During Advent of 1999, someone stole the baby Jesus from his manger scene, set up in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. After a few days, an anonymous tipster called police and directed them to a storage locker at Union Station, where the figure was recovered.
In an attempt to stop anyone from duplicating that prank, a large fence was placed around the manger scene. But that same year, Baby Jesus mysteriously disappeared again. Later, someone reported a 19-year-old student, and he was arrested for stealing the baby.
To prevent anyone from stealing baby Jesus, many churches chain down or screw the baby to the manger in which he lays. As one priest put it, “We plan to keep Jesus right where he belongs, forever in his manger.”
That made me laugh, but it was also very revealing. Sweet Baby Jesus gives us comfort. So, let me ask, Hypothetically, …
When you think of Jesus, what image comes to your mind first? Jesus with the little children? Jesus carrying the little lost lamb on his shoulders? Jesus healing the sick? Jesus hugging someone? Jesus washing someone’s feet? Jesus at the Last Supper? Or maybe Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus?
All these images are true and comforting.
On the other hand; maybe you think of Jesus turning over tables in the Temple. Jesus calling the teachers of the Law, hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Or remember times when he good angry because people lacked faith or missed the point.
All these images of Jesus are true, just as well.
These last two Sundays of the Christian year, before Advent, we are going to look at Jesus from 2 very different perspectives. One pleasant and one maybe uncomfortable; but both are true images of Jesus. So, don’t look away.
In C.S. Lewis’s novel ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’, his magical world is filled with talking animals. And Aslan, the lion represents the Christ figure. In the novel, the youngest daughter Lucy strikes up a conversation with Mr. Beaver. Lucy asks about Aslan the lion, “Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the king, I tell you.” Keep that in mind…
It isn’t a stretch to say we live in a very divided nation. Many people would like to ignore it and just move on. But it says something about us as a people. The only way to come to grips with our differences is for us to try to understand each other’s side.
In the United Methodist Church, we have what we call 8 rules for Holy Conferencing. We are called to; remember we are all Children of God. Listen before we speak. Strive to really understand others. Strive to clearly reflect what we hear.
Disagree without being hurtful. Speak about issues – but not diminish others. Pray before making decisions. And Finally, Pray continually for ongoing guidance.
If we really seek to understand who Jesus was and is, we must come to grips with his hard teachings as well as his pleasant ones. Both, I think, are loving, if we listen carefully. Today we are going to look at Luke 12:49-53.
Jesus said, “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 what constraint I am under until it is completed! 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. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
For many people, this view of Jesus is shocking, but it wasn’t for those listening to him back then. We often think about Jesus as the one who calms the troubled waters. He is the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, Wonderful Counselor and Holy One.
But when they thought of the coming God, they thought of something else; Conquering King, Divine Warrior, the Deliverer, the lion of Judah, the mighty one and Savior. They expected the Messiah to be a divider and conqueror. They wanted him to bring divine judgement on their enemies.
They did not want a meek savior who started a fire with a match. They wanted a powerful Mighty King who brought an explosion and wiped out the enemy. They wanted Justice and revenge played out on an epic scale.
Now, let’s back up and put this scripture in its proper context. Jesus has been traveling and preaching in parables. Many thousands of people were following him. Luke Chapter 12 says that there were so many people that they were trampling on one another.
They had heard about his miracles and amazing teaching, but he was ‘no more than a mire side show’ to most. They wanted to be awed and to see some healing, but their hearts were still far from him. This section is titled, ‘Warnings and encouragement’.
Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and encourage his true followers – but he is also warning the unbelievers about what is to come. He says, “Be on guard, there is nothing concealed that cannot be exposed. What you whisper in the dark will be shouted from the rooftops.
“Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but do no more. But be in fear of the one who can cast you into hell. But never forget that God loves you. Not one of you is forgotten, God even knows the numbers of hairs on your head. Don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Why sparrows you ask? Because sparrows were often sacrificed to take away the sin of the poor. They could not afford Sheep or Goats. Jesus is saying that even though you have sinned and offered many sacrifices, God still values you. Despite your waywardness.
Then Jesus tells them the parable of the Rich Fool, instructs them not to worry, and reminds them to keep watch. Some watching are captivated, but others are getting restless. They did not all come out to hear Jesus preach, they wanted to see miracles.
Jesus tells them, “You must be ready and watching because the end times are coming, like a thief in the night. The Son of Man, or the Messiah, will come when you do not expect him.” The crowd must have been thinking, “We have been waiting. We want the Messiah to come. We have been watching.” And Jesus could sense their unease.
A little confused, Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” Without answering, Jesus launches into another parable about a wise manager. And finally, the parable takes a dark turn.
“The servant, who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants, will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:47-48.
Now Jesus has their attention. He is speaking of judgement, strength, and accountability. Then he launches into our text. “I have come to bring fire on the earth, not peace. I have come to bring division. At this point they are stoked. Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
Just a side note, Jesus is not talking about bringing violence to the enemy here. Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” And Revelation 19:15 reads, “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” In other words, the truth of God’s word divides people.
And he is talking about dividing or separating the good from the evil ones. Like in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus there divides the sheep and the Goats. He is first the Savior, but if you deny him, in the end he will bring judgement.
All of this excites the crowd. They are overjoyed with this kind of preaching. Let God bring fire and brimstone down on our enemies! But that is when Jesus again, turns the sermon in a new direction.
“From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:52-53)
The crowd goes from being inspired to shocked! Wait! We want divisions between the Israelites and the Romans. We want divisions between us and our enemies, but not in our own families! Wait a minute Jesus, where is this going?
That is when Jesus said, “Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:56) I cannot imagine that brought any cheers or smiles. In fact, a few folks might have started to wonder away.
Finally, Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging. He explains, “You are no better than anyone else. But unless you repent, you too will perish.” (Luke 13:3) Then he ends with a parable about a fruitless fig Tree. Shall it be cut down if it bears no fruit? No, let it go one more year. In other words, you better make up your minds fast, because God is Gracious, but time is running out.
You see, Jesus came to bring peace, but he was rejected. Only those who repent and have a change of heart have his peace. All the rest will suffer and perish. These are harsh words, but they are truth. At this point, I imagine, many walked away.
This was not God’s idea; he did not want division. We bring the division on ourselves because so many refuse to believe in him. The Word of God brings light and fire.
Remember John 1:4-5, 10-13? Listen, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.
“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
And so, Jesus was bringing fire, which in this case meant separation and judgement. The same way the pillar of fire separated the Egyptians from the Israelites. One side was safe, and the other side saw destruction. Jesus said, I wish the fire was already Kindled, but it isn’t.
What then starts the fire and sets judgement in motion? Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo.”. He is talking about his death on the cross. That will be the dividing line. Once Jesus rose from the dead, we had all the proof we needed. Now the choice is up to us.
Repent and believe – or reject Jesus and you condemn yourself.
Jesus wanted to warn us of the consequences. He spoke words of encouragement. Those with eyes, see and those with ears, hear. This is a hard teaching – wake up! Repent and Believe the Gospel. Before it is too late. God has not given up on you, but time is running out.
“And all God’s People said, Amen”