Jesus, the Fire Caster
How would you describe Jesus to someone else? If someone were to ask you to describe your savior, what thoughts would come to your mind and what images evoked? In the 1999 film Dogma, the image that was popularized was “Buddy Christ.” This Jesus is shown with a smile on his face, pointing at you with a thumbs up and a wink. As if to say, everything you do is great. People like the idea of a soft Jesus, who is your buddy, your friend, your pal. A more recent example of man’s desire for this kind of relationship is reflected on many T-shirts “Jesus is my homeboy.” On the surface this might seem like a great thing to promote. The shirt says to the world “I am a Christian and proud of it,” “me and Jesus are close,” “I boldly live out my faith.” Whether you would wear that shirt or not, I think many people resonate with the idea of the close personal friend Jesus as an ideal form of relationship. After all, you spend quality time with your close friends, you are often open and honest with your close friends, a good friend is there for you when you need someone to help pick you up. Those all sound like great dynamics for a relationship with our savior. But the problem is that we are tempted to keep Jesus in the buddy box. What I mean is, a buddy will be with us when times are good, but is not likely to interject when what we want to do is perhaps not actually in our best interest. A buddy might be there when times are down, but is not likely to point out how it was our fault that things are so bad. A buddy might listen to everything that we share, but is not likely to point out how our thoughts and our words are focused on the negative, or on our own selfish desires, or anything else that is not truly focused on God as it should be. In other words, people want a Jesus that is always loving and forgiving and never correcting or teaching us how to live as a part of God’s kingdom. But that is not the Jesus that we get at this point in the gospel of Luke.
Jesus’s words can come across as very harsh when he says: “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.” Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. This might leave us thinking, whoa Jesus, where is this coming from. I thought you came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the oppressed, what do you mean that you came to cast fire? However, a bit of context might help clear up what Jesus is talking about and why he would say these things.
We are going to go all the way back to Luke chapter 9. A lot of things take place in the 9th chapter of Luke’s gospel account. Jesus sends out his 12 mentees. He lets them get a taste of what it is like to live as a part of God’s kingdom without Him. Then skipping a bit, we see Jesus asking His disciples “who do you say that I am?”, and Peter responds, “the Christ of God.” And Jesus says, the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised. This is who Jesus is, and what his primary objective is, but Jesus is also mindful of the importance of training his disciples before he is gone, and teaching them what they need to know. These truths shape the entire journey to Jerusalem section in Luke’s gospel, which covers from the middle of chapter 9 until the middle of chapter 19. Going back to chapter 9, verse 51 says “when the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” I bring out this point, because from that point, Jesus is ever mindful of the culmination of why he came, namely his death and resurrection, which would take place in Jerusalem. But even though Jesus is ever focused on the pinnacle of his mission, he is also willing to take the time for his disciples. In chapter 11 Jesus is praying and teaches his disciples about prayer.
Then we get to chapter 12. Chapter 12 begins with thousands of people gathering around Jesus, so many that they are trampling each other to get near to him. But Jesus first speaks to his disciples, seemingly ignoring the crowds. Jesus knows that his death is fast approaching, but he has much to teach his disciples, so he tells them to beware of the pharisees, and don’t worry about people who want to kill you, and don’t worry about if you have to give a defense of your trust in Jesus, because the Holy spirit will teach you what to say. And then someone from the crowd pipes up, Jesus, hey, hey Jesus. Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. No wonder Jesus seems to get a bit short with the guy when he says “Man who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Then Jesus says to “them.” It is unclear if at that point he is talking to just the disciples or the whole crowd with the parable of the man who stored up treasures for himself. But I interpret it to be that Jesus is addressing the crowd, because in verse 22, right after this parable, it says “and he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious.” There seems to be a bit of a back and forth in this dialogue, with Jesus starting with the disciples, then after the guy interjects Jesus addresses the crowd, and then Jesus goes back to focusing on the disciples. So Jesus tells his disciples do not be anxious about what you eat or drink or wear. Jesus then says “be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast.” Verses 35-40 seems to suggest that the master in this parable is Jesus, for verse 40 concludes “You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” What is interesting is that verses 37 and 38 seem to point not to the end times, but to the night of Jesus’s death. Verse 37: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at the table, and he will come and serve them.” This is exactly what Jesus does during what we call the last supper. Verse 38: “If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” And yet, when Jesus comes to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, they are sleeping. Immediately after this section, Peter asks “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” A fair question considering how Jesus has gone back and forth with whom he has been addressing. And Jesus responds with another odd parable, which I will not get into at this time, but I believe that the initial parable was primarily for the disciples and not for the crowds, as is the parable that follows. So as we approach our text, I think that Jesus still has in mind what is about to come, namely his death and resurrection, but also is still desiring to teach and equip his disciples when he says that he has come to cast fire.
I don’t think that Jesus means literal fire, but rather that because of the coming of Jesus, what had previously come before him has been destroyed. The coming of Jesus means that the way to God is no longer through the priests and the sacrificial system. The place to worship God is no longer in the temple but rather to worship Him in spirit and truth. The ceremonial laws of the pharisees mean nothing, they will not be necessary habits of the followers of God in the age that Jesus ushers in. This is the fire that Jesus has cast on the earth. And what of the baptism to be baptized? This must refer to the event that is ever on the forefront of Jesus’s mind. That is his death and resurrection. How interesting that he refers to it as a washing. The Greek word that we translate as baptism doesn’t always refer to a Christian baptism, but is a cleansing where the one who is baptized was previously unclean and then through the act becomes clean. We believe that Jesus took upon himself the sins of all of humanity. He became sin who knew no sin. He became unclean and in need of cleansing. But Jesus was raised again, no longer bearing the impurity of the sins he took upon himself. This mission was ever on his mind, but he still wanted to teach his disciples, so he warns that the new system that he has brought forth will result in division even amongst family members.
Just as your savior, who was ever mindful of his primary directive when he walked the earth, still took the time to warn his followers of what was to come, and teach them what they needed to know, your savior continues to warn and to teach you. Trust that the baptism that Jesus endured for your sake is credited to you. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Do not be surprised that the reality that Jesus has established results in division, even within the same family. Lastly, trust that while Jesus knows the time of his new primary directive, that is, his second coming, he still takes time to teach you by the work of the Holy Spirit. Find comfort in the knowledge that your Lord and Savior cares that much about you. Amen.