This Isn’t The Jesus I Was Expecting
Luke’s gospel begins by proclaiming that Jesus will “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:79).
Luke’s gospel ends with Jesus appearing before the disciples and saying, “Peace be with you” (Lk. 24:36).
Then there is our passage. Located right in the middle of Luke’s gospel, bookended by these two passage about peace we have a depiction of Jesus who will bring fire to the earth, who declares did you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
Just how did we get here? If Luke has written his gospel account to begin with Jesus as the bringer of peace and to end on a similar note, how do we find ourselves immersed in this conflict in verse 12? How does it fit?
While preparing for today I found this section of Luke’s gospel uncomfortable. I really didn’t want to deal with it. There is a tone of judgement found within this passage that leaves most of us unsettled.
Why does Jesus want to bring fire to the earth?
Why does Jesus want to bring division?
Who are the hypocrites that Jesus is referring to?
This Isn’t The Jesus I Was Execting – Audio Sermon
The language and imagery that Jesus uses in this passage are not what we are expecting of Jesus. Often when we think of Jesus we associate pastoral images. We think of baby Jesus, in the manger, an idyllic scene.
We might think of Jesus who invites the children to come forward. Or perhaps enjoying a meal at Mary and Martha’s. We might think of Jesus as the healer, the teller of stories and the performer of miracles.
We think of Jesus on the cross and of the empty tomb. But we do not like to think of Jesus as one who brings fire, division and judgement. It is an image that is unsettling.
However, if you have been paying attention over the summer you might recall a verse from about a month ago. When Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem. We, sitting here today are perhaps out of sync with Jesus’ journey. It’s the middle of summer and the next major event in the Christian calendar is Christmas, where we will celebrate Jesus’ birth. However, our passage has Jesus on the way to the cross. On the way to Easter.
The hard words that Jesus speaks are for those who are taking lightly his true purpose. For those who are discrediting why he came to dwell among us. His words are aimed at those who would water down the message he was teaching, who didn’t fully believe or accept the time he was preparing us for.
None of this makes his words easier to swallow. No one likes division and conflict. Most of us have experienced either a difficult feud within our families of a devastating conflict in the church. It splits us, the wounds are real and they are painful. So when we read Jesus talking about division, we ask how can this be? We cringe and we pull back from the words. They frighten us.
Perhaps we can look at Jesus words from a different perspective. Perhaps we can consider his message not by what he is saying, but by what Jesus is not saying.
Jesus came to deliver a message; a message that the old was not good enough anymore. That there would be a new covenant. If things are going to be new, if things are going to change, if we are going to be transformed by the sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross it can’t happen by going about things the way we always have. Change doesn’t happen by doing the same thing over and over again. Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
No. If we are going to change, if we are going to be transformed then something has to give. And when change happens there is always some conflict, some friction. Theologian Audrey West writes, “the passage suggests that – at the opportune time and under the impulse of God – when division begins, the gospel has begun to break in among us.”
Think on that for a moment. When division begins, the gospel has begun to break in among us.
Friends, I’m not sure if you’ve looked out at society recently. But what Jesus calls us to be, is not what society would like us to be. Society would like us to be not so savvy consumers. Society would like us to be hooked to our televisions and phones. Society wants us distracted from the problems we face, from the fears we fear, and from truth we don’t want to recognize. That society is hollow, it is a shallow veneer that only seeks to distract and entertain. There is very little substance.
C.S. Lewis once observed that even Christian people sometimes think that being a follower of Jesus is like being a horse that gets trained to run a little faster. But in reality, Lewis wrote, Jesus doesn’t want a regular horse that can run more swiftly—he wants to give the horse wings and teach it how to fly! Jesus doesn’t want to move into the house of our hearts just to slap on a few coat of fresh paint and change the draperies. No, when Jesus moves in he brings a wrecking ball to tear down whole walls, gut the rooms down to the studs and basically build a whole new house.
When we agree to follow Christ, we agree to be transformed. To be torn down and built right back up again in the image of Christ. Serving Christ changes lives.
Scott Hoezee writes, if the kingdom of God is to up-end our lives and the way the world typically operates, how does that apply to family situations? Well, it minimally applies to the priorities we set in our homes. Curiously, the pace of modern culture–a pace driven by precisely people’s desire to “make a life for themselves”–may itself be at variance with the gospel. The busyness of our lives as we get more and more consumed by work, the yen to make money, the clutching desire to climb the corporate ladder edge out what was once known as “family time.”
Indeed, some families have cut back on church in order to clear out Sundays as their special “family time.” In the past few years I’ve heard from pastors from other parts of the country who lament what soccer is doing to church attendance. Apparently youth soccer leagues, recognizing the hectic pace of people’s lives, have determined that Sundays from 9am until noon are the best time to schedule games.
I used to lament this to. I would drive to church, passing the soccer fields and the baseball diamonds and I would think to myself why aren’t they at church. And then I realized, they don’t know any different. None of them have ever been to church. Friends there is a whole generation of people who don’t know anything about the Kingdom of God. They don’t feel bad about not being in church, because they have never been to church. They don’t know any different.
So what do we do?
We need to change our perceptions and our expectations. Not just of those who haven’t heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, but also for ourselves. We are far too easily influenced by the society we live in and friends it isn’t a Christian society anymore. We are far too easily persuaded about our values by sitcoms than we are by the Bible.
Here’s a story for you, years ago a man named Millard Fuller was pretty near the apex of an American success story. He was a high-octane corporate executive working eight days a week and pulling down close to a million bucks a year. But then one day he heard God calling to him, telling him his life was overfull and his priorities out of whack. So in prayer with his wife one day, Fuller re-committed his life to Christ. He quit his job, moved to a more modest house, and wondered what to do next. What he ended up doing next was building affordable houses for low-income families who could purchase these homes interest-free. Today most of us well aware of the great good Habitat for Humanity has done.
Well, a preacher once re-counted Fuller’s story and was later approached by someone who asked, “How old were Fuller’s children when he quit his job like that?” It took this preacher a minute to appreciate what lay behind the question: how dare Fuller uproot his kids and subject them to a less lavish lifestyle just so that he could serve God?!
What our passage in Luke does is focus in on Jesus’ single-minded determination for his purpose. His teaching ministry was complete and now he was heading to Jerusalem, to the cross, the empty tomb and the resurrection.
Jesus wants us to get that and so he paints a vivid picture for us. Think about it friends. Think of the violence in this world. Think of Syria and recent events in Egypt. If Jesus is to guide our feet towards peace, then something has to give. The way we have been doing things is not working.
If Jesus says peace be with you and if that is a sentiment that we want to echo with any sincerity then things have to change. And change hurts. But the world needs change, it needs the change that the peace of Christ offers. We need to get that, we need to realize that things are going to get a whole lot more uncomfortable for us as the church if we are going to live out the peace that Christ wants to see, because the society we are a part of does not want to hear. In fact the society we are part of doesn’t want to hear a whole lot of anything, it is just looking for the next diversion, the next distraction.
Jesus says, “Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”
What side of that statement do we stand on? It’s a question that we as individuals and as the church need to answer. Do we satisfy ourselves with the status quo or do we open ourselves up to the transforming power of Jesus Christ and all that comes with it? Amen