“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”Luke 12:49-53
You’ll find warning labels on all sorts of products. Perhaps one of the most famous warnings is located on the package of cigarettes which reads, “Warning, the surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.” But, there are many other warnings. When you fill up your car with gas it says, “Warning, gasoline vapors may cause cancer.” How about the label on the extension cord that you plugged into the wall? It says, “warning, electrical hazard.” There are not only warnings on labels, but also warnings on power tools, toys, and on all sorts of consumer products. But, did you ever stop to consider what sort of warning label might have been included with baptism? How about this one:
Warning: Baptism Starts Fires!
1. The Fire of Salvation 2. The Fire of Controversy
The Fire of Salvation
You have expectations that a certain amount of money will get you the same amount of product. If you pay the ticket price for a day at Six Flags, you are entitled to just as many rides on the Texas Giant as everyone else. That keeps everyone happy. If you pay $2.29 for a gallon of gas, you expect to get a gallon of gas. If you go to lunch after the service today, you expect that you’ll pay a certain price for 10 chicken nuggets, and you expect to get 10 chicken nuggets. Again, everyone is happy. Just think of the chaos at McDonald’s if people paid the same price but everyone received a different amount of chicken nuggets! What are your expectations for real meaning for your life? It could become dangerous especially if a person believes that the meaning to life is this: God wants everyone to be happy and treats everyone equally. Take this thought to a little league field and you’ll find parents who think “Everyone should be happy” getting frustrated when playing time and position opportunity are dished out based on ability and their child with below average soccer skills sits on the sidelines. It gets a whole lot more serious when we bring this into the area of religion. When you hear people say, “God wants me to be happy,” Do you agree? Or do you start to feel the fire of your baptism?
This is what I mean. We believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of all our sins. We also believe that through our baptism the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross is granted to us. We believe the Bible is very inclusive when Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If we agree with the Bible and disagree with the rest of the world, then not everyone will be happy and we will feel the heat of our baptism. And that’s good. That means something is happening. People possessed by evil spirits shook before they came screaming out. So, it’s good that we feel uncomfortable when facing the sin before us. That means we are fulfilling exactly what Jesus said would happen: “I have come to bring fire on the earth.”
There is so much more to this heat than our bearing witness to the truth of God’s Word. Jesus’ words to the crowd are a window to his soul and the struggle he was feeling as our Savior. Jesus shockingly announces, “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” I know it burns our ears to hear Jesus speak these words because we remember the words of the angel at Christmas, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor” (Luke 2:14).However, the angels are talking about the vertical peace Jesus established between God and mankind by his removing the curse of sin. But, Jesus is talking about his horizontal battle between himself and the devil for the redemption of souls. Jesus knows that his peace isn’t peaceful for he brings the fire of salvation. Knowing the peace of this salvation in heaven will often result in the pain and sadness of battling the sinful world.
Listen to Jesus talk about the heat from the battle of his baptism! “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” All of you who say, “God is a God of love” if this statement makes you feel uncomfortable……good! Jesus wants it to! You have heard me say that in the Greek, the first word in the sentence is usually the one that gets people’s attention. Jesus said, “FIRE!” Jesus understands what he is facing and can’t just sit back smiling with a ho-hum attitude. Jesus yells, “FIRE!” Fire is deadly. Fire kills people. Fire burns, consumes, and destroys. Jesus isn’t carrying a BIC lighter or a kitchen match, but Jesus carries a fatal atomic bomb. “Fire I have come to bring on the earth!” So, when does this bomb explode? Jesus said, “How I wish it were already kindled.” Jesus wishes he could speed up the countdown to detonation by turning the dial and fully engaged with Satan at the cross of our salvation.
Jesus’ baptism by fire brought salvation, but it looks so much different than most expected. Remember, fire burns, but it also purifies! Jesus explains further, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed.” If this statement makes you double take your understanding of Jesus’ baptism … good! Jesus begins this statement with the word “baptism.” Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan lit the fuse of his baptism of fire—that is his work of suffering, pain, and the punishment of hell in our stead while hanging on the cross. Jesus’ baptism of fire completed means a whole different future for us! Yes, the baptism of Jesus totally changes our status before God. Jesus’ baptism of pain and suffering at the cross forgives all our sins and gives us a new purpose, a new meaning to life. We know how much Jesus loves us to proceed willingly through this baptism of fire, in order to bring us a baptism of life. So, Jesus sighs, “how distressed I am until it is completed.” For this baptism of purification brings salvation to us! And when that happens, another fire it lit. It’s a
Fire of Controversy
It is a serious warning that is attached to our baptism. Sure we are happy to have the curse of sin removed from our lives forever. But, as you hear these words do you sense that it is Jesus’ goal for life that he and everyone else should be happy? Is that why God the Father sent Jesus to this earth, to be happy? It goes beyond happy! Jesus knows that even when his work is completed, the devil will try hard to bring the fires of controversy into our lives and tempt us to doubt God’s love and turn our backs on him.
So, what’s next for Jesus? If Jesus really wanted to be happy he could have ditched it all, ducked into a Joshua’s tavern and escaped all his troubles. But Jesus knows all about the fire of controversy that the baptism of his work would bring to him and his followers. Jesus will not rest until he faces his fears, steps into the darkness, and gains the victory through the fire of his controversy over the curse of sin. And so he did. Jesus experienced the pain of hell, the eternal deadly flames scorching his beard, his skin, his soul. Fire! Death! Destruction! Forsaken! Killed! Suffering for guilty sinners!
Yes, the fire of our salvation killed Jesus, but that is not the end. Fire also illumines and refines. Look again at the cross of Jesus. Was it peaceful? No. Does it bring peace? Yes. Did it kill? Yes, there should be a label that says, “This cross brings the fire of hell!” Did the cross bring life and forgiveness to you! Yes! Here at the cross, pause and look again. Can you see it? See the sparkling waters of the Jordan dripping down his beard mixed with the blood and the tears and the sweat. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and his baptism of fire on the cross are both for you! Likewise, when you see a baptism here at this font, you really do see two baptisms. One looks so peaceful as water trickles on a little baby’s forehead as Jesus washes away all their sin. But, there is another baptism—the baptism of fire—as the young child, and his parents, are called to remain faithful to the promises God made for that child. That means a warning label is being attached, “Warning—Baptism Causes Fires!” The fire of baptism calls us to be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ! So, now that you think about it, is your baptism just peaceful? No. It makes us a child of God who ought to expect persecution. But does it bring peace? Yes. It grants peace in the forgiveness of sins we received as a glorious gift from God!
Jesus said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Jesus came to disturb people that feel peace, but for all the wrong reasons. Think of this statement of Jesus this way: the division and conflict that Jesus creates in your Christian life is infinitely better than unity and peace without him. So how is Jesus doing? Do you have the right peace for the right reason? How is Jesus disturbing your peace? Is your conscience bothering you because you have cheated him in your offerings of time, talents and offerings? Warning! Baptism Starts Fires! Are you feeling a little bent out of shape because God’s Word has identified sinful behaviors that are unbending to the race he has marked out for you? Warning! Baptism Starts Fires! Did you hear Jesus’ answer to the time when he felt the heat? “How distressed I am until it is completed!” Jesus said, “distressed” which means “pressed in from all sides” or “unable to go any other direction.” It’s the same word that the Bible uses in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Christ’s death and resurrection compel us. May we be so pressed in by his love that we will not go any other direction. Let the fire of our baptism ignite the fire in us! When our baptism creates the fire of controversy, this is the edge where change is possible.
Dear Christian friends, there will be times when we find labels that warn us of cancer, power, or dangerous situations. You, dear Christian friends, have been baptized and have received the sign of the cross on your head and heart that mark you as God’s child. Sooner or later you will experience some kind of pressure just because of your link to Jesus. Sooner or later you will go through fire if you haven’t already. Sooner or later your loyalty to Jesus will be tested. When that happens, recall these words of Jesus from Luke chapter twelve. This cross also makes you a target for Satan. Therefore, let’s be fired up! Heed Jesus’ warning that baptism starts fires! Jesus’ baptism stirred up the fire of his work to save the world from their sins. May our baptism stir up in us the fire of controversy because we are standing as bold witnesses to our Savior. And when the controversy occurs let us take great comfort to know that Jesus is at work to bring us to the completion of our faith with him that was started at our baptism. Amen.