13th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, our Prince of Peace, dear friends in Christ,
Are you watching the Olympics? If so, perhaps you’ve heard of something called the “Olympic Movement.” What is the “Olympic Movement”? Well, here is the quote from their website, Olympic.org: “The Olympic Movement unites all people and builds bridges between all cultures. In Olympic sport, all people are equal, regardless of their ethnicity, gender or faith. Sport can promote peace, and to celebrate this, we are releasing uniquely crafted doves* with messages of peace. Find the dove that speaks the most to you and share it. Together let’s spread peace. Together we can change the world.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? They say, “Olympic sport creates and spreads peace in the world.” Is it true? There’s a part of each one of us that longs for outward peace, right? A time when there are no wars, no hatred, no anger, no conflicts. Every human being knows that there’s something terribly wrong with this world and longs for a solution to establish peace in the world. But the problem is people fail to go deep enough. The Olympics fail to go deep enough. The Olympics are plagued by sports organization corruption, performance enhancing drugs, and very few see behind TV screens the scenes in Rio where millions live in extreme poverty, sickness, and suffering. No, the Olympics may give us a kind of veneer or illusion or façade of peace between the nations of the world but the reality of oppression, terrorism, crime, hate, conflict continues.
So what’s the solution? Jesus, right? Jesus has come to bring peace, harmony, and unity in the world, right? Isn’t that what we were told by the angels on that first Christmas night? “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Didn’t Jesus come to bring peace? Doesn’t Jesus just want everyone to get along, everyone to hold hands and sing Kumbayah together? Isn’t that the peace that Jesus wants? Think again. What does Jesus say? “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” What? Really? Jesus came to bring division on the earth?
Yes, Jesus is still the prince of Peace, yes Jesus does bring a certain peace to the earth, but it’s peace on his standards, not on the human standards. The problem with the world’s attempts at peace is that they fail to go deep enough. They fail to address the real problem. The world longs for outward, temporal, surface peace, which is really no lasting peace at all. The world wants to try to ignore differences, to agree to disagree, to compromise. But the real enemies to peace are sin and impenitence and unbelief. Wherever people cling to their sin, their selfishness, their pride, their arrogance, their false human contrived, man-made solutions for peace there will always be conflict, hate, and division. And wherever humans cling to their sin and unbelief Jesus’ words will burn fire on the earth.
Jesus came to “bring fire on the earth.” What’s that talking about? Well, think about the purpose of fire. Fire has the ability to warm and the ability to destroy, it can be enjoyed and it can also be feared, we enjoy a campfire, we fear a forest fire, fire can purify fine metals and fire can consume. Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to win our salvation, Jesus came to suffer and die in our place, Jesus came to pay our sins and win us forgiveness, Jesus came to rescue us from our totally depraved condition. Jesus came to “bring fire on the earth.” He came to spread this good news, this gospel, of everything he single handedly did for us. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “I baptize with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Just like fire never leaves someone the same, so Jesus’ words never leave someone the same. It either creates a burning zeal and joy in the heart OR it creates a burning hatred and anger against it and those who believe it. It either works faith and strengthens faith in someone OR to the person who rejects it, it hardens them and moves them to hatred against it.
And so, Jesus tells us, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” The result of the message about Jesus brings division in this sin-filled and unbelieving world.
Think about it, the Bible teaches, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” When we’re born into this world we’re dead corpses spiritually and fit only for rotting and decaying. Try telling someone that. Try telling someone that they are by nature spiritually dead, totally depraved, incapable of doing any good thing, and worthless in God’s sight. Tell them that their only hope for rescue is in Jesus and Jesus alone -not in their good deeds or works. Many people don’t want to hear that. That often won’t bring peace, but division. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciple and then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” But try holding firmly on to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus says ONLY those who believe in him will be going to heaven and those who don’t believe will spend an eternity suffering in hell. Go try and tell a friend who is living in open and unrepentant sin that if they don’t repent, they are going to hell – see if that brings peace. Make it known that Christianity is incredibly exclusive that Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life and that NO ONE (no Muslim, Mormon, Jew, Hindu or non-Christian) comes to the Father except through Jesus. See how many friends you get. Stand up for what Scripture teaches about the proper roles of man and woman in church, home, and society and see how many people lovingly embrace you, even people who call themselves Christians will have some not so nice things to say about you. Jesus said, “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
In fact, it even divides families. Everyone here knows of a family- perhaps even their own- that has been divided. Why? Because you call a sin, a sin. Because some love their sin more than their Savior from that sin. Wherever people cling in impenitence, Jesus’ words burn like a fire and the result is division.
But we struggle against it! Each of us longs for an easy life, each one of us longs for a happily ever after life, each one of us longs for perfect relationships in our families, in our country, in our lives. And the problem is, we begin to think that that’s the purpose of our lives- to have outward, temporary peace, we will do whatever it takes in order to have temporary and outward peace. We refrain from speaking the truth in love because we’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or causing conflict. We don’t call a sin a sin and stand up for the truths of Scripture, we compromise for the sake of peace. But then there’s also the division, the separation that’s going on right inside our own hearts every day. Every day there’s the battle between our old sinful nature and our new person. Every day we face struggle as we’re tempted to sin. And it would be so easy to make a little compromise with our sinful nature here, give in to the struggle there, but pretty soon after giving into sin again and again we may no longer experience the struggle, why not? If we give in to the struggle so many times that we don’t struggle anymore against sin and the division within, then our sinful nature has taken over and we’ve lost our faith.
So how can we face the division right in our own hearts? How can we face divisions and schism, breaks and tears right in our own families? How can we stand up for the truth of God’s Word in a sinful world that will be divided and opposed against it? Because we have someone who faced the worst division and separation possible. Jesus willingly endured in our place a baptism of fiery judgment that distressed his soul so that we might have and enjoy eternal peace. He took the full cup of the fire of God’s wrath and damnation and drowned Himself in it on the cross. He yelled out in an agonizing scream the utter division and separation that was due to us when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was separated from God Himself. Why? So that we wouldn’t be…ever. He suffered for all our selfish aliances with sin, all our treaties with Satan, all our surrenders to the sinful world for the sake of outward peace. He was separated from God so that we would never be.
Jesus brought us peace between us and God, by winning the forgiveness of sins for us! Jesus brought peace for our troubled consciences, by washing away our guilt once and for all with His death on the cross! Jesus brought us eternal peace by opening up the door to heaven for us! Those things are real and eternal!
The Olympics and every worldly idea of peace offer just an illusion or veneer or façade of peace. Jesus gives us the real thing. Jesus isn’t the enemy of peace, He gives the only real peace. But wherever people want fake peace, Jesus’ offer of true peace brings fire and division.
And so Jesus is the great divider. His cross divides the human race into believers and unbelievers, those who will go to heaven and those who will go to hell. And He calls for you to make the break with this sinful world and stand up for the truth of His Word no matter what the consequences may be to our lives or to our families. And he doesn’t leave us without consolation. At one point Peter said to Jesus, “We’ve left everything to follow you? What’s left for us? We have nothing, where are we?” Jesus told him, “I say to you this, that everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for my name’s sake shall receive many times as much and shall inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:27) It’s worth forsaking everything because you get eternal life. And that’s not all, you also get us, the family of Christ, many brothers and many sisters and many fathers and many mothers in Christ who share your faith.
Cling to Jesus for He is the Prince of Peace. Let the fire of God’s word burn in your heart and there will be some division in this life but you will enjoy a peace that passes understanding. And there’s a future reward as well, a peace that will last forever in eternal joys of heaven. With Christ you do have peace- not outward, physical, temporal peace, but inward peace, peace of heart, peace of soul, peace of mind now, and a peace in heaven that lasts forever. Amen.