You can read this text and say, "Some Savior" in a disappointed way because Jesus speaks of fire, distress, and division. Of course, the goal of all Scripture is that we come away from it saying, "Some Savior!" in an amazed way. So how do we get from disappointment to amazement? This text is like a movie that shows you the end and works back to the beginning.
Jesus says that He has come to bring division. This is contrary to what people think about religion in general and Jesus in particular. People think there is legitimate cause for division in politics and sports. From Yellow Dog Democrats to Regan Republicans to people who bleed burnt orange or maroon, divisions are accepted and expected in sports and politics. In religion, division is distasteful and wrong. Jesus says otherwise. He says, "I have come to bring division on earth." People can think differently about politics and sports and not be divided, but not about Jesus.
Jesus is like a watershed. The water that falls on the western side of the Rockies flows to the Pacific Ocean, and the water that falls on the eastern side flows to the Gulf. Water must divide at the Rockies. Likewise, people must divide at Jesus. He is either your Savior and Lord or He is not. You either worship Him or you don't. You are either bound by His Words, all of them, or you are not. What a person thinks of Jesus affects the best human relationships. It divides fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and brides and mother-in-laws. Jesus doesn't say this might or could happen but that it will. You could sing, "They'll know we are Christians by our divisions."
Does this offend you? It is absolutely blasphemous to the world. The world thinks the most important relationships are between people. This is the plot line for virtually every TV or movie drama. There is a breakdown in a relationship between two people. The main character struggles with his "sin" of breaking the relationship. The climax comes when he sees his life is meaningless without that relationship. The plot is worked out when the relationship is mended. The relationship between God and man is usually not even acknowledged. Or if it is, it's the cause of the break between people and then compromising it mends them. For example, the Christian father disowns his sinful daughter. In the end, he chooses the relationship with his daughter over his relationship with God. And the world cheers.
You know why these shows are popular? Because they are reality. You just think you're ready for the divisions Jesus promises He causes. Wait till what Jesus teaches gets in the way of your mother and child reunion, and then see what happens. Every sin from sexual to false doctrine, I've seen Christian parents embrace, overlook, deny for the sake of a child. TV land rejoices and the angels mourn. But how can it be otherwise? Who can follow Jesus at the cost of losing family?
Back up a step. Go back to what Jesus says right before saying He brings division. The first division Jesus speaks of is between Him and His Father. The baptism Jesus speaks of is not the one He received from John. He's using baptism as a figure of being flooded by the wrath of God as the Psalms do, "All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me," says Psalm 42, and Psalm 88 says, "Thy wrath lies hard upon me, and Thou hast afflicted me with all Thy waves." In Mark 10 Jesus again uses baptism as a figure for His suffering under the wrath of God.
The first division is between God the Father and God the Son. God the Father loaded all the world's sins, all your sins, upon His only beloved Son, until He couldn't stand the sight of Him. "Get out of My sight, "the Father said on Calvary, and the Sun made it so by refusing to shine on the Son. You just think the mother and child bond can't be broken. It can as mothers who kill their children and fathers who abuse them prove. Scripture says this too. Psalm 27 says, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." Get that? Mothers and fathers can forsake their children, but the Lord won't. And yet, on Calvary, He does. He forsakes, turns away, from His Son to claim all us sinful sons and daughters.
That's the division to focus on. This first division is what established peace between us and God. It's true that God didn't send His only beloved Son into the world to establish peace in the world, but He did send Him to establish peace with the world. On the night Jesus was born, the Father through His angels declared a unilateral peace treaty with earth which we still sing of each Sunday in the liturgy, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will toward men." On Christmas God announces that through His Son He has made a vertical peace treaty, one between the Holy God and sinful mankind. What joy!
Not to the world. The world wants a horizontal peace treaty, one between men. This is the holy grail, the utopia, the Promised Land of movie stars, rock singers, and beauty queens. If we could just get peace between Arabs and Israeli, black and white, rich and poor, etc., that would be heaven. In fact, Jesus and His followers are sharply criticized for failing to do this. The peace between God and Man that Jesus works and the Church proclaims means nothing to the world. The world either doesn't think there is any reason for God to be at war with it or doesn't care if He is. You do.
You can live with people angry at you, but not God. You can live with being divided from people, but not from God. You can live with being forsaken by mother and father, but not by God. And you don't have to live separated from God, and what's more, God doesn't want you divided from everybody else. Jesus said He brings division. That means some are divided from others not from everybody. But where do you draw the lines?
Back up a step. The text ends with Jesus promising that He brings division on earth. But right before that Jesus says how distressed He is until He finishes suffering, crying, bleeding, and dying for our sins under the wrath of God. A step before that, Jesus says, "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled." The Good News I have for you this morning is that the fire has been lit.
That's only Good News if you understand this is Gospel not Law. Jesus isn't longing to get the fires of Judgment going to burn all you miserable sinners. Jesus isn't longing to get the smelting fires roaring to purify all you tainted sinners. Jesus is longing to get the fire of New Testament worship lit as God lit the fires of Old Testament worship. In the tabernacle fire came from God and consumed the first burnt offering igniting a supernatural fire on earth which located God's presence on earth where people could come to God and God would come to people. The same thing happened after Solomon built the temple. The Lord answered him by fire and moved the Old Testament worship from tabernacle to temple.
Jesus longed to kindle such a fire on earth, but this fire would not be limited to a particular place or people. It would be worldwide. Jesus won the right to kindle the blaze by fulfilling the Law for the entire world and paying for the world's sins. Your sins, my sins, the world sins were all paid for and the ocean of God's wrath drank up by Jesus till it was finished. Then Jesus, the Man who is God, was welcomed into heaven to reign and rule as a Man on behalf of every man, woman, and child. The first thing He did when He reached the throne is send His Holy Spirit to earth.
The Holy Spirit lit a new fire on earth. On Pentecost, He came down upon the apostles and rested on them in tongues of fire. The New Testament fire was lit and it was one of Gospel not Law. The first thing the new fire did was break down language barriers. The ministers of the word could speak in all sorts of languages. The fire went on to burn down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, men and women, and especially between sinners and God.
The fire the Holy Spirit lit in the New Testament Church is a fire that unites. As people on a cold night huddle around the same fire, so sinners in the cold, dark night of this sinful world gather around the warmth of God's Holy Spirit in the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit burns bright in the warm Word of the Gospel that forgives sins. The Holy Spirit burns bright in the refreshing waters of Baptism that rebirths to everlasting life. The Holy Spirit burns bright in the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion that joins to God and to each other.
There is only one Spirit at work in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. Jesus only lit one fire on earth by His Holy Spirit. That fire burns in God's Word and Holy Sacraments. Scripture warns about quenching the fire the Holy Spirit lit. Scripture also warns about pretending there is no difference between the light from His fire and the darkness of sin, death, and the devil. If you make a division where Jesus does not make one, you're putting out the fire. If you acknowledge a unity where Jesus doesn't make one, you're gathering around a fire Jesus didn't light. Both are sins; both put you in danger of losing the Spirit. The Spirit doesn't call people into fellowship who teach or live differently than Jesus, and the Spirit doesn't call people to break fellowship over things Jesus doesn't teach.
Can you see where we stand as we seek to be faithful to the Lord who has bought us? Jesus can; His Church always stands here. As possessors of the fire Jesus kindled on earth, She burns some and warms others. She attracts some and repels others. The fire Jesus lit is to do the attracting and the repelling, not us. It is not to be our personalities, peccadilloes, or programs that people turn to or turn from, but the Holy Spirit's teaching, working, burning in Word and Sacraments. As we huddle around the warm fire of Word and Sacraments with the certainty of salvation worked for us and delivered to us by Jesus, then we'll say, "Nice fire; some Savior." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIII (20070826); Luke 12: 49-53