Jesus and Unity in Human Relations
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 12:49-53
August 18, 2019

In the Gospel reading, Jesus asks a question of His disciples and then gives His answer. He asks: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” (Luke 12:51). His answer: “No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). Then He goes on to make the saying about how five people in one house will be divided, and how even families will be divided (Luke 12:52-53). Jesus Himself and His Gospel will be the cause of division.

In His question, Jesus asks about peace. We could see this positively as unity. We could see it negatively as conflict.

He also refers to peace “on earth,” and then refers to division among families. Thus, He is bringing natural human relations into view. It is more than just family. It can also involve country, government, work, society, friends, civil associations, what have you.

There are some implications of this. The Gospel proclaims that Jesus brings the kingdom of God. He is the King of the kingdom. If people in natural relations are divided with respect to believing and understanding who Jesus and His kingdom are, then it must be the case that the natural human relations are not the kingdom of God, properly speaking.

It was thought among the people of Israel of Jesus’s day, even of Jeremiah’s day, that they were people of God and in God’s kingdom just by virtue of being able to trace their ancestry to Abraham. They thought in terms of an equality between God’s kingdom and the earthly kingdom simply by virtue of birth and lineage.

But since Jesus says in His own context among the people of Israel that families will be divided regarding Him, it cannot be true that the earthly kingdom is the kingdom of God, properly speaking. We can recall what Simeon said to Mary and Joseph when they brought Jesus to the temple as a little baby. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2:34). Now Jesus affirms Simeon’s words as coming true.

The implication is that family, country, society, are not the kingdom of God, properly speaking. The Kingdom of God has to do with repentance toward God and faith in Jesus as Savior and redeemer, the heart being ruled by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And so Jesus teaches that there will be division among people about Him and the Gospel, because many will refuse to repent and believe the Gospel

Another implication of Jesus’s teaching today is this. Because Jesus is the revelation of God, when people in any of the natural human relations speak in a manner in conflict with Jesus and His Gospel, then it must the case that God and those natural relations do not always speak with one voice. We can find people in those natural human relations speaking in a way consistent with God’s word. For that we give thanks. People in those natural human relations often, however, do not speak in a manner consistent with God’s voice. This can be true about God’s law, what is true and right conduct. But it is most especially true about who Jesus is and what His Gospel is.

This exposes a difference in understanding between Jesus and our culture about how God speaks. In our culture, God speaks from within. God speaks from within your own heart, rather than through His external word. Or God speaks with the voice of the majority of the people, so when the majority of the people demonstrate their will, it is the truth. Or whatever must be true for God must also be true for reason; reason and God must correspond. Thus, our culture teaches us that God’s speaking arises from within human society, whether small units of society like family, friends, smaller associations, or society on a more general level.

School has started. Our children and young people have gone back to school. Jesus’s words today make me think of peer pressure in hallways and locker rooms. It also makes me think of educators and what our children are going to be taught. Peers are not always speaking with the voice of God. And Jesus does not want us to assume that they do just because they are our friends and peers. It should also not be assumed that educators speak in one voice with God. Of course, there is peer pressure for adults as well. But if it is assumed that God speaks from within society, whether from the heart or through reason, then we are led down the road of believing that what the society says must be true, must be the voice of God.

But Jesus rejects all that. He does so when He says that He causes division within societal units and when He speaks in the Old Testament reading today through the prophet Jeremiah.

Jesus calls us to be attentive to where He speaks and what His Gospel is. He speaks through His prophets and then through His Apostles. He speaks for us in the written word of God, the Scriptures. This is where we find His voice, what He says is true, the voice of His Gospel.

But maybe that does not sound so sure and certain. There seem to be as many interpretations of the Bible today as there are people reading it. So Jesus speaks to us about the fire and the Baptism. “I have come to cast fire on the earth,” He says (Luke 12:49). “I have a baptism to be baptized with,” He says, “and how I am constrained by it until it is accomplished.”

Fire is His word, what the word of the Lord speaks, in judgment on sin and promise of mercy and salvation. This is what the word of the Lord says through Jeremiah: “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:29).

Fire. The word gets into the ears and into the heart and burns. It consumes, it purifies. It burns with the conviction of sin. It burns with the hope and faith the promise of mercy brings.

We learn by this fire that we are not righteous in ourselves but rest alone in the promise from God that the Lord Himself is our righteousness, as spoken in Jeremiah 23:6.

Now this Lord is standing on the earth adorned in human flesh. He is present among His people, healing, delivering from the devil’s oppression, speaking the truth, fulfilling the Law. And He says that He has a baptism with which to be baptized. And He is constrained by it. He must press on to it. It is His calling and mission. It is why He came.

What is this baptism? It is His death on a Roman cross. It is His taking upon Himself in His body the sin of all humanity and God’s wrath against it (Isaiah 53:6). In Mark’s Gospel He refers to the cup that He must drink side by side with the baptism He must undergo (Mark 10:38). In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus is in Gethsemane on the brink of being nailed to the cross, He spoke of the cup that He was about to endure (Luke 22:42). This baptism to which Jesus was destined is His suffering for the sins of whole world.

Think of it; set your heart on it. The King of the kingdom dies for the sins of His subjects to atone for them. This is His Gospel. This is His voice. And it is like fire, purifying our hearts with repentance and faith in Jesus.

His baptism on the cross leads to your baptism, which He gives you as a baptism of forgiveness, regeneration, and renewal in the Holy Spirit (John 3:5; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5). His baptism on the cross leads to the food with which He feeds you, His body and blood, given and shed on that cross to win the speaking and promise to you of forgiveness and peace (Matthew 26:26-28). This is Jesus’s voice in the Gospel. And you know Him and His peace in this voice.

So we follow Jesus, when His voice and the voice of human relations are in conflict. In His death, those who rejected Him put Him to death, though they demanded that He recant and deny Himself. Thus, Jesus died to the world, rejecting its claim that it speaks with the voice of God, in everything it speaks. And He is risen to be in Himself the reality of the eternal kingdom of God. Thus, again, Jesus nullifies the world’s claim that it speaks with the voice of God, in everything it speaks.

Hearing Jesus’s voice through His Word and Sacrament, you live in the reality of His kingdom now, and will do so forever. Amen.  


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