Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10, Hebrews 12:1-4, Luke 12:49-53
The Fire that Jesus Brings.
We must have heard the story of the great Chicago fire that ravaged people’s properties, killed many and left a lot of people homeless. The Chicago fire began on the 8th of October 1871 and lasted till the 10th of October 1871.
This is one of the devastating events in the history of America but also what led to a great rebuilding of what made Chicago what it is today. According to Carl S. Smith, who is the author of Chicago’s Great Fire, The Chicago fire was the first instantaneous international news event,”
But what is so important about this event is that it led to the period of the “Great Rebuilding” which led to the transformation of Chicago.
Reporting about this event, Carl S. Smith named his book Chicago’s Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City. In essence, there was destruction and as well a Resurrection of the Iconic American City.
This period of “The Great Rebuilding” was awakened by the devastating fire, transformed Chicago and made it a new, powerful hub for business.
It was reported that Over $10 million was donated to the community, accompanied by great capital investment. The fire became critical to the image, growth and resurrection of Chicago as the embodiment of the irresistible force of development in America.
Fire in itself signifies destruction, disaster and punishment. Whenever we hear the word “fire” these are what must come into our minds. In the gospel today, Jesus says that one of the reasons for his coming is to bring fire on earth.
Like the story above, one of the important characteristics of fire is that it changes and transforms its object into another form. Therefore, despite its devastating nature, fire transforms whatever goes through it.
Then the question is what type of fire is Jesus bringing to the earth? To understand this let us first understand the symbolism of the Biblical fire and then make a proper analysis and application.
The Symbolism of Biblical Fire
In Isaiah 4:4, fire comes as a symbol of purification. The Lord promises to wash away guilts and bloodstains with a spirit of fire and judgement. In this case, fire refines.
In Amos 1:4, fire comes as a symbol of judgement and destruction. God promises to descend on the house of Hazael and the fortresses of Ben-Hadad with fire. Also, in Genesis 19, God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah with fire. This indicates that fire is also an element of destruction against evil.
Thirdly, fire also can symbolise the presence of God. In Leviticus 9:24, fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the offering. Also in 1 Kings 18:38 and Genesis 4, the Lord consumes the sacrifice of Elijah and Abel with fire. Even in Exodus 13 He guides the Israelites in a pillar of fire and encounters Moses like a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-17).
Then, In the New Testament, John the Baptist says that Jesus will baptise with fire and spirit and with a winnowing fork, He will gather the wheat into His barns and put the chaff in an unquenchable fire.
Here, fire denotes baptism, holiness, separation from evil and consequential punishment (Luke 3:15-18).
Also, on Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit rests on them in the form of fire (Acts 2) and the apostles were transformed; a deep significance of total transformation.
Therefore, fire in the bible does not denote merely destruction, rather, fire denotes transformation, a moment of encounter with God, holiness, change, judgement, separation from evil and punishment, baptism and destruction against evil.
So, like the Chicago fire which though was devastating but leads to rebuilding, the biblical fire leads to rebuilding, change and total transformation.
The Fire that Jesus brings on Earth.
In the gospel, Jesus says to the disciples “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!”
Here, Jesus explains His mission of coming and His desire to see that this mission is happening already. One then would ask what Jesus means by this.
To understand this, we have to read the preceding verses in Luke 12 at least from verses 35 to 48, which is the reading of last Sunday.
In this reading, Jesus tells His disciples to be ready at all times because they do not know when the master would be coming again. He will be happy if he finds them ready for His coming but woe is that servant who thinks that the master has delayed his coming back.
It was then that Jesus told them that He is coming to bring fire on earth. The points here are:
1. Jesus is already talking about the end, hence he is making reference to His coming and what it would bring. Since in His second coming, He would reward us according to our deeds, then the fire that Jesus would bring as we have said earlier is the fire that will separate the good from the bad. It is the fire of Judgement.
In the Jewish culture and biblical thought, fire denotes purification, also a symbol of judgement. So, as Jesus tells them about the end and His second coming, He is reminding them that this time will be a time when we shall undergo purification, it is time when the wheat would be separated from the chaff. In essence, Jesus regards the coming of his kingdom as a time of judgement.
2. Secondly, in the gospel message, Jesus says that there is baptism that he must receive Though, his coming is to bring fire but he must, first of all, undergo this baptism that is first awaiting Him.
Therefore this fire will come as a result of this baptism. One understands that He is referring to His death and resurrection. The baptism simply points to his death and resurrection. This has a direct reference to the cup of suffering that He would drink as he also mentioned in Matthew 20:22.
So, just as fire destroys whatever is put into it, Jesus comes to destroy whatever that will stand in between us and God. Just as fire also transforms whatever that goes through it, the death and resurrection of Jesus is to transform the world.
3. Therefore, the fire that Jesus brings on earth is the fire of change, purification, transformation and total renewal.
It is also the fire of judgement where the good will be rewarded and vindicated and evil would be destroyed and condemned. It will be a time when evil will be defeated and destroyed.
4. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes on the apostles with tongues of fire. This fire is divine. The fire on the apostles signifies the Holy Presence of the Holy Spirit. This in essence points out that a significant thing is happening in the lives of the Apostles.
Therefore, the fire that Jesus brings is the fire of the Spirit of God. It is a fire of renewal and victory over sin, death and forces of darkness.
In today’s gospel. Jesus wishes that this fire is already burning, which is the accomplishment of His purpose. When the Holy Spirit will reprove the world of its sin, righteousness and judgement.
In essence, His coming is to bring us victory, transformation, renewal and reign of God’s kingdom. He knows that something good would come out of it.
Jesus Comes to bring Division.
In Ephesians 2:14, Paul calls Jesus “our peace”. He says “For He is our peace”
In the book of Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah prophesies about Jesus “For to us a child is born, to us, a son is given; his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”.
In John 14:27 before Jesus goes into agony He says to His disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
Therefore, everything about Jesus is peace. One then wonders why Jesus is talking about division as the reason for His coming.
Remember, that the same Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). What does Jesus mean when He says that His coming is to bring division? Let us take this analysis bit by bit.
1. Remember that Jesus is already talking about the fire that will bring judgement, victory over death, sin and evil and separation from evil. Therefore, there would surely be a division. It would be a division and separation between good and evil, the good and the bad, the righteous and the wicked.
John says in John 1:5 that Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness. He is light that no darkness can overcome. Therefore, the coming of Jesus expels darkness. Luke 1:79 says he “gives light to those who sit in darkness.
Therefore, in Jesus, there is a division already between the children of light and that of darkness. Light and darkness have nothing in common.
Therefore, when you are in Jesus, you are already in the light. Darkness has no power again over you. Therefore, to be in Jesus is already in enmity, or division against everything that has to do with darkness.
2. In the gospel, Jesus says that Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother, against daughter and daughter against mother.
This does not mean that Jesus is coming to divide families, but surely, many people who do not agree with you or believe in what you believe will oppose and battle you. To be in Jesus is already an enmity against the kingdoms of darkness, against evil and the things of the world.
So when we follow Jesus, let’s also prepare for opposition and persecutions.
3. The reference to father, mother, and son here is for a reason. Jesus uses the people closest to us to let us know how strong these oppositions would be.
It means that it may not come from people who are far from us. It may come from people who are even related to us.
The people that would fight you are those people you help, those people you have a bond with and the people closest to you. In essence, we have to expect these oppositions even from within.
4. Therefore, the fire that Jesus brings will also bring hatred, jealousy, and envy from people who see that you are no longer like yesterday. That was one of the great reasons why many people today hate Christianity.
They do not believe what you believe and do not even understand what you believe in. So whatever you say, will become like a fairytale to them.
We must have Conflicts.
In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples that in the world, they will surely have trouble.
Therefore, as we decide to always stand on the truth, the people who do not want the truth will fight to bring us down.
As you try to come close to God and seek the holiness of life. Many forces will come up against you to bring you down and stain your name.
We must have conflicts with those who do not believe what we believe.
So, Jesus is telling us that we must have conflict in his name. You know that it would be very nice if everyone loves us and everything we say, just as it would be nice for the Church to be loved by the world.
Hence, Jesus indicated that such approval from the world is a sign that the Christian or the church is not standing for the truth and Christ.
Remember that when He sends his disciples in Matthew 10:16, Jesus says to them that He is sending them out like “sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16).
In Luke 6:22, He says “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” .
The Plight of Jeremiah and Our Plights.
Whenever you bring yourself out to work for God, prepare for war. Prepare for battle against spiritual and physical forces. They will gang up against you both in the physical and the spiritual.
Whenever you are rising, not every person will be happy with you. They will do everything within their power to bring you down. When people do not like what you do, they will fight you for no reason.
2. This is what happened to Jeremiah in the first reading. In the first reading, the princes of Judah asked King Zedekiah to execute Jeremiah because of his message. Their reason is that Jeremiah is not telling them what they want to hear.
They accused him of weakening the morale of the men of war defending the city. They accused Jeremiah of not speaking for the welfare of the people, but for their harm.
3. As a servant of God, always be ready to face accusations of many sorts. Many people would like to hear bad news about you. Sometimes priests, ministers and God’s servants are accused of what they do not know about.
For example in the bible, despite Moses’ humility(Numbers 12:3), he was accused of pride (Numbers 16:3). Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1), but was accused of great sin by his friends (Job 4:7-8, 8:20, 11:14-17). Jesus was accused of being possessed (John 7:20, 8:48, 8:52). As you work for God, also prepare for accusations.
4. Also as a servant and lover of Jesus, you would suffer for the good things that you do. Many people will misunderstand you. “Ahab charged crime upon Elijah; the Jews upon Christ, and afterwards upon Paul. This is our plight.
5. In the first reading, King Zedekiah could not find the courage to stand up to the princes of Judah. He allowed them to do to Jeremiah as they pleased. They aimed to kill the man of God, but God saved Him through Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs, who was in the king’s house.
Therefore, there are also times you will be persecuted, many people who can save you or speak for you cannot be there for you. Some people who are closer to you may even join hands to speak ill against you and persecute you.
This is our plight. Hence, the fire that Jesus brings is a fire of division and a fire of salvation. Despite whatever is against you, God will raise those who will come to your aid.
1. There is one thing we have to discover about the planned execution of Jeremiah. Those who planned the evil are his brothers from the same tribe.
The princes of Judah put Jeremiah into a dungeon where he would probably soon die. But God sent a foreigner, Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, to help Jeremiah and to appeal to the king on the prophet’s behalf. This tarries with Jesus saying in the gospel, that His coming is to bring division among family members.
Sometimes the people who will plan evil and orchestrate your downfall are those people you walk with, eat with, laugh with and do everything with. They would be your problem.
2. Secondly, God can raise a helper or helpers from nowhere who has no connection or relationship with you. In the first reading, the princes of Judah planned evil against Jeremiah but God sent a stranger to save Him.
This is just like the parable of the good Samaritan in the Gospel. The people we expect to help may not be the people that will help. The people that will help will not be the people we expect to help. Such is the logic of life.
3. In the gospel, Jesus’ first statement is “Do not suppose…that I come to bring peace”, the main emphasis here is the word “do not suppose ” Sometimes, we think that being close to Jesus is only about the glory, blessings and happiness.
There are also times of trial, temptations, rejections, abandonment, misunderstanding and challenges. Being close to Jesus is an invitation to enmity with the world.
Many people will hate, fight and oppose you for no reason. Hence, Jesus warns us not to suppose easily. Therefore, preparing us for the task ahead. Being close to Jesus hence will give us the grace to walk through them.
4. The bible says “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to people of goodwill, those who keep the word (Luke 2:14). The truth is that Jesus certainly brought us peace with God. He tore down the “dividing wall of hostility”. In Ephesians 2:14-15, Paul says, “For he is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.”
What the gospel wants us to understand is that true belief in Jesus Christ and the gospel will cause conflict with people who love the world and want to live according to worldly ideals.
5. Despite these, Jesus calls us to die to ourselves as we take up our cross and follow him daily (Luke 9:23). If we do this faithfully, there will be enemies to love and persecutors to bless (Luke 6:28).
Therefore, they are our plights and yet our cross to carry. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus says “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
6. Whatever we pass through now, will change and transform us into a new person.
The fire that Jesus brings is a fire of change, a fire of divine transformation. The fire that Jesus brings is a fire that will transform us into a new personality. Fire is not permanent. Fire sets the occasion for something new.
Jesus fills us with the fire of His spirit. He wants us to be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. When we encounter the Holy Spirit, we shall be transformed. The fire that Jesus brings is a fire of change, purification, transformation, judgement, baptism and fire of vindication.
May God give us the grace to encounter Him in its fullness. Amen