Do you recognize this man? This is Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain was British prime minister between 1937 and 1940. He’s best known for the phrase “peace for our time.” That was something he declared after the Munich Agreement in 1938 when he made a pact with Hitler to give Germany part of Czechoslovakia in return for the promise not to take any more lands. This appeasement policy frustrated many because they didn’t believe that it would achieve a lasting peace. Those skeptics were right. Having bought himself time to build up the German army, Hitler invaded Poland less than a year later touching off the five-year long conflict we now call World War II. Millions of deaths probably could have been avoided had Chamberlain stood up to Nazi Germany. Of course it would have meant sending British troops to fight the Germans already in 1938, but lasting peace always has a price. You know that’s true if you’ve ever had to stand up to a bully. As long as you keep giving him your lunch money, he’s going to keep making life miserable for you.
Well Jesus too teaches that lasting peace has a price. It cost Christ his life, and will cost Christians friendships. Jesus wants us to come to terms with these facts because if we don’t, if we compromise the truths of the Bible to pursue a “peace for our time” with family and friends who are opposed to the gospel, we may lose the everlasting peace of heaven.
Yes, Jesus was deadly serious when he spoke the words of our text. In fact the Disciples must have been shaken when they heard Jesus say: “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed” (Luke 12:50). The baptism that Jesus was alluding to was not like his first baptism. It didn’t involve water, nor did his Father speak loving words from heaven at this baptism. This was a baptism of suffering that led to Jesus’ abandonment by his heavenly Father. This baptism was nothing less than his appointment with hell on the Good Friday cross.
We’ve all had appointments that made us feel anxious – appointments to the dentist for example. But that’s nothing compared to the dread that Jesus experienced in waiting for this baptism of fire. When we go to the dentist we do so because it’s for our good, and we can take a friend along to lend support and encouragement. When Jesus kept his appointment with the cross he did so because it was good for us, and he went alone, jeered by his enemies, abandoned by his disciples, and rejected by his heavenly Father.
While Jesus shuddered at the thought of going to the cross he did not shrink from the task. And thank God he didn’t. Because Jesus was whipped for the times I grumble about doing my chores; because he was spat upon for my hesitancy to forgive; because he was crucified for the anger which I try to hide from others with a fake smile; because of the cross of Christ and his baptism of fire, I have peace with God (Romans 5:1). My sins won’t condemn me come Judgment Day because in Jesus they have been forgiven, and so have yours. We shouldn’t expect anything less from someone who was prophesied to be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
And yet there are many who don’t like this message that Jesus came to die for our sins. The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently dropped the song “In Christ Alone” from their hymnal because the authors refused to permit a lyric change. The Presbyterian hymnal committee didn’t want a hymn verse to read that at the cross “the wrath of God was satisfied.” They felt that this made God seem like a vengeful, bloodthirsty deity. God isn’t that of course but he is holy. He can’t live with sin any more than we can live on the sun. God cannot simply turn away from our sins and ignore them the way a professional athlete can tune out the fans who are jeering him. No, if God wants us sinners to live with him forever, and he does, then he must deal with our sins which keep slamming into him like a barrage of insults. God burned the record of our sins by sending Jesus to pay for them at the cross, that baptism of fire. Lasting peace has a price; it cost Christ his life.
Lasting peace has another price too, explains Jesus. He said: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!…51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division ” (Luke 12:49, 51). While Jesus came to make peace for us with God by giving his life, he did not come to make our lives peaceful. That’s not surprising when you consider the nature of Jesus’ message. Jesus tells us that all those who believe in him will not perish, but that all those who do not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). There is no middle ground there. You either trust in Jesus alone for eternal salvation or you don’t, and that will lead to eternal condemnation. Therefore wherever the message of the cross of Christ goes, fires are ignited. When Jesus told the Jews that the only way to the heavenly Father was through him, they got hot. Tell that to most Canadians today and watch the temperature of your conversation rise. Or say to your neighbor that living with his girlfriend is not God-pleasing and he’ll tell you to mind your own business. Even family members get upset when we insist on sharing with them the truth of God’s Word and his commands. That’s just what Jesus said would happen. “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… ” (Luke 12:52, 53a).
Yes, the cross of Christ and its message ignites fires wherever it goes. So if you can’t stand the heat, should you get out of the kitchen? That’s probably pretty good advice in most situations. But it isn’t good advice when it comes to dealing with the fires that start because of the cross. Unfortunately it’s exactly what some Christians do when the cross starts fires in their relationships and families. They don’t like the heat so they get rid of the cross. No cross, no fire. No fuss, no muss. Everybody’s happy. Who needs conflict anyway? Can’t we just all get along? (Daron Lindemann)
Is that what we think sometimes? If a friend disagrees with what God says about sexuality and morality, do we clam up? If someone we love is staying away from church, do we say nothing because we don’t want to upset them? Yet listen closely to what Jesus said about such an attitude. “Anyone who loves his father or mother [son or daughter] more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37a). If we think it’s better to keep the peace in the family than to share and live the truth about sin and grace, Jesus says that we have put our family, and really ourselves, before him.
Be careful, brothers and sisters. Where there is peace, there may be no cross. Jesus warned: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Jesus isn’t saying that we should be obnoxious about our faith in him but neither should we hide it or make compromises for the sake of saving friendships. Holding on to Jesus may mean having to let go of peaceful relations with childhood friends and in-laws. That’s not easy but it’s the way to lasting peace. Because where there is no cross, there may be peace with man, but there can be no peace with God. For without the cross there is no forgiveness.
It’s easy to make fun of Neville Chamberlain for being spineless and shortsighted when making peace with Hitler. But we too have been as shortsighted and spineless when compromising the message of Jesus to keep the peace with those who oppose it. Here’s the reality: living under the cross is not peaceful and it’s not easy. Which of God’s prophets, when called to glory, said: “No, not yet. More! More!”? (Daniel Deutschlander) We too look forward to the day when we will experience a peaceful existence free from sin, but that won’t happen until we get to heaven. Until then take to heart the encouragement of our epistle lesson. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame... Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2, 3).
Yes, when you get tired of the conflict that comes because you’re a Christian, consider Christ and the cross he suffered. Our suffering will never be as intense as that. Nor will we have to suffer all alone as Jesus did. Jesus himself is with us. He has also promised to send the Holy Spirit to motivate and empower us to be bold witnesses of the truth. If a fire ensues as a result of your witness, so be it. The fire of battle that comes with the cross isn’t nearly as hot as the fire of hell that comes without the cross. (Daron Lindemann) Fix your eyes on Jesus. He survived the fire of his cross and therefore can and will safely deliver you through (not from!) the fire of your cross to an everlasting peace. Amen.
1. “Getting-Know-You” Question: What’s your favorite or ideal summer vacation spot? Share your answer with someone that you are NOT related to.
2. Jesus said: “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed” (Luke 12:50). List as many similarities and differences you can find between this “fire baptism” and the “water baptism” Jesus received in the Jordan River. (work with a neighbor)
3. Jesus shuddered at the thought of this fire baptism. What does that tell you about Jesus?
4. Jesus did not shrink from this fire baptism. What does that tell you about Jesus?
5. The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently dropped “In Christ Alone” from their hymnal because they did not want the hymn verse to read that at the cross “the wrath of God was satisfied.” Instead they wanted it to say: “at the cross the love of God was magnified.” Would you feel comfortable with that change? Why or why not.
6. What did Jesus, the Prince of Peace, mean when he said that he had not come to bring peace?
7. Why should peaceful periods in our daily life prompt us to analyze our faith life?
8. How did today’s text help you better appreciate your salvation?
9. What actions this week does today’s text encourage?
10. List any statements you heard in the sermon that you didn’t understand or weren’t comfortable with.