We Didn’t Start the Fire.

warning

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

 

 

I love the Olympics.  I’ve said that before.  I’ll say it every 2 years.  Winter Games, Summer Games it doesn’t matter.  I remember as a kid wearing a helmet and putting a cardboard box over a sled to make it feel like bobsled.  I did all sorts of sports with family and friends trying to be just like an Olympian. Even though I’m older now, I still love watching the different competitions where athletes at the top of their discipline from all over the world duke it out for gold, silver, or bronze.

But there’s something wrong with the Olympic Games.  The drama of the competition will always be fantastic, but these games can never deliver the things so many are looking for.  The Olympics want to be a testament to humanity.  The Olympics are supposed to bring us together and show us how great we can all be when we work together and compete in this beautiful, thrilling way.  The Olympics try to replace ill will and create optimism that our world is a good place filled with talented people from every tribe, language, and people.

It doesn’t work.  For starters, there’s the whole losing thing.  That doesn’t help a nation.  Sure, it’s great just to be a part of this global event, but I don’t know if losing has ever brought goodwill even if it is something seemingly minute like badminton, diving or handball.  An athlete or team feels the sting of defeat and so too the hopes of a nation fall. I mean, I’m kind of bummed out when I watch an American lose.  And what about the countless stories we hear about someone coming back for redemption, to finally bring home the medal they failed to earn?  That fire is burning all over these games.

Then, there are the scandals.  This swimmer is doping.  That outcome is questionable.  This nation is plagued with war.  That nation is steeped in corruption.  And the city of Rio itself proves that the less-fortunate are often ignored.  That kind of fire rages on spreading around the world. And so the Olympics prove to be helpless in bringing the peace they preach.

We’ve seen it happen before.  And really we don’t need the Olympics to notice.  These sports just put it on center stage for the whole world to see.  While peace and unity are missing out, the fire rages on.  Our proud spirit of humanity is powerless to put it out.  This world cannot extinguish the spreading divisiveness and engulfing selfishness.

But that’s why Jesus came, right?  He is the Prince of Peace.  Wherever Jesus makes his presence known, peace rains down its soothing tranquility, right? Wherever he is proclaimed that is where the fire is extinguished, right?  If the Olympics cannot provide peace and unity, then the calm and compassion Savior of the nations can.  If only we can get his good news on the podium, then peace will prevail. That’s the Jesus that so many are looking for.  That’s the Jesus that will get this world back on track.

But that’s not the Jesus that shows up in this Warning series.  Instead, the Jesus that is speaking today isn’t getting rid of the fire; he’s not bringing peace.  That’s where Billy Joel comes into the discussion.  The title of one of his number one hits from 1989 is WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE.  That title fits the situation we’re talking about today perfectly.  Listen to what Jesus says to those who are looking for him to settle disputes and unify the world, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.  Jesus pierces the Olympic heart of unity.  Jesus dashes the beauty-pageant dreams of world peace.

Now, Jesus is not saying he wants quarrels, hatred, rage, and selfish pride to engulf the world.  That would be a misinterpretation.  The angels were not mistaken at Christmas when they announced “peace on earth.”  But Jesus is the Prince of Peace only by his standard, not the world’s.  It goes against all of Scripture to say Jesus brought sin into the world.  But because of him and his message, some people will be enraged.  The thing is Jesus didn’t come here to be the agent for social reform.  He came to be the eternal Savior.  Where stubborn hearts remain transfixed with making this world a utopia, there the gospel of Jesus will blow it up.  Where people are promoting religious unity by compromising on some of God’s Word or simply ignoring some parts of it, there Jesus’ truth will divide.  Where selfish hearts want to remain in sin, there Jesus will kindle a fire.  Where people are held up as the ones who can make a difference, there Jesus will ignite a blaze.  Where people fiercely cling to the proud dreams of our own goodness and the arrogant determination to pursue self-chosen ways, there no peace exists with God. Human nature loves to unite for the common good, but nothing good can come from pursuing a peace that originates from us.  We are tainted.  We are unable to bring such peace and unity.  To everyone who thinks we can make this world a better place, to everyone who wants to work so hard for unity here and now, and to everyone who promotes a religious potpourri Jesus warns that his message is a consuming fire.

And so this fire is not talking about sin.  It’s not describing sufferings.  Instead this is the judgment that Jesus brings to those who are against him, who ignore him, or who don’t like some of the things his Word has to say.  His judgment will spread like wildfire on them.

This fire that Jesus brings will not only be out there in our world or in here between visible churches, but also within our families as well! “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.”

That brings up a good discussion point.  What’s more important to you, peace in your family or peace with Jesus?  It doesn’t always come to that, but sometimes it can and does.  Are you ready to stand on the solid foundation of Jesus or does your family mean more to you.  Today, Jesus’ answer is strikingly clear: you need peace with him more than you need a great relationship with your kids or your parents.

So here’s a couple take-aways from Jesus’ warning to you, parents: You don’t need to be your kid’s friend.  Your job is not to make your kids happy every day, all day.  I was in the Walmart checkout line this week and overheard a girl tell her mom, “Give me some money.  Mom, I want money to go play those games.”  And I noticed that the mother gave her some money.  Your job as a parent is not to provide the things your kids are begging for.  Your God-given responsibility is to raise your children as God’s children.  That means you will say no.  That means you will not try to be friends.  You’ll be a consistent, humble, and loving parent.  That means you will discipline your children the way God describes it in Hebrews 12 (the Second Reading this week).  You will be parents who love your kids the way the Lord loves you.  And when you fail, repentance and forgiveness will fill you up to start again.

There are a couple take ways for all of us who have parents.  As children we can respect and honor our parents as the representatives God has chosen for us.  We can learn from the Christ-like example we see and hear from our parents.  Kids, we can see God-fearing discipline is a valuable tool to train us in the way of the Lord.  How could a child ever hate a parent who loves to them enough to correct, rebuke, and encourage the way God wants them to?

But as Jesus warns us today, it won’t always be peaceful.  When the topic of Jesus, the Bible, or faith comes up a house may be torn apart.  A father or mother may not be diligent in the kind of discipline that Jesus teaches.  Not every parent makes it clear from their words and actions how much Christ matters. (We’re talking about eternity here; nothing is as important as that.)  A son or daughter might not always appreciate the discipline they receive.  Not every child stays on the path that Christian parents have taught and modeled. Not every parent or child cares about sin and repentance.  The lures and pleasures or this world take hold.  The priorities change.  And that sin takes a toll on the family in much the same way a fire ruins fields and homes.

Sometimes the division will happen because one parent tries, with words and actions, to enact a Christ-like home, while the other one doesn’t.  One parent listens to Jesus and sticks to the pure teachings of God’s Word and the other one has itching ears that are listening to the ways of this world. What do you think will happen to children who see two different examples?  The house will be divided.

And all of this happens in a family because of Jesus.  We didn’t start the fire.  For all those who listen to Jesus in faith his fire is purifying, getting rid of all the impurities. But for all those who do not appreciate Jesus and his Word his fire is consuming, engulfing their whole lives.

Do you like these warnings?  Is this the kind of thing we want to hear from our Savior?  Can this warning really be a good thing for us?  To a lot of people, this kind of Jesus is unacceptable.  To a lot of people Jesus needs to be all about peace, love, and harmony.  Anything divisive is undesirable.  The world wants a peace-making, unity-creating Jesus.

Well, Jesus wants something to be crystal clear today: his love for this world does not create world peace.  His love for this world saves people from this world.  Anyone who is interested in world peace is going to feel the heat of Jesus’ fire.  See, Jesus came to overcome the world so that we would have a new, eternal home.  Jesus is the only way, and the only place we can have true and lasting peace is with him.

So, I gotta ask: are we ready to endure this fiery division that Jesus brings?  Even when it gets personal?  Even when it shows itself not just on our TV screens but in our homes or even our hearts?  What in the world would convince us to that Jesus is worth it?  What would make us love a Savior who wants to kindle this fire?

Because we know what he endured for us.  Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”  Jesus uses the term “baptism” to describe the sufferings that would pour over and wrap around him. He was going to face the fiery judgment of God in our place.  The innocent one would take the guilty verdict so that we could have peace with God.  And so Jesus went to the cross.  He felt the flames. He finished the work of forgiveness, life, and salvation so that our utopia would be eternal and not a couple weeks every 2 years.

This life of faith that is filled with fires and divisions is totally worth it because we don’t have to go through the baptism of suffering Jesus endured.  Instead our baptism is the purifying waters that wash away our sins and daily drown out the sinful nature’s power.  We live with faith in Jesus because we know he is not the enemy of real peace for us, or our family, or church family, or the world.  He is the enemy of every truce our human hearts want to sign with sin.  He is the enemy of the every evil alliance the devil forges disguising it as world peace.

You know, until Jesus comes back the fire might get hot as it burns to purge our hearts from everything that hinders our peace with him and one another.  That’s a good thing.  We don’t have to run away from it.  We don’t have fear the flames.  Our joy is not here. Our peace is not seeing all these nations get along during the Olympics.  Our unity is not from this world.  It’s from Jesus.  It’s his love and forgiveness.  It’s his life, death, and resurrection.  There is even more good news when Jesus says he’s brings a fire and division. When Jesus spoke about this fire it was an expression of his love that refuses to trade true eternal pace for temporary outward smiles and ceasefires.  His fire does no damage to repentant, believing hearts. Instead, his fire yields lasting peace in paradise.

I think it’s clear that Jesus is not encouraging you to get into fights with people over the Bible, but rather that you aren’t afraid to speak the truth in love.  It’s ok if people hate you because you believe in Jesus.  No, you aren’t a terrible parent when you stand on the foundation of God’s Word.  You are not doing anything wrong as a son or daughter when you try to tell your parents or in-laws how much your Father in heaven has done for you. You’re not a bad citizen when you emphasize sin and grace more than political leanings and laws.

When flames erupt in those situations, we didn’t start the fire.  Jesus did… for our unending unity, for our heavenly family, and for our eternal peace.

Amen.

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A PROMISE TO BELIEVE IN

Following Jesus series

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
“Jump!  I’ll catch you.  I promise.”  I can make that promise to my kids,  Issy and Lute, and they believe me because I can keep that promise.  They can jump off a couch, table, counter, or bed and I will catch them.  But if I make that promise 10 years, or even 5 years from now, I’m not so sure.  And full disclosure, I have dropped them before, but little kids are tough.

Four years ago we heard this: “London is my last Olympics. I promise.  This is my last ever gold medal,” said Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest swimmer ever. Well, then he hit a rough patch in 2014.  He was arrested for a second DUI.  He checked into rehab. He reconnected with his estranged father.  He met a woman.  He got back into the pool.  And now, in Rio, the guy who promised he was retired is swimming for Olympic gold again.  And let’s not get started on the most recent inductee to Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, Brett Favre. Somehow he ended up playing for the Jets and some other team.

Promises are easy to make, but some are harder to keep than others. I can promise my children to catch them, and with almost perfect regularity I can keep that promise.  And so, my kids still trust me now, but in the future, I’m not so sure.  An athlete can promise that they are retiring, but then sometimes they realize that the skill and the competitive drive hasn’t dried up yet.  And because we have seen this saga play out so often, it makes it harder to believe retiring athletes.

But what about a bigger promise?  This Following Jesus series has been teaching and reminding us what Jesus encourages and empowers his followers to do.  And so on this final Sunday, it’s time to talk about promises, like the promises we should make and keep.  “I promise to be a follower of Jesus.  And as I follow him I promise to support the ministry, I promise to love my neighbors as I love myself, I promise to listen to God first and foremost, I promise to pray boldly and persistently, I promise to have the proper priorities in life always looking forward to the eternal paradise and not trying to make this world paradise.”  These are promises that we have been talking about and these are the promises that followers of Jesus make.

And d’you know what? These are promises every follower of Jesus breaks. There are the Sundays where sleep, sports, or social activities are more important.  Broken promise.  There are wallets and check books that stay at home because “it’s been a tough month.” Broken promise. There are days when the Bible stays closed.  Sometimes days become weeks and weeks become months.  Broken promise.  There are days we are not humble, not loving, and not selfless.  Broken promise. Broken promise. Broken promise.  There are days when I am afraid and worried.  Broken promise. There are days when we trust the Lord a whole lot less than we need to.  Broken promise.

Does this happen because you get older and when you get older you can’t always keep a promise to your growing children?  Does this happen because we didn’t realize what we were promising at the time?  Do we break these promises because we weren’t sincere enough at the time we made them?  Do we break these promises because God isn’t holding up his end of the deal?  Nope!  It happens because of who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We are the type who can’t always protect our children.  We get too old or weak or the kids grow and get bigger and smarter.  We are the type who don’t always know the right time and the wrong time.  We are the ones who try the best we can, but our best is not good enough.  Sometimes we might not have the right skills, sometimes we might accidentally make a mistake,  or sometimes we might just lie to try and cover up our own inadequacies.   But no matter what it is one thing is certain:  we leave a boat-load of broken promises in our wake. It’s who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We want to be there for our families and friends.  We want to be trustworthy and honorable.  But we can’t make that happen.  Instead, we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble, trouble that is not just going to irritate those we care about around us, but trouble that is also unacceptable to God.

So then, how can people like us ever keep our promise to follow Jesus? I think Hebrews 11 helps us figure that out.  Hebrews is a book written to Jewish people, or Hebrews.  They knew about the Old Testament.  They knew about all God’s civil, ceremonial, and moral laws.  They knew all about the history of Israel and everything God did for them.  But they also were Christians, who believed in Jesus.  They were trusting in Jesus even though there was hatred against Christians going on in the world.  But the strong temptation was to avoid all the persecutions against Christians by reverting back into old Jewish habits.  They were being pulled back to their laws and traditions rather than the gospel of Jesus. The temptation was to break their promises.  So God put the spotlight on some powerful examples in Hebrews 11 from the Old Testament, from Jewish history, to help these Jewish Christians persevere. Abraham was the top notch example that we hear about.  Well, and his wife, Sarah, and their son,  Isaac, and his son, Jacob.  These were the who’s who of Jewish history.  And they never gave up on the Lord.

You know, that the book of Hebrews was also written for us, too.  We might not be Jewish, but we are experiencing what it is like to live in a world that is more and more open about being anti-Bible, anti-Christian, and anti-church.  So, these examples can really help us to understand how we can keep following Jesus.

How could those Old Testament patriarchs do it? How could they continue to follow the Lord even when it was tough?  What made them so good?  How could they have such great faith that never wilted?  How could Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob continue to follow the Lord like they did? Was it because they had some special gift that we do not?  Was it because they didn’t have as many distractions as we do?  Was it because God was speaking directly to them in visions, dreams and through angels?  No, none of that!

Here’s a clue: they considered him faithful who had made the promise.  God is the one that made a promise…first.  And that’s what matters most. God knew what was wrong with Abraham and Sarah and their son and grandsons.  God knew that people could not be trusted to follow him perfectly.  We can try as hard as we can but we break promises.  So what does God do?  He doesn’t make us promise to be good and follow as best we can.  He doesn’t make us blaze our own path.  Instead, he makes a promise to us. God promises that he doesn’t hold our broken promises against us.  He loves us too much to do that. God promises that he is not going to send us to hell.  God promises, “I will take care of you.  I will watch over you.  I will bring you to my city, where I am the architecht and the builder.”  I love that description.  For anyone doing a building project, this is a great find, that the designer, the blue-print drawer, and the builder, the constrctor, the finisher is the same guy.  God says, “I promise that I will take care of it all for you.”

And that’s a promise that God keeps.  He patiently continued the line of the Savior from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from David and Solomon, and all the way through Israel’s tumultuous, promise-breaking history until the time had fully come.  Then, God kept the promise to come here so that our Savior would sit and stand and walk in your place and mine. God’s promise made sure that every one of our sins would be covered by the blood of Jesus.  God’s promise was proved true when the Savior came out of the tomb on Easter alive.  And God’s promise found you through his Word, at the baptismal font, and at the altar.

You see, what matters is the one who is making the promise.  If it’s me, Michael Phelps, Brett Favre, a president, or anyone else then it doesn’t have the same effect.  But when it’s God, then you know he can keep it.  Because everything he has ever said is true.  God keeps his promises.  He gave Abraham a place to call his own.  He gave Abraham and Sarah a son even though they were too old.  He made them into a huge nation.  And most importantly, he gave Abraham a home not made of tents, but designed and built on the promises of God with a permanent foundation.  That was a huge deal for men who lived in tents.  You see, the tent is not permanent.  The tent is not home.  The tent means you don’t have a country of your own.  But Abraham lived his life with the promises of God.  And so he lived his life trusting that his home was still coming.  He lived longing for that home and trusting that God would keep his promise to make heaven his own country, his permanent home.

We can trust God, just like Abraham and Sarah.  We can trust God just like Isaac and Jacob.  Not because they were so good at keeping their promises, but because God was so perfect at keeping his promises.  Yes, even to people like us, who break our promises.  He kept all those promises in the Old Testament and that led to a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb.  You see, with God there are no broken promises.

The good thing about trusting a God like that, is you never have to worry.  Faith in a God like is not uncertain.  Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Sure, you might not see Jesus right now.  Sure you might not know what heaven looks like.  Sure, life can be hard and there are so many uncertainties. But when God makes you a promise it’s sure and certain.

And the interesting thing is this faith makes us strangers in this world kind of like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  Do you ever notice that?  Do you ever notice how odd you are? As we follow Jesus, we give our time and our energy and our money to thank someone who is not here.  Because God never breaks his promises, because our faith in Jesus will certainly lead us to heaven, we can spend time genuinely caring for other people not wondering if it’s worth it or not.  It is worth it because God promises that it’s worth it to love others. That’s the way he loves us. And that looks weird to people in this world sometimes.  And you look odd when you spend time reading a book.  Everyone else is consumed with technology and screens, but you read a book because God gave it to you and because his words and his promises are not just inspiring lives, his Word is life for us, spiritual and eternal life.  And you are strange because you spend time talking to someone who you’ve never seen, who doesn’t live here on earth.  And you’ll look like a foreigner when you aren’t consumed by a relentless pursuit of more stuff, because you know this is just a tent.  The home that has a permanent foundation, the paradise city is coming.  You’ll be the stranger.  You’ll be the odd one.  People might make fun of you.  They might question your faith.  Some might even be ashamed to know you.

But there’s one person who won’t be.  For followers of Jesus, who have faith in him and who live in his promises, God is not ashamed to be called your God, for he has prepared a city for you.  How’s that for a promise?  God says he is not ashamed of you.  You might wonder why in the world you do some of the things you do.  You might question yourselves.  You might feel shame.  But God never will.  He takes your shame away.  He forgives you.  He is proud to be the God who loves you and saves you.  And he promises that there is a place for you with him.  It’s a place that he designed and built to last for eternity.  It’s a place that Jesus paid for with his life, death, and resurrection.  It’s a place that is yours through faith.  God says, “I promise.”

Amen.