I’d like to talk to you about Jesus. Is that okay that we talk about Jesus for a few minutes? You won’t mind, right? In this room, in this place with all of you, talking about Jesus is perfectly fine. In fact, that’s why you are here today. We are here to talk about Jesus, to listen to his Word, to sing his praises. That’s completely normal – that’s expected! Now, say I go home with you for the week. Say I go to work with you tomorrow and as you’re conversing with your co-workers, I jump into the conversation and say, “Hi, yeah, I’m Pastor Free, I’m Mike’s pastor, and I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.” Or, say you got together with a couple of friends for a meal later this week, and I tag along and during the meal conversation I chime in with a, “Hey, do you ladies mind if I talk to you about Jesus?” Imagine that moment: Me, and you, and a group of your friends or co-workers, and the topic of Jesus. How would that go? (Apart from it being a little creepy that your pastor is just sort of with you all day).
I want you to think about that for a little bit, and we will come back to it. In the meantime, let’s talk about Jesus, and let’s talk about Jesus by using the first two verses of our lesson, verses 49 and 50. Start with verse 49, Jesus said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Jesus wants to start a fire, and you know what fire does? It either destroys or it purifies – in a sense it divides. The gospel when it enters our hearts divides us from our sin and unites us to God; it brings us real and lasting peace with him. Yet, that same gospel, when heard and rejected, destroys. It separates, or divides, people from God. And at the center of this fire, that either divides us from sin or divides us from God, is Jesus. Now, let’s look at verse 50.
Jesus talks about this fire that he wants kindled and then he says this, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” As Jesus is waiting for this fire of the gospel to be shared and spread up until Judgment Day, he acknowledges that a spark must kindle this fire, and the spark was him. For the gospel to spread and succeed he, Jesus, would need to be “baptized” by the wrath of God in our place—and he was distressed, anxious, on pins and needles, until this baptism was completed, but that’s just it, he knew he would complete the baptism. He knew he would start the fire, and he did. Jesus was divided from his Father, forsaken on the cross and left to suffer our hell, so the fire of faith could burn bright in our hearts.
Now, you would think that a message of reconciliation and forgiveness of sins through Christ would be a winsome one. You would think people would want to talk about this great salvation story; that this message would result in a universal peace as we all unite around Jesus’ name and sing his praises into eternity. You would think that people would want to talk about Jesus, and that his name would be in every conversation you have and hear. Which brings us back to my earlier thought.
If I were to follow you around and offer to talk about Jesus to your friends, or family, or co-workers, how would that go? You know what? Cut me out of the equation. How would it go if you brought up Jesus? It might go fine, right? Maybe your friends or co-workers are religious in some way, and they’d politely hold a conversation with me, ask some questions, discuss some doctrines. And, yet, at the same time, when you throw out the name Jesus, even among those who consider themselves religious, it can get a little tense. It can get awkward. Why? Because people disagree about Jesus. Many disagree about who Jesus was, what he came to do, and even how we ought to interpret his words. In fact, there are many people out there who would say we, this world, would be better off without Jesus. Very often then Jesus is, or can be, divisive.
Interestingly enough, Jesus said that people would feel this way about him. Just look at verse 51 of our lesson. Jesus said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” These words might seem a little uncharacteristic of Jesus. I mean isn’t this the guy who is supposed to bring peace on earth? Isn’t this the fella who commanded Peter to put his sword away at his arrest? Didn’t Jesus look down on those crucifying him and say, “Father, forgive them”? So, what is this? Is Jesus having a bad day? Is he messing with us? No, this is the real Jesus, and the real Jesus does divide.
Now, let’s understand why he divides. What often polarizes and divides people about Jesus is the self-centered nature of his teaching. To be clear, I’m not saying that Jesus is self-centered – he absolutely is not – I’m saying his teaching is self-centered. What do I mean by that? It’s simple. Jesus’s teaching it’s always about him. “I am the way the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one can come to the Father except through me.” “I am the resurrection and the life…” Jesus is clear: what you think of me matters. He even asks his disciples at one point, “Who do you think I am?” Because who he is to them and to us is the difference between heaven and hell.
So, here is the thing, we in this room expect this kind of talk from Jesus but think about how off-putting this must sound to those who know nothing about Jesus. I mean how far would your friendships or romances get with a person, if every time you got together after the first few minutes of polite conversation you said, “Alright, enough talk about you. Let’s talk about me. Don’t you think I’m great? You know if you don’t love me more than anything or anyone else your life is not going to mean much.” What would someone say to that? “Boy, hey, let’s get together again; I like you.” I mean if this were a date would the girl go home hoping that the guy would ask her out again? “Mom, he’s great! He takes all the pressure off. He just talks about himself. I love it.”
This is Jesus! Everything he says, all of his teaching, it’s about him! If your eye keeps you from him. If your hand keeps you from him. What does Jesus say? Pluck it out. Cut it off. He tells us to eat him and drink him. Jesus wants all our attention and all our love! And in most cases if you were to run into someone as seemingly self-centered as Jesus, you wouldn’t want anything to do with that person. Which is why Jesus can be so divisive. You either love him or, dare I say it, you hate him – I don’t think I’m overstating this! You can’t be neutral about Jesus. If someone thinks they can be indifferent toward Christ, then they don’t understand who Jesus really is and they’re hoping in their head that his teachings aren’t absolute; that he doesn’t necessarily mean what he says. So, you either believe in Jesus or you don’t. You either adore him or you despise him. In this way, Jesus divides. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
And that division, it can get pretty personal, in those last verses Jesus says it may even divide families. And that’s where this all gets so real and so hard. Look we love people on this earth, family, friends, co-workers – we do! And the idea of being divided from any of those people because of the Words of Jesus, well, how does that not tear us up inside? But, I want to be clear – I don’t want us to miss this point – that division tears up Jesus too.
But, here in this moment, in theses verses, Jesus is focused on you. He doesn’t want to be divided from you too. He doesn’t want to lose you. He knows that we will be tempted to try and reconcile with the world. He knows our desire for peace on earth. And he knows how that desire for peace could very well lead us away from him, all to appease those whom we love on this earth or, if nothing else, to just fit in.
So, here he is, here is your Savior, saying, “Please, don’t. Don’t fit in. Don’t seek peace on this earth. Don’t risk being forever divided from me. It’s not worth it.” And, that’s just it, it’s not worth it. Friends, peace on earth means very little when eternity is at stake. Jesus came to set this earth on fire, and throughout history that fire of his Word has both divided and purified, but one day, on Judgement Day it will consume. And, so Jesus knows that what this world needs, what you need, what everyone needs, is division. We needed to be divide from our sin. We need to be divided from anything, and even anyone, who might keep us from Christ. So, Jesus speaks the hard words. He shares his self-centered teachings. He divides…to keep his peace with you.
So, can we talk about Jesus? I hope we can, and I hope you will. Because it’s only when we talk about Jesus and share his Word that division happens, but that division may be a good thing. Your words may be what kindles a fire in the heart of someone else, dividing them form their sin and giving them that same peace with God that you have every day and will have into eternity.
May we all look forward to that day of peace when we will be divided from this sinful flesh and this sinful world and forever be united with Christ. Amen.