“Jesus’ Mission Statement: Fire, Baptism, and Division”               August 18, 2013

Isaiah 5:1-7 & Luke 12:49-56                                                              Stephens City UMC


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.                   Our Gospel lesson for today was written almost 2,000 years ago but if you are looking for a contemporary context for what Luke wanted to address then it may be April 15 of this year when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston marathon.

A.    Scholars believe that Luke wrote his Gospel shortly after the Roman Army completely destroyed Jerusalem around 70 A.D.

1.     It was awful and people were afraid.

2.     You and I live in the age of television and computer news so we were able to view over and over again the bombs going off in Boston and to hear up-dates on those killed or maimed.

3.     You and I may not have been afraid for our lives to the same degree of the citizens of Boston while the perpetrators were on the loose because we live in the sleepy little town of Stephens City and we’d like to keep it that way, but the bombings in Boston and other events have introduced a new context in which American citizens now live.

4.     I think I’m right in saying that there is a fear of the unknown that might wreck havoc on any of us at any time and in any place, especially during some major event like the Boston Marathon when a large number of people have congregated.

B.     Into a fearful world Jesus entered long ago to calm people’s fears and Jesus through the presence of His Spirit is present today to calm our fears for that was and is His mission, but I have to tell you – according to our scripture passage for today Jesus has three terms in His mission statement that you might not expect.

1.     Those terms are: fire, baptism and division.

2.     Let’s consider these three and what they meant for Jesus and what they mean for us.

II.                 The first part of Jesus’ mission statement is that he came to bring fire.

A.    As David Lose who teaches preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, has written fire represents many things in the Bible.

1.     Fire often represents the presence of God as in the pillar of fire seen during the Exodus (Exodus 13:17-22) to guide the Hebrews toward the Promised Land and later the tongues of fire seen during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

2.     Those were hopeful signs but fire also represents judgment such as Revelation 20:7-10 were Satan and his army is consumed by fire.

3.     This is the type of fire the disciples of James and John envisioned in Luke 9 where a village in Samaria would not receive Jesus and the disciples.

4.     James and John take the rejection personally so they ask Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54)

5.     Jesus turns and rebukes them and then goes on to another village.

6.     When it comes to Jesus he seems to prefer the purifying aspect of fire.

7.     In Zechariah 13:9 and Malachi 3:2-3 we read of God’s intention to purify Israel like a refiner purifies silver by fire. (Lose, Commentary on Luke 12:49-56, August 14, 2010)

8.      In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus is thinking along these lines.

9.     When he says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it was already kindled” (Luke 12:49) he is expressing his desire for the purification of the earth to have begun.

10.             He had been on earth long enough to document for the need for humanity’s need for purification and he was ready for it to start.

11.             One image I have (and this is my personal opinion as I have yet to appear for judgment and enter heaven) is that as I finally stand before my Lord in the next life and my life is examined that my need for purification will be painfully obvious.

12.             I have been known to say things about people that I now regret and you best not be made aware of some of the things that have on occasion been in my heart and mind because some of it is awful, and maybe you can relate to that confession, but that’s why for me I somewhat look forward to the Judgment Day because I believe Jesus will burn all those things with fire.

13.             My life needs purified and it will be purified (which by the way doesn’t give permission to me or to you to go and do more bad stuff), so in my opinion that will be a glorious day when all the dross and sin in my life is burned away.

14.             There may not be much left of me but that is OK.

15.             What will be left will be pure and therefore useable by Christ in the Kingdom of heaven.

16.             So this first part of Jesus’ mission statement is a good thing.

III.              The second part of Jesus’ mission statement regards baptism.

A.    Baptism is also used throughout the New Testament to convey both judgment and purification.

1.     Those of us who have been baptized have been baptized into Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ministry and mission.

2.     Baptism is not a “cutsie” ceremony.

3.     It is deadly serious.

4.     If you have been baptized then you have been baptized into Jesus’ way and to being his disciple and following Jesus isn’t always easy.

5.     Consider Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who cared for the poor and the abandoned and the dying.

6.     She was honest.

7.     She shared that loving Jesus and following in his way was not always easy, but she had been baptized and called so that guided and shaped and even empowered her life.

8.     If you have been baptized then your baptism is sort of a judging ruler for your life in that do you measure up as a disciple of Jesus?

9.     On the other hand, the waters of your baptism have a purifying and renewing effect on your life so be grateful.

B.     Now having said that about your baptism in this passage from Luke 9 Jesus is not talking so much about your baptism as he is talking about his baptism.

1.     He’s not talking about the baptism he brings but about the baptism he receives.

2.     It is easy to read over but in verse 50 he says, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed.”

3.     This passage is an example of where the English doesn’t capture what the Greek is trying to say.

4.     The Greek verb here is syn-echo which is usually translated as “stress” or “distressed” which conveys that Jesus is anxious.

5.     Actually, a more accurate translation would be “Holding together,” “Holding tightly,” or “Squeezing.” (Emerson Powery, Commentary on Luke 12:49-56, April 15, 2013)

6.     As Dr. Emerson Powery writes in a commentary on this passage “In Luke’s Gospel it is associated with ‘sickness,’ like ‘holding on to a fever’ (cf. 4:38), or, stressful situations, like holding on to fear (cf. 8:37. Or, sometimes Luke uses the term to describe crowds or enemies “pressing in” on others (cf. 8:45; 19:43; 22:63). Only Luke uses this term to describe how Jesus is feeling.” (Powery, Commentary on Luke 12:49-56, April 15, 2013)

7.     What Luke wants us to realize is that Jesus feels that he is totally absorbed by the mission he has come to accomplish.

8.     This means that he is determined to go to the cross.

9.     This absorption by his mission is good for us because it will result in our salvation but for Jesus it will result in his death on a cross.

10.             It’s why we say the crucifixion took place on “Good Friday.”

11.             It’s deadly for Jesus but good for us.

12.             And for Jesus this is all in his mission statement.

IV.              Now the third part of Jesus’ mission statement regards division.

A.    This division will be the result of the purifying fire he carries and the baptism by which he is carried.

1.     His work will usher in the very Kingdom of God and the question is do you really want to be part of it?

2.     The Kingdom of God Jesus proclaims represents a new order governed not by might but by forgiveness (note what we say whenever we recite the Lord’s Prayer).

3.     The Kingdom of God is characterized not by fear but by courage (note how often Jesus says “Do not be afraid.”)

4.     And the Kingdom of God is also characterized not by power as the world defines power but by the power of humility which Mary sings about in Luke 1 prior to Jesus’ birth. (Lose, Commentary on Luke 12:49-56, August 14, 2010)

B.     If you are invested in the present order in this world; if you are giving into the lure of wealth, status and power; if you are content with the status quo then you are not part of Jesus’ kingdom.

1.     Jesus put this starkly on several occasions when he asked “Who is my mother, and brothers and my sisters?”

2.     It is not bloodlines as we normally think of family bloodlines.

3.     The blood of Jesus’ family flows from his wounds on the cross and that blood brings people not into a worldly family but the heavenly family.

4.     This will not be peaceful for some people.

5.     It will cause divisions between friends and evenly family members, but that’s the divine peace plan and it sure is different from how we normally think.

6.     As Dr. Audrey West who is a Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in Chicago writes, “What ties believers together is not the covenant of lineage but the covenant of blood poured out for those who find fellowship in the family of God.” (West, Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol.3, p. 362, 2010)

V.                So today we are confronted with Jesus’ mission statement.

A.    It is a mission statement that causes us to deeply reflect on what God is doing through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and then to begin reinterpreting who we are and what we are about as disciples of Jesus Christ.

1.     Having said that I think we better pray about what Jesus’ mission statement means for us.

2.     Let us pray: