Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 12:49-53 – Jesus the Great Divider

Grace For The Journey

We are continuing our series of messages through the Gospel of Luke.  We begin in verse 49 today and we come to a point in the passage where Jesus speaks briefly and succinctly with respect to the effects of His coming.  It is a startling passage inasmuch as Jesus says something here we really do not expect.  Have you ever heart this charge, “The Bible is full of contradictions!  Maybe you have thought that yourself.  For instance, in Matthew’s Gospel it says that both thieves on the cross were hurling insults at Jesus (Matthew 27:44) while in Luke’s Gospel only one is mentioned hurling insults and the other one is asking Jesus for forgiveness (Luke 23:39-43).  How do you deal with passages like that and are they evidence, in fact, of contradictions in the Bible?

Most of you know that the way you deal with these passages is by reading them carefully in context and by comparing Scripture with Scripture.  That is, we read the passage in context carefully and then ask ourselves, “Now where else in the Bible is this matter addressed and how does what we read there compare with what we read here?”  If we will do that carefully, we will find that there are no contradictions in the Bible whatsoever.

Strictly speaking a contradiction is a logical impossibility.  A contradiction is to assert something as true that simply cannot be. For example: “Two plus two equals four and two plus two does not equal four.”  Both statements cannot be true.  One contradicts the other.  There are no claims in the Bible where one thing is said to be true and then that truth is negated by some other passage.  There are no contradictions, but there are passages that may be problematic if we do not study them contextually and compare Scripture with Scripture.

Going back to the example given a moment ago, we read Matthew in his Gospel telling us that both thieves on the cross either side of Jesus hurled insults at Him while Luke mentions only one and that the other one actually asks Christ for forgiveness.  So, what is going on?  What is going on is that Matthew mentions only what happened initially with these two thieves and leaves out what happened later.  He says that both of these thieves hurled insults at Jesus.  That is true.  Luke then tells us what happens later.   One of these two thieves becomes convicted of his sin and later asks Jesus for forgiveness.  After all, they had hung on the cross for several hours and this other thief had time to witness the love and suffering of Christ and so, while he was initially speaking against Christ he later becomes convicted of sin and asks Christ for forgiveness.  Matthew simply omits this part of the crucifixion in his account.  There is no contradiction between the two accounts, but rather a harmonization that occurs when we read the two carefully, knowing that our God is not a God of contradiction, but a God of infallible, and inerrant truth.

Now I mention this because in our passage this morning Jesus says in verse 51, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth?  I tell you, not at all, but rather division.”  Now wait a minute!  Didn’t we read earlier in Luke’s Gospel, back in Chapter 2, that an angel of the Lord appeared and spoke to the shepherds about the birth of Christ and then we read, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14).  Christ comes to bring peace toward men.  But He says here in chapter 12 that He does not come to bring peace to men.  We also read in Isaiah 9:6 that prophetic announcement, 700 years before the birth of Christ, the prophet says, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Jesus says here in Luke 12:51, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth?  I tell you, not at all, but rather division.”  Do we have a contradiction here?  Well of course we do not.  We begin with the knowledge that God is perfect and without error so He will never once contradict Himself.  The fact is, both statements are true.   On the one hand, Jesus brings peace, peace with God and peace with others.  But, on the other hand, it is also true that Jesus brings division, a division between those who follow Him and those who do not follow Him.  Both statements are true and we know this experientially.  Many of us can talk about how our Christian faith brings about a real peace with God, but we can also share how it is that we also frequently experience a real division with others.  others.  This is the point that Jesus is making. 

Let’s look at these verses a little more closely.  I have two main divisions of the passage and then I want to share a few questions for personal reflection.  First . . .

I.   Consider How Christ’s Mission Affects Himself.

Jesus says in verses 49 to 50 “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!”  Jesus uses two metaphors here with respect to His coming, to His first coming, His mission on earth.  He uses the image of fire in verse 49 and the image of baptism in verse 50.  The metaphor of fire shows the result of how His coming affects the world.  His coming is like a fire of division.  The word “fire” referring to the way the Gospel can be divisive, the way it can divide.  The word “baptism” in verse 50 refers to the way in which the result of Christ’s coming affects Himself.  In this context “baptism” refers to Christ’s suffering and death.  It is equivalent to what Jesus called “the cup” in Luke 22 where Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  Jesus is referring to the cup of suffering He must drink, the cup of God’s wrath poured out upon Him as our supreme sacrificial substitute to take away our sin.  This is the same meaning in verse 50 – This is the baptism that Jesus has “to be baptized with.”  This is how Christ’s mission affects Himself. 

Secondly . . .

II. Consider how Christ’s Mission Affects The World.

In verses 51-53 Jesus talks about how His coming, how His mission, affects the world.  We have already read how Christ’s coming affects Himself – He will undergo suffering and death to take away our sin – and now we read how His mission affects the world.  His mission brings division.  Read it again in verses 51-53:

Verses 51 through 53 say, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.  For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three.  Father will be divided 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 her mother-in-law.”

The background for what Jesus talks about here comes from Micah 7:6.  The prophet Micah speaks about the division that occurs between the younger and older generation.  But Luke applies Micah’s words to the division that occurs between believers and unbelievers regardless of age.  It is a division that occurs between those who follow Christ and those who do not follow Christ.  This is a division that is seen even among those within their own families (verse 53).

So Christ’s mission affects Himself.  He speaks of His coming as baptism He must be baptized with, the immersion of Himself into suffering and death.  And He speaks of how His mission affects the world.  His coming brings division, division between believers and unbelievers.

I want to pull these truths together by asking 3 questions for personal application. 

First . . .

1)  Do I Realize The Depth Of Christ’s Commitment To My Salvation?

Jesus says in verse 49 that He came to send fire on the earth and then He adds this statement, “And how I wish it were already kindled!”  That is, Jesus looks forward to the culminating effect of His suffering and death upon the cross.  This is also the meaning behind what He says in verse 50, “I have a baptism to be baptized with,” – and that baptism is the baptism of His suffering and death.  Then Jesus adds these forceful words, “and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!”

Do you hear what Jesus is saying?  He is saying, “Look, I have come to die on the cross.  How distressed I am till it happens!  I cannot wait for my mission to be fulfilled.  I so want to make possible your salvation from sin that I am distressed till it is accomplished.”  Jesus Christ was utterly committed to dying on the cross for your sins.  His suffering and death was no accident.  His suffering and death was part of God’s divine, purposeful plan to accomplish your salvation.  It is important that we remember this.  Christ’s death was not some horrible cosmic accident or something that happened that was not part of God’s plan.  Jesus knew this was His mission when He came.  He will say later to Zacchaeus, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save those who were lost” (Luke 19:10).”  He says in John 10:17-18, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Jesus came to die for your sins.  He came with you and your need for forgiveness in mind.  Realize the depth of His love and commitment to your salvation.  He says, “I am distressed until this is accomplished!  I am looking forward to the culminating effect of my death, burial, and resurrection because it means life for you and forgiveness for you.”  In dying for us Jesus says, “I love you.”  Realize the depth of Christ’s commitment to your salvation. 

Second . . .

2)  Do I Understand That Following Christ Brings Division?

Christ’s coming, His mission and work, His death upon the cross, brings division between believers and unbelievers.  We should not be surprised when this happens.  Two quotes about the name of Jesus and how the Gospel is divisive, how it divides.   The first quote is from Kent Hughes, pastor emeritus of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois: “The very mention of Jesus’ name sundered ancient Judaism, giving His words exquisite fulfillment.  During the first 400 years of the Roman Empire, His name could land one in jail, or worse.  To the world religions, the name Jesus has been strident and invasive.  During the last seventy years, allegiance to Jesus could land one in a Chinese prison.  Islam is at war with the Christ of the Scriptures.  Just ask a convert!”  Even the American media are generally hostile to personal reference to Jesus Christ.”

True, isn’t it?  Following Christ brings division.  The second quote is from JC Ryle, pastor from an earlier generation, who says, “…The Gospel will often produce divisions in families, and … Even two persons who are most nearly related, may become estranged from one another, in consequences of one being converted and the other not.  That this is constantly the case, is well known to all who know anything of true religion.  Few believers can look round the circle of their relatives and acquaintances, and not see striking illustrations of the truth of our Lord’s prophecy in this passage.  Melancholy as it seems, it is a fact that nothing annoys some persons so much as the conversion of their relatives.”

I heard about a young pastor who had surrendered to the ministry and someone in his  extended family, upon learning of his enrolling in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “Well, couldn’t he be a more distinguished minister – like and Episcopalian?!”  This relative was not a follower of Jesus Christ and so the comment was not too surprising.  In her view, Baptists were too caught up with the Gospel and the name of Jesus.  There is something about the Gospel and the very name of Jesus Christ that divides.  The Gospel divides.  It is a division that goes into eternity.  Jesus says in two different places: (1) Luke 9:26, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”  And (2) Luke 12:8-9, “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.  But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

Ask yourself, “Do I understand that following Christ brings division?”

Thirdly . . .

3)  Am I Willing To Risk The Disapproval Of Others To Follow Christ?

During a recent Operation Andrew outreach effort, we went into neighborhoods witnessing for Christ.  In one neighborhood where they were going door-to-door we had several folks express disapproval, rejection, and ridicule when we sought to shar the Gospel.  This is the sort of division we can expect when we share Christ.

Following Christ may cost you friends, a job, a promotion, or popularity.  It may cost you a future spouse.  This is why the Bible teaches that we are to yoke ourselves together with believers.  If you are dating with a view toward marriage, be sure you are dating a Christian.  It is not always easy.  Not everyone shares our love for the Gospel or even using the name of Christ.

Sometime back I was preparing for a funeral and the person with whom I was talking was not a member of our church.  It was left to her to make arrangements and she was going over with me her plans for the service.  More than once she said something like, “Keep in mind there will be people here from all walks of faith.”  I really felt like she was afraid I was going to “preach the Gospel!”  You know, “Watch out.  Don’t use the name of Jesus as though He were the only way.”  That is the way I felt she was coming across.  So what did I do?  I told her that I always incorporate in the funeral message a presentation of the Gospel – that that issue was no negotiable.  But understand that the very name of Jesus often divides.  The Gospel divides.  But remember this: whatever pain we may encounter here as a follower of Christ, will be worth every minute of it when we consider eternity.

Are you willing to risk the disapproval of others to follow Christ?  Can you sing:

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow;

The world behind me, the cross before me;

No turning back, no turning back.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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