“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read just a moment ago from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, I want you to think about Christmas. Now, that shouldn’t be too difficult considering the weather we have been having lately. Last week was positively Christmas-esque. What I especially want you to think about is the song that the angels sang that night. In fact, it is the same song that we sang earlier in the service. The Gloria in Excelsis is the song of Christmas, it is the song of the angels! Turn back to it with me (it’s on page seventeen). We sang: “Glory be to God on high; And on earth peace, good will toward men.” It makes sense, doesn’t it, that we would begin our service at Christmas. And what characterizes the song of the angels? Peace.
You heard that same word at the beginning of the sermon: “Grace, mercy, and peace…” You will hear it at the Lord’s Supper: “The peace of the Lord be with you always!” And you will hear it as you depart this place: “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Peace, peace, peace! That’s really all we want to talk about throughout the Divine Service, and for good reason. For when the infant Christ child was born of Mary, He was born to bring peace, peace between God and man. Jesus’ work can be summed up by that one Word, and that is why we speak it so often. His death and resurrection reconciled us to our heavenly Father, to our Creator, His work tore down the dividing wall of hostility between God and man. When Jesus hung upon that cross, He was bringing peace, the peace that we needed, the peace that passes all understanding.
This emphasis on peace makes Jesus’ words in our text for today seem very out of place: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Can you imagine being amongst the disciples that day? “Whoa, wait a minute Jesus! Didn’t anybody tell you that you became man only to bring peace? Maybe you missed the memo, maybe the song of the angels didn’t quite get back to you, but your mission is to restore relationships, not divide them.” But Jesus has a point to make on this day. His disciples, along with you and I, need a reality check, we need to understand what consequences follow in the wake of the Messiah’s work. And while Jesus came to bring peace between God and man, His work would not provide peace in this world. Instead, division is the unfortunate result.
The work of Jesus confronts all of humanity with a question, the same question Jesus put to the disciples in Matthew chapter sixteen: “Who do you say that I am?” Many throughout the centuries, along with you and I, reply with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We can only say this through the faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many, many more in every generation say that Jesus is just a guy, just some good teacher, just a prophet, a revolutionary, a vegetarian, and a whole host of other things. In fact, people have answered that question with just about every label we have, but none of those answers is correct. They reject Him and His work, sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of ignorance or indifference, sometimes because they simply can’t believe what Jesus says about Himself. But whatever the reason, they reject Him, and the world is separated into two camps, Christ’s work divides humanity in two. We who believe in Christ as our Savior are in one camp, and those who reject Him are in another. And the reality is that we will spend eternity in those same two groups.
This wouldn’t be so tough if it was simply all of those nameless, faceless people ‘out there’ who were opposed to Christ, but you and I know that the division that Christ’s work brings hits far closer to home. “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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” You all know the truth of Jesus’ words here. You know all too well that when confronted with the work of Christ, our own families become fractured. We all have family members that have abandoned the faith, those who have gone to another religion or those who have joined America’s fastest growing religious group: “No Preference.” This is painful, it hurts us deeply, especially when we have done our best to raise them in the faith or provide a positive influence in their lives. And this division is even more difficult when we face the ridicule or even persecution of those whom we love the most because of our faith. We hear about this tragedy in our Introit for today. “For it is not an enemy who taunts me- then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me- then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, by familiar friend.” If we don’t face persecution from our families and friends, we sure face it from the world. One only needs to watch the news, read a newspaper, or surf the internet to find people mocking Christianity, or in the case of Islam, threatening our very lives. The division that Christ’s work brings surrounds us at all times, and Jesus tells us that it is a reality in our lives until He returns.
Jesus knows that His work will cause division, but He knows that it is only through division that He can bring us salvation. He begins our text: “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!” Jesus is agitated, He is distressed, for He is headed for a baptism that is not by water at all, but by fire, the fire of God’s wrath. He is constrained by divine necessity to go to that baptism, for in that bloody baptism on the cross Jesus will pay the price for our sin. There the hot wrath of God that we deserved for our sin will burn against Jesus, and it will consume Him, it will kill Him on that cross. On Good Friday, Jesus Himself will experience the division that His work causes. His own family and people, and indeed all men to whom He came as a brother will condemn Him to death and nail Him to the cross. But that was not the greatest division of that day. Jesus proclaimed in our text: “They will be divided, father against son.” On the cross, Jesus’ Father will be divided against His only-begotten Son. God will pour out His wrath on His beloved child, He will separate Himself from His Son, Jesus will suffer the reality of hell. This fact causes Jesus anguish, it causes Him distress, but still He goes, for He is determined to accomplish your salvation, He is absolutely committed to deliver you. And He will go to Calvary’s cross because He loves you, and He does not want you to spend eternity separated from your heavenly Father. He was willing to suffer that separation, that division; He was willing to have His Father be against Him so that our Father would never be against us. Jesus did that all for you, and now He claims you as His own through your own Baptism.
If Jesus describes His death as a baptism, then it only makes sense that our baptism is into His death. When you were brought to the font and water was poured on your head “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you were incorporated into Christ’s death, you were brought all of the gifts that He won there. But baptism also entails a division, this one much more personal. The prophet Zechariah connects Christ’s death with this division. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the LORD of hosts... In the whole land, declares the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people;’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”
The sword has been awakened against Christ, and when it strikes Him, not only is humanity divided into those who believe on Jesus and those who reject Him, but those who believe are put through the fire. This is the fire of baptism. In Jesus’ bloody baptism on the cross, He faced the fire of God’s wrath; therefore, when He baptized you into His death, the God’s fire did not destroy you, but instead it refined you, it burned away your sin and corruption. Jesus divided from you all that kept you from a relationship with the Father. Because you are incorporated into His death and resurrection, God says to you, “They are my people.” Because you are now His child, you can say in response: “The Lord is my God.” This is not a painless process. The old sinful man within us wants to hold on, He does not want to leave. Therefore Baptism is more than a one-time occurrence, it is lifelong cycle of repentance, of Christ working within us to burn away our sin and divide our sinful nature from us. John the Baptist prophesied this baptismal life in Luke chapter three. “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” Christ causes division within you, division which purifies you, which cleanses you, which brings you every good gift that He won.
Christ’s work removes every weight, every hindrance, every sin that separated us from our heavenly Father. Because He chose to be divided from His Father, because He divided us from our sin, He will give us eternal peace. That is the peace He gives, that is the peace the angels declared, not peace in this world, but peace forever, peace with our Father, peace that lasts. He does not give as the world gives, but He gives more, He gives lavishly, He gives to you and me the victory that His resurrection declares. God’s peace is yours forever, because of your Savior! In His holy and precious Name, Amen.