The passage we have before us this morning begins with fire and ends with the weather, two powerful forces in the ancient world as well as today. Both the weather and fire can be forces which bring us health and well being as well as forces which can bring utter destruction to our lives in mere moments.
Jesus begins this section by declaring the he came to bring fire to the earth and then goes on to say how he wishes for the fire to have already begun. At first glance this sounds pretty harsh. Most of us when we hear this probably immediately go to the destructive nature of fire. It makes me think of the song we use to sing as children which was about the Chicago fire. “Old lady Leary. . .” All it took to reduce a large portion of old Chicago to ruble was the misstep of Old Lady’s Leary’s milk cow. When we think of fire we often think about the destruction it can cause. Fire when, let go, can reduce a house or even a whole city to ruin right before our eyes. This cause us to look at this passage with an understanding of destruction, perhaps fire as judgment. Thinking about fire in this way causes us to come to this passage thinking about destruction and it makes it sound as if Jesus is telling us that he came here to burn and destroy, to decimate and to bring ruin the earth. Yet, we know from other places in scripture that Christ came to bring love, salvation, redemption, to draw all humanity back to God. So the idea of Jesus coming to lay the earth to waste with fire seems to be completely contradictory to what we know from other places in scripture. When our understanding of one verse seems to contradict what we know to be true from other places in scripture, this usually means we have missed something in the passage at hand.
Perhaps we are looking at fire in the wrong way. The fact of the matter is that fire is not simply known for its destructive nature. Fire can also be a very good thing. Fire was what cooked food. Fire was something which brought light during the night and gave warmth to a home when it was cold. Fire was that which held the wild animals at bay in the wilderness. It was also used to refine metal, it was used to burn out the impurities, make the metal stronger and to make it malleable so it could be shaped and formed into the properly.
In this light fire is a good thing, something which can form and shape, something, which can purify and cleanse. If we see this not as Jesus calling for fire to come to the earth to destroy but as fire coming to purify and cleanse, it makes sense why Jesus is desiring for that fire to already be kindled, for the fire to begin its work as soon as possible. Jesus desires for us all to be cleansed and purified, he desires for the work he came to this earth to be completed, for every heart to be turned toward God and for all creation to be living the way God created creation to live.
The image of fire can then be directly linked to the cleansing purifying fire of Pentecost. The believers were gathered together in the upper room as they were instructed by Jesus to do and suddenly a mighty rushing wind came and tongues of fire rested on all of them and they were filled with the Spirit of God. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is often referred to as a second baptism. The first baptism is a baptism with water and the second being a baptism of fire. Jesus, then, desires for the Spirit of God to fall up on all creation, to cleanse and to purify as the Spirit would do following his death and resurrection on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus points forward to the purifying, cleansing fire of Pentecost and the second baptism, and then almost immediately says that he himself still has a baptism to undergo. The death and resurrection pointed to in baptism was yet to come, therefore Jesus still has a baptism before him. Before the fire can come, before humanity can be reunited to their creator, Jesus must first be laid beneath the earth and rise up out of it again, as symbolized in the going under the water and rising back up out of it again which took takes place whenever someone is baptized. Not only is Jesus waiting with much anticipation for all this to come to pass but before the fire can come, before the Spirit can fall on believer, first Jesus must suffer, die, and be raised from the dead, and his passion and death is something to which Jesus is not looking forward, it brings him distress. It is much like a mother to be, who looks forward to holding her baby in her arms but does not necessarily look forward to whole actually giving birth part. Although she may be greatly anticipating the moment when she will hold her brand new baby in her arms, the idea of the reality of what it will take to actually give birth can cause great distress. Likewise as Jesus looks forward to the baptism of death which lies before him this causes him great stress, although it will ultimately lead to that which he desires most for the world.
But then Jesus tells us that even though the coming of the refining fire of the Spirit which is to come, is good thing, the good that is to come might not be what we want it to be. It might not be what we expect it to be. Many people expected the messiah to be a great military leader who would come and make all things right for Israel, who would restore the political fortunes of Israel and restore their national identity and set himself on the throne of David to peacefully rule the nation as God intended. But this is not exactly what Jesus came to do. Jesus did not come to bring military and political peace to a nation which had been in turmoil for hundreds of years. In fact restoring the nation of Israel not at all on Jesus’ agenda, in fact any kind of peace as they knew it was also not on his agenda.
Jesus was there to restore relationship with God. Jesus was there to restore life to the way God created it to be, but as the saying goes, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” Before all things can be truly set right all the things which are wrong have to be up ended and thrown to the wayside. Societal norms will be cast to the side. The things which you are told to value may not have any value at all. These are the eggs which are broken as the omelet of restoring all creation is made.
In that day and age the family was the center of society, even more so than we would like to think it is today. The family and familial relations were of the utmost importance. A son, no matter how old was not under any circumstance to stand against his father. This was also true for a daughter and her mother. And when a young woman left her house and went to live in the house of her husband her Mother-in-law stood in the place where her mother once stood in her life. These were sacred relationships, relationships which you respected at all costs. You did not under any circumstances turn against or stand against these most important people in your life. These relationships were to be protected and preserved above all other things and should be prize above anything else in one’s life.
Jesus is saying not only is he to not bring peace as they would see it, but ultimately choosing to live the way God was calling people to live should come above the most important relationships in your life. Jesus was not there to protect and up hold the norm of that society but Jesus was there to restore relationship with God and that relationship would stand over and above all other relationships and could very well break up that which would normally be considered sacred. God was there to be the top, to be the most important, to be the most sacred. If you were willing to follow God you must be willing to set aside all other things, no matter how important or sacred you might believe them to be.
Society might tell you this relationship CAN NOT be breached. The world may tell you, that you can not at any cost cross this line but if that relationship stands in the way of your relationship with God or that line is blocking your way to living the life God has called you to live that relationship must be cast to the wayside and that line must be crossed.
Jesus did not come to bring peace, Jesus did not come to up hold the status quo and become a pillar to support the systems protected and revered by any particular society. Jesus came to stand over and above these things. God is more important than social structures. Relationship with the creator of the universe is to be valued more than any relationship you may have on this earth. The standard which Jesus calls us to should be sought after over and above, and even to the contrary of, any standards which the world around us might call us to live by.
Jesus ends this discussion by talking about the weather. Now I have to say growing up this part of the passage never really made sense to me. How can a person “see” the weather coming? I thought it must be something that ancient people could do that we can no longer do, kind of like navigating across country by night using the stars. But, living in Kansas gave me a whole new perspective on looking to the skies to see the weather and understanding from which direction the wind is blowing to understand what will happen with the weather. In Kansas you could see a storm 50-60 miles off. You could see the rain falling miles and miles away across the plain. It did not take much thought to then notice which way the wind was blowing and which direction the clouds were moving and how fast, to understand whether that rain was coming your way and if so how quickly it would arrive.
Like wise the people in Jesus’ day knew that most storm systems moved from west to east and therefore if they saw a storm in the sky off to the west they knew it was going to rain. They also knew that the desert was to their South so if the wind was blowing in from the South, they knew that it was going to be hot. This was common knowledge; these were things that everyone knew. It took no special training. Understanding the weather just took living in the land and understanding the world around them.
Jesus was calling for his disciples to have that same kind of understanding of the world around them and about the gospel. They needed to stop being ignorant of the things which were all around them, that is the truth of the gospel. They needed to stop expecting Jesus to be who they wanted him to be. They needed to look to the signs, look at the horizon and see what was going on all around them. Jesus was here to cleanse them, to bring a baptism of fire which would purify them and make them into the people God created them to be. They needed to open their eyes to the signs around them and see that Jesus was not there to prop up the status quo of their society and live up to expectations which the world around them had set up for them. Jesus was there to go against the norm, to break up the failures of the sinful status quo and set things right, not bring peace for Israel but to set things right for all creation, to bring all humanity back into relationship with God. Jesus was not there to be the person they wanted him to be but Jesus was there to allow all of humanity to be the people God created them to be.
Jesus is calling us to be the people God created us to be. We were created to live in unhampered relationship with God. We were created to be pure and holy. We were created to love God and love each other with unfettered and inexhaustible love but sin and the separation which sin caused between us and God as well as with one another (let us not fool ourselves into thinking that sin merely affects our relationship with God and is not extended to all our other relationships). Jesus came to this earth to restore us to be the people God created us to be. He came to this earth to allow us to live the way we were meant to live. While he was here on earth his greatest desire was to usher in the coming of the refining fire of the Spirit which would allow this to begin to happen in the hearts and lives all those who choose to accept him as their Lord, savoir and restorer of their lives.
As Christians our deepest desire it to be who Jesus calls us to be, to be the people God created us to be, to be cleansed from all that disconnects us from God, to be freed from all that hinders us from being who we were meant to be, to be restored in relationship not only with one another, loving each other purely and wholly but to be restored in our relationship with God.
But this may not look the way you or I would hope for it to look. It may not follow the form or the pattern we want it to follow. Jesus did not come to up hold our expectations. He did not come to be who we think he should be. He did not come to prop up the societal norms or to bolster the inadequacies of any individual culture. Jesus came to shatter the norms, to tear away the inadequacies and restore things to their proper created order. Jesus did not simply come to make our lives better, he did not come to simply make our society the best society it can be, he did not come to make things perfect as we would see perfection, but Jesus came to set things right once and for all. Jesus came to shatter our understanding of perfection and show us what perfection truly is.
Jesus came to do all these things for us, for our community and for our world, but you and I have no control over the world, we have no control over our community but we do have control of ourselves. Jesus came to make things right beginning with me, beginning with you. Jesus came to shatter all expectations, I have, you have of him. Jesus came so that you might live, so that you may live abundantly, that is to live in pure unhampered, uninhibited relationship with God and so that you can learn to live same way that as you do in relationship with God in all your relationships in this world. Jesus came to call you to be the person God created you to be.
Jesus is calling for us to look around us to see the signs of this world, to see the truth of the Gospel to know and understand where the truth lies, to know and understand the expectations and the ways of our society and to know and understand how they measure up to the truth of who Jesus is and who it is God is calling us to be and to discern accordingly, what in this world is of value and what needs to be ignored. We need to be able to see the signs of the gospel and see where our society falls short in what it expects of us and then to refuse listen to the voices of our society in those areas of our lives, to not follow that line but to instead to live in the ways which God is calling for us to live.
Jesus also is calling for us to look to the horizon of our own lives, to be honest with ourselves about which way the wind is blowing in our lives and to understand how that stands up to what it means to be the people God wants to shape us and form us into being. Living in right relationship with God; living lives which are cleansed, purified by the fire of the Spirit of God, means living the way God created us to live; that is loving God with all our hearts, strength and mind and to love one another with and through the love we have for God and the love which God gives to us. Holy lives, lives pure and refined by God are lives of love.
In order for us to these kinds of lives, to live lives marked by the love of God, the lives Jesus is calling us to live, Jesus must be first in our life. In order for us to be the people God is calling us to be, we must live the way God created us to live, that is in relationship with the creator and that relationship must be the most important thing in our life. All other expectations, all other priorities must be rearranged around this primary priority. Anything that hinders, anything that stands in the way, anything which goes against God and against God’s call on your life must suffer, must be tossed to the wayside. Nothing is as important, nothing is more important than allowing the cleansing, fire of God to purify you, make you holy and bring you to a point where you are living the way God is calling for you to live.