“Discerning the Dividing Line”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As you may have realized by now, chapter 12 of Luke is not a chapter for the faint of heart. So it’s a good thing we rely on “Thy Strong Word” and not on our own faint hearts! Notice that this chapter is full of lines sharply drawn. Starting in verses 4-7, we are told to fear the one who can cast the body into hell, and not the one who can kill the body only. Verses 8-10 divide between those who acknowledge Christ before men and those who deny Him. Verses 13-21 divide between those who are rich toward God and those who are rich toward themselves. As we heard last week, verses 22-34 divide between those whose treasure is safe with God in Jesus Christ and those whose treasure is in temporary, earthly things. We did not have verses 35-48 as a Gospel lesson, but there too Jesus divides between those who are ready for His return and those who are not; as well as between those servants who do their Master’s will and those who do not. Finally, in our text for today, Jesus sums it all up. He tells us the source of and the reason for all the division. It is Jesus Himself.
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51, ESV). This is not the Jesus with whom we are familiar. We know “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” We know the Jesus who loves everyone—which means, in our culture, that He would be the sort of blandly inoffensive guy whom everyone likes but no one really knows why. He would be your buddy; a guy who would come over and share a beer with you, and talk about sports and weather, but never say anything even bordering on the uncomfortable. I mean, let’s do a little free association: I say the word “Jesus” and the first word that comes to your mind is “divisive,” right? And yet, that is the Jesus we have here. We have a Jesus who speaks of the hard, black-and-white divisions between those who fear God and those who do not; those who confess Christ and those who do not; those who are rich toward Him and those who are not; those whose treasure is with God and those whose treasure is on earth; and those who are ready for Jesus to return, steadily doing the work He has given them to do, and those lazy servants who will be cut in pieces and put with the unfaithful (Luke 12:46). And the dividing line, in all of these cases, is Jesus. You are either with Him or against Him.
So in Luke 12:54-56 we have two messages: one for those who are against Him and one for those who are with Him. The first message is for those who are against Jesus, for the unbaptized and the unbeliever, and it is this: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A [rain-]shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 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” (Luke 12:54-56, ESV)? Jesus’ hearers knew that when the clouds came from the west, from the Mediterranean, that they would have rain. And they knew that when the wind was coming from the south, from the desert, that they would have heat. The word we have translated as “interpret” means to put something to the test and see if it is genuine. The people listening to Jesus were able to test the signs of sky and earth and see if they meant rain or heat. But they were unable to test the signs of Jesus and understand that not believing Jesus meant being divided from God and His people. If you are an unbeliever, do not be found on the wrong side of Jesus. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). “Save yourself from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40, ESV).
But I suspect that most, if not all, of you are believers in Jesus, who have been baptized into the Christian Faith. The second message is for those who are with Jesus, for the baptized and the believer, and it is this: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A [rain-]shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 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?” I’ve heard a lot of talk about the weather here, especially since it’s harvest time. You know what sort of weather, at what times, is good for which crops. Similarly, you have tested the claims of Jesus, and found them genuine. When you were baptized, God put you on the right side of Jesus. That’s not the question here. The question is, are you a hypocrite? To be a hypocrite is not the smear-word it has come to be, meaning, “whoever disagrees with me about a moral issue.” When Jesus calls people hypocrites, He is telling them that they are pretending to be something they are not. The word originally meant an actor in a play who was wearing a mask, therefore pretending to be someone that he, the actor, was really not. So: are you pretending? Are you a Christian who wears the mask of an unbeliever? Have you not tested the times enough to know that they are hostile to the Christian Faith and to your faith? That they are hostile to your Lord, and, therefore, to you?
You are not an unbeliever; why do you, by your life and speech, pretend to be one? Why do you talk like everyone else and laugh at the same crude jokes as everyone else? Why do you live like everyone else and forsake the Lord’s House and His Table like those who think that Sunday is just another day? Or, perhaps you do talk and live like a Christian; you only listen to Christian radio and watch family-approved television, and tell clean jokes, and are appalled at the immorality in our world. Good. But why, then, do you look down on everyone else, pretending that you are not still a sinner who is forgiven by the same Savior who died for them?
Do not be deceived: the division between the people of God and the people of the world will one day be fulfilled in judgment. The fire of which Jesus speaks is the consuming fire of God’s judgment that will burn away all evil in its path, preparing the way for a new heavens and a new earth. “I came,” Jesus says, “to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” The fact that the earth is not yet consumed means salvation for those whom God has chosen in His Son. But do not doubt that it is coming. And do not doubt that those on the wrong side of Jesus’ dividing line will not be found fire-proof. There is only one person who has come safely through the fire of judgment on His own, and that is Jesus. Here in our text, in this “prelude to Gethsemane,” Jesus very humanly shows His anxiety at the baptism of fire with which He would be baptized. But baptized into judgment on the cross, He was raised in righteousness by His Father. It is because of this baptism of judgment that you could receive your baptism of mercy. As in the fiery furnace, when Nebuchadnezzar saw the mysterious “son of the gods” walking around with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:25), Jesus passed through the fire of judgment and He doesn’t even smell like smoke. And, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, neither do you. Your judgment is cancelled. You have come safely out of the furnace.
So quit pretending! Jesus has marked His people off from the rest of the world. You are indelibly and permanently marked. You are irrevocably tattooed with the cross of Christ. Look in the mirror and trace its baptismal outline on your forehead. You are His; He has claimed you. Your hypocrisy is pretending that you have not been marked by the holy Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That mask you wear, the one that makes you look like the people of the world—take it off. Throw it away. It is not you. Whether your sinful nature likes it or not, you are a Christian. Be one! As Paul wrote to Timothy, “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:19, ESV).
Now that God has destroyed your masks, and placed you firmly with Jesus, you may find yourself on the other side of the dividing line between you and your parents, or between you and your children, or between you and your in-laws. Those on the other side of the line will plead with you to put on the old masks. They will ask, even beg you to be a hypocrite, to pretend to be on their side of the line. You cannot do it. You belong to Jesus, and if they refuse to belong to Him, then you do not belong to them either. But do not abandon them. The fire of judgment has not yet come on the earth. Pray for them. Pray that God the Holy Spirit will open their eyes to the signs of the times and the signs of Jesus. Pray that they will be found with you on this side of the division, before their division from you and Jesus becomes judgment to them.
And pray for me, and pray for yourself. Though we are not of the world, and we wear its masks no longer, the masks are still there. We are still in the world and the masks we are tempted to wear multiply every day. Whether materialism, individualism, sexual immorality, the spiritual lethargy that makes us think we can survive without the gathered Body of Christ, or the practical atheism in which we do not take God into account except on Sunday—we are surrounded by signs of the world that must be tested and found false. Your place is not with them. You are on this side of the dividing line, and your true self is here, with Jesus. Confess your sins and be absolved by Him of your hypocrisy. Come to His altar and receive His real life in exchange for your pretend one. He will keep you with Him until the fire of judgment passes you over. The Lord knows those who are His. They bear His cross until He returns. And so we pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/14/07