Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever been talking with someone and suddenly realised they were not listening to you? It can be frustrating when you’re trying to speak with someone, but you know that what you’re saying is “going in one ear and out the other.” You might be offering advice or giving instructions on completing a task. Still, the other person has made up his mind already, or he thinks his way is the best and won’t entertain any other points of view. When that happens, you can either throw your hands up in the air and walk away or be patient and make an effort to ensure he does eventually take your message to heart.
More often than not, when God speaks to us, we’re the ones with selective hearing. We enjoy hearing the comfort of the Gospel: that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. But we don’t really like hearing the call to repent. Old Testament prophets such as Jeremiah faced the daunting task of speaking God’s Word even though they knew in advance that people wouldn’t listen. There’s a lesson here for us today.
I. Because it calls us to repent
Jesus, our Lord, asks, “Do you you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” And we respond, “Well, yeah, we kinda expect you to bring peace on the earth. That’s what the angels told us! Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” We expect Jesus to bring us all together. We expect Jesus to unite our families and neighbourhoods, even smooth over divisions in the congregation and grow the church. And we get all anxious when peace doesn’t arrive with rainbows and unicorns, and we start to wonder what went wrong and why isn’t Jesus doing something about it. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
But the prophet Jeremiah shows us why we often experience division instead of peace. Quite simply, when God tells us what he wants in his Word, sometimes, like Judah, we simply don’t want to hear it. Jeremiah proclaimed God’s Word, and the people of Judah didn’t like it. Jeremiah’s call to repentance and prophecy of doom met fierce resistance. The people were stiff-necked and refused to listen to the prophets’ warnings. Judah was convinced that they enjoyed God’s favour.
Contrary to popular opinion, Jeremiah announced that God was not only displeased with Judah but that judgment was coming soon. Jeremiah’s message wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Jeremiah’s message was stern and unpopular. He was a downer. Instead, they listened to prophets who eagerly told them what they really wanted. These false prophets contradicted the message of this prophet of God, “Don’t worry. I had a dream from God. God spoke to me, and he says all is well. God accepts you just as you are. No disaster or judgment is coming. You’re going to have peace.” These prophets spoke messages that lifted the people’s spirits and made them feel good about themselves. They claimed to get dreams and visions from God, yet they were lying through their teeth. The people ate their lies up because it was what they wanted to hear. The people of Judah were being deceived with a message about a rosy future ahead when the reality they faced was judgment.
God’s Word tells us what God wants instead of what we want. The Bible tell us the will of the Almighty God himself for our lives. That will is proclaimed to us in his holy Law. God’s Word says to us: Love God. Love your neighbour. Don’t sleep around. Don’t kill your unborn babies. Don’t gossip about your neighbour. And when that is proclaimed, it causes division. And what’s the response? “That’s mean. You’re impinging upon my freedom. You’re being too exclusive. It’s my body, so it’s my choice. I’m not hurting anyone.” Many say churches will grow if they become less judgmental and exclusive. And so there’s division. The division between God’s Word and the world around us seems to grow daily. We’re sometimes even divided from our friends and family. Why? Because God has told us what he wants in his Word, it’s not what people want to hear and don’t want to change. So, we would rather hear something we want to listen to that makes us feel nice. The Creator God tells us how best to live our lives, and we sometimes think we know better than him.
Jeremiah says that if God had sent these false prophets, they would have spoken his Word. They would have called the people to repent. God’s Word causes division because it calls sinners to repent, and we don’t want to repent. God tells us that we’re going in the wrong direction. We’re heading for trouble. So we’re meant to re-think our lives. We’re admonished to turn around, turn away, turn back. Stop going that way. Stop thinking like you did and start agreeing with how God thinks! Recognise what terrible things you have done, and feel sorry about it. Fear the penalty your sins deserve. Have the desire to do better. Repent!
And that’s precisely what causes division. Instead of repenting, some people simply love their sin and want to stay in it. Some people choose themselves over God. Some people refuse to listen. It is far easier to be a preacher of peace and give soft sermons than to confront the stubbornness in peoples’ hearts. When people give evidence that they despise God’s word by either their lives or words, they need to be challenged and rebuked. When people persist in following the stubbornness of their hearts, any person claiming to be speaking for the living God should appeal to them to turn back to God in repentance and obedience. Preachers must proclaim what God’s Word says. That means there will be times when the sermon doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. Sometimes God’s Word will rebuke your behaviour, attitudes, or actions. There will be times when you will be confronted with your sins and asked to repent. So, will you be among those who despise the word of the Lord? Or will you listen to Him?
II. Because it points us to Christ alone
Of course, this is only half the story. In our Gospel reading, Jesus spoke of his distress. That distress came from the fire and baptism of the Cross and all the suffering that goes with it. And that explains what Jesus means by saying that he will cast fire on earth. The fire and the moment that fire ignites are his death on the Cross. The Cross is offensive to people, which is why it sets the world on fire. The message of the Cross of Jesus starts division and strife. Jesus did not come to tell people that all paths lead to God. He did not come to say to people that what you believe doesn’t really matter. Jesus did not think that all people are basically good. Jesus does not come to affirm your lifestyle choices. Jesus did not say you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. He calls all who follow him to pick up their Cross and come and die. The only way to be in a right relationship with God is through Jesus Christ and on his terms. No one comes to the Father, (Jesus says), but by Me. That means that the way to the Father is through Jesus. Jesus is the true prophet, the Son who was with the Father in the beginning. Only Jesus reveals God to us. That is why Christ divides.
But you need not be divided from God. Jesus did come to give peace. He doesn’t always bring peace here among our friends, neighbours, and loved ones, but he does bring peace with God. The consequences of ignoring and rejecting God’s Word are high. God didn’t tolerate it with Judah, and he isn’t about to start tolerating it with you. So Christ gave up peace so that you could have it. Christ never failed to proclaim the Truth, even though his own family rejected Him. He spoke up, even though it meant the pain and shame of crucifixion. He did not shrink from these things because He had a goal before His eyes: to purchase peace for you with His Blood. It was Jesus’ second baptism, his baptism into death, where he was washed with death and gave His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. His death ended the division between God and sinners. On the Cross: you see that what God says is perfect, and all who ignore his Law die. Even though you should die, the Son of God bore the consequences of your sins, was not spared but was crucified. On the Cross, you also find God’s mercy to us sinners. The peace we desperately need has been given to us freely in the water and blood which flowed from his pierced side. Jesus not only takes away our sins, he saves us from our sins.
God’s Word divides because people refuse to listen to him. They don’t want to listen to God because he calls them out for their sins and commands them to repent. God’s Word divides because it says that the only way you can have peace with God is through the shed blood of Jesus. If you pick up your Cross and follow Christ, you will experience division, even with those you love most. Yet you have peace with God and peace with one another. That’s the peace of Jesus. He gave his all. He was washed with death so that we might have the peace won by his shed blood. So repent, believe, be forgiven, and enjoy…
the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.