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.