Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Luke 12:49-53
Pentecost 13 – September 8, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Last Sunday we began a study of the book of Revelation in our Adult Bible Class. In the opening words of that book John the inspired author tells us that God wanted to reveal to his people “what must soon take place.” God wanted his people throughout the New Testament to have an understanding, a warning, of what they would face as Christians in this sinful world. And the book of Revelation throughout makes it quite clear that there would be an ongoing conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between Christ and Satan, but in the end Christ and his people would be victorious.
The visions of Revelation very accurately picture that conflict that has raged through all of New Testament history. And I believe that we’re living in a time, especially in our American culture, in which the conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, God and Satan, is very intense.
In the area of social issues, values, and morals the forces of evil have lined up quite clearly and directly against all that God has laid down in creation, in the very first chapters of Genesis, as his plan for the world: the sacred gift of human life, male and female genders, the roles of man and woman, the definition of marriage, the foundation of the family, obedience to God, and much more.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this conflict, not only because John warns us about it in Revelation, but also because Jesus himself warns us. And he particularly gives us that warning in our text today from Luke. And what’s especially interesting about Jesus’ warning is that he is the reason for the conflict.
Today we ask the question:
WHY DOES JESUS CAUSE SO MUCH TROUBLE?
In this text Jesus asks the question, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?” One hundred and seven days from tonight we’re going to be worshiping here with Christmas trees decorated in the front of our sanctuary, and we’re going to listen to these words of the angels that Luke also wrote down: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” And not long before he was crucified Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
So when Jesus asks, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?” we might conclude that we have every reason to say, “Well, yes, the angels at your birth, and you yourself, have said that you have come to give us peace.”
But Jesus answers his own question quite differently than we would expect: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” And Jesus gets very specific about conflicts revolving around him between family members, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, mothers and daughters-in-law.
Jesus even intensifies the heat of this conflict with these words: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo and how distressed I am until it is completed!”
Have you ever had some responsibility or some assignment or work that you absolutely had to do, but you just dreaded it, you didn’t really want to do it. That feeling is similar to what Jesus was feeling. The baptism that he had to undergo was his suffering and death on the cross for the sins of the world. It just had to be that way and in a way Jesus was saying, “The sooner the better. I want to get this done.” But in another way Jesus’ suffering and death would only be the beginning of conflict. The gospel message would create conflict among people throughout history. It would only end with Jesus’ second coming in the judgment. Already Jesus was longing for that time when it would all be over.
But it’s not over. Jesus hasn’t returned yet. We’re in the middle of the conflict that Jesus warns about in this text, that John writes about in Revelation, and that God actually warned about in the very beginning when Adam and Eve sinned: “I will put enmity [conflict] between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; . . .”
Do you feel the conflict that Jesus causes? Certainly we all experience the bitter and difficult results of sin in our lives. But do you ever feel or experience the conflict with family members that Jesus alludes to because of the gospel. We can certainly say that within our families we have felt conflicts, or a lack of peace, because of debates and arguments over Christian doctrine and teaching. So you might argue with your Baptist relatives or friends about baptism. Or you might express your concerns to your Roman Catholic relatives or friends about praying to saints and to Mary.
And those issues over differences in doctrine and practice within Christian churches are important, and we have to deal with them. But the conflict and fire and lack of peace that Jesus warns us about is far more serious. He’s talking about the intense conflicts between Christian believer and non-believer that the gospel causes. Jesus is talking about the anger and discomfort between believer and unbeliever. He’s talking about the conflict between those who love Jesus and those who hate Jesus.
We maybe don’t always sense this conflict that Jesus and the gospel cause because we have learned in our society to be very careful about what we say about religion and our faith in work or social situations. You know it’s probably not a good thing at your family’s Thanksgiving dinner to get too vocal about your faith in Jesus or the mission work that your church is doing. Those relatives who don’t share your faith in Jesus will become either very quiet or quite vocal in their criticism of you. Or when the president of the United States, Democrat or Republican, ends the State of the Union address with “God bless the United States of America,” we think that’s quite heart-warming. But if he offered a prayer in Jesus’ name he’d have to answer the next day for his “grievous offense.”
Christians in other parts of the world sense this conflict very clearly. On any given day there are thousands of Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus, are restricted in their worship, live in fear of publicly professing their faith, and are sometimes imprisoned or even killed for their faith in Jesus. These persecuted Christians know keenly what Jesus meant when he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” We all need to remember them each day and pray more regularly and fervently for them.
Why does Jesus cause so much trouble? Why does the gospel cause so much trouble? Well, it really does go all the way back to that very sad scene in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. God confronted them and then warned about the enmity and anger and conflict and hatred that would exist through time between Satan and God’s people, between believer and unbeliever, between righteous and unrighteous, between those who love Jesus and those who hate Jesus.
Adam and Eve passed their new sinful natures on to all their sons and daughters including you and me. The Apostle Paul warns us in his letter to the Romans that the sinful nature is hostile to God. All of history has made that clear in murders, in wars, in all kinds of hostility to this very day. And the book of Revelation warns us that this conflict, this hatred of Jesus and the gospel, will go on until Jesus comes again and puts an end to it.
But why? Why does Jesus cause so much trouble? Why does the gospel cause so much trouble? It’s difficult for us who love Jesus and believe the gospel to understand this hostility and lack of peace. After all, the gospel is so simple. It just tells us that God loved us so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die on a cross to atone for our sins. He raised Jesus again from the dead to assure us that our sins are forgiven, that death is conquered, and that Jesus will come again one day to raise us from the dead and take us to be with him in heaven. You can’t get a better deal than that! There can’t be better news than that. God couldn’t be more gracious and merciful than that.
But Satan hates that message. And he causes people to hate that message. That’s why when we talk about Jesus publicly in America we are tolerated less and less. That’s why people who talk about Jesus in Saudi Arabia or Iran could find themselves in prison. That’s why people who dare to talk about Jesus in North Korea may likely be never heard from again. The sinful, unbelieving heart is capable of untold cruelty and hatred toward Christians and to Jesus himself.
It’s not really Jesus or the gospel that causes so much trouble. It’s Satan and those who hate the gospel. It’s sinful hearts that refuse to repent and know Jesus’ love.
But Jesus’ love and forgiveness is what can change and convert sinful, hateful hearts and minds. Jesus’ love and forgiveness changed the hateful heart and mind of a man named Saul and turned him into the Apostle Paul. Jesus’ love and forgiveness have changed the hateful hearts and minds of millions down through the centuries. Jesus’ love and forgiveness have changed your heart and mind and my heart and mind. We do understand what the Christmas angels said: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
We are at peace with God. But the unbelieving world is not at peace with us or with Jesus. So the fire that Jesus came to bring on the earth will burn until he comes again. In these words today he’s just giving us fair warning.
But find comfort in these words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Amen.