Jesus begins this final section of this chapter that the reason he came was to cast fire on the earth. Jesus has come to bring judgment, not comfort and ease. The fire Jesus was bringing the consuming, purifying fire of God’s judgment. In fact, Jesus was going to endure his own fiery trial with his impending death on the cross. The baptism Jesus speaks of is his own suffering that he will endure. The thesis establishes in this paragraph is that he is going to endure suffering himself. Difficulties, suffering, and judgment are also coming because that is what it means to be follower of Jesus.
Being A Disciple Divides Family (12:51-53)
While Jesus came to bring peace between us and God, Jesus does not bring peace between us and other people. The reason is because not everyone will belong to Jesus. Therefore there will be division, difficulties, and problems between those who are the people of God and those who are not. Jesus suffered and it will happen to us. You need to know that if you are passionate about Jesus, you will experience conflict, division, and strife. In particularly, Jesus points out the strife that will occur within families (12:52-53). Jesus had family conflicts. Remember that his brothers did not believe he was the Messiah. This would lead to some pretty tense family gatherings. The more devoted we become, the more conflicts will arise. There are usually two directions that family conflict is expressed: criticism or ostracism. Either our family will criticize us for being devoted to following Jesus or they will cut us off from family gatherings for being devoted to following Jesus.
Many of you have experienced this division. Many of us are fortunate to have families that are not divided by loyalties to Jesus. But we must recognize that there are many here who must endure that challenge. Jesus wants you to know that if you are experiencing conflict because of your love for Jesus, don’t be surprised. Jesus endured the same. Following Jesus causes family problems. The only way those conflicts are resolved is if the whole family becomes passionate followers of Jesus. Otherwise family members are not going to understand why you put the Lord ahead of your family. When you are criticized for your faith, you know that you are enduring such suffering with good cause. The Lord is everything and cannot take second place just to keep harmony within our physical families. I believe this is what Paul is was teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:15. A believer is not enslaved to unbelievers, even in marriage, to put the family ahead of faith and service to Jesus. When you are cut off and ostracized know that you have a family here to support you. You can belong with us and join us in our family. Being a disciple of Jesus means that families will become divided.
Disciples Recognize The Signs of Judgment (12:54-56)
Jesus goes further to ask if we see the signs of the coming judgment. We can be smart about the weather. Living in south Florida, each year we are told to be prepared for hurricane season. Each year we make sure we have supplies so that if a storm comes, we do not have to rely on trying to find everything we need at the last minute. We may carry batteries and bottled water. We may carry canned goods and an extra propane tank for our grills. We may fill up our gas tanks so that we are ready for the storm. Even on a daily basis we check the weather so that we can be prepared for what may come. We do not want to be caught by surprise if a hurricane is coming. We do not want to be caught off guard if a severe thunderstorm is moving through. It is really nice to have these mobile apps so that you can be prepared. But are we prepared for the coming judgment? In our last lesson Jesus talked about his return and the need for his servants to be ready and not unfaithful. Jesus amplifies that message here. We make every preparation for what will happen to us today. We wear the right clothes and make sure that we are ready for the day. But we are preparing for all the wrong things. How foolish is it to be prepared for a hurricane and not prepared for the coming of the Lord and the judgment he brings with him? How foolish to check the weather daily but not check our hearts daily! Why do we put so much effort into the environment and weather and fail to put in this much effort and even more to prepare for our Lord’s coming?
Disciples Are Ready For Judgment (12:57-59)
The final three verses of chapter 12 tell a short parable about how disciples should be ready for judgment. Settle with your accuser before you get to the judge so that you are not handed over to the officer to be put in prison. The picture is fairly simple. Don’t wait till you get to the judge. Settle your debt beforehand so that you will not be put in prison when you are brought before the judge.
Jesus’ message is for us to recognize that if we ignore God’s call to repentance we will be dragged away into judgment. We need to understand our debt before God, see the coming judgment that will be passed against us, and settle up with God before its too late. We are foolish to not settle our account before God before the day of judgment. The signs of judgment are there. Jesus has promised that he is going to return and he is looking for prepared servants. To not get right with God before his return means that we will receive the full brunt of eternal punishment.
The wages of our sins is death, that is, eternal punishment and separation from God (Romans 6:23). Every violation and mistake against God’s law is held in account. The book of Revelation describes all people standing before the throne of God and the books containing our actions being opened. “And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12). Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37). The massive debt we hold should come into our hearts when we think about every act and every word being the terms of our judgment. Everything we have said and done will be exposed in the heavenly court. So what are we to do? Let’s look at the words of the apostle Paul to Titus.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:3–8 ESV)
Paul teaches that all of us were a mess. We are all a mess, full of sins, enslaved to various passions and pleasures. But the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared through Jesus. God saved us through Jesus, not because we did righteous works. Our works are filthy and wicked. God saved us because of his own mercy. So how are we saved? Paul says that we receive God’s mercy through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. There is a life transformation that takes place as we submit in obedience to the Lord. Baptism is not getting wet. Baptism is our declaration to God that we are submitting to his will and changing our lives for him. This is the moment of transformation, or to use the words of Paul, the moment of regeneration. A whole new life is now on display. We are justified by his grace and given the hope of eternal life rather than eternal punishment which is due to us from our sins. Those who receive God’s mercy and love are to be careful to devote themselves to good works. These good works do not save us but are our response to God for showing his mercy toward us. We see God’s love and goodness and respond with love and righteousness toward God.
Disciples of Jesus have made preparations for judgment. We know we are going to stand before God in judgment. This is a sure and trustworthy statement. Do you want to settle your account with God before the judgment so that you can be found justified and given life? Or do you want to wait until the day of judgment and heard the guilty verdict passed against us? Wise people make preparations before it is too late. See the coming judgment, forsake the things of this world, even family, and live a regenerated life for the Lord based on his mercy and teachings.