49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
I sat by his bed in the hospital room, and he clutched my hand, “Pastor, I’m dying.” By his inflection and the look in his eyes, it was clear that this was a surprise to him. He had somehow thought that the 100% mortality rate for being human did not apply to him. It is not that he was young. He had lived a relatively long life. This wasn’t some middle-aged man who thought he had another 4 decades to get things right before advanced cancer struck him suddenly. This man was genuinely shocked that death could come for him.
Jesus chastises humanity for being blind today. He labels it hypocrisy that we pride ourselves on our ability to prognosticate the weather but willfully refuse to see the end of all our lives and act accordingly. In His day, the structures of family were paramount. For many, dedication to family displaced all other obligations, including God. In an age when we see the disintegration of families, we might wonder at Jesus’ words. But Luther once likened sinners to a drunk trying to get on a horse. In avoiding a fall to one side, we overcorrect and fall off on the other side. Today we have eroded the familial structure so far that we are worried about families.
Jesus is not anti-family. He has idolatry in his sights. Today, we are unlikely to place these relationships before God. We are much more likely to place ourselves before God and to live as if He does not exist or as if He has no concern for the living of our lives. That is simply another sort of idolatry. As he says elsewhere, Jesus might tell this generation that he has come to slay you and make alive. Jesus yearns for his peculiar baptism and for that day when he will throw fire upon the earth. His baptism is surely the baptism of His passion, death, and resurrection. The fire He throws upon the earth is, like his baptism, two-fold. The first fire is nothing other than the Holy Spirit who engenders faith us, poured out since Pentecost. The second fire will be the fires of his eternal judgment, when the earth shall be consumed to make way for the new creation. Praise God that by the gift of the first holy fire poured out on you in your baptism, that you believe in the returning Lord, trust his forgiveness, and know that all the idols will be consumed in that judgment.