Text: Luke 12:49-56
Date: Pentecost XIII (Proper 15) + 8/18/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, for He comes to deliver us from the wrath of God by taking it to Himself thus making for us peace with God.
John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance, warning against the wrath to come and telling of the Messiah who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3). “His winnowing fork is in his hand,” he said, “to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:9, 17). In these words John saw both the Christ’s imminent arrival on the scene but, at the same time, His final coming in judgment. But it was not yet time for the fire. When Jesus was rejected by a Samaritan village His disciples James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” “But he turned and rebuked them.” It was not yet time for the fire. Still, later, Jesus warned, “but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:20-30). But that day and that fire was not yet. And wasn’t it more than a hint of judgment when Peter sat down among the soldiers after they took Jesus captive “when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard” whereupon Peter denied His Lord three times (Luke 22:55). Still, it was not yet time for the fire of God’s wrath. But it was coming! The prophet Malachi prophesied, saying, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire” (Mal 3:2). Finally, of course, is the description of the final day of judgment in the book of Revelation, the devil and his hordes being “thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur” (Rev 19:20), to “be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14-15).
When Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth” He was raising the question of salvation, namely, “how can we be delivered from the fire of God’s wrath against our sin?”
Jesus is the Savior, the One who came in solidarity with us sinful humans. But more than that He came to be our substitute under God’s condemnation of our sin. It is as our beautiful prayer in the service of the sacrament says it, “Above all, we give thanks for Your boundless love shown to us when You sent Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our flesh and laid on Him our sin, giving Him into death that we might not die eternally” (DS 4). This is the very heart and center of the reason for which Christ came and of true, saving faith in Him.
He speaks of His atoning suffering and death under the wrath of God on the cross when He says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” Of course Jesus officially began His ministry by receiving a baptism by water from John in the Jordan River. There He took His place, as I like to say, shoulder to shoulder with us, the first step in His willing journey to serve as our only saving substitute. But here the Savior who was baptized with water speaks of another baptism, the baptism of His blood shed on our behalf. In this way the apostle John says, “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood” (1 John 5:6). In these words this apostle recalls how, to confirm the death of Jesus on the cross, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). Here the Christian may begin to learn how Jesus baptism in water and this baptism in the shedding of his blood point to our participation in His death for us in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.
But now what to do with Jesus’ strange proposition, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Well, the key words here are “on earth.” For certainly we recall the angels’ Christmas cantata proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). The crowds at His final entry into Jerusalem echoed the angels’ chorus saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. In heaven peace, and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). And, of course, the first thing the risen Christ says to His fearful disciples on that first Easter day, and again to us this morning, is, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).
What may sound at first to be a contradiction between Jesus the peace-giver and Jesus the divider is solved by remembering as of first importance His death as making peace with God for all who believe in Him. As at our baptism we receive the sign of the holy cross both upon our forehead and upon our heart marking us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified, this same gospel of peace is then brought to people by the word of the cross, baptism under the sign of the cross and the proclamation of the Lord’s death in the Holy Communion. But we discover that this same gospel that brings us peace with God at the same time causes division and conflict among the people of this world. For many reject the means of peace with God by considering the gospel and the means of grace to be so much foolishness.
So wrote the apostle Paul, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:18, 20-25).
Still, this division of faith or unbelief is deeply troubling to us as it cuts even through our closest relations in the family, “father against son and son against father,” mother, daughter, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law. But so it remains that, while our families on earth are separated from one another finally by death, yet by baptism and faith in Christ we are made members of the family of God. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” Ephesians 2:19.
There is the fire of God’s wrath and the fire of God’s love. By His baptism in the Jordan and His baptism of blood Jesus extinguished God’s wrath in order that, by our baptism into His death and resurrection, we may receive the purification of God’s love. In the words of him who, though he denied his Lord three times warmed by the fire of his enemies:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)