Sermon for Epiphany X
August 18, 2019
It sure doesn’t sound like there is much Gospel in the appointed Gospel reading this morning. It is quite literally, “Fire and Brimstone” as Jesus declares that He came to bring fire on the earth. Further, He declares that He did not come to give peace on earth, but rather division. To top it off He declares that families are going to be divided. Again, not much good news here… So what is the point? What in the world is Jesus talking about?
There are two outcomes when it comes to fire. Fire can either cleanse and purify, or fire can destroy. Our God is a holy God who demands perfection. He is also a just God who must punish sin.
You will recall that it was with fiery sulfur that the Lord cast judgment, destroying wicked and godless Sodom and Gomorrah. As John the Baptist was preparing the way for Jesus, he warned the Pharisees and Sadducees that those who do not bear fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. He also declared, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
As sinners, we recognize that we cannot meet God’s standard of perfection. We are not able to keep the Law, to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Bible also clearly states that the only hope that we have is in Jesus, the perfect Son of God who died in our place, who took the heat and experienced the full wrath of God in our place, all in order that we may be forgiven. Those who reject the truth of God’s Word stand outside the fellowship of God’s kingdom. They are still in their sins. Temporal and eternal death await those who deny their sin and their need for a Savior. The Bible describes the punishment of those who are still in their sins as the unquenchable fires of hell.
Jesus would certainly not agree with the bumper sticker/magnet that says COEXIST and includes Islam, Buddhism, several other religions including Christianity. Live at peace. Yeah right, as Islam seeks to kill the infidel. There isn’t much peace there. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the only way to heaven. We look to God’s holy Word of truth.
And so we take Jesus at His Word. Words like fire and distress and division.
Jesus came under fire because He took the Pharisees and Jewish leaders to task as they challenged His authority and His teaching. They rejected the truth that Jesus was the promised Messiah and Savior from sin. They labeled Jesus a troublemaker, not a peacemaker.
But Jesus was looking ahead to a greater fire that would come. He was looking ahead to the fire that his baptism of suffering and death would bring. He uses fire and baptism figuratively. He has already been baptized with water by John the Baptist. But he looks ahead to the suffering that would be poured out on him and calls that a baptism.
Jesus paid the ultimate price to win your peace! The prophet Isaiah tells was Jesus would experience for you. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” Is 53:5
His greatest distress was not his disciples deserting him, or the nails in his hands, or the ridicule of the soldiers and crowd. His deepest distress echoes in his words: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 NIV). In order to separate you from your sin, to bring you peace, Jesus endured the division that goes beyond all imagination: Forsaken by the Father.
For on that cross Jesus became our sin and carried our guilt. Our sin divided us from God. Yet as great as our sin is, Jesus is greater. As deep and wide as our division from God was, Jesus bridges it. As bloody as was our warfare against God, Jesus’ blood brings you peace. For from that cross Jesus called out, It is finished (John 19:30 NIV). His baptism of suffering in your place was now completed.
What a deep and dreadful baptism Jesus knew was ahead of him! But willingly, out of love for you and in obedient love to his Father, he went through it and completed it to bring you peace. Through division, through separation from the Father’s love, through his god-forsakenness, Jesus brought you peace, a different kind of peace.
He brought you peace with God, the peace of sins forgiven, the greatest peace, the eternal peace. He is the Prince of Peace. How true the angels’ words that declared peace on earth to us sinners because of God’s good will that sent our Savior from sin! How great the words of promise from our risen Savior’s lips, Peace be with you . . . If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven (John 20:21, 22 NIV)!
Jesus brings a different kind of peace. He achieved your peace through his distress on the bloody, god-forsaken cross. And this peace that came through division causes division. It divides us from the world.
- In his peace we’re divided from the world.
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division (Luke 12:51 NIV). And then Jesus describes how this division would split even the family. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12:52, 53 NIV).
When Jesus changes a person’s heart so that they turn away from sin and follow him, those who still belong to the world hate them. For to follow Jesus is to confess him as our only Savior, the only way to heaven. And confessing that Jesus is the only way to heaven proclaims that all who do not follow him are going to hell. People don’t like to hear that. They want you to compromise. In fact, the ELCA voted in convention this past week that we can’t be sure whether other religions who don’t claim Christ as the only way to heaven are wrong. Many want you to say that Jesus is one of the ways to heaven. Then they can have their own peace of mind even if they don’t follow Jesus.
But such a compromise betrays Jesus. If you could get to heaven some other way, why would he have come and suffered so on the cross? Saying that Jesus is only part of the answer robs him of the glory. He went to the cross to be your total Savior. He suffered total god-forsakenness to fully ransom you and completely rescue you. Give him the full glory as your one and only Savior.
Not long after his death and resurrection we see the fiery division the Gospel of Jesus causes. The Apostles were arrested by the Jewish council in Jerusalem. Persecution against Christians broke out. Later as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, the government put many Christian to death for refusing to honor the state religion. Or consider how when Martin Luther in the 1500’s preached Jesus alone as our Savior apart from works or obedience to the Pope, he was excommunicated and declared an outlaw. Jesus spoke to truth about division
And his words are true still today. Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division (Luke 12:51 NIV). Don’t fall under the world’s spell that preaches compromise of the truth for the sake of peace. Remember that Jesus brings a different kind of peace. He brings you peace with God through the forgiveness of sins purchased by his holy, precious blood. That peace divides us from those who do not believe. To compromise is to forsake Jesus and join them.
So watch out when the world preaches peace and makes us feel guilty for standing up for the truth. Rather keep stand boldly. But make sure you are standing up for God’s truth.
You see, when it comes to our own opinion, our own rights, our own wants and preferences, then Christian love not only compromises, but Christian love gives up what is ours. It surrenders all for the sake of the Gospel. This is what Jesus teaches when he tell us to turn the other check, to walk the extra mile, to pray for our enemies. Then follow the way of peace.
But when it comes to God’s truth revealed in Scripture, don’t give an inch, don’t compromise a letter, don’t tolerate any error. This is especially trying when other churches or Christians or even our own family that do compromise the truth criticize us for causing divisions. It is easy for us to start to feel guilty. We want peace and unity. Where can we turn for comfort?
First, remember Jesus words here. He made it clear that his truth brings division. When standing up for the truth of Gospel seems to destroy peace, don’t let that trouble you. Jesus said that would happen.
Second, reinforce yourself in God’s truth as you study his word. So that when stand up for the Gospel it is his Gospel your standing up for and not yours. Be equipped to share your faith with those who question or don’t believe. Our congregation is hosting a workshop on October 12 called, “Everyone A Witness.” This will give you practice and the words to say when you are asked about your faith in Christ. Is it worth risking the faith of a friend or a loved one because we didn’t speak up when given the opportunity all because we didn’t know how to share our faith?
Finally and most importantly, remember the different kind of peace that Jesus brings. As you hold on to him as your only Savior, you have peace with God. That is far greater than any loss of earthly peace we might suffer. You have peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. So bring your guilt to him if the world makes you feel guilty. For even when we do the right thing and stand up for the truth, we know that our thoughts and words are stained by sin. Maybe we weren’t clear enough, may we were too harsh or rude, maybe sinful pride that we know the truth and they don’t lingers in our hearts. Each day bring your sin and guilt to Jesus. He paid for all those sins. That’s the peace he brings to you. The peace of forgiveness. Peace with God through his blood.
With this peace in your heart, you can live at peace no matter what kind of fire or division rages around you. For he is your one and only Savior. In him is peace. For he brings you a different kind of peace. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.