August 18, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
[Jesus said]: “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.”
Think on the statements of Jesus that you and others know. The Gospels record so many of them. Some have become so familiar, that only the first words need to be said, and the rest of the statement can be finished: “Pray then like this…. I am the Good Shepherd…. Let the little children come unto Me…. There was a man who had two sons…. If you love Me….” These statements and others have a treasured place in the heart.
Then we come across Jesus’ statements that were read today: “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.” Those statements aren’t likely to be the most treasured. But just because people may not like them doesn’t mean that these statements can be ignored or forgotten. In fact, many of the “unpopular” statements that Jesus makes are the more important ones, the ones that should be treasured and kept.
Jesus’ words reveal His identity and work. That is the case even with the statements that He makes about casting fire on the earth and bringing division. Jesus is telling you about what He has come down from heaven to do. Jesus’ role in the world is to reveal the Divine Will. Such revelation includes the speaking of the Law of God. It includes the calls to repentance that pour out from Jesus’ mouth.
The call to repentance is the fire that Jesus came to cast on the earth. He is present to speak the stark truth about the condition of mankind. He comes to point out the faults of individuals. Jesus’ words show where you have fallen short of the glory of God, where you have transgressed the Divine Law, where you have caused offense to heavenly justice and righteousness. Jesus’ speech kindles that fire. And why is that so? Because what comes from Jesus is the Lord’s word, the same word that was described in the Old Testament Reading: “Is not My word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
The fire cast by Jesus is meant to purify. It is meant to consume the dross of your lives. The truth about your thoughts, words, and deeds—the various ways that you have sinned against God—are pointed out. Jesus does what the false prophets in Judah would not do. You heard about the false prophets actions in the warning that the Lord gave through Jeremiah: “Do not listen to the words of the false prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
Jesus does the opposite of the deceiving actions of the false prophets. He doesn’t heap up a bunch of vain hopes for His audience. He doesn’t keep the truth of the matter hidden from you, saying: “All is well. Don’t have any concern about what you do.” No, Jesus has the word of the Lord and speaks it plainly, acting the way that the true prophets should: “If they had stood in My council, then they would have proclaimed My words to My people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.” He kindles that fire and casts it on the earth. It is done to bring correction.
But Jesus has been given another word to speak. There is more than fire to be kindled and cast on the earth. He reveals more of His purpose: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!” So what does He mean by that? Jesus points to the other great action that He performs. Not only does He reveal the Divine Will by preaching the Law of God. Jesus also reveals the Divine Will by speaking about the way that He redeems the world, the way that He atones for the sins that He identifies in you.
The baptism that Jesus must undergo is to have the wrath of God poured out on Him. That is the great, necessary act that He endures in order to be the Redeemer. For the Divine Will was not only that your sins and transgressions be pointed out and shown; it was to have that fault and guilt dealt with so that you could stand righteous before God. You are meant to be purified and cleansed by Jesus’ sacrifice. That is the Father’s good and gracious will for you.
And so Jesus reveals that will. In the statements that you heard today and other times, Jesus mentions what must take place. He has something to accomplish. Certain events involving Him have to happen. They are part of His great purpose in the world: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” It must happen; until it does, Jesus is under great stress: “How great is My distress until it is accomplished!”
But the necessary act does take place. Jesus does undergo the pouring out of the wrath and anger at sin and unrighteousness. This is what He accomplishes for your benefit. It is why you heard the exhortation given to fellow believers by the author of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” This Jesus who spoke the word of Law also speaks the word of Gospel to you: “I have redeemed you. You are Mine. Your sins are forgiven. Follow Me and My ways, so that you may fully enjoy the benefits that I have earned.”
That message is what you are meant to hear and believe, to speak and confess. You listen to what Jesus says and you believe Him. It is why you have been taught—like Samantha has been—in the Catechism: “16. Why should we remember and proclaim His death? First, so we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.”
But Jesus’ words are not always heard. His words are not always heeded. That is why He follows up His statements about casting fire and undergoing baptism with another statement: “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.” Again, this would not likely be among the most treasured statements of Jesus, but it must be received.
Jesus’ words reveal that He will be a divisive figure. In His lifetime, Jesus received great opposition because of what He said concerning His identity and work. Not all would believe His statements. That division caused by His statements continues today. Nearly countless individuals have insisted that His words cannot be true. Some individuals would rather be filled with the vain hopes or to follow the visions of their own minds. Others forget the name of God in order to pursue their own dreams. And still others summon their own strength to actively oppose the preaching of what Jesus has said and done, as well as those who believe it.
Jesus makes exclusive statements about sin and transgression and about forgiveness and salvation. This makes Him and His work a matter of faith: one either believes what Jesus has said or not. That does bring division. But for you who are called to faith in Jesus’ words and works, this division does not dissuade you. No one loves division or desires it. But you have cast your lot with Jesus, placing your trust in Him. You have your hope in His word and testimonies. And like Samantha will hear in a few moments, your ears have received His promise: “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
You have made the confession of faith: “Jesus, Your fiery words pointed out my guilt; that is true. Your undergoing the baptism of wrath has brought me salvation; that is true. Now Your call to discipleship governs my life, even if I must suffer through earthly divisions because of it.” That is why you have prayed: “Give me grace then to receive with thanksgiving the fruits of Your redeeming work and to daily follow in Your way.” That is why you receive the exhortation: “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” And that is why you receive the promise again on this day: “He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Peace on earth may not be given, but you do have the peace with God that Jesus has brought. And that peace will endure forever.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.