Luke 12:49–13:12. Fire On the Earth.
Key Notes: Warnings of judgment. Our message includes similar warnings.
A review of Jesus' work in previous chapters will help us understand this passage:
4. His Message to Nazareth: Christ to the Nations.
4–5. Many works of healing and teaching.
6. Sermon on Kingdom righteousness.
7–8. Many works of healing and preaching.
9. Twelve sent out healing and preaching.
Transfiguration before Peter, James and John.
Prophecy of the Cross, repeated to the disciples.
10. Seventy sent out healing and preaching.
11–12. Confronting the Pharisees; instructing the disciples.
12–13. Fire on the earth.
12:48–53. Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. He must be baptized into death. (Rom.6:3–5). He is constrained--impatient and anxious, even anguished--until His mission is finished. The Fire will be judgment, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which must follow Jesus' death. (Jn.7:39). They are not incompatible. His salvation would divide families. The peace He came to bring-- "peace on earth among men with whom He is well pleased" (Lk2:14)-- will not be a general peace until the consummation of the Kingdom.
12:54–56. He told the multitudes that they could predict rain if the wind came from the Mediterranean, and heat if the wind came from Arabia, but they were in denial (hypocrites--behaving like actors) about their national situation. Their country was in mortal danger.
12:57–59 He told a parable about going to court and advised them to settle before they came to the judge. (The adversary is ultimately Satan, but here refers to anyone who brings a charge against another.) He warned them that their penalty would be exhausting. They must be reconciled to God.
13:1–5 Some of the bystanders mentioned one of Pilate's atrocities in which he slaughtered Galilean worshippers while they were offering sacrifice. And Jesus mentioned a bad accident in which the Tower of Siloam collapsed on‘ people. He pointed out that these who died were not particularly guilty of sin. These were merely representative deaths. All were doomed to die if they did not repent. The destruction of Jerusalem was less than 40 years away.
13:6–9 Finally, He told a parable of a fig-tree that did not bear after three years. The owner wanted to cut it down, but the gardener begged for one more year with cultivation and fertilizer to try to make it productive.
This lesson has the feeling of continuing anger. It is grim, dark and foreboding. Fire. Not peace, but division. People under judgment, threatened with death. The fig tree? Cut it down. No, give it one more chance.
Jesus speaks for judgment or repentance, life or death, people for Him or against Him. He does so after many months of doing good, healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, preaching good news to the poor. He does so when the Pharisees and some of the people are so bored as to ask for a sign from Heaven (a real miracle), or so blind as to accuse Jesus of being empowered by Satan. Now he turns from offering grace to warning of impending judgment. It is not nice; it is tough love.
Our society feels similar threats to those of first century Israel. We have many fears: plagues of virus diseases, economic collapse, ecologic disaster, terrorist attacks. But society seeks political comfort in community; unity in diversity; equality; autonomy; love, respect and mutual tolerance. These are its cultural values. I'm OK; You're OK. Our political freedoms include the right not be made uncomfortable by other people. It is upsetting to be the object of conversion attempts, and therefore wrong. The Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists oppose conversion to Christianity. The Dalai Lama says it is outmoded to try to convert people.
Society has borrowed values such as unity in diversity from the Church and uses social pressure to accomplish its ends. The Church also teaches unity in diversity: equality; community; love and respect, but on what basis? Does Jesus' message fit the Church's message? Is Jesus' transforming love and grace the basis of our community? Or do we use social pressure in a similar way? Can we announce God's righteous judgment?
If we make division, judgment, repentance, and life or death choices part of our public proclamation, we invite opposition if not persecution. But Jesus' clear message must come through in our witness. We must embrace His tough love.
•We must not hide from the signs of God's work in our world and His impending judgment on it.
•We are all under God's judgment; none are righteous.
•We must be reconciled with God and preach reconciliation while there is time.
•We are being given time to bear fruit for God.