“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
What in the world is Jesus saying in our text this morning?
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled?
But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed?”
What does this mean?
What Jesus is saying here is that He is longing for His work on earth to be completed… for the mystery of salvation that He will finally accomplish to happen!
To be revealed!
We know that the last book of the Bible – speaking of the end of the world – goes by that name as it starts with that word. In the Greek, the word is “apokalypsis”, which means “revelation” or “unveiling”…
The Book of Revelation is known as an apocalyptic book, the only one of its type in the New Testament canon.
That said, there are apocalyptic themes throughout the New Testament and we see one here as well.
Again, what Jesus is saying is that He desires that His purpose would be fulfilled and that that which has been hidden will be revealed, unveiled, “made manifest…”
This, simply, is what happens when Jesus is who He is. When He is present, He shows up…
Yes, He brings peace with God!
He brings internal peace – the peace that passes all understanding, we say – in the hearts of individual people the world over!
He brings the knowledge that one truly is God’s beloved child and destined for heaven above like one’s Lord…
At the same time, the result of this true joy, contentment, and peace in the hearts of His chosen people is the hatred, the contempt, of the world…
The world, rightly, senses at some level a fundamental incompatibility, and realizes that there is a division…
And we who believe then see that this incompatibility that may have previously been hidden to us is revealed….
As Jesus puts it, sharing painful words:
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Why because God’s purposes, God’s goals…. and the goals of others are at cross-purposes…
No, the desires and designs of the men of this world will not stay hidden forever…
The presence of Jesus and the holiness, the purity, the Light that is His alone… will flush them out into the open, scatter the cockroaches operating in the darkness… and they will be truly revealed for the wicked men they are…
We see a similar phenomenon happening in the world itself don’t we?
In some sense, people, seemingly like Jesus here, have this real urge to unveil certain things, to know and make known certain things that are hidden…
In the early days of the internet in the mid-1990s, the days of Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo, there was a real sense of freedom and openness in this new frontier, this wild west…
A lot of companies then moved online, and started doing their business there.
Soon, many of us were signing online forms saying that we agreed to these or those terms and conditions, seemingly trusting these companies and organizations enough so that we did not really need to actually read all of that stuff!
Now, a lot of that early freedom and liberation some felt about the internet has evaporated, as the powers that be attempt to herd all the cats that participate on the internet.
Tracking down all the nooks and crannies that are out there, cataloging and organizing and algorithmizing things with the intention of getting them under their control, in line with their purposes…
Since the pandemic, for example, many more people began working at home, seemingly getting more freedom and flexibility. Many say they would love to work at home.
At the same time, this has given more companies than ever an excuse to go into what their employees may consider their private space… .
I recently read up on some of the “bossware”, which some call “tattleware”, that is out there… software with names like StaffCop, Clever Control, Controlio, Activ Trak, and Sneek…
One article gives us the lowdown:
“Once the software is installed, an employer has deeper access and even live monitoring tools for everything you do on your computer, including which applications you open, what websites you visit, and how much time you spend doing different activities. Employers can use this data to track your attendance or periodically snap screenshots of your screen. Some software can even monitor the music you listen to, your facial expressions, your tone of voice, or your writing tone throughout the day…”
Indeed, some of these programs brag that their “comprehensive tracking functionality can capture any user activity”, and also, importantly, that they operate “entirely in stealth, invisible to the consumer.”
Hiding, I suppose, with the intent to reveal what was previously hidden and it is felt must be known…
Perhaps showing not only that this or that employee is not really productive or efficient… but also that they are not really fully in line with the purposes, the mission, of the organization’s managers…
We see similar things happening not just in companies, but in national governments. People are watched regarding what they say, what they read on the internet, how they behave, where they go….
In China, for example, there is a social credit system where the government tracks the movements of its citizens and dishes out rights and privileges, rewards, and punishments, accordingly.
Don’t want to have difficulty finding work, being admitted to university, or getting a bank account?
Don’t want to have a hard time renting here or there or buying this or selling that, perhaps in a land where there will one day only be a highly regulated digital currency and no paper money?
Well, maybe stop hanging out with Christians, for example, and try supporting what the Party says!
Even Christians who are wary about being End Times Prophecy Fanatics regarding things like “Vaccine Passports” – providing an opening for them to be under full government surveillance – will not be able to help thinking about what the book of Revelation says:
“And the second beast required all people small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark—the name of the beast or the number of its name…”
The world wants to be in full control.
The masters of the world, convincing themselves that they are doing everyone else a favor, increasingly are exercising their dominion over every area of human life that they can.
And in the end, for them, the ends will justify the means. If half-truths, deception, and lies are necessary to govern the world, the New World Order, so be it.
Now, in truth, God, in the beginning, did indeed give man dominion.
But when God gave Adam and Eve dominion in the Garden prior to the fall, this was, in fact, a trust from Him.
They were not to exercise mastery of the world as they pleased, but to exercise good and faithful stewardship in line with their Master’s purposes and possessions…
The reason that the church has traditionally been opposed to hidden societies, that is “secret societies” like the Freemasons, for example, is because they are essentially a religion with purposes opposed to God’s: they demand a loyalty that supersedes Christ and His people; even if they do give lip-service to a god of sorts, an “Architect of the Universe,” they nevertheless undermine the proclamation of the free grace of Jesus Christ.
In Martin Short’s 1993 HarperCollins expose on the Freemasons, Inside the Brotherhood, he writes that contrary to ideas of ‘purity of conduct’, ‘compassion’ for the ‘errors of mankind’ or the ‘pleasing bond of fraternal love’; for the Masons “relief and truth are restricted to a very small circle, beyond which it is acceptable to tell co-ordinated lies to achieve the economic ruin of others” (Maria, summarizing Short, 57-58).
And that is not all. Short writes in detail about what kinds of rituals and oaths have been historically involved in becoming a Mason, the “1st degree of Entered Apprentice,” as well as entrance into the “2nd degree of Fellow Craft”. Of the latter, Short tells us:
“…should the candidate betray his oath of secrecy he submits himself to “‘having my breast laid open, my heart torn therefrom, and given to the ravenous birds of the air, or devouring beasts of the field as a prey.’” (Short, 51).
Now, I understand if one is skeptical about these seemingly spectacular claims about the Masons. If that’s the case with you, check out Alvin Schmidt’s 1980 academic book on the topic, Fraternal Organizations.
The wider point, however, is that there is a desire for many powerful people to operate “behind the scenes”, in secret, in loyal solidarity with one another, and in larger and larger networks, in order to increasingly unveil those people and plans and things that do not please them, and are at cross-purposes with their own goals, designs…
Again, hiding, I suppose, with the intent to reveal what was previously hidden and it is felt must be known…
Perhaps showing that this or that person is not really fully in line with the purposes of those who would increasingly gain control, for our own good of course…
But, you see, all who ultimately work in this fashion, who ultimately seek to rule in this way, will fail, and fail miserably, because the world’s schemes will be unveiled….
Christ has come to bring fire to the earth, and how He wishes it was already kindled!
An important Bible passage to chew on from Psalm 2:
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
In truth, proclaiming this message about the coming King is what the church is to be all about.
The world wants us to listen to it – “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason” it says – and of course, we know that listening is good, taking time to care for your neighbors by listening to them and their concerns is good…
And yet, many in the world have absolutely hardened their hearts against their Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.
As one man puts it, instead of “renouncing Satan and all his works” as our baptismal liturgy declares, they look to renounce Christ and all His works.
But, as he also points out:
“The difficulty for them is that “His works” include every last molecule and atom. That work includes what He does in holding everything together. [For as the book of Colossians puts it:] “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Wilson)
So the world is full of foolish evil.
This evil must be unveiled and overturned. For the rejection of the creation as creation and this King the Bible speaks of as King is no laughing matter.
You heard our Old Testament reading this morning in Jeremiah. The ante is upped further, not less, in the New Testament.
There, Love in human flesh, Jesus Christ, the Creator and King of the Universe Himself, speaks firmly and decisively about Hell, a place of eternal torment, where the fire is everlasting (Matt. 18:8); utter isolation, where there is outer darkness (Matt. 8:12); and personal disintegration, or destruction (Matt 7:13) (Wilson).
I read some words from a wise pastor this week, talking about how the church really does not so much need to listen but to proclaim.
Pushing back against the current Pope’s admonition to be a listening church, he said:
“God knows the hearts of men, the thoughts of men, and the works of men. He does not need His agents to listen and tell Him what they have heard. He needs His messengers to repeat what He has said and end the reign of darkness and the captivity of sin and the hopeless end of death. It might be too late for Pope Francis but it is not too late for us to learn anew this ancient wisdom.”
Amen to that!
The great 4th century theologian Basil the Great put it, spoke about the weak church of his own day that had rejected the glory of the cross for the wisdom of the world:
“Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement… (Letter 92)”
And while the church is weak, the world – increasingly drunk with pride and confidence! – wants its words to be able to create reality as it makes and re-makes itself. And in its most extreme forms, it looks, in futility of course, to destroy and rebuild that which God holds together with his powerful word…
But this is an absurd tower of Babel clearly built on a foundation of sand.
And yes, perhaps right now, they have pushed too far and too fast. And eyes are beginning to be opened…
Regardless, we need to proclaim our Rock, the only Rock that can withstand the storm.
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
Here, again, Jesus is expressing that He longs for apocalyptic judgment!
The fire which will reveal and purify!
-That which is concealed will be disclosed; the hidden made known; things spoken in the dark will be heard in the daylight; that whispered in inner rooms proclaimed from the housetops (Luke 12:1-3)!
-His baptism of fire will also bring not peace, but salutary adn necessary division: setting son against father and father against son!
-And truly, all the hypocrisies of man – which He goes on to speak of – will be laid bare and dealt with in His work!
And how will it take place?
Jesus in one sense is speaking about everything that is to come, but particularly about the centrality of His cross for everything!
In the book of I Peter, the Apostle says:
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
In the context of I Peter what this means is that God always judges Christians first.
Not in a way that ultimately condemns us, but, through suffering and persecution, in a way meant to discipline us and ultimately strengthen we who believe in Jesus.
And… our beloved King, Jesus Christ, as the head of the church, God’s house, indeed in a sense fulfills this passage about judgment beginning with the household of God to the greatest degree… because when Jesus paid for all of our sin on the cross, God really did mean not to just discipline Him, but to issue judgement on all of our sin in Him… to even condemn Him in our place.
Jesus did not come to judge the world. Strictly speaking, He came to save the world.
But He could only do this through His Father’s intention to lay our sin on Him, afflicting, striking, piercing, crushing, and condemning our sin in His body on that tree.
The world kills Jesus, judges Him, and God, using evil men, judges Him as well…
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled?”
And then, resurrection.
As we read in our long Epistle reading in Hebrews 11, God always brings His people through the suffering and the opposition they face from the world, the flesh, and the devil…
And we see this ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Promised One who all those good Old Testament saints were looking forward to!
And as we heard:
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…” (Hebrew 12:2-3)
And make no mistake about it, even if Christ does not come in order to judge, to condemn the world but rather to save it, He will, in the end, by its Judge.
You see, He doesn’t even need to do anything, really. His very presence, in fact, would be enough for this necessary action to take place…
For if He is oil, the world is water….
The world is full of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is not just doing the opposite of what you say you believe.
Hypocrisy is about deception, play-acting and putting up fronts.
Hypocrisy is valuing the approval of others more than God’s.
It is being focused on externals, appearances – the world and its glory – at the expense of truly seeking to know God in the secret place of one’s heart (Rom. 2:29).
Therefore, hypocrisy is ultimately a deep inner corruption and hostility towards God’s word (Luke 19:44).
And hence, hypocrisy is always opposed to Jesus Christ.
Hear Christ’s piercing words from John 16!:
“When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
As Jesus is revealed, the reality of the prince of the world’s sin and the world’s sin stands revealed…
Even the world sometimes says, the truth will out!
That is correct.
Hiding places will be flushed out…
…all the secrets and evil plans laid bare…
…the whispered words and plans shouted from the rooftops…
…the “righteous” of the world shown to be anything but…
…and “whoever lives by the truth will come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:21)
When I was reading about “bossware” I came across this quote:
“…I would feel uncomfortable if someone was looking over my shoulder as I compose every email that I wrote,” [one expert] said. Imagine if your boss had access to your boring daily processes, where you may delete and rewrite an email, say, or correct a minor mistake before anyone else notices…”
Some people see God like that, but we know He isn’t like such a boss…
Even if we know that His word is indeed like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces, we also know that, through His beloved Son Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – He longs to be tender and gentle and merciful to us poor sinners…
We might fear the revealing of our sin, but we shouldn’t!
It is the devil who will always and only accuse us. But we – to the absolute delight of our Father in Heaven – have an Advocate and Defender in our Lord, His Son Jesus Christ!
So let us look to Peter as our example!…
Around the time Jesus was calling His disciples, our Lord ordered some of them, fishermen, to cast their net on the other side of the boat.
The net became full of fish… and Peter, astonished, just knew He was in the presence of God!
Jesus did not need to say a word to Peter about His sin, his own hypocrisies, for Peter simply knew…
“Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man…”
But you know how Jesus responded?
With grace, acceptance, and reassurance:
“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men…”
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled?”