In The Weekend Australian (August 6-7, 2022), Dr Greg Sheridan, well-respected foreign affairs writer, observed: ‘The world moved a few steps closer to war this week – war of unimaginable consequences between the world’s two superpowers. We’re still probably a long way from war, but war got closer, more possible, more imaginable’.
Is a day coming when the decades-long relative peace we have enjoyed in the West is broken?
In every age people are looking for meaning and security. Jesus of Nazareth understands our needs, our longings, and not least our desire for peace. Yet in Luke chapter 12, verses 49 though 56 we encounter some of his toughest words.
In verse 49 we read: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Fire and water were symbols of judgment in the Old Testament. Water devoured the people of Noah’s day and fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus is saying that with his coming amongst us the time of divine judgment is set. Our cry for justice will be answered.
But we have to understand that all of us are the problem. Humanity has made incredible strides in the fields of science and technology. We can communicate with one another in nano-seconds, but we still have problems in our relationships – the tension and conflict, between nations, between ideologies and philosophies, between the sexes and amongst family members.
William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was once asked why he wrote it. He responded: I believed then, that humanity was sick – not exceptional men and women, but average men and women. I believed that the condition of humanity was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between their diseased nature and the international mess they get themselves into.
Is there a God who will clean up the mess? Jean Paul Sartre commented: ‘That God does not exist, I cannot deny; that my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget’.
In Luke’s narrative we find teachings that many agree are the finest in history. We encounter a debater who outclassed the finest minds around him. We also discover the most impressive miracle worker the world has known: he could heal the sick, still a storm, and even raise the dead to life.
Jesus’ life reveals a God who stands at the heart of the universe.
But there is something much more: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” he says (12:50). His baptism is a metaphor for the event that would totally consume him – his crucifixion.
Now it’s important we think this through: why did Jesus die?
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul speaks of Jesus’ death: For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1 Corinthians 1:18f).
In the cross of Christ the power of God is at work. Paul is saying that God, in his wisdom, has used his power to provide a solution to our dilemma in a way that nothing else could.
We are not here by chance simply to make the best of our fleeting life.
The Western nations at present don’t seem to be able to govern themselves. The problem is none of us want others to govern us. We want to be in charge.
And our natural inclination is to have the same attitude towards God. ‘God,’ we say, ‘if you are there, don’t call us, we’ll call you when we need you’. But you see what we are doing? We’re breaking the first commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God …’.
“…What stress I am under, or, how I am straightened, until it is accomplished”, Jesus said. His death supremely reveals God’s selfless love, for it opens the door to life for a lost and unlovely world. To use the language of the Prayer Book, Jesus’ death is ‘the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’.
Having died the death we deserve from God, Jesus Christ is now the defense barrister who never loses the case for anyone who turns to him and belongs to him. Jesus has an infinite willingness to hear our prayers of confession.
How easy it is in the busy-ness of life to overlook Jesus’ deep desire to serve us. It’s worth etching in our minds his words, I have a baptism with which to be baptized… for they remind us of his deep love for us. They will also awaken us and alert us when we are tempted to drift away from the good that he would have us do.
So then, what should we do? Look at vv.54-56: He also said to the people: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 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?” (12:54-56).
As a child I learned the lines: ‘Red sky in the morning sailors’ warning; red sky at night sailors’ delight’. While weather forecasters don’t always get their predictions as accurate as we might like, there are certain principles that are timeless.
‘Why is it’, Jesus asks, ‘that you can forecast the weather, but you fail to understand the signs of the times in which you live? You fail to discern events in your midst that impact the deeper realities of your life’. People either choose to ignore or fail to understand events that point to the reality that we are not just material beings, but that our existence has come about through the work of a Creator.
So many fail to see the significance of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Revealing God to us in person he is the turning point, the hinge of history.
Jesus’ words here are challenging and yet encouraging. They tell us that there is a God who has started a process that will lead to a final day of judgement. But the good news is that God is not only committed to justice he has done everything needed to restore our broken relationship with him. Turning to Jesus Christ is the key.
We need to pay careful attention: The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Let me encourage you not to rest until you have found forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ who is our one true hope.
A prayer. God our Father, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
You may like to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.