Skip to content
Aug 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 31, 2011

Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. Luke 12:51-52 (read verses 49-59)

INTRO: Does it bother you that the most influential leaders of our nation are so lacking in the skills necessary for cooperative projects that they cannot work together effectively?

These are the people who urge corporations and citizens to join hands and work together for a better America
– but faced with a serious national issue, they stubbornly divide along party lines

What would you think if the media exposed an intentional attempt to sabotage the process of establishing our national budget?
– that a senator defeated an agreement simply because it had been presented by someone from another political party?
– that would be low even in the world of politics
But this sort of sick behavior goes on all the time–in churches!

For example, Paul warned the Romans to avoid people who cause dissensions (Ro. 16:17-20)
– he also posted a few warning signs for the Philippians: Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision (Php. 3:2)
– some of these people think they are doing the work of God
– they don’t realize how they are acting out of their own dysfunction, need, delusion, and ego
A few of them are motivated by the idea (conscious or otherwise) that if they straighten out or at least criticize a spiritual leader, that makes them more spiritual than the leader
– for some reason, they need to see themselves–and present themselves to others–as spiritual superiors

Not everyone who shows up at a church in uniform is on the same team
– Jesus knew he was not going to win everybody (see Lk. 11:53)
– he knew that some people would see him as the problem (as their problem) and would feel driven to get rid of him

What does he have to say about this?

Verses 49-50, Jesus shifts his teaching style (it becomes more emotionally charged)

Jesus is suddenly talking about himself – and what he says is disturbing to his audience
– these verses are arranged in a parallelism: there two statements and both contain two clauses

A1) I have come to cast fire –
B1) I wish it were already kindled
A2) I have a baptism to undergo –
B2) I am distressed until it is accomplished

Line A1: Jesus is faced with a task
Line B1: His inner feeling regarding his task
Line A2: Jesus is faced with an ordeal
Line B2: His inner feeling regarding his ordeal

What is Jesus talking about?
– we have to work through the mystery of the words he uses
– if by baptism he meant cross, why didn’t he just say cross?
(he did not have any difficulty expressing himself clearly in 9:22)

Jesus is using metaphors
– and if metaphors, then his speech is creative and it is art
– I think it is important for us to hear Jesus as artist, as poet
– poetry can do things with words that conventional speech and prose cannot

Jesus, the Artist

  • language is his medium
  • words are his paints
  • speech is his brush
  • the images he paints are ideas–that connect us to him and to God

What Jesus shows us is not a photograph (that would be the literal representation)
– what we see in his landscape would not be visible to the naked eye in a photograph
– in his still life, we see a world on fire, in his self-portrait we see a baptism

Vincent van Gogh praised the work of two French painters, because they did not produce precise reproductions
– they painted things, not as they appeared but as they felt them–according to van Gogh

“All reality is at the same time symbolic. They are different from what are called realists.” Of his own work he said, “I exaggerate, sometimes I make changes in a motif; but for all that, I do not invent the whole picture; on the contrary, I find it already in nature, only it must be disentangled.” He said he made changes in reality to represent “more truth than the literal truth.”

So here, in Jesus’ first piece, we see fire and baptism–and in his metaphors we are shown “more truth than literal truth”
– do you remember what he said earlier about worry and treasure on earth? That our anxiety derives from the fact that we can lose our earthly treasures (12:29, 33-34)
– yesterday I saw a license plate rim on a sporty convertible that said, “She wanted it. She threw a fit. She got it.”
But maybe knowing that all our stuff is destined to go up in flames will help us to loosen our grip
– prior to the fire on earth there would be a baptism

Verses 51-53, Jesus’ second piece: “Division”

“Do you suppose?” He caught the surprised look on their faces
– it was the effect he hoped to produce
– what he says runs contrary to the expectations Luke raised in the first two chapters
Early in the story, by prophecy and angels, we were promised peace (Lk. 1:79; 2:13-14)
– only now do we discover that is not the whole story
– perhaps we got the wrong impression
A world in which peace was not a strength that bound people together in spite of their sharp and significant differences, but a sissified and low-grade peace that amounts to no more than tolerance

Previously, Jesus did not want them to worry
Now he does not want them to be at peace
– but the difference is between what is internal and external
– he can guarantee a peace within, but not among others

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. (Jn. 16:33)

The division would be between those who would accept his message and those who would oppose it
– this is illustrated in the next chapter

Lk. 13:17, As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

– Jesus wanted his present audience to feel the discomfort of this division

Verses 54-56, Jesus’ next piece: “Rain and Heat”

“And He was also saying to the crowds”
– I think it is fascinating that this is mentioned here
In his answer to Peter, we could not distinguish his disciple from the crowd (vv. 41-44)
– but now Jesus makes that distinction
– he can discern a disciple from just another person in the crowd
The disciple wants to understand Jesus and respond to him
– there is something insincere about the crowd (“You hypocrites!”)

I don’t know if Luke intended this or not, but it’s a little eerie
– Jesus’ fire and baptism in verses 49-50 are echoed here, but in reverse order: fire and heat wave, showers and baptism
– was there a baptism and a fire for the crowd too?

But the Lord’s point is that they were “hypocrites” – they had been infected by the Pharisee’s malady (v. 1)
– they could accurately interpret the earth and sky to predict the weather but acted as if they could not predict the kairos, “this present time” (cf. v. 42)
– Jesus set enough before their eyes for them to get it
– they knew enough to determine on which side of the divide they should take their stand

Verses 57-59, Jesus’ last piece: “Choose Wisely”

A challenge to use their own resources to discern what is right(eous)
– Jesus paints a scene in which a situation could easily go from bad to worse

Proverbs 14:16:
A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil,
But a fool is arrogant and careless.

Pr. 22:3:
The prudent sees the evil and hides himself,
But the naive go on, and are punished for it.

Paul’s advice regarding trouble-makers, people who cause divisions, act spiritually superior to others in order to deceive believers, run others down, and so on is similar to the Lord’s: Identify them and avoid them
– Jesus says, “on your way there make an effort to settle with him,” or “to be released from him” (A. T. Robertson points out that the Greek tense indicates that you do this so that it remains a permanent conditions–i.e., you never let yourself get entangled with the person again)

In verses 58-59, “prison” posed a real threat to Jesus’ audience, but it can also be seen as a metaphor (Lk. 4:18)
– it can represent the physical damage done to a person–economically, to their reputation, and so on
– it can represent the emotional damage done to a person–through broken trust, loss of relational support, and ongoing resentment

When you have become the victim of one of these posers who see you as their problem, what do you do?
– if you fight back, if you retaliate with the intention of “an eye for an eye,” or you take up their weapons and try to get people to join you in working against your attacker, you are going to lose
– that is because:

  • they have experience at this game and are much better at it than you
  • they have no conscience (and they know you do)
  • they have no empathy for others (and they see your empathy as weakness)
  • they have no remorse for the harm they inflict
  • everything they do, they do only for themselves

– you do not think or act like that–and it’s a good thing, too!
– otherwise, there would be no civilization, there would only be the jungle

The Lord’s advice is to resolve the issue as quickly as possible so that it does not go the full distance
– because you will be the one who pays for it if it does

CONC: I find myself asking, what does Jesus want me to take from this?

Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Make certain you know which side you’re on
    – you can think you are on the side of truth because some charming believer has quoted a lot of Bible verses to you while pointing out the flaws (or flawed doctrines) of others, but in reality, you are on the opposite side of Jesus on the issue
  2. Paint your life
    – become an artist like your Lord, in whose image you have been made
    – paint your day, paint your thoughts, your feelings
    – bring creativity and beauty to everything around you and everything you do

For when it comes right down to it, our worship of God is nothing less than the art of life itself

Leave a comment