“At 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 29, 2013, in what has been called a “brutal and vicious act,” a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, forcibly removing all four of the family’s children (ages 7-14). The sole grounds for removal were that the parents, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education."
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association article went on to say,
This military grade raid occurred for the high crime of homeschooling.
I believe that this is illustrative of what is contained in our passage this morning. It shows something of the tension that exists between Christ and the rest of the world.
To be sure the authorities have nothing against home education as such. What upsets them is what those kids might learn there. If they are in the schools, the authorities can be sure they are getting a proper humanistic education. At home, who knows! They could be learning crazy things: like Scripture, or what it means to follow Christ.
As I said, this illustrates well the tension that is spoken of in our passage. We have seen that one of the main themes of this gospel is the division that exists between the Christian and the unbelieving. You can’t help but think that this book was written simply for the purpose of preparing the reader for the problems that he would meet with once he decides to follow Christ.
Our passage this morning certainly is one of those texts. Once again Jesus highlights the fault line that exists in this world. Christianity and the unbelieving world are like two tectonic plates. They are as distinct and separate as can be, but they are in constant friction.
Our passage even begins with Jesus admitting that he is the source and center of this tension.
I. Focus of the tension [49-50]
In verse 49 Jesus says, “I came to cast fire on earth, and would that it were already kindled!”
A number of years ago it was popular to create your own mission statement. It was a way of defining yourself. Well, here we have Jesus’ mission statement. He says that he has come to cast fire on the earth. He recognizes that who he is and what he demands of men will excite a furry of discord.
It is true. Jesus, you might say, is Ground Zero when it comes to the explosive division that exists between us and the world. Everything would be fine and dandy in the world if it were not for him. If he were not present—if he were not meddling in the affairs of history, if he did not require men to repent and obey—then all would go on its jolly way without any sort of dissonance.
The reason things get fired up is because Christ. Wherever he appears he brings the righteous standard of perfection. And people don’t want that. They don’t want to acknowledge a law, other than their own, that they are held to.
You’ve likely experienced this too. Whenever Christ comes into the picture, things always get dicey, does it not? What happens when a Christian is interviewed on Larry King Live or by Chris Matthews? There is a firestorm!
This is why, after he got done preaching, John Wesley would often say, “Who got offended and who got saved?”
Jesus is the great divider.
Wait a second. I thought he was supposed to be the Prince of Peace and the premier peacemaker. That’s what the mainline churches and the liberals paint him as. He’s supposed to be a unifier.
No doubt he is. If you want to have peace with God, there is only one way to do that. It is through Christ. Christ is a peacemaker and unifier. But his unification is through the gospel and through obedience to his word.
But he is also the most divisive man in history! That’s because there are not many people who want to embrace that gospel and acknowledge him as Lord.
And Jesus acknowledges this in what he says in verse 50 when he says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” He’s talking about his death here. The imagery of baptism is an image of dying. When you are baptized you are acknowledging that the old man has passed away and a new man has come to life.
But why did Jesus have to go through this baptism? Why did he have to die? It’s because people hated him. They wanted to be rid of him and that was the way they sought to do it.
Of course, we know that backfired on them. His death was the means of our salvation. But the cross is still the preeminent sign that Christ is the focal point of this tension that we experience.
I don’t know if I told this story or not here. But I once had the chance to serve as a counselor for some young people at a Christian festival. During the week one of the young ladies that was in my group made a profession of faith. I got to talking to her once and I asked her what this decision really meant for her life. She responded by saying, “It means life is going to get a lot easier.” It was one of those moments that things got a little awkward as I said to her, “I don’t mean to burst your bubble or anything, but things are probably going to get a lot tougher for you.”
This young lady, bless her heart, didn’t have a clue how radical her decision really was. In naming the name of Christ, you put yourself out of the line. You are aligning yourself with the most divisive person who ever lived and you should realize that you will get some kick back if you choose to do so.
And the next part of our passage indicates the extremity this division will be.
II. Extremity of the tension [51-53]
In verses 52-53 he says that fathers will be divided against their sons, and sons against their fathers. Mothers will be divided against their daughters, and daughters against their mothers.
In other words, this division is going to be so great that it will even sever one of the strongest possible bonds that exist here on earth. Whole family feuds are going to break out because some member of that family has chosen to follow Christ.
We see something of how extreme this tension is in the Muslim world. If you convert to Christianity, it is possible that your very own father can hunt you down in order to kill you.
I’ve heard of instances right here in America where parents have virtually shunned their children because they have become Christians. I’ve heard of other examples where parents have threatened to put their children in asylums because their children have become Christians and their life has changed so drastically that their parents viewed them as going insane.
But this is exactly what Christ predicted. And I believe we should take these words to mean that “if it can be this way in one’s family, should we not then expect that there will be a similar reaction by society at large?” Here we have the nucleus of society. The family is supposed to be united by the ties of blood. If it can be split and such friction can be witnessed there, then does it not logically follow that there would be divisions on a more grand scale.
You know there are issues that are becoming “the line in the sand” type issues. Homosexual marriage is one of the major issues of the day. And it is not just that people are wanting to have homosexual unions. That is not enough. The real issue is your accepting it as legitimate, backing it, and even promoting it.
If you do not, just think of all that could happen. You might have heard about the photography studio that would not shoot the wedding service of such a couple. They were sued, and the final decision was that this company had to violate their conscience.
We should expect to see more of this sort of thing. I don’t doubt that it won’t be long until you lose health benefits over such a thing. We are currently seeing a humanistic takeover when it comes to a great portion of the insurance world. And it may come to be that you could be denied certain coverage—or exempted from the whole thing altogether—because you will not sign on to the “party-line” on these issues. You may very well be deemed an enemy of the state, an outlaw who is a second class citizen.
Perhaps that is a little conjecture on my part, but the tension will evidence itself somehow. And you have to be ready to face it. There may be some of your most beloved people turn on you. They may consider you insane!
But whenever it comes you have to understand that this is par for the course when it comes to the Christian life.
Now you may be wondering, “Well, why is there all this fuss? Why don’t people like Jesus? Is he that bad of a fellow?” The answer to that is, of course, no. Jesus is the best of fellows. The problem lies in men.
Jesus highlights that in the next part of our passage. In verses 54-56 Jesus tells us that the cause of the tension lies in the depravity of men.
III. Cause of the tension [54-56]
He gets at this by talking about weather patterns. Jesus rebukes them because they are experts when it comes to predicting the forecast for tomorrow. But when it comes to picking up spiritual truth, they are as dense as can be. He says, “When it comes to the weather, Dick Goddard has nothing on you. But when it comes to recognizing who I am as the Son of God, you are completely dense—you cannot understand the the times.”
Now, we’ve talked before about the signs that Jesus had done up to this point. It wasn’t that long ago that he cast out a demon and they accused him of being the “Prince of Demons.” You could just flip back through the pages of this gospel and you will find countless miracles that he performed. He has raised the dead, cast our demons, caused the lame to walk, restored withered appendages, cleansed lepers. The list could go on and on.
Why could these people look up at the sky and know what precautions to take, but not have a clue when it came to the signs and wonders that were being displayed right before their noses? All of these things were clear indications that God was in their very midst—they were testimonies that the day of salvation that had been predicted since the beginning of time was right here at hand!
Why is it they couldn’t get it? The answer is simply that their hearts were evil. They could be given all the evidence in the world, but they would not take it to heart because their souls were dead set against God. They were so blind they made Helen Keller seem like she had 20/20 vision.
Ken Ham recently had a cartoon posted on his Answers in Genesis page. In the first vignette you see a man perched on a mountain top shaking his fist at the sky and saying, “God, if you are real, show me a sign!” The next window shows a bolt of lightening striking the mountain and carving out the words “I am the Lord thy God!” The man replies, “Wow what amazing thing! [Lightening] can spell!”
That cartoon is illustrating what these verses are trying to communicate. One doesn’t need any more evidence to convince them. The evidence is prolific.
Even today, evidence abounds. We don’t have the miracles of Christ, per se. But we have all kind of evidence. You can look at the by-products of Christianity throughout history. Wherever Christianity has prospered, there has been prosperity. Economic conditions are raised. Social systems are stable.
Just over a week ago I heard Caleb talking about the resurrection of Christ and how that is an uncontroverable fact. The amount of evidence there is for that is phenomenal. There is the testimony of that huge stone being rolled away. There are the appearances of Christ. There are the testimonies of the changed lives of the Apostles and how they were willing to die because they believed it (you don’t usually die for something that you made up out of thin air).
We could go on and on about how much evidence there is to prove that the Son of God rose from the dead. But the truth is it wouldn’t make a bit of a difference to someone who is unbelieving. Their hearts will not accept it. Even if they were honest enough to admit that it was proof positive, they still would not accept it.
It all comes down to a matter of the heart. And the heart of a sinner is such that he is set against Christ and anything that smacks of Him. They will not acknowledge Christ. Instead they will do everything in their power to fight against it. That is the root and cause of all these tensions.
But you’ll notice that our passage does offer some resolve. In verses 57-59 Jesus brings the message to a close, and he does so in grand style.
IV. Resolve of the tension [57-59]
Jesus draws on the imagery of the court system. He tells a parable about two guys on their way to the judge. He essentially says, “If you don’t make amends with your accuser, you are going to be in trouble. You are going to get put in prison and you will never be let out.”
What Jesus is saying is that the tension that now exists is one day going to be settled once and for all. There is coming a day when everyone will appear before the great Judge of the earth. And if you have not sought to get right with Christ prior to that time, then you are going to be sent to hell.
So, on the one hand, this is an assurance to us. There will be resolve. Jesus promises that the tension that we experience in this world is going to end. This is to encourage us to persevere through the tensions we may be experiencing. The Lord will return and he will put a stop to this conflict.
On the other hand, this is a warning to everyone who is opposed to Christ. Christ is very clear about the trajectory that you are on. You are headed to the prison house of hell.
But you’ll notice that there is good news implied here. If Jesus is your accuser and the Father the Judge, then this passage is saying that you can be reconciled if you attempt to do so. Jesus says that you are supposed to settle the matter with him before you get to the Judge. That means He is holding out the offer of forgiveness. He is saying that if you seek to make amends with him he will not hand you over to the judge (and as a result, you won’t be put in prison).
So really, it doesn’t matter where you stand. You could be currently serving him or you may have been opposed to him up to this point. These words are here to encourage you to name the name of Christ.
U. Bor. Sing, the heir of the rajah of Cherry, India, was converted by Welsh missionaries. He was warned that in joining the Christians he would forfeit his right to the throne of Cherry after the then ruling Prince. Ater the death of the King, the chiefs of the tribes met together and unanimously recognized that Bor. Sing was entitled to succession. But his Christian profession stood in the way. Messenger after messenger was sent urging him to recant. If he did, everyone would acknowledge him as king.
His answer each time was, “Put aside my Christian profession? I can put aside my head-dress and I can put aside my cloak, but I cannot put aside the covenant I have made with my God.”
He went on to live his life in abject poverty, continually being attacked with litigation. But through it all he remained a Christian still.
This man was ready to cast his crown at the feet of Christ. And as a result, it did not matter if it ended up being stripped from him first. He had his eyes on a greater kingdom and a greater King.
May we, brothers and sisters, do the same.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.