Pentecost 1316- “Jesus the Fire Starter!” Luke 12:49-56

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The text for our sermon meditation is the book of, the Chapter.

49 [Jesus said:] “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 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.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Every year we hear of the fires which burn the hills and plains of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Oregon and other states. Tens of thousands of acres of land are burned.  Home and property are placed in jeopardy.  Lives are changed when firefighters and civilians are injured or a family member loses their life in the fires. What does it take to start a fire?  Dry tinder and a means of applying the flame to the tinder. It also takes a person who is careless or deliberate in providing the flame.

Have you heard of Wayne Allen Huntsman?  In 2014 Mr Huntsman was arrested and convicted of arson.  The evidence against him was a “selfie” video.  The video showed Mr Huntsman surrounded by flames.  These were the same flames of a fire that eventually burned 100,000 acres of land and thousands of homes. Displaced thousands of people and injured some of the firefighters who eventually controlled and smothered the fire.  Such is the fire which is started by the hands of men.

Our Lord speaks of kindling a fire.  It is a fire that he came to cast upon the earth.  However, the nature of this fire is substantially different from the fire set by men.  The nature of Jesus’ fire is not set with a match.  No, the fire of which Jesus speaks is set by the Word of God. Nor is the fire of which Jesus speaks easily extinguished.  For, Jesus speaks of baptism in connection with this fire.  It seems that the baptism of which Jesus speaks actually ignites the fire, that is kindles the flames which will spread upon the whole earth.

So why does Jesus use these words?  Why does Jesus come to cast fire upon the earth and undergo a baptism yet to be revealed?  How are we to understand these words used by Jesus? What is this fire and what is the baptism?

What do we know about fire?  We may look at fire as both good and bad.  We use fire to cook food, to process the impurities out of metal, to get rid of the weeds and sticks that litter our yards.  We recognize that fire is also destructive.  As I mentioned earlier Mr Huntsman start a fire that burned trees, brush and home.  His fire was devastating in its destructive power.

Yet, I believe that forest fires are good for the regeneration of the soil and even for the growth of certain types of trees.  Take for instance the jack pine tree that needs intense heat or intense cold for its cones to open and dispense the seeds they hold.  Also nutrients are returned to the soil and land is cleared of vegetation to permit any seeds that fall to the ground to find root in that soil. So fire can be good and even necessary at times.

Scripture teaches us that fire has two purposes with respect to God’s will.  Both purposes are good, though one use may not seem to be good.  Fire used in Scripture is described as refining and purifying.  St Peter in his first epistle teaches this when he says that the trials of faith we undergo in life are like a refiner’s fire.  Precious gold is heated by the refiner’s fire to burn off the impurities.  The trials of faith are like that refiner’s fire in that what would affect our faith in an adverse way is burned off.  This means that God is drawing us closer to Himself seeking to increase our trust in His good will for our lives.  God is teaching us to lean upon His eternal promises as we see the world and our flesh becoming less and less desirable.

Secondly, Jesus uses fire in this passage from Luke’s Gospel account to reveal God’s judgment being poured out upon sin.  This was the focus of Jesus’ ministry, especially in the final days of His walk upon this earth.  Jesus is in the final months of this saving work.  His face is firmly set toward Jerusalem.  There in that holy city Jesus will complete the salvation of the world.  Jesus will endure the full and terrible wrath of His Father who will punish His Son with the rod of men.  We hear this coming judgment in the words of Jesus who declares he wishes it to be kindled and is distressed until his baptism should be accomplished.

Our Lord is not at peace in his heart and mind. Jesus continues to look forward to His suffering and death.  Jesus gives those who hear his words a warning as well.  He teaches them that peace will not be found in His words or ministry.  This is strange and contradictory to the message of the angels who, then, proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men…” on the night Jesus was born into this world.  Now Jesus speaks not of peace, but of division caused by the fire he is starting.

How shall we understand this word of Jesus?  We must realize that the Word of God always and only has two effects.  What are those two effects? The hearer is either brought to faith, which is the work of God, or they reject the Word of God, which is the work of sinful man. There is never more than these two effects.  There is never less than these two effects.

Consider Elijah and prophets of Baal.  God proved Himself in fire consuming offering and altar.  What was the response?  400 prophets of Baal were put to death in unbelief.  King Ahab and Queen Jezebel continued to rule in unbelief.  Elijah and 7000 faithful followers of God in Israel remained faithful in the face of God’s revealed will.  We see rejection and faith being the result of God’s Word revealed.

Consider your families and friends, your coworkers and neighbors.  What responses do you witness when God’s Word is revealed?  There is faith and there is rejection.  There is one reason for faith and that is the power of God’s Word to open eyes once blinded by sin and revive hearts once dead in unbelief.  There is one reason for unbelief eyes that refuse to see the truth and hearts that love the darkness of sin.

Consider yourself when you are confronted with the truth.  How do you receive that truth?  When a loved one reveals themselves to be less than what you thought, what do you refuse to accept?  I have been in court numerous times both as a juror and as a witness.  I have heard the mistaken pleas of family and friends on behalf of those facing the judge.  “My baby is a good boy or girl.”  “I don’t want them to go to jail.” “My family would be devastated if he or she went to prison.” “Don’t send him or her away.”

I am filled with compassion for these people in their sorrow. I pray those who stand before the judge are sorrowful and penitent and that they find mercy. However, their pleas are mistaken because the person facing the judge has proved himself or herself worthy of the justice they will face for their actions regardless of any affection we may have for them.  They, like we, are not good people.  We are sinners who at times fail to control our sinfulness.  They like we act out in disobedience and must face the consequences of that disobedience. Sometimes we need to be separated from those we love to learn this truth and be brought to repentance.

This is the division which Jesus brings to the world. He brings the Word of God to bear on the world lost in sin and rejoicing in unbelief.  Jesus lays before the world God’s judgment on that sin and unbelief.  He proclaims the need to turn from such sin and unbelief and enter into the light of God’s saving grace.  Jesus is preparing those who see his works and hear his voice for the final work of salvation to be revealed on Calvary a short time hence.  Jesus desires this work to be complete.  He is anxious for this work to be complete.  He is distressed until this work is complete.  He desires to satisfy the wrath of God on sin and sinners by giving His life as our ransom. Jesus prepares for the baptism he must undergo.

Now, what is this baptism about which Jesus speaks?  Did Jesus not go into the Jordan under the hand of John and receive baptism?  This is true.  Jesus was indeed baptized in the Jordan River by John.  So then why does Jesus speak of another baptism?  Jesus is speaking of the covenant prefigured in John’s baptism.  John’s baptism with water was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus underwent this baptism to fulfill all righteousness.  Bathed in that water by John, Jesus proclaimed that His innocent body and holy life would bear both the sins of mankind and the wrath of God.  There was a baptism yet to undergo and it would not be with water alone, but with water and blood.

Consider the beginning of Jesus’ passion and baptism in water and blood.  Praying in Gethsemane, Jesus in anguish began to sweat.  That sweat was like and indeed was, great drops of blood.  Later, Jesus body was bathed in the blood of the most holy sacrifice for sin in fulfillment of John’s declaration from the Jordan River, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Indeed, behold God’s perfect and holy Son crucified and bathed in the blood of our atonement and peace.

Jesus’ Father did not beg Pilate to spare His Son.  God did not plea for mercy from the hand of men for His only begotten Son.  Jesus was perfect and holy.  Jesus had neither lied, nor murdered, nor stole, nor dishonored His Father.  Jesus was a faithful son who fulfilled His Father’s will to smallest jot or tittle. The final act of obedience was worked out before the world upon the cross.  Jesus poured out his life unto death that we would be redeemed from God’s wrath upon our sin and made heirs of eternal life.

I believe I left you hanging a few moments ago.  I spoke of the apparent conflict with Jesus saying he did not come to bring peace but division and the message of the angels.  There are a few words I omitted to emphasize this last point.  The words I omitted are these. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” God is pleased with us in the atoning death and bodily resurrection of His only begotten Son.

The end result of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the blessed reunion of God and His once wayward children.  Only faith in Jesus’ shed blood and bodily resurrection from the tomb are we at peace with God. This peace comes to us when the water of Holy Baptism touches our bodies and the Word of God creates faith within our hearts and minds.  In that holy washing with water and the word of God we are sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice for sin and joined with Jesus Christ in His death and in His bodily resurrection from the tomb.

We are separated, that is divided, from the rest of the world which would deny this sacrifice, and set apart for God’s salvation and eternal kingdom. We are numbered with the 7000 in Israel that did not kiss the lips of Baal or bend the knee to that idol.  In Jesus Christ God reserves us for eternal life.

You who are washed with water and the Word of God have this promise and God’s peace by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. God keep you for His eternal kingdom.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.