Luke is a lovely book. If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one book of the Bible with me, it might be Luke. In Chapter 12 we found a rather apocalyptic, sober, meaningful, relevant, treatment of Christ’s teachings for Christians today.
We have the promise that nothing hidden will remain unknown when Jesus comes back, verses 1-3. We are told not to fear those who can kill your body, but rather fear the One who has authority to cast you into Hell, verses 4-7. Jesus then tells his followers to be bold and courageous before men and proclaim his name. On the opposite end, if we deny him before men, he will deny us before the Father, verses 8-12. Jesus then goes into a teaching about a rich man and the uselessness of material possessions. We are to be rich toward God, not rich toward men, verses 13-21. If you have been following along with Jesus’s teaching so far you should be blown away when he says, “Therefore…do not be anxious about your life…” Wow, really? When was the last time you were not concerned/worried/anxious about something? Jesus says to seek the Kingdom of God, and all your needs will be taken care of because it is our Father’s good pleasure, verses 22-34. Then Jesus speaks about his return and the final judgment. He says that we must always be ready because he will come back unexpectedly and for those who are not ready there is some harsh imagery (verse 46), but for those who wait expectantly and are prepared will be rewarded, verses 35-48.
Putting these teachings together, we can see how they relate to one another. Jesus is preparing his followers for a life of obedience in the promises of his imminent return. In other words, because Christ is coming back to judge the living and the dead, we ought to live lives worthy of our Lord and King, but this is certainly a difficult thing to do. I am sure his disciples and followers were thinking about the difficulty presented to them by Jesus. Then Jesus decides to show them that it will be even harder than they thought. He brings fire to earth.
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For 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.
This is indeed difficult to comprehend. Our culture labels Jesus as the religious sage who attempted to bring peace everywhere he went. We often hear, “I like Jesus, but I can’t stand his followers,” or some such trite and ignorant saying. It is true that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but this must be taken in the context of peacemaking between rebellious sinners and a Holy God. It is also true that Jesus’s ministry brings peace to his followers because it is through him we are made right with God, see Luke 7.50 for example. But Jesus inevitably brings division, and this division goes deep, even into the family structure.
Jesus came to cast fire on the earth, which will occur in the final judgment of his Second Coming. When Jesus says that he has a baptism to be baptized with, he is speaking of his coming suffering and death, and his distress was great, see Luke 22.42-44. Jesus plainly tells that his purpose was not to bring peace to earth, but division. This division is between mothers and daughters and sons and fathers and aunts and uncles and grandparents. Why? Because Jesus’s life, death and resurrection demand a choice from us. Some will choose to follow him, and some will choose to deny him. When this happens there can only be division.
If you are a Christian, and abide by the teachings of Scripture, have you ever been called a “saint” with noted derision? Or how about a holy-roller? Or maybe goodie-two-shoes? Maybe someone has exclaimed, “What?! You think you’re better than me?!” Sometimes these insults come from those closest to us (friends, family, co-workers), Jesus said that this will happen. The fact that Jesus tells us this is an encouragement to me. Just as Jesus was denied by his friends, his family, and his co-laborers unto death, we will be denied and share in his suffering. This is the cost of discipleship. Division.
We must remember that “[Jesus’s] call is not to bring peace at any price, but to sort through humanity in order to draw some to him, while others turn away. He was and is the Great Divider. His ministry burns consciences, and our reactions to him determines the nature of his judgment” (Darrell L. Bock).
When division and confrontation are before you, take heart. Have no fear of those people (vv. 4-7), be bold and acknowledge Jesus before them (vv. 8-12), lay up treasure (reward) with God (vv. 13-21), continue to seek His Kingdom and He will care for you (vv. 22-34), remain prepared, ready, and expectant of Christ’s return for the judgment of the world (vv. 35-48), because we will face opposition for his name’s sake (vv. 49-53).
Listen to Jesus,
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.