I like the football team the Pittsburgh Steelers. I cheer them on with seasonal loyalty. I often wear a baseball cap sporting their logo in all seasons. Occasionally, someone will say to me, “I hate the Steelers.” I even had a couple people say that Steeler fans are not welcome, you know, wherever I happen to be in the moment. I think they’re kidding, but you never know. And I’m okay with all of this negative joking, prodding, and stated dislike. I’m guessing that a lot of people are just indifferent. I’m alright with that as well. Liking, disliking, or indifference toward a football team will not change your life. In the grand scheme of things, it makes very little difference. Well, unless you let it. And you can even sit on the fence in regards to me. You can take me or leave me. You can be completely indifferent. Liking, disliking, or indifference toward me will not be an earthshaking event in anyone’s life. The problem is that many treat Jesus as if this were also true of him; as if he were just some nice guy that you can take or leave; as if his words can be shifted through and held onto or discarded, depending on your own personal likes and dislikes.
Jesus states a very different reality in Luke 12:49-53. Many assume that Jesus came to bring a message that is all about you feeling good about yourself. Nah man, he came to cast fire upon the earth. Fire is used most often in the Bible for judgment. This is especially true in apocalyptic literature, such as Revelation. It can also represent purifying. Maybe in this context it means both judgment and purification. Jesus’ life and message is a fire that either judges or purifies; depending on how you receive it. And that makes good sense in the context. Then he says, “how I desire that it was already ignited.” In some way the fire was already sparking. Divisions were already happening. The religious leaders had already chosen sides. But without the death, burial and resurrection, there would be no real fire. Without that part of Jesus’ life-message, Jesus would be just another man with some cool things to say that you could gather up or throw away. You could choose sides; you could get angry; you could hate. But without the cross event, Jesus is just man who can be followed or ignored with impunity. But his message is more than a collection of wise sayings. It is fire.
Jesus then said that he must be baptized with baptism. Because the word “baptism” means “immersed” it is often used metaphorically of being overwhelmed. Plato spoke of being baptized in his students’ questions. Their many questions overwhelmed him; surrounded him. The baptism Jesus is speaking of here is the crucifixion event. It was to be an overwhelming engulfing event. The rest of verse 50 is most likely, “and how pressed I am until it is accomplished.” Jesus is probably saying that his face is set on this baptism; he is determined to see it through to the end. It is not joyful, but it is necessary. And maybe his point is that his longing for the resulting fire keeps him determined no matter how engulfing the event would prove to be.
And then Jesus says this weird and almost contradictory thing. He says that he didn’t come to bring peace on earth. Wait a minute! The angels sang of peace at your birth Jesus. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believed on him shall not perish but have eternal life. That sounds like peace. Remember the fire. Those who receive the message and are purified will have peace. Those who do not will find judgment. And this will cause division and this division will even be found within the family. Father against son, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law. The message is going to rip families apart. Those judged by fire members are going to rale against the purified by fire members. The purified by fire members are going to proclaim that Jesus is the only answer. They are going to choose Jesus above family members. They are going to hold to a message that calls for allegiance to the King.
You cannot sit on the fence with Jesus. If you try, you will find yourself on the judgment end of fire. His message was never about you feeling good about who you are. His message is about every one of us needing to be burned clean. And that is why so many hate the message. They want to believe that they are doing okay on their own, thank you very much. So, the message of Jesus is not about picking and choosing what you like. Jesus is not a buffet offered for you convenience and pleasure. The cross demands a choice. Jesus came to force the issue. You allow God to burn you clean or you get burned in judgment. Choose!