Sunday, August 14, 2022

Jesus the Divider

[Below is the text of the prepared message for worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville Ohio which happened earlier today. Also below are the live stream videos of both worship services. God bless you!]

Luke 12:49-53
Today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 12:49-53, may leave us wondering what is going on? Jesus’ words are jarring. Especially when He says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51)

Yet we remember that on Christmas night when Jesus was born, the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) We remember too that on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, the resurrected Jesus told His fearful disciples, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19, 21)

So, which is it: Does Jesus come into our lives to bring us peace or division? The answer is, “Yes.”

Here, we must remember again a fundamental principle of Biblical and of Lutheran theology. In His Word, God speaks to us in two ways. You know what they are. God speaks to us in His Law and in His Gospel. The Bible remains baffling to us until we understand that God always speaks to us in these two different ways and we must never confuse one for the other. We must learn to discern the way in which He speaks to us at any given time.

Sometimes, God speaks the Law to us. In His moral Law, God demonstrates that you and I are sinners incapable of qualifying ourselves for eternity with God. The Law shows me that I can’t make myself righteous. The moment I hear God’s command, “You shall not bear false witness,” for example, I’m reminded of the countless ways, big and small, that I’ve lied to others and I’m filled with despair because I know that I can’t work to completely free myself from this sin of false witness. God’s Law shows us that we are sinners who deserve condemnation and death and that there’s nothing we can do about it. This Law shows that, left to our own devices, including all our efforts to be or act religious, we are divided from God. There’s no peace in that!

At other times, God speaks to us in His promises, His Gospel. God isn’t content to see His children separated from Him, consigned to an eternity of condemnation. So, Jesus, God the Son, sinless though He is, takes all our sin into Himself, taking the condemnation for sin we deserve, so that all who turn to Him in faith receive His righteousness. This gracious Gospel Word brings peace–everlasting peace, peace even in the middle of chaos–to those who receive the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith in Christ, offered in the Gospel Word and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Christ has come into our world to make God’s peace with the rebel human race; but we can’t know the peace of God apart from faith in Christ.

All of this helps us to make sense of Jesus’ words to us in today’s Gospel lesson, I think. Jesus says: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)

Jesus, of course, is God the Son. Of God, the preacher of the New Testament book of Hebrews, along with Moses in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, says, “our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 9:3)

In the Bible, fire is associated with the wrath of God. The wrath of God isn’t God actively seeking the destruction of sinners. God’s Word says that God doesn’t want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) But when people choose to unrepentantly violate the will of God, crossing the lines God establishes in His Law, they meet God’s wrath. They are consumed. That’s just how God has designed His universe. (And by the way, without the Holy Spirit bringing the Word about Jesus to us and creating faith within us, the only choice we sin-bound human beings can make is to unrepentantly violate the will of God. Without the freedom of God’s grace in Christ, sin is our human default position.) This is why, in the Bible, hell is often portrayed as a fiery place.

But here today in our lesson, Jesus is telling us that He Himself is going to incur the fire of God’s wrath for our sin on the cross. His righteous life will be consumed as He voluntarily accedes to separation from God the Father at Calvary.

This is underscored by what Jesus says next in our lesson: “I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50) Jesus, of course, was already baptized in the Jordan River. But here, He references the baptism He will endure on the cross. From the cross, He will cry out to God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Jesus will be divided from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, just as human beings without repentant faith in Jesus are divided or separated from God.

Jesus next says, as we’ve already noted, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51)

Jesus is the divider of history. He has come, first of all, to divide us from the condemnation of sin and from death.

But Jesus divides in other ways. Some people, for example, will receive His forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, and peace. Others will not.

Those who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit will be enabled to confess Jesus as Lord and have God’s peace.

Those who refuse the gift and remain enslaved to sin and death will remain divided from the peace of God.

This will bring division even to families and friends. Jesus says, “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:52)

Probably every one of us here is experiencing precisely what Jesus talks about here. You, like me, are a sinner with whom Jesus has made His peace. You have been justified by grace through faith in Him. He’s given you the support and the fellowship of Christ’s Church. You’re grateful for all of this.

But you also likely have family members, friends, classmates, and co-workers who want nothing to do with Jesus Christ or His Church.

They don’t believe that their sinful nature or the sins they commit because of that nature will separate them from God.

Or they don’t believe there is a God and are simply consumed by the desire to get ahead in the world.

Maybe they’ve become involved in some addictive behaviors, habits, or pastimes that have become their gods.

Or maybe they bear a grudge against God because someone they prayed for died.

When you have people like that in your life, it hurts. You want them to know peace with God. You want them to know Jesus as Lord, God, Savior, and Friend.

It can also be painful for us disciples to daily submit to being divided from our favorite sins in order to follow Jesus.

It can be painful too, to face rejection or indifference when we share Jesus with others.

But, friends, even as I urge you to keep praying for those loved ones and friends divided from God to come to faith in Jesus, I want to encourage you right now in the peace of God, the peace Jesus gives believers.

In our second lesson, the author of Hebrews tells Christians that all believers in the God revealed in Jesus who have died and are now with the Lord, now surround us as “a great cloud of witnesses.” (Luke 12:1) And they are cheering on we believers in Jesus still on earth, that we will be faithful in following Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says, ignored the temptations to avoid the cross and endured separation from God so that all who believe in Him need never be separated from God. Jesus counted it joy to be briefly separated from life itself, dead in the tomb, in order to give peace with God to you and me!

All who trust in Jesus have the peace of knowing that one day we will join Jesus and this great cloud of witnesses in eternal joy. Jesus promises that “the one who stands firm [in believing in Him] to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

And, because the Gospel Word of Jesus is so powerful, it’s just possible that all those people for whom we’ve prayed and with whom we’ve shared  Jesus will join us in God’s peaceful eternity. God can use the witnessing and the prayers of the Church to reach those who seem intent on being eternal separated from God and His peace!

We don’t know how everything will turn out.

But we do know that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and that all who believe in Him have life with God. They will have peace with God.

May we ever rejoice in this truth and in the peace Jesus freely gives to those who believe. Amen!