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 how distressed I am 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."Across the board, the response to this question, "Do you think Jesus came to bring peace?", is almost exclusively 'Yes'. They would say Jesus is about peace, love, forgiveness. Actually, this is the wrong answer. The answer to whether or not Jesus came to bring peace is 'No'.
The statement Jesus makes in reply to His own question is, "No, I tell you, not peace, but division." Not simply in context of the immediate verses only, but in context of the entire Bible.
- The arrival of Jesus - The angels sang Glory to God, and peace among men.
- Isaiah - For unto us a child will be born, and he will be called the Prince of Peace.
It gets worse. When Paul looks back upon Jesus and writes it down, he describes what Jesus has done in terms of peace. He says that what was happening with the death of Jesus was that God was reconciling, making peace, the world to himself, in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. In looking at the words and works of Jesus, it is difficult to avoid the fact that Jesus is irrevocably linked to peace.
Let me try to resolve this. The words from Paul help us to understand what Jesus says before He asks this question. His preface has to do with a fire on the earth and a baptism which He is about to face. He is referring to the fact that fire does two things. It burns up what is combustible, and it purifies what is not combustible. This notion of fire to which Jesus refers is a fire which will both burn up and purify at the same time. He is referring to the fire of God's holiness, which will ultimately be unleashed on a world that continually turns its back on Him.
Jesus looks forward to the day when evil will be removed entirely from the world. Who doesn't look forward to that day, when all the suffering in the world will be done away with. Ultimately, He who is referred to in Isaiah as the Prince of Peace will reign, but in the meantime, strife continues. Jesus is going to go through a baptism of fire, His death on the cross, to take the place of sinners and bring about a reconciliation between God and man.
How can God forgive people and accept them into Heaven? Especially when they are sinners? Jesus became sin for man so that they could be assured of this very thing. It is as if Jesus says to man, "You are only going to hell over my dead body." Jesus is covered in shame, so that those of us who have shameful lives can be covered with His glory. There is no other story like this in any other world religion. This is a story of a physician who heals by taking the patients disease. This is the story of someone so committed to the reconciliation of God in His holiness and man in his sinfulness that He is willing to put His very life on the line to affect that reconciliation.
Is it enough to simply know these truths in your head? How do we move into the reality of this truth to the point of being baptized. We can't ignore the necessity of personal acceptance and trust. The lifeboat is no good unless the drowning man gets into it. And no one else can get in for him. He must do it himself. Surely he couldn't say that his hand that siezed the lifeboat was his salvation. He could only view it as the means by which he apprehended safety.
What Jesus means when he talks about division is directly tied to the work which He was about to accomplish in affecting reconciliation. When a man or woman comes to understand this story, when a man or woman comes to trust in Christ in this way, their newfound faith will prove, almost inevitably, to be a divisive factor. Jesus was dealing with a Jewish mindset who viewed the coming kingdom with visions of peace and tranquility. That is why Jesus says I didn't come to bring peace, but division. Not that His ultimate purpose was division, but the effect of His accomplishment of salvation would be division.
When a life is changed, it changes the dynamic of interpersonal relationships. In the case of someone coming to faith in Jesus Christ, division is inevitable. How does your unbelieving family react when you bring up Jesus? How do they react at the table when you talk about the Bible? How does your unbelieving spouse react when you invite them to church? How real is the division in your family since you became a believer?
Jesus demanded careful obedience, costly loyalty, and that is why not everyone is prepared to pay the price, nor to accept those who do pay the price. In Ephesians Chapter Two, Paul describes the person before coming to faith in Christ as dead, and like the rest, objects of God's wrath. But, when someone is brought into Christ, they are no longer 'like the rest' and it is that distinction that causes the division, which is the answer to the question before us tonight.
These are my notes from a seven part podcast from Alistair Begg www.truthforlife.org