Good Division? It Depends!
Today’s reading is from Luke 12:49-51, where Jesus says, 49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
People are worried about division today. The complaint is that we are too separated. The solutions offered to our divisions are that we should be tolerant, accept diversity, and just learn how to get along. Now, I’m not a person who enjoys division; that’s for sure. When there is tension or division in our lives, families, and communities, a yearning for peace is a God-given impulse. That’s why it is strange to hear Jesus talk this way, isn’t it? Here He’s telling people that He has come to bring division, not peace. However, in other parts of the Gospels we hear Him saying, “Peace be with you” (e.g., Luke 24:36; John 20:21, 26; see also John 14:27). So, what gives? Is there good division and bad division? Is there good tolerance and bad tolerance? Is their good diversity and bad diversity? Is there good peace and bad peace? Yes! Then, how might we properly differentiate such things? Well, it all depends on what you trust to bring us together. And that’s what Jesus is talking about.
Jesus is talking about His solution to these things. He talks about the fire that He was going to bring on earth, the fire of His holiness and righteousness put in service to the Father’s justice and judgment. He’s talking about the work that He would do on the cross that would reconcile us to God and to one another. That’s the key. With Christ as the center of our lives, with His forgiveness as the key to our sense of self, with His words as the wisdom directing our words, and with His love as the motivation for our service, then there can be real peace, reconciliation, diversity, and tolerance. But without Him at the center, our efforts toward peace, diversity, and tolerance are all a sham.
Can the divisive Christ of our text also be the peace-giving Christ of the Scriptures? Yes, if you see His message not as some self-help, humanity-based proclamation for peace, but as a blood-bought, cross-earned message of peace and mercy offered as a free gift to you by grace through faith. When you see the cross, you see your Savior. His work on the cross overcomes the divisions of our sin, reconciles us to our heavenly Father, and, through repentance and faith, also bonds us to each other like nothing else can. The cross looks ugly, even divisive, but real unity and peace are found only there.
In Philip Yancy’s book, Disappointment with God, he relates a story where such ugliness brought real healing. It was about a family in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy’s funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means. At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks, cigarette burns and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was, in fact, the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display. That “proclamation” overcame incredible injustice and division.
Yancy goes on to say, “That’s what Christ’s cross does. The cross that held Jesus’ body, exposed all the sin, violence and injustice of this world for what it is. At once, the cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness but also a God of sacrificial love.” The fiery work, the dividing work of Jesus is the only thing that can ultimately unite and reconcile us to God and to one another, both now and forever. That’s really something to think about in today’s world.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, teach me the full weight of the cross. Teach me to trust that when You divide and when You unite on Your terms, You always have my eternal best at heart. AMEN.
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