Friday, August 12, 2016

Divided by Jesus

Luke 12:49-53 Isaiah called him the Prince of Peace.  The angels proclaimed peace on earth at his birth.  St. Paul simply said: he is our peace.  At yet we hear Jesus tells us that he did not come to bring peace but division.  And so is it division or peace he brings?
Throughout his earthly ministry this contrast was present.  Simeon and Anna rejoiced in their Savior’s birth but Herod was enraged.  Zacchaeus was thrilled to know that his lifetime of sin was forgiven but the Pharisees grumbled about the wrong kind of people coming to God.  At the cross a Roman soldier came to faith and a thief entered paradise while the religious leaders used that last opportunity to mock and ridicule the Savior.
And so who was right?  Isaiah and the angels and Paul—or Jesus?  Did the Savior come to bring peace or did he come to cast the fire of judgment?  The answer to that question is “yes” and it cannot help but be so for Jesus is the Divine Dividing Line that cuts through the entire world full of people—through every nation and tribe—and yes, even through our families.
Every person in the world stands on one side of this Divine Dividing Line or the other.  On one side is peace and unity where Jesus Christ is confessed as Lord and Savior.  On the other side is judgment and division where he is rejected. 
There is no middle ground.  There is no gray area.  There are no neutral parties.  Jesus says:  “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  Throughout the Bible judgment is likened to fire and while we may not think of Jesus primarily as a Judge—or at least not until his seconding coming—he most certainly is a judge now and in  eternity. 
Every person- in this world- at this moment stands under his judgment.  You are either a child of God, declared right in his sight through faith in Jesus or you are God’s enemy, an object of his wrath, and a future inhabitant of hell.  Despite all of our human differences-gender, language, ethnicity, status—there are only two different kinds of people in this world:  disciples of Jesus or enemies of the cross.  It cannot be otherwise. 
The claim of our Lord Jesus Christ- and by extension, the church- is exclusive.  Jesus said of himself that whoever believed in him would be saved and that he was the way and the truth and the life and that no one could come to the Father apart from him.  His apostles said that there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we can be saved.  This is the Divine Dividing Line that separates all people.
We live in a religiously pluralistic culture that rejects this exclusive claim of Christ and his people.  They call it harsh and unloving and believe it to be judgmental and divisive.  Let’s be clear:  there is a judgment being made and there is a division that results but the call of Christ to come to him and be saved is anything but harsh and unloving. 
It is mercy and love that compelled Jesus to go to the cross and die for all.  He said:  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Once when the disciples are arguing about who was going to have the best place in the kingdom Jesus asked them:  Are you able to be baptized with the baptism I am about to undergo?  In other words, are you willing to suffer as I am about to suffer? 
This is the baptism he is talking about in these verses—his suffering and death on the cross in which we are baptized in the waters of holy Baptism—the sacrifice of his own life that transforms our life.  He desired noting other than to go to the cross bearing the sins of the world.
The call of our Lord Jesus Christ to come and be saved is spoken from the cross to every person in the world.  Yes, salvation is exclusively found in Jesus Christ but that salvation excludes no one and is open to all.  Jesus said that God so loved the WORLD that he sent his one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 
That there are still those who are outside of God’s kingdom—that there are those who will suffer eternally in the fires of hell--that there are those who are God’s enemies-- is not the fault of Jesus but it is because they have rejected the peace that is only found in Jesus. 
They are responsible for their lost condition.  Jesus says:  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. The response of our flesh and the world to the question of Jesus:  do you think that I have come to give peace on earth is “yes”!  That is exactly what we want. 
The world and our flesh want that kind of earthly peace where there are happy families and peaceful nations and prosperous economies irrespective of a life with God.  Earthly peace apart from God is an old, old problem.  It was for the people of Jeremiah’s day who were only too glad to listen to prophets who promised them peace despite their sins.  It was a problem for the disciples who were only too glad to confess Jesus to be the Messiah but reject his mission that would go to the cross. 
And it is still a problem in our day when we go out of our way to white-wash and explain away the very real differences between those who confess the faith and morals of Christ and the church and those who reject them.
There will be a day of earthly peace and plenty when the lion lays down with the lamb and the weapons of war and transformed into implements of peace but that day will come only through the cross and only for those who find in Jesus their peace.  Until that day there will be a division between those who follow Jesus and those who don’t—a line that can separate those closest to us in our families.  Jesus said:
From now on in one house there will be five divided, 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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
            Over the last several weeks, the words of Jesus have dealt with obeying the First Commandment by fearing, trusting, and loving God above all else.
            The parable of the rich fool is about trusting God above all else—including our hard work and savings.  Last week we heard Jesus tell us that anxiety, worry, and fear have no place in the life of a child of God and this week we hear Jesus talk about our first love—that we are to love God above every other love—even over our own family.  Perhaps this is hardest of all!
            We love our spouse and we love our kids and it is very difficult to conceive of a love that is greater than these loves.  But there is one- and must be one- and that is our love for God.
It does us no good to measure our feelings to determine whether our love for our family and our love for God is rightly ordered —what we have to do is look at where our loyalty lies.
Are we willing to excuse the sins of those closest to us because we treasure them more than God?  Are we willing to remain silent when God’s ways are questioned by those we love?  Are we willing to construct some other way of salvation for our loved ones who reject Jesus?  If we are willing to do these things—we do not love God first.
Our love and loyalty to God must come before every other human love and loyalty and yet when we do that—there can be division in our families where there ought to be unity.
God wants us to honor our father and our mother.  He wants us to love our children.  He wants us to cherish our spouses.  Our homes and families ought to be little pictures of the love and unity that we will enjoy in heaven.  But that is not always the case for Christians whose family member has abandoned Christ and his ways. 
What we can do in those situations is love them and pray for them.  What we may not do is excuse their sin or lack of faith or deny the Divine Dividing Line that is becoming clearer each day in the signs of the time.  Jesus said:
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens.  You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
The signs of the times are all around us if we will only see them for what they are.  In 1973 it became legal in this country for parents to murder their unborn children.  Homosexual marriage is now legal in our nations.  Entire denominations have embraced a moral stance that would be unrecognizable to the previous two thousand years of the Christian church.  Average church attendance in our country has dropped from 40% to 17%.  Those who speak for traditional Christianity are called hateful and intolerant.
These signs are not progress.  They are not equal protection under the law.  They are not the Holy Spirit doing a new thing as one pastor here in town said they were.  They are clear signs that there is a division between those who follow Christ and those who do not.
In the past it was possible for the well-meaning but mis-guided Christian to say that his neighbor who never worshipped was really a Christian deep down inside and that his friend who went to the church that ordains women and homosexuals was not so different than himself and that the co-worker who believed in evolution and abortion essentially saw the world the same way as he did.  That is not possible anymore! 
The dividing line between those who believe in Christ and walk in his ways- and those who do not- is becoming clearer each day-- and the animosity and distance between those two groups is also growing each day.
Jesus came to bring peace but that peace comes through the cross which separates the family of man into those who are being saved through faith and those who reject his peace.  May God grant us his grace to found on the right side!  Amen.

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