At Christmas time we hear the familiar Old Testament verse, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). We sing the song, “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. . .” and we sing about how “no crying He makes.” What a nice picture. What a serene view of the world. Everything is calm and peaceful. And then we get to our text for today and all the demons break loose. It is Jesus, Himself, who tells us that, “49I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (v. 49-51). After reading our Gospel reading for today, instead of declaring that this is the Gospel of the Lord we might rather ask, “This is the Gospel of the Lord?” In the next few minutes we will look at the divisions and separations between unbelievers and believers about which this text is speaking.
First this text is speaking to the unbeliever. To the unbeliever Jesus was a good man and a good teacher. Jesus had some good words to teach us about how to get along with others, how to live peacefully in this world, and how to bear up under the struggles of life. To the unbeliever, Jesus was a good example. Through the life of Jesus we are shown how to live in peace and harmony with one another while we are living in this world. To the unbeliever, that is all there is to the life of Jesus, that He was a good man, a good teacher and a good example, no more, no less.
On the other hand, to the believer, to us who have faith in Jesus, to those of us who believe that He is truly God and truly man, Jesus is so much more. Yes, Jesus is a good man and a good teacher, and we say that in the present tense, because He is still alive and through His Word He is still teaching us. Jesus is a good example, but He is not just an example, He is more. Jesus is the one who came to do everything for us and ultimately to give His life for ours.
As we read in the Old Testament lesson for today, Jesus is our God who is far off. He is so big of a God that the universe cannot contain Him. He is so big that He fills every expanse, every space of the universe. He is everywhere present. He is in every inch of the universe. There is no place that we can go that we could get away from Him or hide from Him.
At the same time, Jesus is our God who is very near to us. Jesus is right here with us. Our God did not create the world and then leave it to run on its own. Our God is not “watching us from a distance.” No, He is right here with us. When we are alone and there is no one else around, Jesus is with us. When we are feeling lonely and are in need, Jesus is with us. He is with us every moment of the day, watching over us, guarding and protecting us, loving and caring of us.
Yes, Jesus is our “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus is true God, who gave up all the glory that was His in heaven, took on human flesh and blood, was born as one of us; one like us, one with us, expect without sin. He was born as a baby and placed in a manger, in a feeding trough for animals, in the small town of Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth and began His public ministry at the age of thirty. He is a real historic person. After He turned thirty years old, for three years He showed Himself, beyond a doubt that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the one promised by God to come and save the world. He showed Himself to be the Messiah by the signs, wonders and miracles He performed, by doing those things that only God and only God in flesh could do. Jesus is the one who was sinless, without sin, perfect and holy so that He could and did take our sins upon Himself. He is the one who suffered and died, who paid the price for our sins, who suffered the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place. He is the one who died for you and for me. The baptism that He was to be baptized with is His suffering and death on the cross for us in our place. He is the one who brings forgiveness, life, and eternal life to you and to me.
And for us Christians, Jesus brings peace. He brings peace, not as the world thinks of peace, not simply a moment or two of calm in an otherwise chaotic day, but He brings true peace. His peace is the peace of forgiveness of sins and forgiveness of sins is the greatest peace because with forgiveness we know we have eternal life. Indeed, Jesus gives the greatest peace, true spiritual peace. Yet, His peace is only offered to those who believe in Him.
And so, as Jesus brings peace, He also brings division. Jesus has given His life for ours and He has given us His Word. It is His Word through which the Holy Spirit works to bring us into His Kingdom. There is only one way into the Kingdom of Heaven and that way is through Jesus and faith in Him. The Christian faith and Christian teaching, that is, the Bible teaches the exclusivity of the Gospel, that is that there is only one way to heaven. Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And that is why Jesus brings division. The people of this world do not want to be judged by the standard which Jesus gives. The people of this world would rather set their own standard and yet we can see the hypocrisy in that as well, because they do not want to be judged by their own standard either.
As Christians, we believe the Bible is the Word of God. We do not believe the Bible simply contains the Word of God, which would allow for the possibility that some of the Bible may not be the Word of God. We believe all of it. As we say, God said it and that settles it. We believe that our God is a God who does not tolerate sin or lack of faith. And so there is division. The people of this world would rather go on living like they want to live, with the focus of their lives being on the things of this world, the temporariness of this world as we talked about last week, and they do not want to be condemned by God, so they condemn those who do believe.
Jesus, Himself, tells us that He came to bring a fire on earth. He came to bring division. The fire He came to bring is the fire of judgement. Jesus is the only way to eternal life. If there were other ways to heaven, to eternal life, certainly He would have told us and if there were other ways, why would He have allowed Himself to suffer and die on the cross? As Christians, now, living in the pluralistic society in which we live, we are left to face the divisions created by our faith in Jesus.
So what do we expect? Well, it does not look good. We can expect intolerance toward us as Christians, especially from those who espouse a doctrine of tolerance. We can expect ridicule from those who say there is absolutely no absolutes, there is no one truth, but truth is relative, in essence, that everyone is right. We can expect hatred from those who suggest we love each other, as they define loving each other. That is the way our world deals with people who believe that there is only one way to eternal life. That is what happens to people who believe there is a right and a wrong. That is the way the world treats those who believe in absolutes, in an ultimate authority, in other words, that is the way the world treats Christians. That is the way the world treated Jesus and we should expect nothing less as His followers.
Jesus’ words ring true still today. He comes to bring division and He even brings division in families. How often it is that, as a family, when we gather together, we do not discuss religion or as we say, religion and politics, which I believe are probably two of the most important things we need to discuss. Have you ever noticed how good the Devil is at distracting us from talking about what is most important, our faith. He does that by fooling us into believing that our faith is a matter of opinion. Everyone has certain “opinions” and everyone believes their “opinion” is the right opinion. Notice I said opinion. God’s Word is His Word. His Word is truth. Too often, we tend to become like the rest of the world. When we read and hear parts of God’s Word which we do not like, we develop our own “opinion” about His Word. We impose “our own understanding” or “our own” misunderstanding, instead of letting His Word speak to us and believing what it says. Thus, we too become trapped in our own hypocrisy. There are times that Jesus’ Words are hard words. His Words demand that we put aside our opinions and cling only to Him. His Words demand our complete allegiance, and with so many other things vying for our attention and allegiance in our world today, that makes it very hard for us and it often moves us to a divided allegiance, thus a divide house. Yes, Jesus brings division.
But we are not alone. Jesus never said we had to go it alone. He has promised that He will be with us, even to the end of the age. And so, once again, what can we expect. We can expect that Jesus will be with us. He will strengthen us and give us the strength we need as we struggle through life. As we read in the Epistle lesson, Jesus will give us the strength we need to endure the hardships that come in this life. And as He strengthens us, we are to strengthen each other, our bothers and sisters in Christ.
Our text for today is one of those texts that is hard to comprehend. This text takes Jesus out of the role of being a nice God and puts Him into a role that we do not like to see or admit, that He is also a just God and so He is then a God who brings division. But that cannot be helped. That is the nature of our world and the sin which has infected our world. We cannot have it both ways, thus there is division. We are either for Jesus, or against Him. And if we are for Him, we are for Him, one hundred percent.
Jesus is for us and He has shown how He is for us in that He has given His all for us, one hundred percent, His life for ours and He calls us out of our lives of sin. He puts faith in our hearts, gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And as He has promised, so He is with us, even unto the end of the world. My prayer for each one of you, then, is that the Lord would continue to work in your life, as you make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, reading your Bible, attending Divine Service and Bible class, remembering your Baptism, hearing Jesus’ words of Absolution and coming to the Lord’s Supper, so that you might be strengthened in your faith, and kept in that faith until Jesus comes again to take us to be with Himself in heaven. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.