51Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? [Jesus said] No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They 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.
We see here a Jesus we cannot easily recognize. A Jesus who doesn’t neatly fit our Sunday School molds. No soft warm fuzzies this morning. Here we are confronted by a Jesus whose purpose is to burn and destroy. A saviour who is set for the rise and fall of many, He comes with axe (Lk 3:9) and hammer (Jer 23:29) in hand. And the fire He kindled still roars in our world. Is there a person here whose family has been spared this division? A mother or father or a sister or a brother who hasn’t been grieved at some point by the truth of these terrible words? Isn’t love enough? Can’t we all just get along? Why can’t blood be thicker than religion or politics?
The truth is, dear friends, that Jesus brings no peace that comes apart from the Word He proclaims. No peace apart from the baptism He must undergo. Jeremiah’s picture of the word that blazes like fire and smashes like a hammer (breaking in two the family hearth? splintering the dining room table?) is well in line with the picture in Luke 12: “The world is lit up with flames, and Christ is bathed in blood.” Jesus, for all His love and compassion – precisely because of it – is a divisive figure in our world.
But you already know this in your heart. There is no middle ground with respect to Jesus and His rule. Either you trust Him with your everything or you do not. Either you acknowledge His claims or you fight against them. A person stands either with Him or against Him. There is no pretending to be neutral and unaffected. Even our own families will be deeply divided over what to make of Jesus. And that is all the more sad, when you stop to listen to just what He has to say.
49[Jesus said:] “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! ”
A fiery word for the world and a bloody baptism for Himself. How could it not be divisive? Who does He think He is? Yet this is what He means – He has set His face toward Jerusalem. He will not turn aside. Jesus longs to reveal the Kingdom, not only through the judgement, but also and most especially through His grace and the ultimate deliverance it brings about.
Baptism here is His figurative way of referring to the cross. Jesus is torn between two emotions on the one hand He cannot but dread His impending death on the cross. On the other hand there is glory for Him and all humankind beyond the grave, thus His eager expectation. Yet how ironic that to heal the division between God and Man, will cause another division by necessity. A division within the household of God Himself.
The division of father against son is at the very core of the Gospel. A man dying by crucifixion and according to the officer presiding, the victim was both a righteous man and the Son of God. In His hour of need Jesus turned to His Father for help. And His Father, God, wasn’t there. He was gone; He had forsaken Jesus. The Father was divided against the Son. The Good News that divides families now is the news that the Heavenly Father and Son were divided for us back then.
Why? It wasn’t because the Father was perverse. It wasn’t because the Son had done wrong. It was because the Son bore our wrongs. From His baptism at the Jordan, Jesus stood under the Father’s wrath and continued to stand under it until it was satiated in His crucifixion. From the moment He stepped forward publicly in His baptism as the world’s Messiah, this process began. For this reason alone He came. Jesus knows that he is to bear this fiery wrath and judgement and His passionate plea is that it were already accomplished. He knows the fulness of God’s wrath is yet to fall on Him, and He yearns that His sacrifice on the cross would come soon.
Our sins divided the Father from His Son – the very definition of hell. Between the Father and the Son there was a great gulf fixed so that none could cross, even if they wished to. Not until it was done and the sin fully paid for. Christ bore not only our sins but also our hell – declaring “It is Finished!” Jesus appeased the Father’s fiery wrath both by His perfect life of obedience (attested by the Father’s approval at His baptism) and by His suffering on the cross (attested to by the Father in raising Him to life once again). And because He did, He has made us the sons of God. Sons who will never be divided from our heavenly Father again!
Though we long for the day when division will cease, we will not settle for a “dreamy” peace (Jer 23:26–27) that comes from distorting or silencing the divisive Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Our hearts break as our homes are divided, but we know that this, too, means God’s Word is at work. The depth of Jesus’ commitment (even to go to our cross and our hell) forces us to decide what is most important for us as well. As you wrestle with so great a challenge, take comfort in the one who calls you. He is faithful. When earthly relations cause us to make Jesus and His kingdom anything less than our first priority, may God strengthen us and lead us back into the way of life everlasting!