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Fire and Division

June 2 2024

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 12:49-59

Thank you for reading this sermon from Christ Fellowship. I hope and pray that this sermon will be a blessing of grace and truth to you. With that said, let me encourage you not to use this sermon as a replacement for your local church. Christ Jesus did not establish his Church simply for us to consume content. Instead, He calls us to be part of a real, covenant family. 

This morning, we come to the end of Luke chapter 12. This has been a difficult chapter. Jesus tells his disciples not to fear death, but to fear God who can cast them into hell. He tells them to expect persecution, but not to be anxious. And then He tells a parable about an unfaithful servant being cut into pieces!

But the most difficult verse in Luke 12 is what comes next.

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus describes His mission in many different ways. Most of the time, He says it in positive ways. I came to seek and to save the lost. I came not to be served, but to serve. I came to bear witness to the truth. I came that you may have life and have it more abundantly. We like that version of Jesus!

But Jesus also says things like this. I came to cast fire on the earth, and I wish it were already burning!

Casting fire on the earth is judgment language. That’s how His audience would have understood it. But Jesus is being intentionally vague, and I’m convinced this has a double meaning. He is talking about the coming judgment, but also the coming Holy Spirit. Jesus will cast both kinds of fire on the earth, creating division.

And as we finish the chapter, this will make more sense. Look at the next verse.

50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 

It’s interesting that Jesus gave us a sermon on anxiety just a few verses earlier, but now He tells us that He is himself in great distress about something. What is it that Jesus faces? It’s the cross. But why does He refer to it as a baptism? Most likely this was a Jewish idiom describing some kind of hardship.

Very often in the Old Testament, God’s judgment is described as a consuming fire. That’s what Jesus is talking about. Jesus knows that, on the cross, He will face the consuming fire of God’s wrath. He will be swallowed up by it, facing the judgment of our sins.

In 1 Peter 3, Peter explains that water baptism signifies more than just the washing away of sins. It signifies salvation from judgment.

Judgment is coming. It will either fall on Jesus or it will fall on us. That’s the message. And it creates a dilemma – a crisis.

51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 

Jesus says something very similar in Matthew 10 – I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

And again, this is not what we WANT to hear from Jesus. We want to hear more about love and peace and healing. Jesus does bring all of that. He makes it possible. But it’s not promised to everyone.

The Gospel divides all of human history. It divides even the most basic human institutions.

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.”

Family was extremely important to Jewish society… it still is. And Jesus promises division even among families. What could cause this kind of division, the kind that would cause even families to fragment?

It’s important to understand the historical context. In the Jewish mind, their enemies were the Romans. They believed the Messiah would deliver them from Roman oppression. But Jesus repeatedly challenged that expectation.

Jesus came to deliver His people from the wrath of God – the consequences of sin and judgment. But that message would bring great division to the Jewish community, even splitting families.

Why? Why is the message of the Gospel so divisive? Why did it get Jesus killed? Why did it get his disciples killed? All but one of the Apostles died a violent death for preaching the Gospel!

It’s because there is a very powerful enemy, that absolutely hates and rejects the love of God. I’m not just talking about Satan, although he qualifies. I’m talking about sin… specifically idolatry. The Gospel creates division when people love their false gods more than they love their family.

I’ve experienced this firsthand, because I’ve been actively shunned by close family members for almost 30 years now because of my faith.

Having said this, it’s important to realize that God hates this division. The Gospel demands a response, and this often results in division between those who accept Jesus and those who reject Him.

But the Gospel also provides a means of reconciliation and forgiveness between people who once hated each other. And one day, Jesus will return, and He will bring perfect peace to the world.

Until then, we have a decision to make.

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 

55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 

56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

In other words, there is a crisis coming and you don’t see it. You’re focused on temporary, physical things and you’re ignoring the spiritual realities of the kingdom of God.

To use a modern example, how many times have we missed important things around us because our eyes are glued to a screen? That’s the idea here. We have apps that give us all the information we need – news, weather, stock updates, entertainment. But we’re losing some of the more important aspects of human life. Connection and community involvement.

The crowds had Jesus, performing miracles right in front of them and announcing the kingdom of God! But they missed it.

57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 

58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 

59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

In other words, don’t waste your opportunity. Make peace with God before you’re standing in judgment.

And now, if you put it all together, what is Jesus saying? He’s teaching about the coming judgment. Fire is coming. What will that mean for you?

When gold is mined, it usually comes out of the ground mixed with impurities. The raw ore is taken to a refinery where it is placed under intense heat. As the gold melts, it begins to separate from the impurities. They float to the top and are removed, leaving behind pure, refined gold. The finished product is far more valuable than the raw ore, but the transformation requires fire and division.

This is the way the Bible often describes God’s plan for the earth. He will refine it by fire. We don’t like hearing about judgment. It’s not our favorite topic.

But we must understand, there is no transformation without division. There is no peace without a sword. There is no mercy without judgment. There is no forgiveness without the cross. And there is no salvation without repentance.

If you don’t understand sin and judgment, then you can’t really understand the cross. What exactly is Jesus saving you from? Or did you think Jesus came to give you a peaceful, easy life that still ends in death?

It’s possible you’ve heard about Jesus your entire life and still don’t get it. And I would urge you to look at the cross of Jesus with fresh eyes this morning. What does it represent to you? Love and forgiveness? Yes. But at what cost? It wasn’t just a brutal death. Jesus allowed Himself to be swallowed up by the fires of God’s wrath for your sins.

Sin is a bigger problem than we want to admit, if that’s what it required for God to save us from it.

I want to end by reading a letter Jesus wrote to the church in Laodicea. This is Revelation 3, beginning in verse 15:

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 

16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

For context, Laodicea was a wealthy city. They had a banking center, a large textile industry, and a medical school.

But the city’s water supply was brought in from a distant source by pipes and arrived lukewarm.  Neighboring Hierapolis had hot springs and Colossae got its water from cold mountain springs. The irony is the church in Laodicea was materially rich, but they had to drink bad water.

Jesus uses that reality to explain their spiritual life. There self-sufficiency and their pride had crippled them as a church. Those are both themes we talked about in Luke 12, right? And so, what advice does Jesus give this church?

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

In other words, you need something from me that you cannot produce on your own. You’re going to need to humble yourself and receive it. You’re going to need to regard yourself as poor, blind, and naked spiritually for that to happen.

In other words, you’re going to need to repent.

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

 I love you, Jesus says. I desire fellowship with you. But you’re going to have to repent.

And this is the key to understanding Luke 12. The only difference between the saved and the lost is union with Christ by the grace of God, received by repentance and faith. And you can eat with Him today…