Thirteenth sunday after pentecost
Shepherd of the Hills Ev. Lutheran Church (WELS)
Warnings from the Word Series: “Division, Not Peace”
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (NIV)
The officer arrives on the scene to see the criminal surrounded by police. The criminal is armed. An officer shouts at him to drop his weapon and put his hands up where they’re visible. The criminal hesitates. The officer fires a warning shot and repeats his command, at which point the criminal obliges and lays down his weapon. Elsewhere, a driver on the highway notices a blinking yellow light up ahead and as he slows down, he observes the “Caution” sign. The sign indicates that the bridge is out up ahead and a detour is necessary. He cautiously proceeds and follows the detour signs to eventually arrive at his destination.
Both cases involved a warning, yet the purpose behind each was strikingly different. In the first case, the warning was purely a threat to the criminal that if he didn’t follow directions, ugly consequences would follow. In the second case, the warning was not a threat, but rather a safeguard to ensure that no driver would unknowingly run the risk of driving over an unsafe bridge. Two different warnings each have different purposes.
So as we begin our series this morning on “Warnings from the Word,” which purpose is in line with the warnings God gives to us through his Word? Is he threatening stern consequences, or is he lovingly trying to protect us? Can the answer be “both?” And don’t both ultimately stem from his boundless love that desires to see no one suffer eternal consequences, but everyone to remain safe and secure in his loving presence forever? Surely the complete opposite of love would be to know of a danger that others are risking and say nothing of it! And one would also wonder where the love was if someone was aware of the reality of boundless blessings for all eternity, but didn’t lovingly warn others who ran the risk of forfeiting those blessings. So God’s love compels him to warn us not only of imminent danger when on the wrong path, but also to warn us of the good we might be passing up unless we are on the right path.
What, then, is God’s first “Warning from the Word” that we’ll look at this morning? He lovingly warns us that Jesus will break families apart. Now that’s not to label Jesus a home wrecker. However, his message and his work will offend many and cause division within the family. So why does he warn us? So that when it happens, we aren’t caught off guard with a weak faith or worse – no faith – making us willing to compromise when it comes to God and his Word before we are willing to put up with discord and division within our family. God would not have us risk the blood of his own Son for the blood of father, mother, brother, or sister. God’s warning is that this stuff – your faith, his Word, Jesus’ work – it will destroy families by causing offense and disdain. But don’t let that destroy your inheritance in heaven that he gave everything to secure. We are better equipped to deal with that if we recognize Jesus’ warning: he came to bring Division, Not Peace.
Imagine you are job-hunting and you come across a job offer that includes this description: “Worker will need to completely downsize. Employment here will result in employee being unwelcome by others. It may result in being turned over to the police and punished. Employee will be betrayed, hated, and persecuted. If employee badmouths employer in any way, employment will immediately be terminated, and ex-employee will be black-listed. Finally, employment will leave your family divided and they will turn against you.” Of course those aren’t the words of any job description; rather, they are a description of what one can expect as a believer (as paraphrased from the tenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel).
But if those words were a job description, I would imagine that most could willingly put up with much of that list if it meant being employed. The one exception, however, might be the damage it would do to family. While there are some who get along just fine without family, most would admit that there is no tighter bond than the one with family. We will tolerate an awful lot more from our family than we ever would from others. We will fiercely defend the members of our family and give them the benefit of the doubt every time before we take a stand against them. For many, there is nothing else in life that comes before family.
Did you know that there is actually a name for that in Scripture? It’s called idolatry. When Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26), he was using a figure of speech to convey that devotion to family cannot ever trump devotion to him. Jesus knew how challenging that would be; after all, he is the one who blesses us with families. Knowing how much we would treasure the families into which he has so graciously placed us, he warns us that when division occurs within the family because of him, there is no taking sides with family instead of Jesus.
Does this happen? Ask the family members who try to defend or even hide their relative’s sinful divorce, even when they know it is wrong. Why has the mother’s stance on living together in sin before marriage suddenly softened, if not because it now applies to her son? Talk to the sibling who always clearly understood that homosexuality was sin… until a brother or sister came out and suddenly homosexuality might not be wrong after all. Ask the parents who always gave the teacher the benefit of the doubt in discipline cases… until it was their own child who needed discipline. Follow up with the who-knows-how-many former members/families of any given church who hightailed it out of there because they didn’t like “the church” calling a spade a spade when it came to some sin in the family.
In each case, what changed? Did God’s Word change? No, it was just denied on the basis of emotional attachment to family. That’s what Jesus was warning against. Sin and the application of God’s law to point it out will result in families being divided. Jesus said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (v.51-53). The question is, which side of the divide will we be on? Will we side with family against the Savior and his Word, or will we heed Jesus’ warning and reflect that our hearts and our loyalty belong to him, even if it means scorn and rejection from our own flesh and blood?
Our answer to that question may potentially have much more serious consequences than just being cut off from family. Not only is it sin to side with those who deny God’s Word, but the greater danger is that once we become comfortable denying God’s Word for the sake of family in one area, it becomes easier and easier to deny God’s Word in other areas. And if – God forbid – that ultimately leads to rejection of Jesus altogether, we shudder to think of the eternal consequences. After all, Jesus himself dreaded the division that would come into the world through him. He said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (v.49). Jesus knew families would be ripped apart by the message he came to bring, and if he knew how much turmoil that would cause on earth, it is hard to imagine how much dreadfully worse it must make eternity.
His awareness of that no doubt contributed to his distress not only over the message he came to bring, but the sacrifice him came to make. He said, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! (v.50). “Baptism,” as he uses it here does not refer to his baptism in the Jordan – a baptism of water; rather, it refers to the suffering and crucifixion he would need to endure, the cup of suffering about which he would later pray in Gethsemane. How remarkable then that Jesus a) knew the division that would result from his work, and b) knew the suffering and pain it would require him to endure, and still he marched forward.
But Jesus was not only distressed; he was also determined. In spite of the agony that would come from both his suffering and his realization that his work and Word would turn family member against family member, he was determined to see our salvation through to the end. He saw the imposing mountain of pain and suffering that was before him, and he didn’t shy away. He was willing to make the greatest sacrifice so that the sin that sets up family as an idol, and the sin that separates sons, siblings, and spouses would be forgiven. Daunting as the task at hand was, Jesus did not pass the buck or refuse to deliver the helpless.
Neither did a man named Chris Ihle, from Des Moines, IA earlier this month. His late lunch over, and Chris had come back to finish the day out at the bank where he worked. While in the parking lot, he suddenly noticed there was a car stopped on the train tracks of a nearby crossing, with the sound of the train whistle ringing in his ear. As he hurried toward their car, Chris heard the drivers of other cars shouting to the elderly couple inside to get out, but the couple remained inside while the elderly gentlemen in the driver’s side kept trying to start the car. As he arrived at the car, Chris realized the hood was over the train track, and that he should only need to move the car a bit in order to save the couple. He pushed, but nothing happened. The train kept rumbling toward them and he pushed again, while yelling to the driver to make sure the car was in neutral. This time the car rolled back enough to keep both the car and Chris out of the train’s path as it raced by. He had risked his life to save the couple.
Jesus not only risked his life, but gave it for you and me, and he delivered us from a fate far worse than the damage any train wreck could cause. Yet, those who choose family or any other worldly concern over Jesus and his Word fail to see that they are essentially stalled on the tracks, yelling to Jesus, “Get out of here! Leave me on the tracks! I don’t want you to push me off – I am right where I want to be!” Yes, right in the path of destruction, jaded by the empty prospect of peace and harmony within the family, they are blind to the eternal consequence of choosing the passing peace of family over the permanent peace that Jesus purchased for eternity. Jesus warns us this morning because his desire is that we wouldn’t forfeit his peace. He warns us, because he yearns for us to reap the guaranteed benefits of salvation he paid so dearly to secure. Amen.
“For the freer confidence is from one’s own works, and the more exclusively it is directed toward Christ alone, so much better is the Christian it makes.” (Luther)