Luke 12:49–56 (NIV)
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 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.”
54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
We often call Jesus the Prince of Peace. When Jesus was born, the angels sang about peace on earth. Before Jesus died, He told His disciples He was leaving His peace with them.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says something which at first thought doesn’t quite sound right, 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
How can the Prince of Peace say that He didn’t come to bring peace? Let’s think about what Jesus said. Note first of all, Jesus didn’t say we won’t have peace.
Jesus wants us to have peace. That's why He died for us. He’s forgiven us our sin so we can be at peace with Him and also be at peace with ourselves and with each other.
We can forgive other people and we can know that others forgive us. That’s what peace is all about - forgiveness.
The whole idea of peace and forgiveness is not something to be taken lightly. It’s a serious and complicated matter because it has to do with SIN.
‘Sin’ seems to be an idea which is losing popularity with the population - that is the seriousness of sin - the practice of it is still quite popular.
John Stott, an English theologian, writing about peace in his book The Cross of Christ said:
“God said of the false prophets in Old Testament days: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. "Peace, peace," they say, when there is no peace."” Superficial remedies are always due to a faulty diagnosis. Those who prescribe them have fallen victim to the deceiving spirit of modernity which denies the gravity of sin. To make a true diagnosis of our condition, however, grave as it is, could never he unhealthy, provided that we go on immediately to the remedy. So the law which condemns us is nevertheless God's good gift, because it sends us to Christ to be justified. And the Holy Spirit came to 'convict the world of guilt', but only in order that He might more effectively bear witness to Christ as the Saviour from guilt (Jn. 16:8; 15:26-27). There is no joy comparable to the joy of the forgiven.
Jesus says that the peace He gives to us won’t bring peace to the world. A lot of people don’t want Jesus’ peace any way. They don't want to be forgiven, and they don't want to forgive others. This causes division instead of peace.
Could it be true that Jesus wants us to have peace but that He didn’t come to bring peace to the world? Yes, it can.
It’s like this. We’ll pretend that you’re all in your cars out in the church car park. We’ll also pretend that it’s raining very hard. I want you to come into the church so you can worship.
But you don't want to get wet. And I don't want you to get wet. So I’d take this umbrella and run out to your car. Then you could come into the church with me under the umbrella. That way you wouldn’t get wet.
I wouldn’t take the umbrella out to the car so you could stay out in the car park. Instead I’d go out there to bring you back in here.
Now if someone refused to get out of their car because he or she didn't want to walk under the umbrella, that person would end up staying out in the rain and there would be a division between us.
Because we’re sinners in a sinful world, we’re like a car full of people out in the car park in a rainstorm. We can't come into heaven by ourselves (That is, if for the sake of the example, we can call the church heaven?). So Jesus comes out to get us. He offers us the umbrella of His love and peace.
But Jesus didn’t take His love and peace out to us so we could stay out there. Rather He took it out there to bring us back here. He didn’t come to bring peace to the world but to bring peace to all who would believe in Him, so they could live at peace with Him forever in heaven.
We can have peace now even while we’re waiting to go to heaven. But we have that peace only because Christ has come out to be with us. He shares His peace with us. And we can share it with others.
We can practice Jesus’ peace and be peace-makers. We can seek peace and pursue it. But we need to remember that peace-making is not a one-way activity. As Christian’s we’re instructed to live at peace with everyone - that is as far as it depends on us.
What’s the story then, when someone doesn’t want to live at peace with us? Have a look at Matthew chapter 5 verse 9 (page 659 in thepew Bible to help us work out what God has to say. What does Jesus say “peacemakers” will be: “Blessed”. What will they be called? “Children of God.” So, when we practice being peacemakers we’re engaging in our Father’s activity.
Our peace making won’t be superficial appeasement of someone with whom we have differences.
The peace that Jesus brings is always costly. Jesus peace with us came at the cost of his life. John Stott says that:
“We have no right to expect, therefore, that we shall be able to engage in reconciliation work at no cost to ourselves, whether our involvement in the dispute is as the offending or offended party, or as a third party anxious to help enemies become friends again.”
What’s the cost then? It may well be that we have to painstakingly listen to several sides of the contentious issue - witnessing bitterness and recriminations, struggling to sympathise with each opposing position - making an effort to understand the misunderstandings which caused division.
Unsuspected faults and issues may be uncovered and the humiliation of apologising may be necessary. Restitution may also be necessary so the situation is put right. It may be too that the wounds will take time to heal.
At times we may have to enter the embarrassing situation of reproving or rebuking another person. This may stress or break a friendship. But, again, as John Stott says:
“Although the followers of Jesus never have the right to refuse forgiveness, let alone to take revenge, we are not permitted to cheapen forgiveness by offering it prematurely when there has been no repentance. ‘If your brother sins,’ Jesus said, ‘rebuke him’, and only then ‘if he repents, forgive him’. (Luke 17:3).”
Our motive for peace-making is love - but love doesn’t ignore justice. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are costly exercises. As Stott says, “All authentic Christian peace-making exhibits the love and justice - and so - the pain - of the cross.”
In family life, parents attitude to their children is to be marked by the cross. An atmosphere of love is indispensable in enabling children to grow to emotional maturity. But this love is not soft unprincipled love which spoils children. It’s love which seeks their best welfare at any cost.
Christian parents will model their love on that of their heavenly Father. And so, parental love doesn’t cut out discipline since ‘the Lord disciplines those He loves’.
God treats us like sons and daughters. Without discipline we’re like illegitimate children who wander through life, always in trouble, never experiencing peace and security.
Genuine love gets angry too. Genuine love is hostile to what isn’t in the best interests of children. Stott sums this up, “Justice without mercy is too strict, and mercy without justice is too lenient.” If children do something they know is wrong they also know they deserve punishment - they both expect and want to receive punishment.
Children also figure out when punishment is administered with or without love or when it is unjust punishment. Good discipline contributes to a child’s peace of mind and they know they’re safe in that environment - they know that someone is there to protect them.
As children of God we know that He is here to protect us. We know that God has served us His love and justice through the death of Jesus - the benefits of which we receive in baptism and the Lord’s supper. As a consequence of His love and justice in our lives we also have His peace - knowing that we’re forgiven.
God searched us out. He brought his umbrella of peace to us. We can enjoy that peace now. And remember that we’re moving to the place of peace forever. Let’s also carry the umbrella of God’s peace to others yet to experience it.