Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 20, 2018
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, 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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
— Luke 12:49-59, ESV
What would you think if you heard a political or religious leader say he wanted to throw fire bombs at people? What if his ongoing rhetoric served to sharply divide people into opposing camps? What if during his campaign he called people with whom He disagreed hypocrites, and referred to others as deadbeats who should be thrown into prison until all of their debts were paid?
You might think these are the tweets of a current political leader. You might think it is some zealous politician or preacher from the extreme far right. You might be wrong. The sentiments stated above were actually uttered by none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ during the last phase of His earthly ministry. You see, The Prince of Peace could also be a bit of a troublemaker.
Jesus is Trouble for Unitarians
I admit to some romanticism when it comes to Unitarianism, which holds among its principal doctrines that all people will go to Heaven after they die. An offshoot of the Great Reformation, Unitarianism takes God and Scripture seriously but not literally. It has been the preferred religious tradition of great men and women including Sir Isaac Newton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, plus eleven Nobel Prize winners and four American presidents, among others.
What could well be their anthem has been performed in recent years by the wonderful Joan Baez who sings, “God in my little understanding don’t care what name I call, whether or not I believe doesn’t matter at all” (taken from “God is God,” written by the equally wonderful Steve Earle).
While I admire certain aspects of their upbeat attitude and beautiful poetry, I am deeply troubled by their doctrine. Unitarians deny the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and the concept of a just and holy God creating Hell or casting people into eternal punishment.
Frankly, there is a part of me that would like to believe there is no Hell. But I cannot because of what the Bible teaches about God, the gospel, and the life to come. And believe me, it does matter what you believe. I believe that a person must believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ to be a believer, a Christian. Christians and non-Christians are divided from one another, now and ultimately for eternity, by the author and finisher of belief, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The beginning of this particular text in Luke is one of many passages in Scripture that teach not all people go to Heaven. Christ ultimate ely divides all humanity on one side of the cross or the other. Those who accept His “baptism” (Christ’s vicarious suffering and death as an atonement for sin) are sincerely baptized into the Christian faith (ref. Romans 6:4), of which Unitarianism is not a firm branch. Those who ignore or deny the tri-unity of God, the Lordship of Christ, the regenerating power of the Spirit, and the necessity of repentance and faith to be saved forfeit Christ’s “baptism” and instead receive His “fire.”
Ever since its invention, fire has been a blessing and a curse. With it you can warm your food or burn down your house. The figurative use in the Bible shoots out of both barrels, too. Fire can symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit, or fire can exemplify the condemning judgment of God. When John the Baptist spoke of the arrival of Jesus Christ, he said, “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 fire” (ref. Luke 3:16).
Those who are baptized with the Holy Spirit believe unto salvation. Those who do not will be immersed into the fiery judgement of God. That’s got to be trouble.
Jesus is Trouble for Hypocrites
If you say you believe, however, you are not out of the fire, yet. It matters how you believe, too, either sincerely or hypocritically. Jesus apparently has trouble with hypocrites.
As best we can determine, the Christ’s words here occurred during His grand finale, the final trip to Jerusalem for His “baptism” on the cross. Jesus had recently tongue-lashed the Pharisees, those self-proclaimed Bible scholars and holy men, who in reality were neither sharp nor saved. Their followers were in trouble, according to Jesus, because they trusted in a hypocritical, phony faith like the Pharisees.
Christianity is a commitment to reverse God, accept Christ, study the Bible, and apply its salient truths to your life. You read it, albeit some parts are like trying to divine the weather, and you do it. Speaking of the weather, in Jesus’ location it is pretty easy to read the breeze. If it came out of the Mediterranean Sea to the west, precipitation was probably going to blow in. If it came from the desert south, arid and hot temperatures were sure to follow. It was so simple even the Pharisees could serve as weathermen.
But could they read the word of God, see the Son of God, and correctly interpret? They said, “yes,” but Jesus the troublemaker called them “hypocrites.” The written word plainly lays out God’s plan of salvation. The living Word, Jesus Christ, perfectly carried out the plan by keeping the law and sacrificially laying down His life for sinners. Those who cloth themselves in the righteousness of Christ are saved. Those who dress in self-righteousness and hypocrisy of the Pharisees are in big trouble, from you know who, Jesus the troublemaker.
Jesus is Trouble for Deadbeats
Finally, Jesus is trouble for deadbeats. This harsh word is my choice, not Jesus’, but it summarizes well this third group of people who find trouble with and get trouble from Jesus. A deadbeat is a person who will not pay his bills. You are not a deadbeat if you cannot pay. You are a deadbeat if you will not pay, or make an honest effort to do so, or otherwise humble yourself and ask for assistance.
The person described in Jesus’ parting words apparently had the money, or most of it, but withheld it. His accuser, to whom he owed the debt, had the right to have him arrested, then off to debtors prison he would go. Jesus did not use the word deadbeat or dummy, but He implied both. It is as if the Lord said, “Don’t be dumb you deadbeat, you’ve got the money or the means to get it, so go give it to the guy before he gets to the judge.”
I used to be a deadbeat, spiritually speaking. I had a debt I could not pay. Not to any man or business or bank; but, to God. I sinned against Him, ever since the day I was born. When I shook off my Unitarian mindset and took off my hypocrite’s mask, I realized the seriousness of my debt, my own inability to pay, and the desperate need of some other means to make things right with God.
That means was grace. And grace came to me through the means of prayers, the preaching of the gospel, the observance of the sacraments, and the irresistible wooing of the Holy Spirit. I saw Christ on His cross, and riches pouring down from His suffering and death. It was grace sufficient to forgive me of all of my sins and grant me eternal life. I did not ignore it, I did not reject it, I begged for grace and mercy and received it — a salvation I did not earn for the debt I could not pay. Now, I have trouble no more, at least not with God.
Most people would not vote for a savior that divides families, calls people names, and advocates throwing debtors into prisons. We would consider him a troublemaker. Amen!
Christ has divided me into a group, the elect, from which I can never be removed. Christ has come to live in me, and the life I now live is neither perfect nor hypocritical. Christ has paid my debt in full by taking my judgment upon Himself, so that I am now forgiven and free before the God of all the universe.
Jesus the troublemaker? Only for those who ignore or reject Him. To those who believe in and follow Him, He is anything but a troublemaker. He is a peacemaker, He is a reconciler, He is a pardoner, He is the Savior, He is Lord.
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