus birth in the proclamation that Jesus brings peace, we have John the Baptizer telling everyone that God's wrath is coming. And then Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River.
Jesus doesn't come to dispense God's wrath. That is he doesn't come to condemn sinful human beings. But instead he comes to bear God's wrath. The fire that he comes to bring is the fire that he himself will hang in. And it begins with him going into the water of the Jordan River and being baptized by John. In Jesus Christ, God becomes the human sin bearer. In Jesus Christ, God becomes for all people the bearer of God's wrath over sin. When Jesus comes out of the water wet from his own baptism, he heads straight for the cross. The years that he walks the earth he walks it as a sinless human being yet bearing the sins of the whole world. And he walks in distress until the feat is accomplished. Jesus baptism is a baptism of fire and blood. On the cross, suspended between earth and God, Jesus bears the full punishment of God's anger over our sin. This is the baptism that Jesus is distressed about. This is the baptism that he has come to bring. It is the division he comes to bear. He is divided from and forsaken by God, suffering eternal hell for you and your family. Nothing shows God's displeasure over sin more clearly than the bleeding and dying of Jesus Christ, his only son, on the cross in your place.
There is no way to bring this Word to people without offense. The law must offend. God is perfect and holy and just, he cannot set aside what he has declared to be good and right and true. The law has its purpose. It must be proclaimed in its full force. We must see Jesus bleeding and dying and suffering on the cross as being our just punishment. We must know that that is what we deserve for our sin. Without it we would never crawl to the cross begging for forgiveness from the one who offers it to us freely. Without the law in its full force the sweetness of the gospel cannot be received in its full force.
And the full force of the gospel is this. The baptism that Jesus bears he bears in our place. The punishment he receives he receives in our place. The wrath of God that is poured out on him is poured out on him in our place. It is a baptism of fire. It is a baptism of blood. It is a baptism of water…
There's the font. It stands out here in front of us. It's not just here because it's a piece of furniture we cherish. It's here to show us the baptism that Jesus brings. The water in the bowl and the words spoken over that water when it is poured on our heads is our connection to Jesus on the cross. He is baptized in the river. We are baptized in the bowl. The water is the same. Our sin goes in the water. Jesus is in the water and he comes up and carries it to the cross. There is no simpler picture of grace. God makes promises and makes your head wet. The promises are given in the sin is taken. Jesus bears that baptism and the water with all your sin. He walks up out of the water and hangs on the cross and suffers God's just punishment. And you are declared by the word and the water to be righteous in God's sight.
There is nothing other to be done than to live according to the promises that you have been given. To reject sin. To speak against it especially within your own family. Take the division Jesus brings and use it to proclaim God's anger over sin. Then point people to the place where God pours out that anger and punishment and Jesus. It's the cross. It's the cross with Jesus on it. It's forgiveness won there and given to you and your family freely by God's grace. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.