12th Sunday after Pentecost August 27, 2017
1, 380, 371, 46
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May you find comfort and peace in the certain knowledge that the very Savior you know, Jesus Christ, is the one and only gate to heaven. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Have you noticed that our society seems to be growing ever more “whatever” in their attitude toward just about everything? Our highest public officials flagrantly break the law, doing what even a generation ago would have been called treason and would have earned them prison time or a firing squad, yet our society responds with a dull “whatever.” Sexual immorality of every imaginable sort is not only openly flaunted but extolled, and our society responds with a yawn and a “whatever.” Millions of our citizens have figured out how to live off the hard work of others… “whatever.” Islam is advancing around the world… “whatever.” Souls are dying in unbelief… “whatever.” The first thing we need to do to avoid slipping into that same lethargic apathy is to regularly remind ourselves and each other that for a child of God life is never “whatever.”
Imagine you are standing before two identical doors. Behind one door is eternally perfect joy in heaven. Behind the other is unending torment in hell. You have no way of knowing which is the right door. Is that “whatever”? Worse than that, you were born with a natural inclination to pick the wrong door, every single time. How could you, or anyone for that matter, survive such a scenario? And the picture of two doors isn’t even accurate. There are not two doors standing before you, but there are hundreds of doors, hundreds of false religions, all of which promise passage to some sort of paradise, and every human being passes through one of them.
Our text for this morning will help to clear away the indifference that tends to accumulate and remind us again that what we say and do is important, often critically so. That text is found in Luke’s Gospel, the Twelfth Chapter:
I (Jesus) 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. ESV
So far the words of the Holy Spirit. Though so many have abandoned this truth, may you forever be convinced that these words are indeed the words of God—altogether true and right. Fully convinced that God is the author of these words, so we this morning we begin their study with this simple prayer, “Sanctify us by Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
It is neither fair nor accurate to take only part of what a man says and does while on this earth and to base our picture of the man on that limited evidence. One good deed or characteristic doesn’t make a bad man good, nor does one misdeed make a good man bad. If we operated like that we could make everyone good or everyone bad. While obviously unfair, this is pretty much what our society has done with Jesus. They have taken part of the man and a part of what he said and turned it into the whole. They have, for example, made him into some sort of a peace activist who went around begging tolerance for all and from all. For example, they urge: “see how he calls himself the ‘Prince of Peace.’ Surely he must be of the opinion that ideological differences are not worth fighting over.” But to believe that, you would have to ignore his own words in our text for this morning: “I have come to cast fire on the earth… Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” You have to take in the whole picture of the man if you are to rightly understand the man himself.
Would Jesus rather see peace on earth? Of course. Would he rather see peace at any cost? By his own words, no. Simple test: would Jesus have come to earth to suffer and die if that were true? Our text provides the answers. Jesus came “to send fire on the earth.” In his own words he came to bring not peace but division. This is not the same Jesus the world knows—not by any stretch of the imagination.
But how is it then possible that someone who calls himself “the Prince of Peace” one minute, can say words like these the next? Those who do not know the answer to this question very likely also have a strange idea of just what it means to be a Christian. Christianity is not just the warm fuzzy glow and it’s certainly not “whatever.” Our text teaches us that the full picture must also include the cold hard steel of condemnation for all sin and all that is false. It is, after all, all about Jesus. He is that dividing point between heaven and hell. That’s why it is not only true that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” it is also just as true that “he who does not believe will be condemned.”
We must first establish what it means to be a Christian. The most common misconception today is that a Christian is someone who does good deeds. That’s like defining a professional football player as someone who signs autographs. A football player is someone who plays football, and only signs autographs because of who or what he is. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all his sins; a human being in whom the Holy Spirit has created saving faith and therefore a new man, who exists in the very image of his God. This faith in Jesus, this new man, will show itself in many different ways. That change in us creates the desire to help others—financially, morally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. We’re not always very good at it, but the heart of the new man is right. This is what we do because of who or what we are. That’s not what defines us.
With this as our definition of a Christian we can gain some other insights. A Christian cannot be defined as someone who goes to church each Sunday, but the new man in every Christian does want to worship his God whenever he has opportunity. A Christian cannot be defined as someone who never uses foul language, although the new man in every Christian will always struggles to build up and edify others by what he says. A Christian cannot be defined as someone who studies his Bible or holds regular family devotions, although—again—the new man in every Christian will surely struggle to do just that. A Christian therefore can only be defined as one who believes in Jesus Christ, trusting that Jesus, and Jesus alone, paid for all sins on the cross of Calvary. It is only through faith in who and what Jesus is and has done that we have peace with our God and forgiveness.
Why is it so important to hold fast to this definition without wavering? To miss the definition of a Christian would be to forever misunderstand exactly what Jesus is talking about in our text for this morning.
What did Jesus mean when he said in our text that he came to bring division rather than peace? Up until the coming of Christ, mankind did not and could not fully know its Savior. He was nameless and faceless. Those who were saved prior to Jesus, were saved only through faith in the promise that a Savior would one day be sent, and referred to him only by his prophesied titles such as “Messiah,” “the Christ,” and “Son of David.” All of that changed the moment Jesus gave his life on the cross of Calvary. This is what Jesus was talking about in our text when he spoke of “a baptism I have to be baptized with.” He was talking about his own suffering and death. No wonder he also then said, “and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” Who wouldn’t be distressed to know that God the Father was about to direct the sum total of his righteous wrath for every single sin upon him! That is exactly what Jesus faced on Good Friday. The full fury of God’s wrath toward every single sin was hurled down upon the previously sinless Son of God. At that moment God the Father “made him to be sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) There he silently bore the punishment that you and I deserved.
Something pivotal, something earth shattering and eternally significant happened the moment Jesus’ sacrifice was accomplished. The moment he uttered those supremely powerful words from the cross, “It is finished!” and then “yielded up His spirit” he became the dividing point for every man, woman, and child on earth. Completing the work he came to do, Jesus then and there was positively and conclusively identified as the only possible Savior from sin and hell. Again the Bible makes this clear when we read verses like Acts 4:12: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Therefore to truly believe that Jesus is the Savior is also to believe that he is the only savior. Jesus himself said, “No one comes to the Father, but by me.” Before Jesus was born, believers were saved by faith in the promise of a Savior. When he came, however, he put a name and a face to that Savior. In this way he became the dividing point forever after. From that point on, a person’s belief about Jesus will forever be that which determines whether that human being spends an eternity in heaven or in hell. This is how Jesus now serves as the razor sharp blade that separates believer from unbeliever, the saved from the damned.
Was this what Jesus came to do? Yes and no. He certainly came to save, but it was an unfortunate fact that there would also be those who would reject him and die eternally. Though certainly not his desire, this is also an inescapable fact of his coming. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that Jesus “wants all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Again in 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The Lord is… longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” To say therefore that Jesus came to condemn those who reject him would be like saying that firemen enter burning buildings to lecture the dying on the folly of playing with matches. And yet Jesus knew full well that countless souls would reject him. He knew that millions would choose death rather than life, human works rather than God’s grace. Others, he also knew, would by the Holy Spirit come to believe in him and be saved. Herein lies the “division” he talked about in our text. He loved mankind too deeply to allow us to slip peacefully, quietly, undisturbed into the night of eternal torment. In the end, Jesus came to provide the only alternative to hell, the only means of escape, the only chance that mankind would ever get. In this way he came to create that unavoidable “division.”
But therein he is also the greatest of all “uniters.” In the last half of our text Jesus demonstrates just how deep and painful this division will be in some families. He warns us ahead of time that it will divide even the closest family ties—father against son, mother against daughter, and so on. Yet note well also the great bond of unity that is the possession of all who believe in him. Listen to how Jesus himself describes the unity he gives to those who believe in him: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am.” (John 17:20-24a)
This is what Jesus wants for every single human being—the most intimate and eternal of bonds, with him and with each other. Though he came knowing many would be lost, he came not to condemn but to save, and to give this gift.
Don’t hide either of these truths from your neighbor, especially from those you love. Jesus is the dividing point—life eternal for all who believe, but eternal torment to all who do not. There is no gray area here, and certainly no “whatever.” How then could we ever want to act or speak as if there is? To believe on Jesus means to trust him for our full and complete sin payment. To reject him means trusting in any other source of “goodness” to enter heaven. This, by the working of the Holy Spirit within you, you know, and this you can share with an unbeliever. In doing so, you can thus prove instrumental in turning a soul from eternal death to eternal life. Think of it! A simple message from you can play a critical role in rescuing a soul from eternal misery. God grant us all the courage to live, moment my moment, his great commission to rescue the souls that are dying all around us.
The only “whatever” here should be our resolution to do whatever we possibly can. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.