Luke 12:49-59 “God’s Timing”
Jesus tells the crowd around him that He is come to bring fire to the earth. That is scary. If you listened to those words and were not even a little bit frightened, then you perhaps you have never found yourself in the middle of a fire that is passing over earth. Jesus tells us again and again to have no fear, but human nature being what it is, how can we not react with trepidation at such words? The Son of God is casting fire down upon our world!
Now that Jesus has grabbed our attention and has our hearts beating faster than they should, how are we to actually interpret what he is saying to the crowd and to all of us today?
When we first moved into the parsonage, I wanted to set aside a place for a vegetable garden. I thought the terrace just below the lawn would be a prime spot. Yet, it was overgrown with koa bushes and tall grass. It was so overgrown, that the view to the ocean was all but completely blocked as well. I was thereby motivated twice over to rid the area of the overgrowth.
I did discuss options with several of you. It was suggested to bring in heavy farm equipment to grub the ground clear again. Others thought that a heavy-duty mower might do the trick. In the end I decided on a third course of action. I cleared a firebreak right where I wanted the garden to be. I brought down two charged hoses. I waited for the wind to take the smoke directly out to sea. Then, one morning all the conditions were right and with a single match and with no accelerant the blaze took off.
I used to be a firefighter and had set many backfires and practiced such controlled burns. In about fifteen minutes only all that was left was steaming out a few hot spots. Once the fire was out and I could walk on the black burned areas safely, I noticed that the overgrowth had hidden an unbelievable amount of junk. There were rolls of chicken wire, metal roofing panels, paint cans, barbed wire, car batteries, wheels, and you name it. The area had been used as a junk heap. If I had tried to clear the area in any other way except by burning it, it would not have been pleasant. I would have kept on hitting those pieces of junk. The fire just laid it all bare. so, because of the fire I was able to clear the junk out and make the land useable again.
This last week I got to cutting back the tall grass there again as it had gotten out of hand with all the rain we had this year. I just used a weed whacker because the law does not allow us to burn anymore. But boy, I just wanted to light that match again and have it done with!
My point is this, when it is time for Jesus to come to reclaim this earth for God, he is not coming with a two-stroke nylon whip line cutter. He is coming with fire to clean this place out again. This world is just too junk to do it any other way!
Jesus follows up his statement about bringing fire with the line: “Oh but if were just kindled already!” It sounds as if Jesus can hardly wait for this fire to come. I believe that this reference is to the coming down of the Holy Spirit at the time of Pentecost. It was at that time that tongues of fire appeared over people’s heads. People were being baptized not just by water, but by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
I want to remind all of you that Jesus himself was baptized by water at the River Jordan by his cousin John. We know him today as “John the Baptist.” Well, what happened after Jesus came up out of the water? John 1:29-34 tells us that John saw this: “I saw the Holy Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”
Although we are naturally afraid of fire, we should see what Jesus is claiming to be really just like a second baptism. This is the time when the Holy Spirit comes over a person’s life, and it seems as if everything is changed. This is the baptism of fire. This is the Pentecost experience.
As is to be noted in Acts 2, this kind of spiritual baptism does catch on like fire. On that day 3,000 people were touched by the Spirit. And their story seems to be that they were baptized first by the Spirit and then received the water baptism of john afterwards.
Now, we like to think of Jesus as the “Prince of Peace.” We can read also in John 17:22 that we are all to be one in Christ. We are all to be united in the common cause before us. Yet, Jesus tells us here that he has come to sow divisions among us.
Excuse me now for throwing philosophy at you, but I think Jesus is talking about what is known as “Natural Law.” Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was the first philosopher to bring out this idea that our natural state as humans is one of “war.” He noted in his book Leviathan that “Men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to overawe them all.”
That being said, Jesus is pointing out that the world will be divided among those who continue to war with one another, and those who will accept God’s awesome power over their lives and thereby chose to live in peace. Yes, Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” except to those who reject Him in his place as Lord of Life.
Best to see this fact in the raising of our children! Our children when they are born are born to the Natural Law and will naturally choose to be obnoxious in their own self-interests. They will cry when wanting to be fed. They cry when they are sleepy. They will throw a tantrum when you try to put them down to sleep. They experience no power to “overawe” them and subject them to a different law until that time that the mother or father decides to discipline the child. If the parent never disciplines the child, then the Natural Law will always be in place.
Consequently, the child will be in essence in a natural state of war. This is not good for the child. Some think that disciplining our children is cruel. Yet, giving a child an overawing authority takes that child out of the natural state of war and finally gives them peace. If you want your child to have peace in his or her life, then you will have to discipline that child to create a sense that there is something greater than their own immediate desires in this world.
Here is a sincere question: Do you fear God’s judgment? Jesus turns out to the crowd. He had been just speaking with his disciples and those who were perhaps overhearing. Now he charges everyone one of the thousands that are gathered around him. Jesus says: “You know what is coming!” He tells them that they know the weather by which way the winds are blowing. If it comes in from the south it will be warm. That is just like us here! WE prefer the cooling trades.
Helen was just in New Zealand. She complained about the cold were she was one day in a text to me. Then, she added that it was okay, she would survive, besides the next day she was heading south. The implication was that south in New Zealand would mean warmth. In fact it means things will get even colder as you head closer to the South Pole. That did not make her happy. The next pictures that came on Facebook were of her trudging through the snow in June! It is winter on the other side of the planet down there!
Jesus is right. We have to know what is coming. We have to know the direction we are to go. We have to prepare. Do not be like that Japanese tourist I got behind on Tuesday going towards Lihue. She could not stay in her lane. Drove between two lanes in Puhi. Went against every arrow in the parking lot and literally drove on the wrong side of road. I finally jumped out at a red light and came to her window and told her to get off the road, that she was going to kill herself and someone else. “First time drive,” she said in broken English. She did not understand what I was telling her and continued to drive away. I hope she is still alive this morning and that she did not take anyone to the grave with her.
What amazed me, having learned to drive both on the right and the left side of the road in my own life’s experience (having lived in Thailand where they do indeed drive on the other side), is that this woman was unable to judge for herself how dangerous her path through Lihue was!
You know what? This is my “first time drive” through this life! I must be able to judge for myself if I am in for a crash by the way I am conducting my life! WE are all “first time drive” in this thing called life. We are going to get messed up sometimes. However, we need to see what is plainly being seen by God! When we mess up, we need to ask for God’s understand and forgiveness. We need to repent—which literally means to turn around.
Thomas Jefferson once said: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.” Our natural law in this country that we love so dearly is one of deceit and division unless we all take to heart that a just God is coming. Jesus overawes our lives. In this we find our peace when we proclaim Jesus as that Prince of Peace and forsake the natural law that leads to destruction.
“We must believe that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends towards justice.” Thank you Theodore Parker for that amazing quote. Let us judge for ourselves today how we should live our lives in awe of the divine justice that is coming.