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Entries in First Coming (1)


Fire Upon The Earth

Today we will be looking at Luke 12:49-53.

It has often been the dream of man to have a place where everything was peaceful and people coexisted in perfect harmony.  In the 1970’s there was a famous Coke commercial that had a group of young people singing about such things.  It was a bit cheesy however, with a line about buying the world a Coke.  Regardless, even the politics of the day differ not because we can’t agree that a world in perfect harmony would be good.  Rather they differ due to disagreements about how that can be done, and whether it can be done at all.  This brings us to Jesus.

Today, many see Christ as the perfect picture of world peace.  It is true that he is the Prince of Peace and at his birth the angels proclaimed, “peace on earth and good will toward men.”  Yet, our passage today makes it clear that the message of God to mankind through Jesus was more complex than a simple slogan like, “make love not war!”  In this chapter Jesus has been warning his disciples that he would go away and the condition of their hearts would be tested.  How they respond to these tests will affect how Jesus treats them when he does come back.  It is the misconceptions we have about Jesus and the “Messiah” or Savior, that cause us to miss what Christ is actually doing.

His First Coming Brought Fire Upon The Earth

Jesus starts out with a statement of purpose.  “I have come to bring fire upon the earth.”  If this doesn’t sound very much like Jesus to you then it is probably because you have fallen into a common misconception about him.  It is the view that at the first coming Jesus had come to fix everything wrong with the world.  That is, he would remove all the bad guys and put all the good guys in charge.  Of course the people of Israel were wrong about Jesus removing all the bad guys.  Yet, the misconception only changes.  Now we say that Jesus took out the real enemy (Satan and sin’s guilt).  Thus now we can fix it all and the world is on an ever progressing trek towards Utopia because of what Jesus did.  This passage along with many others stands as a roadblock to such thinking.  The statements of Jesus here stand much of modern Christianity on its head, at least in the West.  We tend to labor under the misguided principle that Understanding and Compromise will unarm every warrior and solve every dispute.  It tends to think that people are basically good and the real problem is miscommunication, or perhaps better, malcommunication.  Jesus lets his disciples know that they are not headed into a peaceful situation, nor would it develop down the road.  In fact Jesus is going to make it much worse, i.e. he is bringing fire upon the earth.

The symbol of fire is connected to judgment in general.  However, more properly think of it as making a distinction.  It always burns up the bad and leaves behind the good.  Thus when the Bible uses the image of purifying metals, it is the fire which breaks down the metal so that the bad impurities can be brought out and removed.  The good metal is then poured into a cast and tempered.  So fire is only bad to that which is impure and bad.  However, it is good to that which is pure and good.  Similarly, Paul uses the image between wood, hay, stubble and metal.  Things that are done for our flesh and the purposes of this world are considered wood, hay and stubble. But the things we do for Christ and his eternal purposes are like precious metals and precious stones.  The fire of Christ’s judgment will distinguish which works are worthless and are burned from those works which are valuable and still remain.  Thus the test of fire reveals Truth and Eternal worth.  So what is this fire that Jesus is going to ignite?  The fire could be connected with the Holy Spirit poured out upon believers.  This is true and the picture is given in Acts 2.  However, the context does not point towards the Holy Spirit.  This fire is going to cause division.  I believe that Jesus is the fire (His works and His Teachings).  It is he himself who is the polarizing fire and in fact he is also an accelerant to the underlying divisions that already existed in the hearts of people.  When the truth of Jesus is taught and the life of Jesus is lived out, it is like fire in the midst of a culture that consumes the bad and purifies the good.  It is easy to accept that there is a God.  But, once Jesus says that this is what God looks like and what His nature is like, you are going to have those who disagree.  When Jesus gives commands to his disciples, you will immediately have people who are going to disagree with such narrow commands.  When Jesus says that the cross is the path to salvation (i.e. Utopia), even now we can feel our flesh shrinking back from such a thing.

It is easy to see the fire that is raging throughout the Middle East due to the promotion and rejection of Jesus.  However, we should recognize the same thing is being played out here in the West and especially here in America.

Notice that Jesus first has to go through a baptism.  He had already been water baptized and Spirit baptized at the same time.  So the imagery here is pointing forward to a baptism of suffering culminating in the cross.  Another image Jesus uses is that of a poisonous cup of suffering.  On the night of his betrayal he asks the Father, “if possible may this cup be taken from me.  Nevertheless Your will be done.”  The cross and the death of Jesus were a critical part of this fire that Jesus was igniting.  After he suffered these things, he is resurrected and spends many weeks explaining to his disciples what he wants them to do.  Like a small fire being kicked, the disciples become many different embers catching flame in dry tinder.  This necessity of the cross in the life of Jesus and his followers becomes a stumbling block that our flesh hates and rejects.  “I will not be a doormat!”  “Forget being crucified!  I am going to do the crucifying!”  These harsh rejections of the way of Christ make the fire all the hotter.  As long as God’s people entertain the delusion that God’s path would not involve suffering, we would continue to resist His plan and stand in the way.  Thus Jesus brings fire that polarizes not just the world, but even his own people Israel.  “Who’s on the Lord’s side?  Come on over here to the Messiah who died.”   It doesn’t sound like a winning proposition does it.  A true follower of Jesus is one who has crucified the objections of their mind, heart and soul and cling to Jesus no matter what suffering comes their way.  Why?  They do so because they are convinced that it truly is the path to salvation and Utopia.  However, much of the world today is not enamored with such a vision.  Why do we need God and such a horrible plan of salvation?  We will build Utopia ourselves!  Whether it is radical Muslims hacking heads off of Westerners, or scientists manipulating DNA in a laboratory, in many different ways mankind is seeking a way of its own making.

In verse 51, Jesus comes back to this.  Rather than peace, he would bring division to the earth.  He goes straight to the one institution that is the most resilient against division and that is the family.  Now don’t get Jesus wrong.  He definitely is the Prince of Peace and God really does desire peace for any who will come to Him to receive it.  But the reality is that many would reject his terms of peace.  The work and teaching of Jesus would bring in a good harvest and yet, it would be hated and ignite a war even among family members.  The point here is not that it is inevitable.  Clearly a whole family can serve Christ and live in peace together.  But if they do, it will not be because of the familial tie.  It will be because they have all embraced Jesus and his peace reigns in their hearts.  Believers have peace with God in that we are no longer His enemies.  We are also given the internal peace of God that passes all understanding.  This gives us the ability to live in peace with each other.

However, no Utopian society would be brought to the world through the First Coming of Jesus.  How we deal with this concept of Utopia is at the heart of who Jesus is.  We have two choices before us: the path of the cross, which is submission to God’s way, or the path chosen at the Fall, which is rebellion and rejection of God’s way.  Essentially it is, “We can do it.”  We will do what we want.

The world has many divisions (race, gender, religion, and politics to name a few).  However, Jesus points to the most basic of all biology.  Even families will split over the reality of who Jesus is and what he calls us to be and do.  Remember, “There is a way that seems right in the eyes of a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  Which way will you choose?  The path that looks like death leads to life and the path that looks like life leads to death.  The fire throughout our land is only going to burn hotter.  Israel’s greatest fire was ignited right before its judgment.  We as a nation are at a crossroads and many are in the valley of decision today.  Make sure you don’t allow misconceptions about who Jesus is cause you to choose the wrong path.

Fire Upon the Earth audio