The Lord's Day Morning

September 19, 2010

Luke 12:49-59

“Jesus: The Dividing Line”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 12. We’ll be looking at verse 49 to the end of the chapter. As you look through this passage, let me give you a few clues along the way to help you follow the train of argument. There are at least three parts to the passage we're going to look at today.

First, in verses 49 and 50, and especially in verse 50, you will see Jesus make a powerful declaration. And then He’ll follow it up in verses 51 to 53 with a question, a penetrating question. Then, in verses 54 to 59, He turns to the multitudes, and notice in this passage it started off continuing the conversation that Jesus is having with His disciples — look back at verse 41. You remember as Jesus was talking about being ready for His coming, Peter, last week, we saw raised his hand and he said, “Lord, are You talking to us or are You talking to the multitudes?” And of course Jesus’ answer was both for Peter and the disciples and for the multitudes, but He's especially addressing those words to Peter and the disciples. That continues on down to verse 53. And then in verse 54 it says what? “He was also saying to the multitudes.” So now He turns His attention out to the multitudes and He gives them an admonition. He basically warns them because they lack spiritual discernment. They can tell you all sorts of things about the weather, but they can't tell you up from down when it comes to the things of God.

And so in this passage we have a declaration by Jesus, we have a question from Jesus, and then we have an admonition from Jesus. In the passage in verse 49, Jesus speaks of coming to cast fire on the earth. That's probably not a reference to the end times. It's a reference to the division that He brings between those that accept Him and those who reject Him. That's what He talks about in verses 51 to 53. In verse 50 He speaks of a baptism that He has to be baptized with. He's not talking about water baptism like we've administered this morning. He is not looking back to the baptism which He received from John at the Jordan River. He's looking forward to the baptism of the Cross, His bearing of sin in our place that all those who rest and trust in Him might be saved.

And so as we look at this passage let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, thank You for this, Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word, the very Word of God. But especially Lord, we pray that You would show us our sin, show us our need, show us what we really deserve, and then show us our Savior, Your salvation, Your grace and forgiveness to us in Christ. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear the Word of God:

“’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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

In this great passage Jesus addresses His disciples and you and me and He tells us about His devotion to our salvation. You see that in verse 50. There's Gospel all over that verse, all through that verse. Jesus shows His commitment there to sinners, in providing all that is necessary for us to be reconciled to His Father. But He also in this passage raises a question, and it's a question about Himself. It's a question that directs our attention to Him as the focal point and dividing line in this world. He asks the simple question, “Do you think that I came so that everybody would agree and we’d all get along? Do you think that My reign is most apparent in the world when nobody's fussing about Me? Or is My reign most apparent in this world when there is one group of people that says that I am God and Messiah and Savior, the one and only way of salvation, and everybody else is saying you've got to be crazy to believe that — that's intolerant, that's arrogant, that's ignorant?”

And then He turns to the crowds and He gives an admonition. It's an admonition about a lack of spiritual discernment. Yeah, there are three parts to the passage, but it's all about one thing. It's all about Jesus. It's all about Jesus who is the dividing line Himself. And so let's think with Him for just a few moments together.

First, in verse 50, I want you to see that Jesus makes it very clear that He is ready to endure suffering in His work on our behalf. In this passage, we're seeing a testimony by Jesus to His own devotion to our salvation. What does He say? “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!” Jesus is acknowledging that He willingly takes upon Himself the distress, the suffering, the pain, the sorrow, the shame that is necessary for winning our salvation. Jesus is saying to His disciples especially, that He is ready, willing, and able to endure anything and everything necessary to procure for them forgiveness of sin and everlasting fellowship with God.

This is a hugely encouraging thing because you know, even today, even at this very moment, there have got to be people in this room who, you’re distracted. You know, there are burdens and cares in life and you've got your mind on a hundred different things. I'm talking about believers, mature believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. You know, mature believers in the Lord Jesus Christ can find themselves from time to time going day after day after day without anything but the most perfunctory prayers. You know, just short little prayers lifted up to God in passing, maybe at meal time. And they can go day after day after day without thinking about the cause of the Gospel in the world and the winning of men and women and boys and girls to Jesus Christ by the sharing of the Gospel. And they can even wander far from their fellowship with God and do things which are out of accord with walking worthy of the Gospel. And oftentimes we do it and we don't even realize it. We don't realize how far we are from the Lord. He is almost, He is almost out of our minds.

And you know what Jesus is saying in verse 50? He's saying, “You are never out of My mind. You may have almost forgotten Me, you may be so unfaithful in your loving of Me, but I am always focused on loving you. I am locked in like a laser beam on your salvation, on your redemption.” And even now, brothers and sisters in Christ, He ever lives to intercede, and at the right hand of God He is whispering words of your care and your salvation at this very moment, no matter how far from Him you may be in your own thoughts. Jesus always is working and concerned for the everlasting salvation of His people, even when it costs Him personally.

The baptism He was going to endure was the baptism of the Cross, and which instead of hearing words of blessing pronounced on Him, as Derek has already prayed this morning, instead of hearing words of blessing pronounced on Him — “The Lord bless you and keep you” — He received the words, “The Lord's curse be on You and may He cast You off.” “The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” “The Lord frown upon You and treat You not with grace and mercy but with judgment and condemnation.” “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” “The Lord turn His face away from You and take all peace and joy and comfort from Your heart.”

This is what He endured on our behalf. This is the distress that He willingly embraced. And He's saying to the disciples, “I'm locked in on that. I'm locked in on that. I'm ready to embrace that distress until all is accomplished for your salvation.” You see, Jesus is telling us about His devotion. He's telling us about the Gospel. He's telling us about what He's done for our salvation. Could there be a better picture, that our salvation is something not that we accomplish but that He accomplishes than this?

But that leads Him to press a question upon the disciples, and He's just said that He's always focused on our salvation, so He turns to them and He says, look at verse 51 — “Do you think that I've come to give peace on earth?”

Now why is Jesus saying this? Because He knows that when His disciples go out declaring that He is the one way of salvation they are not going to be met with accolades. They are going to be met by hundreds and hundreds and thousands of folks who tell them that they are out of their minds. “You have got to be kidding that I have to believe on this poor Jewish Rabbi for my salvation or be eternally lost. You are out of your mind.” And Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Do not be surprised when that happens, because I didn't come so that everybody would agree about nothing, so that everybody would be spiritual and sort of live and let live. I came as the one and only way of salvation and the world will be divided on Me. There will be those who embrace Me as Lord and Savior, and there will be those who reject Me as Lord and Savior. And there will be no in between. I am the dividing line,” He's saying to His disciples.

And you understand this. There are people in this room who, you were perhaps born and reared in a home where Jesus was not loved and trusted and worshipped. Or maybe you were born in a nominally Christian home where it was the Christian thing to do to keep the Golden Rule and go to church every once in a while but there was no true trust in Jesus Christ. And maybe somewhere along the line in high school or in college you came to faith in Christ and your parents thought you had lost your mind. You had become a religious fanatic and it was a problem. Or maybe it happened a different way. Maybe as an adult you came to faith in Christ and your children thought you had lost your mind and become a religious fanatic.

But there are people in this room that understand the divisions that can happen even in families when someone who comes to faith in Christ encounters parents that are offended by that testimony, relatives who are offended by that testimony. Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Look, when I came into this world and preached the Gospel Myself, some people rejected Me. Don't you be surprised when you preach Me that some people reject you in their rejection of Me because I didn't come to bring peace. I came to bring salvation.”

You know, in our day and time, our culture is quite tolerant of us if we want to be spiritual. But when you start bringing Jesus into it, you’d better watch out. We were assured by a columnist this last week in USA Today, that now that science has shown that God is no longer necessary, it's still okay for us to be spiritual as long as we understand the truth, that God has nothing to do with it. It's okay for us to be spiritual.

The world is fine with you being spiritual. The world is not fine with you declaring that Jesus is God, Lord, and Savior and the one way of salvation. But that is what every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ believes and must believe because it's what Jesus taught.

And so Jesus is saying to His disciples, “Do not be surprised when people take umbrage at these declarations. Do not be surprised when they look at you and they say you are out of your mind. They said the same thing to Me.” And Jesus asks that question to the disciples because He wants them to be ready for rejection for the sake of the Gospel because Jesus says, “I'm worth it. I'm worth the world looking at you and saying you are nuts. So believe Me. Believe the Gospel. Believe the truth that I'm proclaiming.”

And then He turns to the multitudes and He issues this very stern admonition to them. Why? Because of their lack of spiritual discernment. You know this great conversation has been going on about the dividing line of the world and of history in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and He looks at the multitudes and He says, “You know what? You can tell Me what the weather is going to be like today but you can't tell Me anything about the God who made the earth and sky. You can look at a little cloud coming across the Mediterranean and you know that when that cloud gets up into the hill country of Palestine it's going to turn into rain. You can feel the south winds start to blow up from the desert and you know what, the temperature's going to go up.” Jesus is saying, “You guys are better than the Weather Channel! You can tell Me all about that, but you can't tell Me about the God who made the weather. You can't tell Me about the things of God. You know all sorts of stuff about this world but you don't know about the things of God.”

And you know, we can stand up and we can look back condescendingly upon them and “tisk, tisk,” but boy is this timely for us. We know a lot of stuff. We know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, but do we have any spiritual discernment? You know it's an amazing thing. These people have God in the flesh in their midst and they don't get it. They don't get it. God in the flesh has given us His own Word and we can read it and we can memorize it and we can meditate on it and we can just totally miss it.

Why is that?

Because of we don't see our sin and our need and if we don't see His provision in the Gospel, it will make no sense to us. We will be able to make no sense out of this. Have you ever wondered how it is that people who knew so much about the Bible, they knew their Old Testament, their Hebrew Bible, far better than we know it, and Jesus is standing in front of them, teaching them from it, and they don't get it? How come? Because they don't see their sin and they don't see their need. And so when they look and they open their Bibles they have no idea how it's speaking to them. And my friends, in this church, which has always believed the Bible and always memorized the Bible and always taught the Bible, we can know a lot about the Bible and still not get it if we don't see our own sin, our own need, our own problem, and Jesus as the only solution.

You see, this is all about the Gospel. It's all about Jesus. It's all about His grace. He's the dividing line. And Jesus is saying to His disciples and He's saying to you and me, “If you don't understand who I am and what you need, nothing else is going to make sense.”

May God grant you each an understanding of Jesus as Lord, Savior, God, and only hope of salvation. May He grant you an understanding of your own sin. And may He grant that you would take the choice to stand with Jesus and against everything else that rejects Him.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for speaking Your Word to us for our everlasting wellbeing. Lord, open our eyes to see who we are, what we've done, what we need, who He is, what He's done, what He's provided. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Receive now the blessing of the one who is Himself the great divide. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.