We start our services by lighting a candle. It’s symbolic of Jesus being the light of the world. I like it as a ritual, a symbol, I like the way that our children help to focus and lead us in worship in that act each week… It is a reminder of their importance and that God uses them to minister to us and also of our need for a childlike faith. But after reading the passage from Luke 12 this week I couldn’t help but wonder if this candle wasn’t also symbolic of something else… I wondered if it isn’t symbolic of the fact that we have domesticated Jesus Christ. When we think of Jesus being the light of the world, it is a small candle burning in the background somewhere off to a side. It symbolises Jesus and his Kingdom fitting nicely into our suburban home and lifestyle. In a way that romanticises it to simply being a cosy warming reassuring glow…Peace. But here at the end of Luke 12 Jesus says that he came to bring fire to the earth, not a small reassuring candle glow or even a winter warming log burner type fire, that we can fall asleep in front of with toasty warm feet. Rather a fire that would bring division even in families. A fire that calls us to take stock, to be aware of the times and the signs and to settle our accounts, look to be put right with God.
We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus final journey to Jerusalem, his journey to the baptism that he had to undergo: His death on the cross and his resurrection to life again. And Luke’s account of this journey, which takes up the central third of the gospel (ch10-19), focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to follow him… In the last few weeks we’ve been exploring Jesus teaching about being faithful and wholehearted now in light of the coming of the son of man: Both Jesus coming then but also as we await the consummation of the kingdom of God when Christ returns. He told his followers not to fear in the face of persecution, or worry amidst the pull of possessions and wealth because God cares for us, he will give us the words to say, if we put first the kingdom of God he will take care of our needs. Last week we saw Jesus tell the crowd to be ready and live ready, to keep on doing the things that we were called to do, serving God by loving one another and loving our neighbour. Now in a metaphor soaked conclusion, Jesus draws that all together calling for a response calling for repentance.
All the way through Jesus teaching in Luke 12 who Jesus is speaking to is always a critical question. We see that he oscillates between speaking to the wider crowd and speaking to his close disciples. AS we saw last week it got to the point that Peter himself was confused and asked Jesus was he talking to everyone or just the twelve? But here Jesus context is definitely the crowd, In verse 54 it tells us plainly that Jesus was speaking to the crowd. You may remember we talked about it being like the Euro16 crowd made up of supporters and also elements bent of disruption and violence. It was a crowd of many thousand, a crowd unlike in earlier times that was benign here we know it is now made up of a group who see Jesus and his teaching and actions as evil and are simply waiting for him to trip up. If it was in today’s digital age they want ammunition to de-meme-ise him on social media, but for that day they want to demonise him in society’s mind. Another group have not made up their mind but they are looking for greater and greater signs, they want Jesus to prove himself beyond a shadow of a doubt. Maybe they won’t be satisfied that he is the messiah till he brings peace to Israel, but driving out the occupying Romans. Then we have those who genuinely want to hear and know the truth about Jesus and of course his followers. This passage acts as Jesus starting his final appeal to the people of Israel, all these different people to respond and recognise who he is and what that means.
Jesus conclusion is in three paragraphs, three sections. In the first he reiterates his mission, but in a way that is rather shocking and challenging, as bringing fire and causing division not peace. Jesus then uses the image of knowing what will happen because of the way the wind blows as a way of challenging his listeners to recognise the spiritual climate of the time. And lastly he uses the metaphor of the roman system of dealing with debt to call people to repent, to settle their accounts.
Jesus starts by saying “I have come to bring fire on the earth’ and in scripture fire can mean both judgment and the Spirit. In this case we find both. We are not comfortable talking about judgement we view it through the lens of hellfire and damnation. But in scripture God’s judgment is always redemptive, God punished Israel for their sins and unfaithfulness not to write them off or condemn them but so that they might turn back to him and be reconciled. Fire is seen as being a purifying force, and when it ties in with Jesus refereeing to his death and resurrection as a baptism we see that Judgement for Jesus is identifying with God’s judgment and making a way for us to be forgiven and put right with God. More than that it will mean that God can send his Holy Spirit on all who believe, who are made righteous because of Jesus death and resurrection. That they may be a new people anew family of God and live in a new way: be people who live out the Kingdom of God.
But this would call people to make a choice, to choose to put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ. It would bring division and separation even in families, and he hammers home his point here by listing so many possible combinations. Jesus himself had said, “who is my brother who is my mother, those who hear my word and obey them?” I had a Jewish man take us through the Passover feast one year and as he shared his story of becoming a follower of Jesus, a messianic Jew, he said that his orthodox Jewish family had held a funeral for him when he told them of his new faith. A convert from Islam talks of the look of pain and sorrow in his mother and fathers eyes each time he came home after he had told them he had become a follower of Jesus. I think the people of Israel were looking for a peace for themselves as a nation, but as Paul would say in Romans as he mourned for his people, that the true Israel was a remnant not by birth but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus then turns to talk about the weather, not to make idol small talk to ease the tension, but to make his point and ask his listeners to pay attention to the spiritual climate. I got surprised on Thursday morning by the thunder storm that struck about 11 o’clock you see the wind blew from the west and my office is on the east side ofthe church so it snuck over the church without me noticing. Till the flash a lighting bolt and torrential rain. But everyone in Judah knew that if the wind was going to blow from the west there would be rain, the wind would bring air up off the Mediterranean and particularly in autumn and spring it would bring rain. I was standing talking to a farmer just out of Clinton down in south Otago, we were in the middle of a paddock looking out towards central Otago on a very hot summers day. Black heat clouds sat on the hills and started to move down towards us with torrential rain. I suggested to the farmer who had just talked about his property being in drought, that here was some rain and maybe we should head for cover. But he shock his head and said no need it will stop right there just beyond my property and sure enough it did… he knew the weather round that part of the country… Local knowledge. Jesus says if the wind blows from the south you know it’s going to be hot… because the wind comes like a furnace blast off the desert lands. I guess a bit like in Dunedin you know if the wind blows from the south its going to be cold… you realise there is nothing between you and the south pole except the curvature of the earth. The wind that blows is what is known as a lazy wind… no matter how warmly you are wrapped up how many layers you have on… the cold wind is going to be bothered going round you blow right through you and chill you to the core. Jesus of course picked the rain and the hot wind to compliment his talking of fire and the cleansing of baptism. Then he calls those who do not acknowledge him as God’s son hypocrites, they have a mask of religious understanding, but they know nothing. He calls them to look again closely at hat is going on and to make a decision. For those who had written him off or were still seeking a sign it was a call to look at his teaching and his deeds and to see that he was God’s messiah. It’s the same for us today, we have the scriptures, the gospels to look and see what Jesus did and said, and to see how his early follows came to the conclusion that Jesus is the son of God, who died and was raised to life again so we might be set free. We have the evidence just as Jesus day did of changed and transformed lives. In my devotions this week Niki Gumble shared the story of Billy Nolan who as an alcoholic for 35years, for twenty years he sat outside Holy Trinity drinking and begging money, finally he decided one morning to ask Jesus into his life and made a covenant to give up drinking. His life was transformed Nicky asked him one day why he was so happy and billy replied … “I am happy because I am free. Life is like a maze and at last I have found a way out through Jesus Christ”. we also have the witness of God people the church to show us what Jesus is like. It’s why things like alpha and the life course are good tool for evangelism because they share peoples testimonies allow people to look and ask questions about Jesus and also meet and get to know his followers.
Then Jesus Moves on to say once they have seen the times then they need to respond. He uses the image of the roman system of dealing with debt. That if a debt cannot be paid the person will be thrown into debtor’s prison until they pay every penny. They usually got into that situation because they didn’t have the means to pay and would have to rely on a kind benefactor and family member to pay what they owed. Jesus tells the crowd if they know what the time is they will settle their accounts before they face the judge. He acknowledges that the judge wold be right to cast them into prison till they could pay their debt… So they should look to settle before they get there. Now Jesus isn’t finishing his message with a plea from the local bank about unpaid debts, rather he is telling them that when they see who Jesus is they need to look at settling accounts with God. Scripture uses the analogy of debt to talk about our sin, an when we thing of sin against God we have a debt there is no way we could pay. We can’t work enough to earn God’s forgiveness or favour. We can slip a big enough bride under the counter, this judge is righteous. Once again this is a call for people to come to Jesus, Jesus was looking with great anticipation to the fact that because of his life and death and resurrection he is able to forgive our debt, forgive our sins, his blood has paid the price, can cancel the debt, put us right with God, and set us free. But says Jesus now is the time to seek that. Now is the time to look to acknowledging that Jesus is the son of God, humbly asking for that forgiveness. We put it off we may find it is too late.
How does this impact on us today.
The first is if you don’t know Jesus today, Jesus call is to find out discover and see who he is and what he has done for us. Find out seek Jesus check it out for your-self. The life course at the Landmark coming up in September might be a good step on this journey. Maybe you’ve been in church for a long time or all your life and you know about Jesus but you’ve never asked him to be your lord and saviour. Now is the time.. For those of us who know Christ when we are reminded of the good things that Christ has done for us…His sacrifice, for our salvation, his baptism so that we may be made clean… Who know the wonder and privilege of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the challenge is equally to respond. It is equally to check our balance. Not only our need for on-going forgiveness but to look at our lives and see if this fire Christ bought this revolution of grace is simply the candle over there in the corner , or is it the essential light that illuminates our whole lives, all we say and do. Is it the cosy log burning fire that warms us with tis glow and gives us a comfortable place to be complacent and fall asleep or is it the burning fire at the centre of our passion and love. That others might know this Jesus, that they might experience that same grace and compassion we know in Christ, that the world might be full of the righteousness and justice of God. The challenge of this passage is that challenge to decide. Choose. Check your balance in light of God’s great mercy and love. God has been faithful and wholehearted in his love for us the call of this whole chapter has been to being faithful and wholehearted in response.