Among the hymns we sing at Christmas time each year is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. The second line of the hymn, based on the song the angels sang on the night when God came to the world in the human flesh of Jesus, the Christ, says: “Peace on earth, and mercy mild.”
Jesus, the Prince of peace we confess in this hymn, brings God’s peace into this world.
The apostle Paul talks about the peace that Jesus brings in Romans 5:1. Paul writes: “Therefore, having been justified [that is, having been saved from sin and death by God’s grace] by faith [in Jesus], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 2:14, puts things more succinctly when it says of Jesus, “For He Himself is our peace...”
When we turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ as our only Savior, God, and King, we have peace.
Knowing all of this may be why Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson are so jarring to us. Take a look at the first few words that Jesus speaks in our lesson, Luke 12:49-53: “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
Those hardly seem like the words of a “Prince of peace,” do they? More like the words of an arson! What is Jesus talking about?
Take a look, please, at another passage of Scripture, Acts 2:1-4. The words describe some of the scene on the Pentecost in Jerusalem fifty days after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ten days after He had ascended back to heaven. The disciples have been gathered for prayer, awaiting what God would do next and what God would have them do next. Then this:
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.Now, when Jesus spoke the words that begin today’s Gospel lesson, He knew what lay ahead.
He knew what had to happen in order that you and I, here in Logan, Ohio in 2013, could hear and come to believe in the good news that God so loved the world He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him will not perish--will not be lost to God forever--but have eternal life.
Jesus knew that before you and I could get the chance to hear, receive, and believe in that good news, He would first have to offer His own life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
He would have to rise from the dead in order to tear down the barriers of sin and everlasting death that otherwise will keep human beings from having peace and life with God.
He would have to send the Holy Spirit into the life of every believer so that every believer could make disciples by sharing the good news of new life for all who believe in Jesus.
In the first verse of our Gospel lesson, then, Jesus is saying that He came to the earth in order to unleash the fire of His Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the one true God, is the fire that enlightens us about our sin, about our need of God’s grace in Christ, and about God’s love for us given to us on the cross.
After enlightening us, the Holy Spirit then fills the willing with the fire of saving faith in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit is the fire Who, as we repent for sin and turn to Christ alone as our righteousness, burns away our sin, our excuses for sin, and all that is unholy in us.
And the Holy Spirit does this so that, one day, when we come face to face with Jesus, by God’s amazing grace, all that will remain of each of us is the child of God we were made to be. As we submit to Christ, the Holy Spirit unleashed by Christ works in us to make us worthy to stand in the presence of God the Father by the death and resurrection of God the Son, purged of sin and death, living once more in the innocence of Eden God will ultimately give to those who believe in Jesus.
“I can’t wait to get the ball rolling on Good Friday, and Easter, and Pentecost,” Jesus is saying as He sets His face for Jerusalem and all that He will accomplish there for our salvation.
Look now at verse 50. Jesus says: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished.”
Jesus is here underscoring the fact that the fiery Holy Spirit will come to His followers because He has undergone His own baptism, the baptism of His death and resurrection.
You know, every time a person is baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Baptism of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb is reenacted. We’re submerged in the water and we emerge again made new by God’s grace.
Romans 6:4 says to baptized Christians: “...we were buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.”
By undergoing the baptism of death and rising from death, Jesus makes it possible for you and me to live.
Through His Baptism, Jesus makes it possible for us to drown our old sinful selves through daily repentance and sorrow for sin and to be raised again to live in His grace as we trust in Him alone as our only hope!
In verse 50 then, Jesus voices His desperate desire to accomplish His baptism so that we can be saved to live with God now and in eternity. If that doesn't make you feel good, nothing will make you feel good. God counts you worth all the suffering and dying that Jesus underwent in order to give you a life that only comes through Christ, and through faith in Christ and His grace and His Word, alone!
Then, in verse 51, we hit these words from Jesus:
“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided 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."It’s jarring when Jesus says that He came to earth bring division.
Does this mean that the angels were lying when they sang of "peace on earth" on the night of Jesus’ birth?
Actually, when Jesus says that He came to bring division, He’s using a turn of phrase common in the language He used every day, Aramaic. His turn of phrase here is an Aramaism. He’s not saying that it’s His purpose to bring division. He’s saying that it’s inevitable that He will bring division.
And Jesus is right, isn't He?
Once Jesus shows up or when someone talks about Jesus, people will inevitably have an opinion about Him.
Either they will bow down to Him as God in human flesh--as God incarnate--or they won’t.
Either they will accept His claim to be the only Savior of the world--or they won’t.
And some who reject Jesus for Who He claims to be will do so with hostility, insults, persecution, even death.
Truly: When we confess that Jesus is Lord, we are set smack dab in the middle of a conflict with the same world that nailed Jesus to a cross two thousand years ago!
A wise Christian woman recently told me about a conflict that happened in her church a few years back. Someone had asked this woman, “How can Christians fight like that?” She said, “Because they’re Christians. And because some truths, the truths revealed by God in Scripture, are worth fighting for!"
For that woman, that meant that when the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the Bible, the truth of Jesus’ Lordship were at stake, Christians won’t attack, but they also won’t budge from their good confession. They will proclaim the grace of God given only in Jesus Christ.
They will proclaim the truth about sin and the truth about the common human need for repentance and for the new life only Christ can give.
And they will do that even if it makes others upset with them, father against son, mother against daughter, just as Jesus says.
We might add that they'll do so even if it causes disagreement between church member and church member.
Those who believe in Jesus have peace with God. Yet not all people who hear the good news of new life for those who believe in Christ experience God's peace. They refuse to believe in Jesus. They refuse His peace.
So, peace isn’t yet a fully accomplished fact in this fallen, world. Our peace as believers in Jesus comes from the fact that one day, Jesus will return, closing the curtain on the life of this planet, judging the living and the dead--those who have turned from sin and trusted in Him as their God will live eternally with God, those who haven’t repented or trust in Christ will be condemned and separated from God.
Only then will the kingdom of God will be fully and finally perfected in what the book of Revelation calls “a new heaven and a new earth.” Only then will the peace Jesus came to bring be fully realized.
Until that time, even in the midst of the chaos, sin, and death of this world--in the midst of the chaos, sin, and death that roils inside each of us--and even in the face of opposition from all quarters, believers in Christ experience what the Bible calls a “peace that surpasses understanding,” a peace insusceptible to empirical proof, but a peace nonetheless experienced by anyone who knows that Jesus will never allow any who trust in Him to be taken from Him.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus once said to His first disciples--and went on: “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you...”
We believe that Jesus Christ is the “Prince of peace,” the One Who has come to bring peace to us, even if violent, hateful people refuse His peace and even if others treat us with hostility, misunderstanding, or hatred. Even in these circumstances, even in the moment of death, we have peace with God because of Jesus.
We may find momentary peace and happiness in the sins this world offers. People may enjoy (and should enjoy) the beauties of this world.
But real peace, the peace of God, stays with us even when our lives are going crazy. The peace of God can belong to us even when, like Job, we endure multiple tragedies and our family and friends tell us that we must have done something wrong or that we’re naive to hold onto a God Who lets bad things happen to us in a bad world. The peace of God belongs to us even, when, like our sisters and brothers in Christ in places like Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, we face persecution, thuggery, and violence. Even then, we still have the peace of God as we hold on tightly to the God we know in Jesus Christ.
A sinful world today rejects Jesus and those who follow Him as much as a sinful world two thousand years ago once rejected Jesus and put Him on a cross. But whether being a Christian is in fashion as it once was or is out of fashion as it is in America today, doesn’t matter. Whether the world or unbelieving Christians--wolves in sheep’s clothing--will live in peace with God’s people who trust themselves, their sins, their pasts, their present, and their futures to Christ alone, the people who do trust in Christ alone will always have peace.
Life daily presents us with a stark choice between peace with the world or peace with God through Christ. Blessed, eternally blessed, are those who choose Christ’s peace. May that be our choice always! Amen